Hamsa Sandesha – Lanka (5)

[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

यत्रानीतास्सुरयुवतयो रञ्जयेयुस्समक्षम्॥2.1

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

त्वाहूयेव ध्वजपटमयानग्रहस्तान्धुनोति॥2.3 

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. 

ईषत्कोपाच्चकितपवनामिन्दुसन्दिग्धसूर्यां

नित्योदारामृतुभिरखिलैर्निष्कुटे वृक्षवाटीम्।

सीताशोकज्वलनसहजैस्तत्र दीप्तामशोकै-

रापद्येथाः प्रथमलुलितामाञ्जनेयप्रचारैः॥2.7

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. 

7 Responses to “Hamsa Sandesha – Lanka (5)”


  1. 1 Sreenivasarao S April 4, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Dear Venetia, That was very ably dealt . As you remarked, Sri Desika describes the beauty of the gardens, lakes and the women in captivity of Lanka the resplendent pearl-drop on the brow of India. He deftly steps aside its rulers and nobles. Sri Desika ends the poem with a benediction, wishing the swan to roam the skies joyously in company of its Lady Love.
    As you have mentioned Sri Desika’s poem was written in the fourteenth century. By then, Lanka had already been subjected to series of outside influences stretching back from that of the traders of King Solomon’s times, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans; followed by the Moors and Arabs in the eleventh century. In between, the earliest Christian preaches, St. Thomas, St. Bartholomew, and the eunuch of Candace, are said to have brought Christianity to the Island. And, in the periods subsequent to the Hamsa Sandesa, commencing from the fifteenth century, the Portuguese in their cultural, religious and temporal conquest of the Island systematically destroyed most ancient sites stretching from Jaffna in the North to Devundara in the South; and from Kotte in the West to Batticaloa in the East.
    Thus, in each wave of influence the older structures and names of the places gave way to the newer ones. But, the Portuguese conquest was the most destructive. Such unrelenting overlays now make it difficult to identify the locations and names associated with the events narrated in the ancient epics and Puranas.
    The scholars have however identified more than about thirty sites on the Island as associated with the Ramayana legend. As you said; Kandy (aka Maha Nuwara, the great city) is situated in the amphitheatre surrounded by wooded hills. And, the three prominent peaks of the Kandy-hills are identified with Trikuta-Parvata; Sita Talava with the place where Sita was kept confined; the barren area above Halaghatta with the gardens burnt down by Hanuman; Kotte (Ravana Kotte) with Ravana’s fort etc. etc [Please also check : http://www.stephen-knapp.com/lord_rama_fact_or_fiction.htm%5D
    Well, of course there is nothing much to prove or disprove such conclusions.
    Thank you for a wonderfully well written series on Hamsa sandesa. Pardon me for delay in responding as all laptops and PCs were till yesterday requisitioned for watching cricket online.
    Wish you a very Happy and Prosperous New Year, Ugadi.
    Warm Regards

    • 2 Venetia Ansell May 5, 2011 at 1:03 pm

      Thank you for this interesting overview of Sri Lanka’s history. I hope to go and explore the history of each place in more detail at some stage.

  2. 3 Sreenivasarao S April 4, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Dear Venetia, That was very ably dealt . As you remarked, Sri Desika describes the beauty of the gardens, lakes and the women in captivity of Lanka the resplendent pearl-drop on the brow of India. He deftly steps aside its rulers and nobles. Sri Desika ends the poem with a benediction, wishing the swan to roam the skies joyously in company of its Lady Love.

    As you have mentioned Sri Desika’s poem was written in the fourteenth century. By then, Lanka had already been subjected to series of outside influences stretching back from that of the traders of King Solomon’s times, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans; followed by the Moors and Arabs in the eleventh century. In between, the earliest Christian preaches, St. Thomas, St. Bartholomew, and the eunuch of Candace, are said to have brought Christianity to the Island. And, in the periods subsequent to the Hamsa Sandesa, commencing from the fifteenth century, the Portuguese in their cultural, religious and temporal conquest of the Island systematically destroyed most ancient sites stretching from Jaffna in the North to Devundara in the South; and from Kotte in the West to Batticaloa in the East.

    Thus, in each wave of influence the older structures and names of the places gave way to the newer ones. But, the Portuguese conquest was the most destructive. Such unrelenting overlays now make it difficult to identify the locations and names associated with the events narrated in the ancient epics and Puranas.

    The scholars have however identified more than about thirty sites on the Island as associated with the Ramayana legend. As you said; Kandy (aka Maha Nuwara, the great city) is situated in the amphitheatre surrounded by wooded hills. And, the three prominent peaks of the Kandy-hills are identified with Trikuta-Parvata; Sita Talava with the place where Sita was kept confined; the barren area above Halaghatta with the gardens burnt down by Hanuman; Kotte (Ravana Kotte) with Ravana’s fort etc. etc [Please also check : http://www.stephen-knapp.com/lord_rama_fact_or_fiction.htm%5D

    Well, of course there is nothing much to prove or disprove such conclusions.

    Thank you for a wonderfully well written series on Hamsa sandesa. Pardon me for delay in responding as all laptops and PCs were till yesterday requisitioned for watching cricket online.

    Wish you a very Happy and Prosperous New Year, Ugadi.

    Warm Regards

  3. 4 अश्वमित्रः April 22, 2011 at 6:49 am

    Hi Venetia, just found your blog. Lovely and rich. By chance, I just happen to be reading the wonderful episode of the meeting of Bhima and Hanuman in Adiparva.

    Ciao, P

  4. 5 Dr.R.P.Sharma May 19, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Dear Friend,

    First of all let me say sorry for an inappropriate comment .

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  5. 6 augadhablogs May 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Sanatan Dharma is the oldest culture in the world, and there was a time when it was spread throughout the world. People can find swastika in every culture like the American Indians, Greece, troy, Italy, Russia and many other countries have this symbol. Look at the 108 symbols of god in Sanatan Dharma and their origin. Things will become very clear about the origin of humanity in this world. It is time to free ourselves from the lies and deception spread throughout the world about our culture.

    Dont forget, even today in Sanskrit and Hindi the words for Divorce and any other abusive words do not exist. Yet it contains words like Yantra ( machine) and Vimana ( air-craft), which existed far before the western civilization constructed aircraft themselves.


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