tataḥ tau cīra vasanau dhanuḥ pravara pāṇinau |
ṛśyamūkasya śailasya ramyam deśam upāgatau ||
No wonder Sugriva was worried. Seated safely in the area of Mount Rishyamukha, his brother Vali could not attack him, as the place was off-limits. Sugriva was formerly the king of Kishkindha, a kingdom in the forest populated by Vanaras. The literal definition to the Sanskrit term is “forest-dweller.” From their behavior and bodily features, the Vanaras are known to be like monkeys.
In a fit of rage due to a misunderstanding, Vali overthrew his own brother from the throne. Sugriva ran away fearing for his life. Rishyamukha was safe due to a curse applied by a sage against Vali. But that didn’t mean that others couldn’t come to the area. How would Sugriva recognize them? How would he know if Vali had sent people to do him in?
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman continues in his brief retelling of historical events. This portion relates to things he directly experienced. Hanuman was on Mount Rishyamukha with Sugriva. Hanuman is Sugriva’s chief minister. They saw these tiger-like men approaching. One was dark colored, shyama, while the other was fair. These were the brothers from Ayodhya, Rama and Lakshmana. Sugriva and Hanuman didn’t know that, however.
Hanuman says that when those brothers approached the Rishyamukha area, they were wearing clothes made of bark. They were also carrying weapons. The closest modern equivalent would be a homeless person wearing a holster that has a gun in it. The renounced sages wore clothes made of bark. The dress was a sign of the highest renunciation. Essentially, there is voluntary removal of all comforts of life, even to the point of clothing.
Rama and Lakshmana had the best bows in their hands. They looked renounced like sages, but the weapons were a sign of the kshatriya order. These are the fighters and administrators in society. The brothers weren’t dressing up for a Halloween contest or intentionally trying to mislead anyone. The two visible characteristics mentioned here relate to how the Supreme Lord gives so much attention to His devotees.
Dharma is the Sanskrit word for duty. Duty implies obligation. You follow your obligations in order to meet a specific condition. Dharma is the characteristic essential for that condition; hence its common use as a translation for religion, religiosity and virtue. Duty is specifically for the living beings who are not God. Since God is one, dharma applies to every single living thing except Him.
Rama is the Supreme Lord in an incarnation form. Therefore He has no duty. Still, He is so kind that He takes it upon Himself to preserve the good name, reputation, fame, honor, and ideal conditions for worship of those who are devoted to Him. In the Bhagavad-gita as Krishna He explains the same principle by saying that He preserves what the devotees have and carries what they lack.
ananyāś cintayanto māṁ
ye janāḥ paryupāsate
yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham
“But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form - to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.22)
The clothes made of bark were to protect what a devotee had. This devotee happened to be Rama’s father, and he was the king of Ayodhya. Dasharatha was known to be truthful to his vow. He never broke a promise. The youngest queen, Kaikeyi, took advantage of this by asking that Rama be banished from the kingdom for fourteen years, forced to live like a recluse. Rama upheld the promise of the father to the queen by accepting the order.
The best bows in their hands were to carry what the devotees were missing. In the Dandaka forest lived many renounced sages, who were dedicated to religious observances and concentrating their minds on the Absolute. The problem was that outside attack was coming. Rama and Lakshmana thus brought their weapons with them. They provided protection to the sages who were under harassment.
These words of Hanuman directed to Rama’s wife Sita also indicate an attention to duty. Sita was in distress in Lanka, brought there against her will. She lacked news of Rama and Lakshmana, and so Rama Himself asked Hanuman to go and find her. In this way one should be confident that in surrendering in thought, word and deed to the Supreme Lord, everything necessary in life will be provided. Rama accepts the duty of safeguarding the devotional environment.
With Lakshmana carrying bow in hand,
Traversing the renounced forest land.
So even if from outsiders attack,
Rama for sages covering back.
Clothes made of bark wearing,
Upheld word of father swearing.
The devotional environment maintaining,
So from steady practice always gaining.