Why the Sunderkaand is so beautifully written, sparkling like a mountain stream and still as a river in the plains!
Most Indians are overly fond of Goswami Tulsidasji's ‘Sunderkaand’ in the celebrated epic ‘Sri Ramcharitmanas’. The magic of this section pours life into their dry parched-up mundane existence and converts it suddenly into a glistening expanse of beauty and joy. Therefore they leave for their work place only after chanting it in the morning. Many others recite it daily, or on every Tuesday and Saturday of the week, either monthly or whenever a Kirtan or Path is organised at home, a community or a colony. In class with the Hanuman Chalisa, several of them remember it by rote and do not need to read from the text.
Recitation of the Sunderkaand underlines the oft-repeated notion that it grants devotion to Lord Rama, providing mukti while blessing us with all materialistic boons. The draft has a proven track record of being a Rambaan or cure for deadly diseases, a refuge for family problems and a safe haven for harrowing court-cases. Invariably everyone chants the Sunderkaand on the most auspicious days of Sri Ramnaumi, Sita-naumi, Hanuman Jayanti, Diwali, Navratras and Goswami Tulsidasji Jayanti.
The obvious question which surfaces is why Sunderkaand is acclaimed as the chapter on beauty? Even Lord Shiva the original preceptor of Sri Ramcharitmanas affirms,
savdhan mun kari puni Shankar
lage kahan katha ati SUNDER ( 5/32/3)
The verse signifies that though Sri Ramcharitmanas abounds in divine pursuits, it is here in the Sunderkaand that Shivji totally immersed in Ramji's kripa, momentarily forgets that He is reciting the Sri Ram Katha to Ma Parvatiji. This incidence lucidly explains why the Sunderkaand is such an engrossing narrative!
The secret behind the popularity of Sunderkaand is that it recounts at large Hanumanji’s brave exploits, blessed as He was with extraordinary latent powers which Jambvantji endorses. Miraculously crossing the vast ocean over Lanka, He tactfully wins over Surasa, the selfish gods' ploy, kills the image-catching demoness and merely injures Lankini. After completing the primary task of delivering Ramji's divine ring to Sitaji, Hanumanji kills mighty Ravana's son Akshaya, defeats Meghnaad and roars like a lion in the Demon's court. The foolish Lankans try to set fire to His tail but get burnt in the process! Mandodari, Ravana's wife, brother Vibhishana, Malyavan the minister, spy Shuka, the whole lot of them try to offer sane advice to Ravana but he is doomed to be in the Death-mode. Vibhishana takes shelter at Lord Rama's lotus feet and is christened ‘Lankesh’ much before Ravana is killed. Soon after initial resistance, Lord Rama's ancestral Sea God bows to His Holy Feet and gets rid of demons infesting the coast by Ramji's arrows. The rugged Sea pitching in, suggests how with the help of Nal and Neel, two engineers blessed with extraordinary powers, the Lord can cross the mighty ocean.
Not only in the Sri Ramcharitmanas but also in Valmiki’s ‘Ramayana and the ‘Adhyatma Ramayana’ the 5th section or Kaand is titled the Sunderkaand. The other segments pertain to either Ramji's age or place. To exemplify, Part I called the BAALKAAND, containing 361 verses, details the Bal or childhood leelas of Lord Rama. The killing of Tadka and snapping of the Shiv-bow which resulted in Lord Rama’s Divine Union with Goddess Sitaji, are also highlighted.
Part II hailed as the AYODHYAKANDA has 326 verses and discusses at length powerful politics in the Kingdom of Ayodhya. The conniving duo of Kaikeyi and Manthra manage to send off Lord Rama, Laxmana and Sitaji for 14 years banvaas or exile to the forest and King Dashratha dies due to the agony of separation. During the first year of banishment, Bharatji arrives at Chitrakoot. In the 14th year, the trio of Ramji, Sitaji and Laxmanji moves to Panchvati.
Part III titled ARANYAKAANDA, details the forest-exploits of Lord Rama in 46 verses. The abduction of Sitaji by Ravana is the main event focussed upon coupled with the killing of demons Viradha , Khara- Dusan , Trisira , Maarich and Kabhandha. While Lord Rama punishes Jayanta for misbehaving with Sitaji, on the other hand He affectionately caresses Jatayu who fought Ravana to save Sitaji. The incidence induces Tulsidassji to declare:
* komal chit ati deendayala , karan binu Raghunath kripala
**sunuhu Uma te log abhagi , Hari taji hohin vishay anurag ( Doha 32-33)
Part IV acclaimed as the KISHKINDHAKAND lays down the Principles of Friendship by Lord Rama in 30 verses. Hanumanji, Lord Shiva's incarnation, meets Lord Rama, motivating Sugriva to have an alliance with Him. Sugriva benefits soon enough as his enemy Bali is killed but like most humans is ungrateful to Lord Rama. A stern warning by Laxmana and Hanumanji makes Him guiltily aware of His deep ignorance. Great Mahatmas now guide the monkeys and the bear on their path to Lanka; initially as austerity incarnate in verse 24 and then as Jatayu’s brother in verse 27. Jambvantji, a senior warrior reminds Hanumanji of His hidden powers.
In continuation of Part V, the Sunderkaand, Part VI called the LANKAKAAND is compiled of 121 verses. Herein Lord Rama beheads Ravana, Kumbhkarna and all the Lankan demons which was the prime purpose of the Rama-incarnation.
Part VII, UTTERKAAND, completes the holy epic. In this section, Hanumanji meets Bharatj, breaking the ecstatic news that Lord Rama is coming home to Ayodhya. On Sri Ramji's majestic Coronation, Vedas and Lord Shiva perform the Alleluia. The actual occurrence of the overly famous Ram-Rajya takes place in the Uttarkand.
Now coming back to the beauty and subtle intellect of Sunderkaand, besides:
savdhan mun kari puni Shankar
lage kahan katha ati SUNDER ( 5/32/3) ,
We have Goswami Tulsidasji ‘s confirmation at the beginning of the chapter:
sindhu teer ek bhudhar SUNDER ( 5/0/5)
In the midst of Sunderkaand He affirms :--
tab dekhi mudrika manohar
Ramnaam ankit ati SUNDER ( 5/12/1) .
The underlying essence of these verses clarifies that the SUNDERKAAND is beautifully subtle right from the beginning to the end. It propagates the Oriental philosophy of Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram. During the course of this Scripture, Baalkaand and Ayodhyakaand represent Satya or truth,Aranyakaand and Kishkindhakaand signify Shiv or welfare, Sunderkaand show cases the Sunder or beautiful aspect of spirituality, Lankakaand symbolizes the efforts, while Ram-Rajya highlights the fruit in the very end.
Though named the Sunderkaand in all the three Ramayanas, Adhyatma, Balmiki and Tulsidassji’, the narration differs. In Tulsidassji's Sunderkaand, verse 33, Hanumanji has met Ramji and been eulogized by Him but now onwards till the last 60th verse the following incidents take place:
i) Ramji's army leaves for Lanka.
ii) Ravana's wife Mandodari , brother Vibhishana, minister Malyavan, spy Shuka, the whole of them try to offer sane advice to Ravana but he is doomed to be in the Death-mode. Vibhishana takes shelter in Lord Rama's lotus feet and is christened ‘Lankesh’ much before Ravana is killed.
iii) After initial resistance, Lord Rama's ancestral Sea God makes obeisance to His Holy Feet, getting rid of demons infesting its coast by Ramji's arrows. The rugged Sea also suggests how Lord Rama can cross the vast Ocean with the help of Nal and Neel.
But in case of Adhyatma and Balmiki’s Ramayana all this does not occur in the Sunderkand but in the Yudhkaand. Thus while the titles of the first 5 segments, Baalkand, Ayodhyakaand, Aranyakaand, Kishkindhakaand and Sunderkaand are identical in the three Ramayanas, Tulsidassji’s Lankakaand is different from Yudhkaand of the other two texts. Secondly in Uttarkaand the incidence of Sitaji leaving earth is not described since devotee Tulsidassji could not bear this truth. In fact, if the Adhyatma Ramayana recounts the experience of Lord Shiva to Parvatiji, Balmiki’s text pens down the exact history of Lord Rama’s era. Ramcharitmanas by Tulsidassji, elucidates in detail what He saw, its divinity being attributed to a great devotee. Hence this version has created great Saints like Murari Bapu, Sri Ravi Shankarji, Kinkarji and Dogreji Maharaj, while mesmerising those who read it with faith and perseverance!
In the Sunderkaand, Lord Shiva ascertains:
Sat Hari bhajan, jagat sub sapna !
So let us recite the last Doha no. 60:
Sakal sumangal ...jal jan !
The verse signifies that a recital of Lord Rama’s virtues bestows all possible blessings on us. Those who hear it easily cross the ocean of mundane existence without any pitfall.