A passage retold from the Ramayana, by Valmiki
In despair, Rama looked out over the sea.
The day was beautiful, filled with sunlight, and gentle waves rolled onto the shore, with their white froth. Herons, pelicans and cormorants fished in the waves, elegant, standing on one foot or walking with long strides through the shallow waters. In the waves little white shells, empty and incredibly delicate, rolled up onto the yellow sands.
Rama looked out over the vast, vast sea, which seemed to him vaster than any sea had ever been, and there was no way to cross it.
He stood on the shores of the island now called Rameswaram, and looked across to where the kingdom of Lanka (now known as Sri Lanka) lay, encircled by the sea, thirty miles (fifty kilometers) away. A few months before, the demon-king of Lanka, Ravana, had stolen Rama’s wife Sita, kidnapping her at a moment when Rama and his brother were off in the forest, and she was alone. She had been spirited away in the airship of Ravana and now was held captive somewhere in the island country of Lanka.
It had taken Rama a long time and much effort to find out where Sita was, to discover who had captured her, and then to journey here, with his faithful brother Lakshmana at his side. And now there was no way to cross the sea.
For three days, on the shores of the sea, Rama fasted and meditated, praying to the God of the sea, Varuna, to appear and to help him find a way to cross to Lanka.
Rama prayed and meditated, and the waves washed along the shore, but there was no reply from Varuna. There was no response, nothing but the endless, repetitive sound of the waves.
On the morning of the fourth day, Rama stood up, enraged at his misfortune and this most unfair obstacle that stood in his way; he shouted at Varuna, the God of the sea, demanding that he appear at once. His voice echoed over the water, “Varuna! Varuna!” The God Varuna was probably none too pleased to be spoken to in this way, and he did not answer.
Rama, infuriated by this unbearable silence picked up his bow and began to shoot arrows into the sea. These were no ordinary arrows, and Rama was no ordinary hero. Years before he had been taught the secrets of celestial weapons by his teacher, Vishwamitra, and now he unleashed weapons with the power of supernatural force. The creatures of the sea began to die, and the waters began to burn.
The army of monkeys who had come to Rama’s aid and had traveled with him in the quest for Sita stood not far off, aghast and alarmed at this display of violence against the sea and her innocent creatures. Lakshmana, Rama’s brother, entreated him to stop this senseless onslaught.
Just as Rama was about to unleash the cosmic force of the all-powerful weapon, the Brahmastra, which might have destroyed all of creation, Varuna appeared out of the waves.
He bowed to Rama, who was, in fact, the avatar of Lord Vishnu, and calmly explained that there was nothing to be so upset about, that he would ensure that the waves would remain still while a way was found for Rama’s forces to cross the sea, and that they would remain calm until they had completed their crossing.
Then, Hanuman, the Monkey God, the ever devoted and loyal friend of Rama, as he did time and again throughout the long adventure, came up with a solution. There was nothing to worry about. Yes, the sea seemed vast, but the army of monkeys would build a bridge from Rameshwaram to Lanka. The dilemma would be easily solved, and the sea could be crossed.
The monkey army set to work, and after a time, the bridge (which still exists today) stretched all the way from Rameshwaram to Lanka, enabling Rama with his armies of monkeys and bears to cross to Lanka.
More to follow…
Top photo: Sharon St Joan / The shore of Rameshwaram
Second photo: Painting by Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906)./ Wikimedia Commons/ “This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.” / “Varuna the Lord of ocean, pacifying Sri Rama, angered at the intransigence of the sea to give way to enter Lanka.”
© Sharon St Joan, 2014