Seeing Lanka and describing it, Rama instructs Lakshmana to draw up his army in battle-array. Rama orders for release of Shuka who was captured by the army earlier. Shuka approached Ravana and describes the strength of Rama's side of the army. Ravana boasts himself of his own army strength.
That army of valiant monkeys along with the King Sugreeva looked charming like a full-moon night in autumn presided over by the moon and illuminated by bright stars. The earth pressed under foot by that multitude of army, which was energetic like a sea, was trembled with fear by the rapid movement of that army.
Then, the monkeys heard a great tumult arising in Lanka and noisy sounds of kettle drums and tabours which caused their hair to stand on end. The leaders of monkeys were rejoiced by that sound. But by not tolerating that sound, they emitted shouts which surpassed that uproar. Those demons too heard the roaring of the wildly delighted monkeys, which roar sounded like thundering of clouds in the sky.
Seeing Lanka dressed with multi coloured flags and buntings, Rama bethought himself of Seetha and his heart was filled with grief. 'Seetha whose eyes resemble those of a young deer, was detained by Ravana there as Rohini star is overshadowed by the red bodied planet (Mars)'.
Seeing Lakshmana after a warm and deep sigh, the heroic Rama spoke the following words which were beneficial for him at that time.
"O, Lakshmana! Look at this Lanka, which appears as though constructed on a hill-top by Visvakarma with his imagination and so elevated scraping the sky. The City of Lanka was constructed thick with many seven-storied building and appears like a sky the abode of Vishnu (the All-pervader) covered with white clouds. Lanka is made beautiful by the garden vying with Chaitraratha (garden of Kubera the god of riches), with songs of birds of various species, with fruit-bearing flowers and charms in bloom. See how a gentle breeze sways the branches where the Cuckoos abound, where bees swarm and where the birds are excited with joy."
Rama the son of Dasaratha spoke as aforesaid to Lakshmana. The army there was divided into battalions according to the procedure found in scriptures. "Taking these troops of monkeys from the army, let the valiant and the invincible Angada take up his position with Nila at the centre of the formation. Let Rishabha along with the multitude of monkeys take up his position, having recourse to the right side of the army. Let Gandhamadana, the strong and unconquerable, resembling an elephant in rut, take his position, superintending the left side of the monkeys-troops."
"I shall stand alert in the forefront of the army along with Lakshmana and let Jambavan, Sushena and Vegadarshi the monkey those three exceedingly wise persons and the leaders of bears-protect the belly-portion of the army. Let Sugreeva the king of monkeys protect the rear-guard of the army, resembling Varuna (the god of water) who remains encircled with splendour and protects the western quarter of the earth."
That army with innumerable divisible being skilfully distributed, led by the foremost of monkeys, resembled heavens with their mass of clouds. With a desire to crush the demons in battle, the monkeys, seizing peaks of mountains and gigantic trees, reached Lanka. All the heroic monkeys held the following resolve in their minds, "It is with peak of mountains or with our bare fists even, we shall shatter this Lanka into pieces."
Then, Rama with great splendour, spoke the following words to Sugreeva, "Our forces are properly marshalled. Let this Shuka be released."
Hearing the words of Rama, Sugreeva the lord of monkeys released Shuka the messenger, as per the order of Rama. Shuka, who was harassed by the monkeys before and released then as per the words of Rama, was trembling with great fear and reached Ravana.
Ravana even while laughing, enquired Shuka with the following words; "Why were your wings tied up? You appear with your wings plucked up. Have you not fallen as a victim to their various fickled minds?"
Asked as aforesaid by the King Ravana, Shuka agitated as he was with fear, gave him the following excellent reply: "On the northern shore of the ocean, i conveyed your message in a smooth tone, conciliating and without any ambiguity exactly as per your instructions."
"Just on seeing me, the enraged monkeys jumped on me and seized me. They soon started beating and plucking me with their fists. O, Lord of demons! Those monkeys are not capable of being spoken to, nor possible of being questioned in this matter. Monkeys, by their very nature, are angry and ferocious. That Rama the killer of Viraadha, Kabandha and Khara came along with Sugreeva to the place of Seetha. Having constructed a bridge across the sea and crossed the salty ocean and expelling the demons, here stands Rama wielding a bow."
"Thousands of divisions of hordes of bears and monkeys resembling mountains and clouds, cover the earth. There is no more possibility of an alliance between these two armies - the army of demons and the army of monkeys than between a God and a demon. Very soon, they can come to our rampart. Immediately, do any one of these two acts, either to restore Seetha or to offer a combat to him."
Hearing the words of Shuka, Ravana with his eyes becoming blood-red in anger, as if he would consume him with his glance, said as follows:
"Even if I were frightened by all the worlds or even if I were to face a battle with celestials; Gandharvas (celestial singers) or demons, I would not give back Seetha. When will my arrows soon fall upon Rama, as large black bees excited with joy fall upon a tree a bloom at a spring-time? When shall I consume his body flowing with blood, by the blazing arrows released from my bow, as flaming torches destroy an elephant? Endowed with a huge army, I shall eclipse the aforesaid army of Rama, as the brilliance all-stars is obscured at the rising of the sun."
"My rashness is like that of the sea and my strength is like that of the wind. Rama is not aware of it. That is why, he is desirous of meeting me in a combat. Rama has not seen my arrows resembling venomous serpents lying in my quiver. That is why, he desires to fight with me."
"That Rama formerly was not aware of my prowess in battle. I shall cause to resound Vina (a musical instrument) in the form of my bow, which is played on with the heads of my arrows, the bow-string producing a tumultuous sound, the huge cries of the wounded its terrible accompaniment, the darts soundiing its innumerable notes, when I enter a vast stage in the form of my enemy-ranks in that battle."
"Neither by the thousand-eyed Indra the god of celestials nor by Varuna the god of waters in person in a combat, nor by Yama the god of death with the fire of his arrows, nor by Kubera the lord of riches in person, can I be able to be attacked in a great battle."
Thus completes twenty fourth chapter of Yuddha Kanda in glorious Ramayana, the work of a sage and the oldest epic.
© 1999-2001, K. M. K. Murthy