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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Setu Bandhan in Valmiki Ramayana

Maharshi Valmiki has described in great detail, the life of that Great Hero Sri Rama. He has not only provided relevant geographical descriptions, but also specified accurate astronomical configurations at different places, at different events during Sri Rama's life.

Valmiki provides a gripping description of that astounding human endeavour, Setu Bandhan, which has become the folklore of the great Hindu tradition. The Ramayana has a scintillating narrative of the marvellous saga in great details.


Reproduced below are from Sri Valmiki Ramayan, Yuddha Kandam, Sarga 22, some relevant extracts related to the Setu Bandhan event.

The Tsunami
[6-12]
tamashca lokamaavavre dishashca na chakaashire
praticukshubhire caashu saraamsi saritastadaa
tiryak ca saha nakshatraiH samgatau candrabhaaskarau
bhaaskaraamshubhiraadiiptam tamasaa ca samaavR^itam
pracakaashe tadaakaashamulkaashatavidiipitam
antarikshaachcha nirghaataa nirjagmuratulasvanaaH
vapuHprakarSeNa vavurdivyamaarutapaN^ktyaH
babhaJNja cha tadaa vR^ikshaan jaladaanudvahan muhuH
aarujamshcaiva shailaagraan shikharaaNi babhaJNja ca
divi ca sma mahaavegaaH samhataaH samahaasvanaaH
mumucurvaidyutaanagniimste mahaashanayastadaa
[14-15]
sahabhuutaiH satoyormiH sanaagaH saharaakshasaH
sahasaabhuuttato vegaadbhiimavego mahodadhiH
yojanam vyaticakraama velaamanyatra samplavaat



Darkness engulfed all, and all directions were obscured. Celestial bodies, even the sun and moon, appeared to be moving on strange paths. Waters were highly shaken. Although sun rays had already appeared on the horizon, the sky was enveloped by an unusual kind of darkness. The horizon shone from afar as if lit by a hundred meteors while thunders reverberated with an unparalleled sound in the sky. Mighty winds were thumping and thrashing all in their sway, sweeping away the clouds only to replace them with even darker and denser ones, and uprooting trees after trees. Such strong winds indeed, which were shattering the mountain peaks, even razing off the rock edges. When winds of great velocity battered together, the sky seemed to emit flashes of mighty lightning with terrifying sound followed by great thunders as no one might have heard before.

Such was the scene when arose mountainous waves in the great ocean, which soon became possessed of terrific momentum. With tremendous speed and volume, those water mountains crashed on to the shore. In no time, water ran all over the land flooding large portions inside the coast, to an extent of a Yojana.


The Idea

Sarga 22 [25-28]:
pR^ithivii vaayur aakaasham aapo jyotiH ca raaghavaH
svabhaave saumya tiSThanti shaashvatam maargam aashritaaH
tat svabhaavo mama api eSa yad agaadho aham aplavaH
vikaaras tu bhaved raadha etat te pravadaami aham
na kaamaan na ca lobhaad vaa na bhayaat paarthiva aatmaja
raagaannakraakulajalam stambhayeyam kathamcana
vidhaasye yena gantaasi viSahiSye hyaham tathaa
na graahaa vidhamiSyanti yaavatsenaa tariSyati
[43-45]:
tasmin dagdhe tadaa kukshau samudraH saritaam patiH
raaghavam sarvashaastrajJNamidam vacanambraviit
ayam saumya nalo naama tanujo vishva karmaNaH
pitraa datta varaH shriimaan pratimo vishva karmaNaH
eSa setum mahaautsaahaH karotu mayi vaanaraH
tam aham dhaarayiSyaami tathaa hi eSa yathaa pitaa

God of Ocean, after showing all the marks of respect addressed Sri Ram like this. O, beloved Rama! Earth, wind, ether, water and light remain fixed in their own nature, resorting to their eternal path. Therefore, I am fathomless and my nature is that it is impossible of being swum across. It becomes unnatural if I am shallow. (However) I am advising you of the following instrument to cross me.

O, son of the great king! Neither from desire nor ambition nor fear nor from affection, am I able to solidify my waters. O, Rama! Still, I shall make it possible to see that you are able to cross over. I will arrange a place to cross me. I shall bear with it, only as far as it is for the purpose of your Vanara sena.
Sagara further addressed Sri Ram, who was learned in all the sciences. O, Purushottama! This one of your army, named Nala, the glorious one, is the son of Vishvakarma the great engineer. He was given a boon by his father and is indeed equal to none other than his own fater, Visvakarma. Let this greatly energetic Vanara build a bridge across me. I shall hold that bridge. He is just the same as his father (in capabilities).

The Architect

[47-51]:
aham setum kariSyaami vistiirNe varuNa aalaye
pituH saamarthyam aasthaaya tattvam aaha mahaaudadhiH
asau tu saagaro bhiimaH setukarmadidR^ikshayaa
dadau daNDabhayaadgaadham raaghavaaya mahodadhiH
mama maatur varo datto mandare vishva karmaNaa
aurasas tasya putro aham sadR^isho vishva karmaNaa
smaarito.asmyahametena tattvamaaha mahodadhiH
na ca api aham anukto vai prabruuyaam aatmano guNaan
samarthshcaapyaham setum kartum vai varuNaalaye
tasmaadadyaiva badhnantu setum vaanarapuN^gavaaH


Nala, the noble Vanara, stood up and (although reminded of his glory) humbly spoke thus to Mahabali Rama. The great Ocean disclosed a truth. I will (be able to) construct a bridge across this large body of water, and in doing so, will depend upon the skill and ability my father has taught me. This Sagara is a formidable mass of water, and it is indeed by the fear of punishment that it has given a passage to Rama, who wished to see a bridge constructed on it.

On the mountain of Mandara, the following boon was given by Visvakarma to my mother: “O, god like lady! A son equal to me will be born to you." I am a son born of Visvakarma’s own veerya. I am equal to Visvakarma my father. The God of the Ocean has reminded me of my heritage now. The great ocean spoke the truth about me, which, because I was not asked, I had not disclosed earlier.

I know how to construct a bridge across the ocean. Hence, let the foremost of Vanaras start building the bridge right now.


The Logistics

[52-58]:
tato nisR^iSTa raameNa sarvato hari yuuthapaaH
abhipetur mahaaaraNyam hR^iSTaaH shata sahasrashaH
te nagaan naga samkaashaaH shaakhaa mR^iga gaNa R^iSabhaaH
babhanjur vaanaraas tatra pracakarSuH ca saagaram
te saalaiH ca ashva karNaiH ca dhavair vamshaiH ca vaanaraaH
kuTajair arjunais taalais tikalais timishair api
bilvakaiH saptaparNaishca karNikaaraishca puSpitaiH
cuutaiH ca ashoka vR^ikSaiH ca saagaram samapuurayan
samuulaamH ca vimuulaamH ca paadapaan hari sattamaaH
indra ketuun iva udyamya prajahrur harayas taruun
taalaan daaDimagulmaamshca naarikelavibhiitakaan
kariiraan bakulaannimbaan samaajahruritastataH
hastimaatraan mahaakaayaaH paaSaaNaamshca mahaabalaaH
parvataamshca samutpaaTya yantraiH parivahanti ca


Then, blessed by Rama, thousands of Vanara heroes joyfully jumping, ran to all sides of the great forest. Those army-chiefs of Vanaras, who resembled mountains themselves, broke the rocks and trees there and dragged those towards the sea. Those Vanaras started collecting in the ocean all types of trees like Sala and Asvakarna, Dhava and bamboo, Kutaja, Arjuna, palmyra, Tilaka, Tinisa, Bilva, Saptaparna, Karnika, in blossom as also mango and Asoka. The excellent vanaras lifted and brought, like Indra’s flag posts, some trees with roots intact and some others without roots. From here and there they brought Palmyra trees, pomegranate shrubs, coconut and Vibhitaka, Karira, Bakula and neem trees.

And then those Vanaras who were of mighty strength and huge body, were employed in uprooting elephant-sized rocks from mountains and conveying these over transport equipments (parivahan yantra).


The Construction

[59-71]:
prakSipyamaaNair acalaiH sahasaa jalam uddhatam
samutpatitam aakaasham apaasarpat tatas tataH
samudram kshobhayaamaasurnipatantaH samantataH
suutraaNyanye pragR^ihNanti hyaayatam shatayojanam
nalaH cakre mahaasetum madhye nada nadii pateH
sa tadaa kriyate seturvaanarai rghorakarmabhiH
daNDananye pragR^ihNanti vicinvanti tathaapare
vaanaraiH shatashastatra raamasyajJNaapuraHsaraiH
meghaabhaiH parvataabhashca tR^iNaiH kaaSThairbabandhare
puSpitaagraishcha tarubhiH setum badhnanti vaanaraaH
paaSaaNaamshca giriprakhyaan giriiNaam shikharaaNi ca
dR^ishyante paridhaavanto gR^ihya daanavasamnibhaaH
shilaanaam kSipyamaaNaanaam shailaanaam tatra paatyataam
babhuuva tumulaH shabdas tadaa tasmin mahaaudadhau
kR^itaani prathamenaahnaa yojanaani caturdasha
prahR^iSTaijasamkaashaistvaramaaNaiH plavaN^gamaiH
dvitiiyena tathaivaahnaa yojanaani tu vishatiH
kR^itaani plavagaistuurNam bhiimakaayairmahaabalaiH
ahnaa tR^itiiyena tathaa yojanaani tu saagare
tvaramaaNairmahaakayairekavimshatireva ca
caturthena tathaa caahnaa dvaavimshatirathaapi vaa
yojanaani mahaavegaiH kR^itaani tvaritaistataH
paJNcamena tathaa caahnaa plavagaiH kshiprakaaribhiH
yojanaani trayovimshatsuvelamadhikR^itya vai
sa vaanaravaraH shriimaan vishvakarmaatmajo balii
babandha saagare setum yathaa caasya tathaa pitaa



Vanaras constructing the setuThe water, raised up due to the sudden throwing of mountains in the sea, soared upward towards the sky and from there again, gushed back. The rocks falling on all sides perturbed the ocean. Several others were employed in drawing up strings that went a hundred Yojanas long, in order to ensure a straight line.

Nala, on his part, organized the construction of the monumental bridge in the heart of the ocean, helped, in doing so, by those Vanaras, who are indeed of daring acts.

Some were holding poles for measuring the bridge and some others collected the material. Reeds and logs resembling clouds and mountains, were brought by thousands of Vanaras who, lead by the command of Rama, fastened parts of the bridge. The bridge was tied with trees having blossom at the end of the boughs. Some Vanaras looking like demons, seized rocks resembling mountains and peaks of mountains, and appeared to be running hither and thither. Tumultuous sound occurred when the rocks were thrown into the sea and when mountains were caused to fall there.

On day one, as fourteen Yojanas of bridge was completed speedily, thrilled with delight were the Vanars, resembling elephants. In the same manner, on the second day, twenty more Yojanas were constructed speedily by the Vanars of terrific bodies and of mighty strength. Likewise, on the third day, twenty-one more Yojanas of the bridge was completed in the ocean speedily by the colossal bodied Vanaras. On the fourth day, a further twenty-two Yojanas were constructed by the Vanars dashing with a great speed. In that manner, at last on the fifth day, the Vanars working quickly constructed twenty-three yojanas of the bridge which finally reached the other side of the seashore.

This way, Nala, that strong and illustrious son of Visvakarma and a noble Vanara, built the great bridge across the sea, indeed as perfectly as his father himself would have probably thought of building it.


The Wondrous Bridge

[72-78]:
sa nalena kR^itaH setuH saagare makara aalaye
shushubhe subhagaH shriimaan svaatii patha iva ambare
dashayojanavistiirNam shatayojana maayatam
dadR^ishurdevagandharvaa nalasetum suduSkaram
aaplavantaH plavantaH ca garjantaH ca plavam gamaaH
tam acintyam asahyam ca adbhutam loma harSaNam
dadR^ishuH sarva bhuutaani saagare setu bandhanam
taani koTi sahasraaNi vaanaraaNaam mahaaojasaam
badhnantaH saagare setum jagmuH paaram mahaaudadheH
vishaalaH sukR^itaH shriimaan subhuumiH susamaahitaH
ashobhata mahaasetuH siimanta iva saagare


That beautiful and lovely bridge constructed by Nala across the ocean full of alligators, shone brightly like a milky way of stars in the sky. With a desire to behold that marvel, all Devatas along with Gandharvas, Siddhas and great Rishis appeared. The Devas and Gandharvas saw Nala’s great bridge, having a width of ten yojanas and a length of hundred yojanas and the construction of which was a very complex enterprise indeed.

All Vanars taking long leaps and short leaps shouted in joy. All other beings saw the act of constructing the bridge across the ocean being made possible, which otherwise was an unimaginable, impossible and aweful task.

Those thousands of Vanars in great spectacle, reached the other shore of the great ocean soon after building that bridge across the sea.

That awesome perfect bridge was broad, well-constructed, glorious, well postured and held together firmly, looked beautifully like a separating straight line in the ocean.


[86-87]
tad adbhutam raaghava karma duSkaram
samiikSya devaaH saha siddha caaraNaiH
upetya raamam sahitaa maharSibhiH
samabhyaSincan sushubhiar jalaiH pR^ithak
jayasva shatruun nara deva mediniim
sasaagaraam paalaya shaashvatiiH samaaH
iti iva raamam nara deva satkR^itam
shubhair vacobhir vividhair apuujayan

Seeing that complex task of Raghava accomplished (the construction of the bridge), which was both wonderous and difficult, Gods and Siddhas along with great sages appeared and consecrated Rama with splendid waters.
Praising Rama, who is as respected amongst Gods as amongst humans, they said, “O Rama, O king! Defeat these enemies. This ocean and this earth are eternally for you to rule.”



An English translation of Valmiki Ramayana Yuddha Kandam, along with Sanskrit, can be read here: http://www.valmikiramayan.net/yuddha_kanda_contents.html

Credits and thanks for the paintings are to
Kamat's Potpourri.
  1. 'Victory on Ocean': Painting by Raja Ravi Verma decorates the main hall of the Mysore Palace.
  2. 'Nala', from Amar Chitra Katha.
  3. 'Setu Bandhan': Painting by Balasaheb Pandit Pant Pratinidhi, in Chitra Ramayana by Ramachandra Madhwa Mahishi, 1916
  4. Vanara Sena marches on: a Ganjifa card painting

hits since Chaitra 7, 2064 Vikram (March 26, 2007)