The Sundar Kand begins right after Lord Hanuman regains his lost supernatural powers, which had become hidden from him because of a curse given in childhood by an ascetic.
For a partial incarnation of Shiva, many major events, including this curse, could have been predetermined. Probably Hanuman wanted to experience the devotion of Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, as a common being for a while – as a being free from any supernatural abilities and the responsibilities that accompany divine powers. When the Universal Mother, who is believed to have incarnated as Devi Sita in the Ramayana, found the moment appropriate to trigger the destruction of evil, represented by Ravana and his army, Hanuman accepted the additional responsibility of being a divine warrior in addition to being a fulltime devotee of Rama. He was given the task to locate where Sita was held captive and bring this bit of information for Rama. For Hanuman, the eternal devotee of Rama, this was his first major assistance to his Lord.
Hanuman began his journey of Lanka by destroying the protective covering of the city, symbolized by the mystical gatekeeper – Lankini. While he examined the structure of the city, and the strengths or weaknesses of the city, he did not forget his eternal task of finding souls who are worthy of receiving a vision of Rama. He found a prospective follower in Ravana’s brother Vibhishana and this meeting became the latter’s inspiration to take refuge in Rama when his brother Ravana abandoned him. In a spiritual sense, this was not a diplomatic move though it probably turned out to be one. Hanuman had only done what he enjoys the most, besides chanting the name of Rama. He had connected a jiva (soul) to the Absolute.
As Hanuman reached Ashoka Vatika, he saw Sita – distressed but immersed in the remembrance of Rama. As always, Hanuman’s timing of arrival was perfect; he had reached moments before Sita planned to give Her life in longing for Rama. Hanuman narrated Rama’s biography, offered his Lord’s ring to Sita, and made Her believe that Rama would be there shortly. Sita became so pleased with Hanuman’s devotion to Rama, which was way above being nishkama, that She blessed Hanuman with boons that were to last till the end of time.
On a spiritual plane, Sita is the Universal Energy, beyond happiness and sorrow, who was performing a self-created divine play (leela) to restore righteousness. The tree, in Hindu symbology, depicts spiritual experiences and sages or incarnations like Buddha are generally portrayed under a tree to highlight their enlightened form. Similarly, Sita’s location under a tree may have depicted Her spiritual form in the Ramayana. While individual souls may require uninterrupted Rama-remembrance to attain an enlightened state, an incarnation of the benevolent Divine Mother does not require tapasya to aggregate universal forces to defeat adharma (unrighteousness) and bestow extraordinary boons to the devotees of Her choice. It was not coincidence that among all the righteous beings in the Ramayana, only Hanuman was considered worthy of parental affection from this spiritual form of Sita. Some of the blessings Hanuman obtained from Sita, as Tulasidasa mentions, include immortality, infallibility, unchangeability, continual affection from Rama, and the potential to bestow any of the divine riches (Ridhhi) or powers (Siddhi) on others at his own discretion in future times.
After eating some fruits from the trees in Ashoka vatika, Hanuman engaged in a small battle. Care had to be taken not to annihilate Ravana and his major generals, for he was performing the role of an envoy and destruction at a large magnitude may have equaled overriding Rama’s orders. But a psychological defeat was allowed. In the fight, one of Ravana’s son was destroyed, and Hanuman displayed such extreme valor that Meghanada, Ravana’s bravest son, found no alternative to shooting the Brahmastra – an arrow invoked with the Creator’s destructive potential. Hanuman decided to show respect…not to the opponent, but to the presiding Deity and got himself tied. This made way for him to meet Ravana and give him instruction on righteousness in person. Hanuman explained that Ravana had the option of returning Devi Sita and apologizing to Rama for his inappropriate behavior. Hanuman’s behavior with Ravana was in line with what Lord Shiva, the controller of all souls, always does. He provides the jiva multiple chances to improve, birth after birth. There is never a last chance to leave arrogance and say ‘sorry.’ But like other egotistical jivas, who fail to recognize Shiva in their heart, Ravana failed to recognize the incarnation of Shiva, Whom he had, at times, worshipped in life.
In the final phase of his journey to Lanka, Hanuman burned the city of Lanka. He then revisited Sita to offer farewell salutations and obtained an ornament that was a part of Sita’s message to Rama. Hanuman might have recognized that the next time he sees Sita, the city of Lanka would belong to a new king, who happens to be a devotee of Sita-Rama, not someone who practices Rama remembrance with animosity.
Hanuman’s visit to Lanka created such a psychological havoc that the Lankans could not come out of its impact until they lost the war. By the time Hanuman departed, Ravana was left with a dead son, a wife who was worrying and panicking Rama’s grand ambassador, and a burnt city devoid of their mystical protection. Although the city was rebuilt, like evil springing up again following its suppression, the scars of the conquer never healed. To make things worse, Vibhishana, who had been spiritually initiated by Hanuman, joined the ‘opponent’ forces. Hanuman set everything for Rama’s victory. He saved Rama from spending time on many subtleties of warfare. As a result, Rama could focus on establishing moral boundaries on earth, even towards one’s enemies, and on spending time with individual souls to reciprocate their love. In Hindu thought, whenever God incarnates, His forces accompany Him to carry out the divine play so that most of His time may be spent on interacting with jivas and initiating them into goodness.
When Hanuman returned to Rama, he gave Sita’s message, Her ornament, and the details of his visit. Soon Hanuman found that Rama has formed a new relationship with him. This was not a typical relationship between the Lord and a devotee, or a father and a son, but was the relation of being indebted to Hanuman for what he had done for Him. On the other hand, Hanuman could not understand what Rama was praising him for. In his heart, Hanuman had already transferred the entire doership of his accomplishments to his Lord. Such is the vastness of Hanuman’s love for Rama.
Today, Hanuman is worshipped among Hindus for his delight in connecting jivas to God. All saintly devotees of Rama in recent times, including Tulasidasa, Samarth Ramdas, Thyagaraja, and Sri Ramananda, have worshipped Hanuman with a similar aspiration. He is believed to be responsible for propagating the name of Rama in the world, and for some followers, Hanuman remains as the only way to Rama.