[To read the introduction to the Hamsa Sandesha click here]
तस्मिन् दृस्या भवति भवतश्चारुसौधावदाता
लङ्का सिन्धोर्महितपुलिने राजहंसीव लीना।
त्वामायान्तं पवनतरलैर्या पताकापदेशैः
पक्षैरभ्युज्जिगमिषुरिव स्थास्यति श्राव्यनादा॥1.60
There you will see Laṅkā settled into the ocean’s sacred sand, her beautiful mansions lending her a white hue, looking like your mate, the female swan. She will stand as if beckoning you as you approach with a call clear and loud, her wind-fluttering flags serving as wings.
Laṅkā presents a problem for the poet. As the parallel of the heavenly city of Alakā in the Meghadūta, which is the yakṣa’s home, it warrants a long, preferably beautiful, description. Kālidāsa had pictured the city as a lover whose shawl is slipping off and who wears a string of clouds among her palaces like a lady wears pearl necklaces in her hair. But Laṅkā is Rāvaṇa’s kingdom, peopled by rakṣasas (a type of particularly nasty monsters) rather than the young, carefree couples of Alakā. Deśīka circumvents this by describing only the physical city – which was built by Viśvakarman and used to belong to Kubera, and is, as Hanuman attests in the Rāmāyaṇa, a worthy spectacle in itself – and the imprisoned goddesses who bewail the enforced separation from their lovers, and their fate at the hands of the rakṣasa king.
(Another small difficulty, which the poet playfully reminds us of, is that Hanuman – who preceded the swan’s envoy to Sītā – has just recently burnt the entire city to ashes. The image below is taken from Nina Paley’s brilliant Sita Sings The Blues)
लीलाखेलं ललितगमनाश्चारुनादं सशिञ्जाः
भल्लाक्षं त्वां स्मरशरदृशो गौरमापाण्डुराङ्ग्यः।
मुग्धालापं मधुरवचसो मानसार्हं मनोज्ञाः
There in Laṅkā the abducted goddesses will present an entrancing picture. They walk gracefully, you are elegant in play. They have the music of their jewellery, you your lovely call. Their lotus eyes are the love god’s arrows, you are known as the arrow-eyed. Their bodies are pale and yours white. Their sonorous voices match your artless communication. They know the ways of love; you are worthy of it.
Sri Lanka has recently added a multitude of Rāmāyaṇa trails to an already bulging tourism portfolio. Tour operators will now take you to Weragantota, the spot where the Puṣpaka Vimāna, Rāvaṇa’s equivalent of a private jet, first disbursed the captive Sītā; the pond formed of her tears; and the spot, Divurumpola, where she was forced to undergo the test of fire to prove her chastity. The Lankan part of the epic’s geography though has long been disputed and remains today inconclusive. Indeed several academics deny the identification of Laṇkā with today’s Sri Lanka full stop and instead place Rāvaṇa’s kingdom in the middle of a lake in North-East India or about 100 miles beyond Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. Even those that accept Sri Lanka cannot agree on where Rāvaṇa’s city might have been.
Following the Rāmāyaṇa, the Haṃsa Sandeśa places the city of Laṇkā (and Laṇkā seems to be used for both the city and the island kingdom) just beyond the shore on Mount Trikūṭa (the three-peaked mountain):
अध्यासीना बहुमणिमयं तुङ्गशृङ्गं त्रिकूटं
दिक्पालेषु प्रथितयशसा रक्षसा रक्ष्यमाणा।
अग्रे मेरोरमरनगरीं या परिष्कारभूम्ना
Laṅkā is situated on the high-peaked gem-rich Trikūṭa hill, guarded by the demon whose reputation the world’s guardians are all too aware of. Lavishly done up, she points the banners of her fingers as if challenging the immortals’ city on Meru’s peak.
The palace that occasioned such a vivid description in the Rāmāyaṇa, where Hanuman wandered among thousands of post-coital women happily dozing, is here a symbol of Rāvaṇa’s imposing might:
मध्ये तस्या निशिचरपतेः सद्म रुधान्तरिक्षं
युग्मं नेयैर्दिवि सुमनसां सेव्यमानं विमानैः|2.6 (first two pādas)
You will see the palace of the nightstalker lord, Rāvaṇa, at its centre – it intrudes into the sky, and is plied by the celestial chariots of the gods which are designed to carry couples into the heavens.
The swan, though, is directed straight to the aśoka vana, where Hanuman, on the brink of despair, discovered Sītā after an exhaustive search of the city.
Go towards the copse of trees there in the palace garden, where the wind trembles at his most trifling angry word and the sun is mistaken for the moon. It is always bursting with the fruit of every season and is ablaze with aśoka trees which keep Sītā company in her burning grief. Hanuman was the first one to turn this grove upside down when he went on the rampage.
Here, as the swan wheels around in circles, he will find Sītā sitting below a śiṃśupā tree, her only companion. And thus Rāma ends his instruction for the journey, and dwells with sad affection on his wife and the message the swan is to deliver to sustain her until his arrival.
The rather blurry image at the top of this post is taken from one of those immortal tv serialisations of the Ramayana – highly recommended, especially the Rama-Ravana dual.