February 01, 2011


LEGEND has it.....


Ramayana – the epic journey of Lord Ram explores the tenets of human existence and the concept of Dharma. Over the ages, its central characters, namely Rama, Lakshman, Hanuman, Sita and Ravana - have become fundamental to the cultural consciousness of South Asians in general and Indians in particular. While the heroes and villains of this colossal epic have found their rightful places in the hearts and minds of Hindus since time immemorial, the significance of one character is generally overlooked and grossly underestimated. Like Karna in Mahabharata, Ramayana also refers to a brave warrior who was amongst the most powerful men in contemporary India but ended up being assassinated by Lord Rama on the battlefield as he aligned himself with Adharma. Vali, the Monkey king of Kishkindha is the tragic hero of Ramayana.

Vali, the son of Lord Indra and the elder brother of Sugriva was the Vanara (Ape) king of the ancient kingdom of Kishkindha which included the dense forests called Dandaka Forests that pretty much covered most of modern day South India. Legend has it that Vali participated in the Samudra Mantan on the side of the Devas and took Tara, an Apsara who rose from the churning of the milky ocean as his wife. While some other mythological sources describe Tara as the daughter of the monkey physician Sushena, she is unanimously admired for her beauty, wisdom and devotion to her husband. Tara gave birth to Vali’s son, Angadh, the crown prince of the kingdom who played a key role in the Rama’s war against Ravana.

The Ramayana hails Vali as invincible owing to the fact that he had received a boon according to which anyone who would fight the monkey king would lose half of the strength to him. The very fact is illustrated in a feud between him and the mighty Ravana, in which the former humbled the latter. Vali was an ardent worshipper of lord Shiva and Surya. It is believed that every day before dawn, Bali would go from the Eastern coast to the Western coast, from the Northern coast to the Southern coast to pay his homage to the Sun god. Moreover, the Puranas mention that after completing this mammoth task of paying respect to the Sun in all four directions, he used to return to his capital without feeling any tiredness.

It was on one such trip that the powerful warrior encountered the king of Lanka, who challenged him for a fight. In the clash of the titans that followed, Vali defeated his foe, tied him with his tail and took him around the world, thereby breaking his pride. Humbled, the mighty king of Lanka called for truce. It has been recorded that after this feud, the two concluded a peace treaty and became friends. The Puranas also mention of the battle between Vali and demon Dundhubi, who came in the form of a wild buffalo. As the brave Vali defeated the demon and hurled him in the sky, the blood from the dying animal defiled Sage Matanga’s ashram due to which the sage cursed Vali and the vanaras saying that whoever came near his ashram would fall down dead.

The bitterness between Vali and Sugriva, which ultimately led to the former’s death, began when the demon Mayavi, brother of Dundhubi, appeared on the gates of the city of Kishkindha and invited the king for the battle. As the ever ready Vali marched against Mayavi, he fled in terror and entered a deep cave. Vali entered the cave in pursuit of the demon, telling Sugriva to wait outside. Upon hearing demonic shouts in the cave and seeing blood oozing from its mouth, Sugriva concluded that his brother had been killed. With a heavy heart, Sugriva rolled a boulder to seal the cave's opening to prevent the demon from raiding Kishkindha, and assumed the reins of the kingdom. Vali, however, ultimately prevailed in his combat with the demon and returned home. Seeing Sugriva acting as king, he concluded that his brother had betrayed him. Though Sugriva humbly attempted to explain himself, Vali would not listen. As a result, Sugriva was ostracized from the kingdom. Vali forcibly took Sugriva's main wife, Ruma, and the brothers became bitter enemies.

It was during this time that Sugriva befriended his future minister, Hanuman and the exiled princes of Ayodhya – Rama and Lakshman. Like Sugriva’s wife Ruma, Sita, the princess of Ayodhya had been unlawfully held captive by Ravana. As such, the two princes faced with a set of identical problems decided to enter into a mutual agreement. Rama promised to help Sugriva to defeat Vali and regain his throne and his wife. In return the Vanara prince promised to help the lord in his conquest of Lanka. Next, the allies hatched a plan to topple Vali from the throne of Kishkindha.

In accordance of his vow of Vanavass, and to prevent direct combat with the monkey army, Rama asked Sugriva to challenge Vali for a fight outside the borders of Kishkindha. Tara’s plea asking Vali to refrain from battle against his younger brother, who had the Lord on his side, fell on deaf ears and the siblings turned foes charged towards each other. Meanwhile, Rama and Lakshman hid themselves in the vicinity. Although the brothers were evenly matched initially, Vali soon gained the upper hand. As the two looked identical, Rama found it difficult to take aim at Vali. As such Hanuman stepped in and placed a garland of flowers around Sugriva’s neck. The prince of Ayodhya took aim and drove an arrow straight into the monkey king’s heart.

Rama is regarded in Hindu mythology as Maryada Purushottam as he played the roles of a son, a husband, a brother, a student, a friend and a king to perfection. However the critics of Rama point two instances where he is said to have deviated from the principles of Dharma, one of them being the ‘cowardly’ manner in which he killed the Vanara king Vali. However, a close analysis of the events that unfolded during this time presents a complete picture and leads to a better understanding.

The Puranas clearly lay down that the younger brother must be treated as a son and must be forgiven even if he makes a mistake. In fact, not only had Vali banished his younger sibling from the kingdom, but also held is wife, who according to the laws of Dharma was Vali’s daughter-in-law, captive. Also, political reasons prevalent in ancient India compelled Rama to kill Vali. For him to rescue his wife, Rama needed the help of the Vanara Sena, and Sugriva agreed to help him once on the throne of Kishkindha. Besides, Rama could not expect such an offer from Vali who by then was on friendly terms with Ravana. And of course, so much bad blood had been spilled between the two brothers that all chances of a compromise were out of question. Thirdly, the fact remains that Vali was a vanar, an ape and Rama was a prince. It was customary in those days for royals to hunt animals stealthily. Lastly, the alliance between Rama and Sugriva was in the interest of the Vanaras. For the first time in the history, they were being given an opportunity to join the mainstream and be treated as equals with human beings.

As Vali lay on the ground in pain and agony, Rama and Lakshman came forward to meet him. Vali accused the prince of unethical behavior and questioned the motives behind such a cowardly and heinous act. However, Rama answered all his questions calmly and provided sufficient explanations for the manner in which he assassinated Vali. Realizing his mistake, Vali asked Rama for forgiveness and asked him and Sugriva to take care of Tara and Angadh. It is said that at the time of his death, Rama promised Vali to give him a chance to avenge his unjust murder. In fact the Monkey king does make an appearance, centuries later and avenges his death.

With the death of the mighty monkey king, Sugriva ascended the throne of Kishkindha. Tara, the widow of Vali became Sugriva’s queen and was consulted by him in all matters of administration. Angadh was elevated to the rank of the crown prince of the kingdom and was a key figure in the battle in the later years. He is particularly remembered for leading a diplomatic mission to Ravana, which concluded with him bringing back the demon king’s crown and placing it at the feet of the lord. Sugriva fulfilled his promise and helped Rama defeat Ravana and regain Sita.

The story of the great Monkey king does end here. Rama's slaying of Bali had a special significance. As the time passed on, the Rama Avatar of Lord Vishnu came to a conclusion and he reincarnated as Lord Krishna. Having killed his despotic uncle Kansa, he played the pivotal role in the victory of the Pandavas over the Kauravas. Legend has it that Gandhari, Duryodhana’s mother and a worshipper of Lord Vishnu was so shocked by her son’s death in front of Krishna that she cursed that he and all his followers would perish thirty-six years after the war. According to Puranic scriptures, as the Krishna avatar reached its climax, the curse of Gandhari came true and the people of Dwarka were overcome by a wild rage and there was total destruction of life and property. Some time later, Krishna’s elder brother, Balaram left for the heavens.

As the Lord, saddened by the events that unfolded in the recent past, sat beneath a tree in deep meditation, a hunter entered the forest. He mistook Krishna’s ankle for a deer and shot an arrow towards it. Alarmed by the cries of Krishna, the hunter approached him and realized his mistake. The hunter, named Jara was none other than vanara king Vali in his previous life. Thus as said by Lord Rama, the monkey king got his revenge and promise made to Vali at the time of his death was fulfilled. As Krishna left the mortal world, the Dwapar Yug came to an end. The mortal remains of Krishna were cremated by his friend Arjuna and soon the Arabian Sea engulfed the city of Dwarka.

The story of monkey king Vali is a lesson for everyone. It is a classic tale in which a man blessed with immense talent and endowed with the invincible powers sinks into the oblivion as he chooses the path of Adharma. In spite of having the wise Tara as his companion, and being gifted with enviable physical strength, he fell prey to his anger which ultimately sealed his fate on the battlefield. On the contrary, Sugriva, though not as strong as his elder brother, is revered for being on the moral high ground in his battle with Vali. The story of Vali and Sugriva teaches us that the strength of an individual is not measured in terms of his physical prowess but in terms of his adherence to the laws of Dharma.

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