The Sundara Kanda: An Introduction
In Sanskrit literature Maharshi Valmiki is celebrated as the poet harbinger. His reputation as the father of Indian poetry seems to have been legendary. It is he who composed The Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic. It forms an important part of the Hindu canon (Smriti). It deals with divine Lord Ram and his journey of life. It tells the story of Ram, an incarnation of the Hindu preserver-god Vishnu. Thematically, the epic explores the tenets of human existence and the concept of dharma. It is one of the two great epics of India, the other being the Mahabharata. It portrays ideal characters like the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal wife and the ideal king.
Valmiki’s Ramayana is one of the world's most remarkable classics and excels all in its moral appeal. It is full of lessons for all and deserves to be read with interest and profit by all lovers of healthy literature. It is noted for its poetic excellence. It stands equal in rank to the Vedas. It contains the teachings of ancient Hindu sages and presents them through allegory in narrative and the interspersion of the philosophical and the devotional. The characters of Ram, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Hanuman and Ravana are all fundamental to the cultural consciousness of India.
The Ramayana is traditionally divided into several major kandas or books or parts. These kandas deal chronologically with the major events of Ram’s life - Bala kanda, Ayodhya Kanda, Aranya Kanda, Kishkinda Kanda, Sundara Kanda, Yuddha Kanda, and Uttara Kanda. The Bala Kanda deals with the birth of Ram, his childhood and marriage to Sita. The Ayodhya Kanda describes the preparations for Ram's coronation and his exile into the forest. The third part, Aranya Kanda, tells the tale of the forest life of Ram and the kidnapping of Sita by the demon king Ravana. The Kishkinda Kanda narrates the story of the meeting of Hanuman with Ram, the destruction of vanara king Vali and the coronation of his younger brother Sugriva on the throne of the kingdom of Kishkindha. The fifth part is Sundara Kanda which narrates the heroism of Hanuman, his flight to Lanka and meeting with Sita. The sixth book, Yuddha Kanda, describes the battle between Ram's and Ravana's armies. The last book, Uttara Kanda, describes the birth of Lava and Kusha to Sita, their coronation to the throne of Ayodhya, and Ram's final departure from the world.
Importance of the Sundara Kanda:
Among the above mentioned Kandas, Sundara Kanda, the fifth section of the Ramayana, is unique. It is the greatest part of the Ramayana. Lord Shiva has established its importance. Once Parvati asked Lord Shiva, ‘I would very much love to know from you, the greatness of Sundara Kanda in detail.’ Lord Shiva replied, ‘I would summarize the greatness of Sundara Kanda for you, because to tell in detail, only the great Lord Ramachandra is capable. Similar to the fact that God Rama is the greatest among Devas, similar to the fact that Kalpaga tree is greatest among trees, similar to the fact that the Kousthubha gem is greatest among gems, in the Ramayana, Sundara Kanda is the greatest chapter. By reading or listening to Sundara Kanda with devotion, all the wishes are fulfilled, all dangers will vanish, all diseases will be cured and all types of wealth will grow. Especially it is the greatest panacea for those who suffer from great diseases. Even diseases like tuberculosis, leprosy and epilepsy, which cannot be cured even by divine medicines, would be cured completely by reading Sundara Kanda 68 times by the grace of Lord Rama. Please hear its greatness, which I am telling you with attention. Please listen to the following ancient story which tells about the greatness of Sundara Kanda.
‘There was a great city called Kanchipuram on the earth. Vamsankara, a great king, lived there with his wife Manorama. He was a great devotee. He always thought about the welfare of mankind. He ruled the state with efficiency. Unfortunately he was not blessed by any children. Once coming out of a temple he saw a great sage. The king requested him to bless him to become a father. The sage told the king, “In your previous birth you were a saintly Brahmin who lived in Rameswaram and worshipped in the temple daily. As a result you are born as the king of this country. Unfortunately in your previous birth you did not allow your daughter to join her husband and become a mother due to some family conflict. This is the reason why you are not able to become a father.’ He then suggested the king and the queen to observe strict penance; to give gold and silver as charities to Brahmins; and to worship Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva daily.
The king and the queen followed his advice and as a result a good son was born to them. They named him Balachandra. The prince grew up as an extremely learned and able man. When Vamsankara became old, he decided to give his kingdom to his son and retire to the forest. Unfortunately the terrible disease of tuberculosis afflicted Balachandra. In spite of all types of attempt the prince was not cured. When the king and queen were terribly worried and knew not what to do, the sage who had earlier blessed them with the child came again to that city. The king and the queen fell at his feet and requested him to cure the disease of the prince.
The sage told, ‘In his previous birth, your son stole the materials kept ready for the worship of Rama and enjoyed life and that is why he is cursed with this disease. But later realizing his sin, he daily read the Ramayana and worshipped Rama and that is why he has been born to you. I would tell you, how to get rid of the effects of that sin.’ The king thanked him and wanted to know in detail as to what should be done. The sage suggested reading the entire Sundara Kanda for 68 times. He added that this would cure even diseases which Aswini Devas (Doctors of Gods) cannot cure. This also could help you win a war or even help you in getting occult powers, if your son does this, his disease would definitely get cured.
That sage then disappeared. The king followed the suggestions of the sage. The prince himself read the Sundara Kanda daily. Hey Devi, just by reading Sundara Kanda 68 times the prince was cured of a terrible disease. There are also many others who got rid of their illness by reading Sundara Kanda. Lord Shiva after telling all this to Goddess Parvati told her that whoever reads or listens to the Sundara Kanda, would become a great devotee of Lord Rama and would lead a happy painless life.
The Sundara Kanda is really sundara, beautiful. The sadness began in Ayodhya kanda. In Aranya kanda, the sadness increased because of the kidnapping of Sita. It became worse in Kishkinda kanda because Sri Ram did not know the whereabouts of Sita nor did Sita know His whereabouts. But everything sundar (beautiful) began to happen in Sundara kanda. Rama came to know about Sita and Sita got news from Rama. Vibheeshana got an assurance from Hanumanji. Sugreeva was happy because the promise he had given to Rama to find Sitaji could be fulfilled. The monkeys would have died if Sita had not been found, but Hanuman saved their lives. So, beautiful things happen in Sundara kanda. It is in fact sundara for the rakshasas also, because their end was coming nearer. They were going to give up their lives in the holy shower of Ramchandraji arrows. So it was sundar for them also. Everybody got assurance, hope and joy. That is why it is called Sundara kanda. Tilaka, one of the greatest commentators of Sundara Kanda, says, ‘Sundare Sundari Lanka, Sundare Sundari Katha, Sundare sundari Sita, Sundare kim na Sundaram?’ Beautiful among the most beautiful is Sri Lanka; Beautiful among the most beautiful is the Story; Beautiful among the most beautiful is Sita; What is there in it which is not beautiful?
This part of the Ramayana contains poetic descriptions of several beautiful objects, places and people. Whether the poet describes, Sri Lanka, Pushpaka Vimana, The Asoka forest, The Madhuvana, Hanuman, Sita, Rama, Ravana, or the moonrise, he goes into poetic rapture. This section is about the exploits of Hanuman who was an extremely beautiful person as the poet describes him as ‘a shining handsome person made of Gold’. Hanuman also has a name –‘Sundara’ It is in this section that a full comprehensive description of Sri Rama, possibly the most handsome person ever born is given and so the sage must have thought that this deserves that name.
The Sundara Kanda mainly focuses on the depth of Bhakt Hanuman’s devotion and dedication for his divine Lord Ram. It commences with the departure of Hanuman in search of Sita and ends with Ram ready to cross the ocean for Lanka in order to liberate Sita.
The story narrated in brief is as follows: Hanuman at the suggestion and encouragement given by Jambavan decided to cross the Ocean and reach Sri Lanka. He promised his friends that he would search and find out Sita in Sri Lanka. The assembled Devas wanted to test the efficiency of Hanuman and sent Devi Surasa to test him. She took the form of a Rakshasi and informed him that he should enter her mouth and become her food; Hanuman increased his size to a very mega form. Surasa also made her mouth sufficiently big to swallow Hanuman. At that time Hanuman reduced his body to a thumb size jumped in and out of Surasas’s mouth. Surasa blessed him and the devas were very sure that Hanuman can do the job assigned to him.
After this a Rakshasi called Simhika caught hold of his shadow and started dragging him to her mouth so that she can eat him. Hanuman again increased the size of the body and killed Simhika. After this Hanuman reached the city of Sri Lanka. There he took a small midget form before entering the city, to avoid detection. However Lanka Devatha stopped him and challenged him. He hit her with his clenched fist and she fell down. She realised that the end of the city of Sri Lanka was nearing and blessed Hanuman in his endeavour. Hanuman then searched all over the city including Ravana’s harem. On seeing Mandodari he thought that he has seen Sita but he concluded immediately that she who was living a life of luxury could not be Sita.
Later he located Sita in the Asoka forest which was attached to the harem of Ravana. She was sleeping on the floor, had not taken bath nor changed her dresses. She also had removed all non-essential ornaments and hung them on a tree. While he was watching Ravana paid a visit to Sita and requested her to be his wife. She refused and told him that the only way for him to continue to live was to give her back to Rama. Becoming furious he set a period of two months for her to live and instructed the Rakshasis to terrorise her and make her agree for his proposal. While the Rakshasis were trying their best, Trijata, the daughter of Vibhishana told the Rakshasis about her dream in which she clearly foresaw the defeat and death of Ravana and the victory of Rama. The Rakshasis were scared because of this. However Sita dejected by her situation decided to commit suicide by hanging by her own hair. Hanuman hiding in the tree related the story of Rama up to that point and hearing this Sita became enthused.
Hanuman appeared before her, after all Rakshasis were asleep and related to her the adventures of Rama and also gave her signet Ring of Rama as the identification. He also requested her to ride on his back and reach Rama. Sita refused this offer saying that this would be an insult to Rama’s valor and also she, as a virtuous woman would not touch another male willingly. She also gave him her pearl hair brooch as identification. This brooch was given to her by her father. She also told him story of the crow, which attacked her and how Rama put a Tilak on her forehead with a red stone.
Hanuman took leave of Sita and while returning made up his mind to see Ravana as well as the city of Lanka. To draw attention to himself, he destroyed the Asoka forest. Ravana sent many of his warriors including his younger son Akshaya Kumara to capture Hanuman. However Hanuman killed all of them. Then Ravana sent his elder son Indrajit to capture Hanuman who succeeded by using his Brahma Asthra. Though he became free due to his boon, Hanuman seemingly submitted himself to the rakshasas and reached the court of Ravana. Becoming angry Ravana awarded the capital punishment to Hanuman. However Vibhishana, the younger brother of Ravana pointed out that such a punishment couldn’t be given to emissaries. Agreeing to his view, Ravana ordered the Rakshasas to set fire to the tail of Hanuman. However acceding to the prayer of Sita, who heard the news from other Rakshasis, the God of fire did not hurt Hanuman. Hanuman escaped from the clutches of the Rakshasas by his sheer prowess, and using the fire in his tail, set fire to the city of Lanka.
Then he took leave of Sita and jumped back to the other shore. He then related his story to his friends and they together decided to tell it to Sri Rama. On their way back to Sri Rama, they destroyed the honey garden of King Sugreeva. They then reached Kishkinda and relate in detail about how they have been able to find Sita and how she is sad, guarding her virtue and would die after two months.
Hanuman in this section has been described as one for whom nothing is impossible. He is the embodiment of faith, devotion, and loyalty to the master, fearlessness and self-confidence. The story points out that success is the outcome of such an attitude. It teaches us that if we want to be successful in life we have to combine the above qualities.
The real beauty of Sunderkand lies in its revelation of spiritual truth and the path of a successful life. The Sunder Kand is considered to be auspicious to read. Legends say by reading the Sundara kanda one attains fame and wealth. It helps human beings in Kalyug to overcome problems. According to the belief of Hindus, Sundara Kanda is a mine where we can draw powers to support oneself in all worldly situations. People believe that reading or hearing the story is a panacea and final solution for all ills and all problems.
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A different Song - Article from "The Hindu" August 12, 2005 - .