“Hearing those words of Sampati, our joy having increased we left that place, with our leader Angada.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 35.67)
tasya tat vacanam śrutvā sampāteḥ prīti vardhanam |
angada pramukhāḥ sarve tataḥ samprasthitā vayam ||
Hari-katha is discourses about the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose many names include Hari. This Sanskrit word has several meanings. When referring to God, it addresses His position as the one who takes things away that obstruct the path of devotion. The person losing those things may not be happy in the beginning. The loss may appear to be a form of punishment, but as the above referenced verse from the Ramayana attests, the end result is always to their benefit.
Interestingly, the word Hari can also refer to a monkey or lion. In this case the haris were monkeys from the forest of Kishkindha. They were on assignment to offer direct help to Hari the Supreme Lord, who had appeared on earth in the form of a warrior prince named Rama.
The task for the monkeys was to find Sita Devi, Rama’s wife who had gone missing. The Hari-raja named Sugriva had a massive army of monkeys working under him. They were sent to search the ten directions and to not return if unsuccessful. It was this stipulation that caused one of the search parties to bemoan their plight.
Led by Sugriva’s nephew Angada, this group had gone past the time allotted for the search. They had not succeeded, and they couldn’t think of what to do next. Angada decided it was time to quit. Better to starve to death than to return to Sugriva and Rama unsuccessful.
Then Angada did something interesting. He started reviewing many of the bad things that had already happened. This wasn’t just about him or the monkeys; he included Rama’s life as well. He did a kind of Ramayana-katha. Even though Angada’s words are found in the Ramayana itself, any recitation, even fractional, of the deeds and activities of the Supreme Lord Rama can be considered Ramayana-katha.
One of the things Angada mentioned was the killing of Jatayu, who was a vulture. This was in relation to Sita having gone missing. She was residing in the forest with Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. One time when the brothers were away from the hermitage, the king of Lanka approached in disguise. He then used force to take Sita away, placing her on his aerial car, which then headed back to the island of Lanka. Jatayu tried to stop Ravana, but in the ensuing battle he lost his life.
Ramayana-katha involves recounting events of a nature typically described as “bad.” Who wants to remember a vulture dying in a valiant effort to save an innocent princess? What is the benefit to recounting that incident? From the above referenced verse from the Ramayana we get an idea of the kind of benefit that awaits.
The bird Sampati overheard Angada mentioning the name of Jatayu. He then came down from the sky. His first instinct was to eat all the monkeys. When he heard what happened, he turned friendly. He then gave the group the most valuable piece of information: the location of Sita.
Hope was now renewed. The Haris from Kishkindha still had a chance to bring pleasure to Hari Himself. Angada’s recitation of Ramayana-katha led to increased joy, as Hanuman recounts later on when speaking to Sita herself. Whenever there is discourse of the Supreme Lord’s activities or those of His devotees, auspiciousness results. It is for this reason that the benevolent souls following bhakti-yoga try their best to bring discourses of God to as many people as possible.
When mentioning Jatayu the name,
Auspiciousness to monkeys came.
Previously fallen into despair,
Of Sita’s location not aware.
Benedictions falling like precipitation,
When of Rama’s deeds recitation.
Hanuman that information taking,
And brave journey to Lanka making.