“In that great forest, while going around hunting He killed many valiant demons who could assume any shape they desired.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 31.9)
tena tatra mahāaraṇye mṛgayām paridhāvatā |
rākṣasā nihatāḥ śūrā bahavaḥ kāmarūpiṇaḥ ||
There is a legend which says that Shri Hanuman once wrote down his own accounts of the life of Shri Rama, the Supreme Lord who appeared on earth in an incarnation form to protect the pious and annihilate the miscreants, which the Bhagavad-gita says God does from time to time. The most famous accounts of Rama’s life come from the Ramayana, an epic Sanskrit poem authored by Maharishi Valmiki. This particular legend says that Hanuman’s attempt at a Ramayana was so good that after seeing it Valmiki felt ashamed at his own work. Not liking this effect, Hanuman immediately destroyed his work, the Hanumad Ramayana. From this particular verse in Valmiki’s Ramayana, we see how that story is plausible, as Hanuman shows his unique expertise in praising the Supreme Lord.
Rama appeared in the race of the kshatriya, which are like fighters. In times past, the members of this class were raised in this culture from the beginning. They didn’t go to school and have people ask them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The guru, or spiritual master, knew by judging the qualities of the students. In pious families, the children followed the lead of the parents. Rama and His three younger brothers were trained to be expert defenders. They were groomed to follow the example of their father, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya.
Not surprisingly, on occasion Rama would release arrows from His bow. To say that He fought sometimes is not an extraordinary statement. Here Hanuman is describing Rama to Sita Devi, Rama’s wife. Why would Hanuman need to make such a description? Does not Sita already know everything about her husband? The setting here is an enemy territory. The inhabitants are enemies to Rama. Actually, no one should be God’s enemy, since the Supreme Lord is the well-wishing friend of all living entities. He is the supreme enjoyer of all sacrifices and austerities and the proprietor of all planets, including ours.
bhoktāraṁ yajña-tapasāṁsarva-loka-maheśvaramsuhṛdaṁ sarva-bhūtānāṁjñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati
“The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attain peace from the pangs of material miseries.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.29)
In Lanka there was animosity towards Rama; hence the classification of its people as enemies. If Sita were to hear anyone describing Rama, it would not be in positive terms. Therefore Hanuman had to go the extra mile. He had to describe Rama in such a way that Sita would know that he had come in peace, which he indeed had. He was sent by Rama to look for her, for she had gone missing while the couple was residing in the Dandaka forest.
In describing Rama’s kshatriya nature, Hanuman could have simply said that Rama sometimes killed enemies. But here the description is much more detailed. The extra terms added are not exaggeration; they provide more accuracy to the definition of Rama’s characteristics pertinent to His occupation. It is said that Rama went into a great forest. In the preceding verse, Hanuman described how Rama went into the forest at the command of His father. Rama took Sita with Him as well as Lakshmana, His younger brother. Hanuman here tells us that this forest was great, maha-aranya.
Rama killed many demons while in that great forest. Hanuman says that this occurred while Rama was hunting. Today a hunter goes out into the wild with a gun, making for quite an unfair fight against the animals of the wild. Rama was a single man with a bow and arrow set. He hunted not ordinary animals either. His prey consisted of Rakshasas. These were demons, evil creatures. They were not ordinary Rakshasas either. Hanuman says that they were valiant.
This description alone suffices, but Hanuman goes further still. These valiant demons could assume any shape at will. So you have a man who voluntarily left His comfortable home for the expansive forest, carrying with Him only a bow and arrow set. While hunting, for sport basically, He killed many demons who were valiant. These demons could assume any shape they desired, kama-rupa. This means that Rama’s feat was the most amazing. In a fair fight you at least know what your opponent looks like. But what if your opponent could change their appearance at any second? How will you defeat them? This was the problem Rama faced, and yet it was not a problem for Him.
From this single verse we get a beautiful and accurate description for God. Hanuman’s words go well beyond the abstract. God is not an elusive figure whose features are left up to the imagination. His features are incomprehensible, but through His actions on the earthly plane we get a slight idea of them. Only Hanuman could provide such a wonderful description, and in hearing it Sita knew that Rama’s messenger had arrived.
As Rama so well he knows,
Hanuman with grace describing Him so.
Rama voluntarily into forest great,
For sport killed demons of changing shape.
Shows that with ease was done,
By Rama, of potency matched by none.
As so perfectly Rama he described,
Sita knew His messenger had arrived.