“Hanuman and the Herbs
Pg. 39 in: Myths and Legends of India
“In the epic story of the Ramayana (which tells how the Rakshasa king Ravana abducted Rama’s wife Sita, and how Rama and his brother Lakshmana, assisted by the noble monkey-god Hanuman and the army of the king of monkeys Sugriva, launched an attack on Ravana’s kingdom of Lanka, and rescued Sita), a low point in Rama’s fortunes is reached when Lakshmana is felled in battle by Ravana’s son Indrajit. The rival of Lakshmana from apparent death was achieved through the divine speed, strength and courage of Hanuman. It happened like this…
“With the fighting over for the day, Rama and King Sugriva went to where Lakshmana lay lifeless on the battlefield. Overwhelmed with grief and despair, Rama was on the point of calling off the whole attempt to rescue Sita; but Sugriva’s learned monkey-doctor Sushena examined Lakshmana carefully and said to Rama: ‘Lord, your brother is not dead. His pulse is still there, though it is very weak. The problem is, he was struck by a magic weapon, and only a magic cure will save him. I know of three herbs that might do the trick, but we do not have them here – they grow only on the slopes of the Donagiri Mountain in the Himalayas. I see no way of getting the herbs in time.’
“This plunged Rama into even greater despair. But Hanuman was standing nearby, and he said: ‘If my king Sugriva permits me, I can go to the mountain and bring back the herbs before sunrise.’
“‘How can even you do that?’ said Rama. ‘I know you can fly as fast as the wind, and we saw you leave over the ocean from India to Lanka. But in one night – can even you get to the Himalays and back, tired after a whole day’s fighting?’
“‘I believe I can do it,’ said Hanuman, ‘and I wish to try, even if I die in the attempt.’
“With tears of gratitude in his eyes, Rama blessed Hanuman by touching his forehead; and immediately Hanuman was filled with new, supernatural strength. Praying to his father Vayu, the wind-god, he shot into the air and flew over the whole dark length of India, right to wher3 the snowy peaks of the Himalayas gleamed in the starlight. The Dongagiri mountain shown brightest of all, so Hanuman had no difficulty in finding it. But finding the herbs in the dark was not so easy, and for all his wind-like speed, he had very little time.
“Sushena had described the herbs carefully to him, and he found the first two. But the third herb, called Sanjivani, he could not find, however frenziedly he searched under the trees, along the streams and amongst the rocks of the mountainside. There was only an hour or so before dawn. What would he do?
“Over in the east, Hanuman saw the first rays of sunrise beginning to show. He desperately prayed to Surya, the sun-god, to delay his rising, for the sake of Rama’s brave brother Lakshmana; but the rays continued to strengthen, for the times of sunrise and sunset are fixed not by Surya himself, but by natural law.
“As a child, Hanuman had tried to catch the sun. Now, desperate for time, raging with anger too at being thwarted in his efforts to save Lakshmana, there was only one thing for it: Surya would have to be physically restrained! Massively increasing his size to cosmic proportions, Hanuman reached out for Surya in his chariot, and stuffed the god, sun, chariot and horses under his right arm, so that no sunlight at all could escape. And then, having still not found the Sanjivani herb, he tore up the whole Donagiri mountain with his other arm, and slung it on to his shoulder.
“Back to Lanka he flew, carrying both sun and mountain, the enormous weight of both giving him increased speed, once his own great power had accelerated him to full velocity. Meanwhiloe, Rama, Sugriva and the whole monkey-army were waiting and praying through the longest night they had ever known. Surely dawn must be near? If Hanuman failed to return before sunrise, Sushena would not have the herbs and Lakshmana would die.
“But suddenly Rama and the monkeys saw a huge shining object soaring through the sky towards them. They thought for a minute it was the sun, but no, its brilliance came from the luminous Donagiri Mountain, which – to their amazement and relief – was now set down before them by Hanuman. ‘I found two of the herbs,’ said Hanuman, ‘but not the third. So I brought he whole mountain. And I’m holding back the sunrise for Sushena to find the herb; but please hurry, for Surya’s horses are desperate to escape, and with their kicking and snorting they’re tickling my armpit unbearably!’
“Sushena had no difficulty finding the missing herb, and he poured a mixture of the juice of all three herbs into Lakshmana’s mouth. The effect was immediate: Lakshmana opened his eyes, stretched as if waking from a long sleep, and looked about him. Rama threw his arms around the neck of his brother, and the assembled monkeys broke into whoops and leaps and somersaults of joy. Then Rama embraced Hanuman saying, ‘You are nobler, faster, braver and stronger than anyone on earth. How can I every thank you enough for saving the life of my brother?’
“Hanuman smiled. With his task accomplished, he could permit the sun to rise now. So he lifted his arm, and Surya’s chariot shot out, reaching full, midday height within seconds, banishing the long night.”