Thursday, 22 March 2018

How did the Ramayana monkeys cope with the weapons of Ravana's army?

Question Details:
Ravana had flying machines according to the story. he surely must have had cannons - only two people on rama’ side had advanced weapons - he could have kiiled the last monkey by firing cannons from inside his fort.
My Answer:
In the Valmiki Ramayana, the Vanaras are described to be fighting with their nails, teeth, mountain peaks, and trees. The Rakshasas, however, fought with arrows, spears, clubs, battleaxes, javelins, etc… For example, here is a passage that describes the weapons that the Vanaras and the Rakshasas used (Critical Edition, Yuddha Kanda Section 32, translation by Bibek Debroy):
Ravana, the lord of the rakshasas, was filled with rage. He instructed all the soldiers to quickly emerge. Urged by Ravana, those soldiers cheerfully attacked. They were like the force of the great ocean at a time when it is full. A terrible engagement took place between the rakshasas and the apes, like that between the gods and the asuras in ancient times. Proclaiming their own valour, those terrible ones used blazing clubs, spears, javelins and battleaxes to slay the apes. The forceful apes used gigantic trees, the peaks of mountains and nails and teeth to slay the rakshasas. Some terrible rakshasas were stationed on the ramparts and used spears and javelins to strike at the apes who were on the ground. The apes became angry and leapt on to the ramparts. The apes attacked the rakshasas and brought them down. As a result of that tumultuous engagement, mud was created from the flesh and the blood of the rakshasas and the apes. It was extraordinary.
When it says mountain peaks were used by the Vanaras, it is probably heavy stones from mountains that were being hurled. Throwing entire mountain peaks is not possible. The Vanaras also hurled heavy trees. On the other hand, the Rakshasas fought with proper weapons. The weapons of the Vanaras were very primitive, whereas the weapons of the Rakshasas were more well developed. Also, note the following text from that passage:
The apes became angry and leapt on to the ramparts. The apes attacked the rakshasas and brought them down.
These two sentences show that the Vanaras were very agile, and were present in huge numbers. Had this not been the case, then they would not have been able to bring down the ramparts by just leaping onto them. Their sheer numbers and the force with which they jumped on the ramparts caused them to be break down…
That leads me to my next point… Although the Vanaras were inferior to the Rakshasas in quality of weapons, the Vanaras vastly outnumbered the Rakshasas. Even if an unarmed army (of a billion people) are up against 100 men with guns, the former would be able to defeat the latter very easily, due to the fact that they greatly outnumber the latter. In the Valmiki Ramayana, the Vanaras are described as greatly outnumbering the Rakshasas. Ravana’s spies Shuka and Sarana narrate to Ravana the size of Rama’s army (Critical Edition, Yuddha Kanda Section 19, translation by Bibek Debroy):
Hearing Sarana’s words, Ravana, the lord of the rakshasas, looked at the entire army. Shuka then addressed him in these words. ‘You can see them stationed there, like large and crazy elephants. O king! They are like nyagrodha trees along the Ganga or sala trees in the Himalayas. They are extremely difficult to counter. They are strong and can assume any form at will. They are like daityas and danavas. In a battle, their valour is like that of the gods. There are twenty one thousand crores, one thousand shankus and one hundred vrindas of them.
The above passage mentions that the Vanaras are “strong”, “like large and crazy elephants”, and that “their valor is like that of the gods”. Keep this in mind, as I will get back to the physical strength of the Vanaras later on in this answer…
The numbers of Vanaras in Rama’s army, reported by Ravana’s spies Shuka and Sarana in the above passage, are twenty one thousand crores, one thousand shankus and one hundred vrindas.
21 000 crores = 210 000 000 000 (210 billion)
What comprises a shanku and a vrinda is also described by Shuka and Sarana (Critical Edition, Yuddha Kanda Section 19, translation by Bibek Debroy):
One hundred thousand crores is said to be a shanku and such numbers are advancing to fight in the cause of Sugriva, Indra among the apes. O great king! Look at this army, which has presented itself, like a flaming planet. Therefore, great efforts are recommended, so that we are victorious and the enemy is defeated.’
Therefore,
1 Shanku = 1 000 000 000 000 (one trillion)
1000 Shankus = 1 000 000 000 000 000 (1000 trillion)
The critical edition removes the verses where the Vrinda unit of measurement is defined. However, in the non-critical editions, the Vrinda unit of measurement is defined in the following manner[1]:
शतम् शङ्कुसहस्राणाम् महाशङ्कुरिति स्मृतः || ६-२८-३४
महाशङ्क्य्सहस्राणाम् शतम् वृन्दमिहोच्यते |
शतम् नृन्दसहस्राणाम् महावृन्दमिति स्मृतम् || ६-२८-३५
महावृन्दसहस्राणाम् शतम् पद्ममिहोच्यते |
शतम् पद्मसहस्राणाम् महापद्ममिति स्मृतम् || ६-२८-३६
महापद्मसहस्राणाम् शतम् खर्वमिहोच्यते |
शतम् खर्वसहस्राणाम् महाखर्वमिति स्मृतम् || ६-२८-३७
महाखर्वसहस्राणाम् समुद्रमभिधीयते |
शतम् समुद्रसाहस्रमोघ इत्यभिधीयते || ६-२८-३८
शतमोघसहस्राणाम् महौघ इति विश्रुतः |
"A hundred thousand Shankus are said to be one Maha Shanku. A hundred thousand Maha Shankus are called one Vrindam here. A hundred thousand Vrindas are said to be one Maha vrindam. A hundred thousand Mahavrindas are called one Padmam here. A hundred thousand padmas are said to be one Mahapadmam. A hundred thousand Mahapadmas are called one Kharvam here. A hundred thousand kharvas are said to be one Mahakharvam. A hundred thousand Mahakharvas are called one Samundram. A hundred thousand Samudras are said to be one ogha here. A hundred thousand oghas are acclaimed a one Mahaugha."
So…
1 Vrinda = (100 000)(100 000) Shankus = 10 000 000 000 Shankus
100 Vrindas = (10 000 000 000) (100) = 1 000 000 000 000 (one trillion)
Adding it all up…
The Size of the Vanara Army = 21 000 crores + 1000 Shankus + 100 Vrindas
The Size of the Vanara Army = 210 billion + 1000 trillion + 1 trillion
The Size of the Vanara Army = 1001.21 trillion = 1 001 210 000 000 000
The size of the Vanara army that invaded Lanka was therefore insanely huge: 1001.21 trillion. It should therefore be no surprise why Rama’s army approaching Lanka was described like a frigging’ planet approaching… It was just too large…
Now let us have a look at the size of Ravana’s army that took part in the war. Once Rama and his army reach the Suvela mountain, Vibhishana sends his spies into Lanka to gather information about its defenses. They return and report the information to Vibhishana. Gathering all this information, Vibhishana then reports it to Rama (Critical Edition, Yuddha Kanda Section 29, translation by Bibek Debroy):
While they were conversing in this way, Ravana’s younger brother, Vibhishana, uttered the best of words, articulated properly and full of meaning. ‘My advisers, Anala, Sharabha, Sampati and Praghasa, went to the city of Lanka and have returned here again. All of them assumed the forms of birds and penetrated the enemy’s forces. They controlled themselves and observed the arrangements that have been made. I have been precisely told about the arrangements made by the evil-souled Ravana. O Rama! I will tell you everything exactly. Listen. With his forces, Prahasta has reached the eastern gate and is stationed there. Mahavirya, Mahaparshva and Mahodara are towards the south. Surrounded by many rakshasas, Indrajit is at the western gate. They wield spears, swords, bows, javelins and clubs in their hands. Ravana’s son is protected by brave ones armed with many kinds of weapons. There are many thousands of rakshasas, with weapons in their hands. Extremely anxious and surrounded by many rakshasas, Ravana is himself stationed at the northern gate. With a large army of rakshasas, Virupaksha, with a large spear, sword and bow, is stationed at the centre of the army. They saw many kinds of battalions thus arranged in Lanka.
After that, all my advisers quickly returned here again. There are thousands of elephants and tens of thousands of chariots in the city. There are twenty thousand horses and more than one crore of rakshasas. They are brave and strong, like assassins in a battle. These roamers in the night are always engaged in ensuring the welfare of the king of the rakshasas. O lord of the earth! For each rakshasa who is going to fight, there are one hundred thousand to tend and support him.’ The ministers had spoken about these arrangements in Lanka and Vibhishana repeated them to the lotus-eyed Rama. He again said, ‘O Rama! When Ravana fought against Kubera, six hundred thousand rakshasas advanced with him. They were like the evil-souled Ravana in valour, bravery, energy, spirit, pride and insolence. There is no reason to be intolerant. I am trying to anger you, not frighten you. In your valour, you are capable of restraining even the gods. You are surrounded by a large army with the four kinds of forces. With the vyuhas of this army of the apes, you will crush Ravana.’
As can be seen above, Ravana possessed a four-part army, consisting of elephants, chariot-warriors, cavalry, and foot soldiers. This was much more organized than the Vanara army. However, its major flaw is that it was much smaller in numerical size, than the Vanara army:
Elephants = a couple 1000s
Chariots = a couple 10 000s
Cavalry = 20 000
Foot Soldiers = a couple crores (10 000 000s)
It is also mentioned that “for each rakshasa who is going to fight, there are one hundred thousand to tend and support him”. These 100 000 people per Rakshasa warrior do not seem to be warriors. They rather seem to be war nurses that would be able to tend and support the injured and restore them to good health. Hence, the overall size of Ravana’s army would not exceed a couple of crores, whereas the Vanara army was tens of crores of crores in size (i.e. around 10^8 times greater in size than the Rakshasa army).
In the battlefield, the Vanara army was like a vast ocean, and the Rakshasa army were like extremely small island-masses in this vast ocean of Vanaras. When Ravana wakes up Kumbhakarna and asks him to fight the Vanara army, he tells Kumbhakarna, who was keen on going alone to fight the Vanaras, to drop that idea and go with an army as it is not possible for a single man to take on the vast, hyper-aggressive Vanara army (Critical Edition, Yuddha Kanda Section 53, translation by Bibek Debroy):
Having seized this sharp spear, the immensely energetic Kumbhakarna addressed Ravana in these words. ‘I am going alone. Let this large army remain here. I am hungry and angry now. I will devour the apes.’ Hearing Kumbhakarna’s words, Ravana addressed him in these words. ‘Depart, but surround yourself with soldiers with spears and clubs in their hands. The great-souled apes are swift in their conduct. They are crazy and will destroy anyone who is alone, distracted or inattentive. Therefore, go, but surround yourself with an extremely invincible army. Destroy the party of the enemy, which has caused injury to us rakshasas.’
It was this sheer excess of Vanara warriors that Rama’s army possessed, which became the decisive factor in who would win and who would lose the war. Up against such a vast army, Ravana really had no chance at victory. He should have sent spies to Kishkindha, right away, when he found out about the Rama-Sugriva alliance (from Hanumana), and should have used these spies to try to create dissensions between the two to break their alliance. Ravana’s inability to do so forced him to fight against practically the entire Southern India in the war against Rama… and there was no hope of winning such a war!
Now the last point I would like to raise is that the Rakshasas were good warriors with weapons, and could also use maya to help them win wars. But the Vanaras were physically stronger beings (remember the earlier quote where I mentioned this?), and generally trumped in hand-to-hand combat. Some exceptions exist, such as Ravana rendering Hanumana incapable to continue fighting with just two blows of his fist… But generally, the Vanaras had more raw strength than the Rakshasas.
This also proved advantageous in such a war, where the numbers of Vanaras were so large and the land mass they fought on was so small that the Vanaras and Rakshasas would be fighting in close proximity with one another. In such a situation, the weapons of the Rakshasas, which would be beneficial in attacking enemies that are situated far away from oneself (such as arrows, spears, etc…) would be rendered ineffective, and only those warriors that can excel in a one-on-one wrestling-type combat would be largely successful.
Just to end off this answer, I will give a couple of examples that show how the Vanaras used their raw physical strength, such as through fists/blows, to eliminate their enemies…
When the Vanaras were searching in all directions for Seetha, the batch sent in the Southern direction entered the Dandaka Forest, and were immediately confronted with a powerful Asura. The mighty Angada killed that Asura with just one blow of his palm (Critical Edition, Kishkindha Kanda Section 47, translation by Bibek Debroy):
They entered another terrible forest, covered with creepers and shrubs. There, they saw an asura who had no fear of the gods and was cruel in his deeds. The apes saw that terrible one standing in the forest, resembling a mountain. On seeing the one who was like a mountain, all of them girded their loins. The powerful one shouted at the apes, ‘Remain there. All of you will be destroyed.’ He angrily rushed towards them, doubling up his fists. When Angada, Vali’s son, saw that he was descending violently, he took him to be Ravana and slew him with a slap of his palm. Struck by Vali’s soon, he started to vomit blood from his mouth. Like a mountain that had been overturned, the asura fell down on the ground. When he ceased breathing, the apes, desiring success, entered and searched all the caves in the mountain.
Another example of such raw strength was shown by Angada when he kills Mahaparshva with a blow of his fist (Critical Edition, Yuddha Kanda Section 86, translation by Bibek Debroy):
The immensely swift and immensely radiant Mahaparshva became angry. He seized an extremely large battleaxe in one hand. It was firm and had been washed in oil. It sparkled and its essence was as hard as stone. Extremely angry, the rakshasa brought this down on Vali’s son. It had been severely struck towards his left shoulder. However, the enraged Angada freed himself from the battleaxe. The brave Angada was his father’s equal in valour. Enraged, he tightened his own fist, which was like the vajra. He knew about inner organs and aimed it towards the rakshasa’s chest and his heart. He brought down the fist, which was like Indra’s vajra to the touch. In the great battle, he brought this down on the rakshasa. His heart was quickly crushed. Slain, he fell down on the ground. When he fell down on the ground, his soldiers were agitated. In the encounter, Ravana became extremely angry.
Even Sugriva, who was a coward for the most part, was able to eliminate the Rakshasa warrior Virupaksha with a blow of his palm (Critical Edition, Yuddha Kanda Section 84, translation by Bibek Debroy):
The archer rakshasa, Virupaksha, announced his name. The invincible one leapt down from his chariot and climbed astride an elephant. The maharatha Virupaksha mounted that elephant. He uttered a terrible roar and rushed towards the apes. At the head of the army, he shot terrible arrows towards Sugriva. He cheered up the anxious rakshasas and urged and assured them. The Indra among the apes was severely pierced by the rakshasa’s sharp arrow. He was angry. In great rage, he made up his mind to kill him. The brave ape held aloft a tree. He advanced in front of that large elephant and struck it. Sugriva’s blow struck that giant elephant. It retreated the distance of a bow and trumpeted loudly. The valiant rakshasa descended from the injured elephant. He quickly advanced towards his enemy, the ape. Dextrous in his valour, he seized a shield made of oxhide and a sword. He approached Sugriva, who stood there, censuring him. Sugriva was angry. He seized a giant boulder that was like a cloud and hurled it towards Virupaksha. The bull among the rakshasas saw that the boulder was descending. Extremely brave, he struck him back with the sword. In front of the army, he angrily struck Sugriva with the sword. Struck by the sword, his armour was shattered and it fell down. The ape let go of what had fallen down. He leapt up and slapped him with his palm, making a terrible sound that was like that of thunder. Using his skills, the rakshasa freed himself from the blows Sugriva was ready with. He raised his fist and struck him in the chest. At this, Sugriva, lord of the apes, became angrier. He saw that the rakshasa had freed himself from his blows. The ape discerned an opportunity to strike Virupaksha. With his huge palm, he angrily struck him on the region around his temple. That blow of the palm was like the force of the great Indra’s vajra and he fell down on the ground. He fell down, covered in blood, and vomited blood. His angry eyes were dilated and he was covered in froth and blood. Virupaksha was seen to have become even more disfigured. He writhed and trembled, his sides were covered with blood.
I think those references should suffice to show that the Vanaras had immense raw strength… In a war where warriors were forced to fight in such close proximity, they generally had to engage in one-on-one, hand-to-hand combat. In such cases, those warriors that had the most raw strength would prevail, and that gave the mighty Vanara army an upper advantage!
Just to end this answer off… Ravana’s army did not possess cannons. As a matter of fact, the first reference to gunpowder is found in 2nd century CE[2], many centuries after Rama’s conquest of Lanka!
Footnotes

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