Vali – the Indomitable Vanara

24 April 2024
15 mins read
Vali

Tara Pleads with Vali

“Don’t go, my dear husband,” pleaded Tara with Vali. “Something’s amiss. How did Sugriva suddenly get the courage to challenge you?”

“Don’t fret, Tara. I’ll be fine. Anyway, who can defeat or kill me?” Vali’s chest puffed up in pride; a familiar gesture that not only filled her with dread but, of late, also annoyed and irritated her. 

“Oh! I wish you would cut down on your confidence. I’ve told you many times that it comes across as haughty arrogance. Don’t we all have to die? So, wouldn’t there be a cause for your death too?” Tara’s voice was angry, but the undercurrent of fear was unmistakable too.

“Ok! Ok!” Vali responded, his anger matching hers. “ You are the only one who doesn’t trust my power and might. Also, I can’t refuse a challenge. You know that it goes against the grain of my personality.”

“At least make some enquiries about Sugriva before you fight him. Has he made any new friends who are helping him?”

“Pah! Stop worrying so much, Tara. I can take care of myself.” Vali was about to walk out in a huff. Tara relented. “Alright, let me complete the pooja at least before you leave. Let me wish you luck and pray that the gods be by your side.”

Vali grudgingly allowed his wife to perform the usual rituals before a warrior leaves for battle. He went out and saw his brother, Sugriva, at the gate of his palace, standing tall and strong. He had his mace across his right shoulder. He was a picture of confidence. 

The brothers were seeing each other after a very long time. They stood in silence, both experiencing a surge of sibling love. Both wondered at the strange turn of events in life that changed their love to hate. The thought passed their minds, but just for a while.

Vali recovered first, “You dare challenge me, Sugriva? Have you forgotten how many times I have beaten you on your head as I swung across Rishyamukha Hill where you hide like a coward?”

“Are you proud of your immature behaviour, Vali? Have you forgotten the curse of Sage Matanga that your head will explode if you set foot on Rishyamukha? And do you remember you couldn’t beat my friend and protector, Hanuman? Do you remember you had to concede defeat and agree to put a stop to your childishness? Your arrogance has gone to your head. Now I’ve come prepared to teach you a lesson and take back what belongs to me, especially my beloved wife, Ruma, who you are holding by brute force!”

“Pah! No woman wants to be with a coward. Soon, she’ll realise she is much better with me than with you! Be grateful you have at least one place of refuge where you can be safe from me!”

Sugriva’s face turned dark with anger and he rushed forward to hit Vali who easily deflected the attack and hit his brother’s left shoulder with his mace. Sugriva let out a loud cry of pain. He knew he was no match for his brother. Yet, he had to go through with the pretence of fighting until Prince Rama did what he promised.

Despite the crippling pain, he got up and again charged towards Vali who hit his chest so hard this time that Sugriva thought he heard his ribs crack. The younger sibling’s energy level quickly declined because half his strength got transferred to Vali. The gods had conferred a special boon wherein Vali would get half of his opponent’s strength in any fight. 

Sugriva wished Rama would do something quickly. But, nothing happened. Soon, unable to match the might of his brother, Sugriva fled from the combat and ran helter-skelter to his temporary refuge in Rishyamukha Hill. His face and ears burned in shame and embarrassment as he heard the loud, scornful laughter of Vali behind him. 

“Running away suits your cowardly nature, Sugriva!”

Rama, Lakshmana, and his Vanara supporters were waiting for him in their makeshift shelter. Sugriva was furious at Rama. 

“Why didn’t you shoot Vali as promised?”

“I am sorry, my dear friend. But I didn’t realise that the two of you looked so identical that I couldn’t make out which one of you was Vali. I couldn’t take the risk of shooting you, could I?”

Hearing Rama’s explanation, Sugriva’s anger abated. “So, what do we do now?”

“Go back and challenge Vali again tomorrow. But this time, wear a garland around your neck so I may identify you.”

Vali’s Transformation

The victorious Vali returned to his palace. As they were getting ready to sleep, he said mockingly to Tara, “Did you see anyone help Sugriva? Did you see me lose to that cowardly brother of mine? Now, do you accept your fears were baseless?” 

Tara was silent. He suddenly felt an urge to reach out to his wife. He realised it had been a long time since they had an intimate conversation. He went near her, and asked gently, “What happened, my dear?”

“You’re getting too arrogant and vain for your own good, Vali,” said Tara. Surprised and hurt by her unusually harsh tone and words, Vali became offensive too. 

“You are crazy.  No woman would be angry when her husband returned home after a resounding victory. I cannot understand you. Why don’t you trust me?” Getting no response from his wife, he turned over and slept. 

Tara hadn’t heard the gentle voice of her husband in a very long time. She realised how much Vali had changed from the man she had fallen in love with and married long, long ago. 

She recalled the first time she laid eyes on Vali. The agitation caused by the churning of the ocean by the asuras and devas brought her and thirteen other Apsaras up to the earth’s surface. 

When Tara’s feet touched the seashore, the first person she saw was Vali. He also saw her. It was love at first sight. The devas noticed the attraction and happily allowed the two to marry. 

Vali brought Tara to Kishkindha and she loved everything about her new home. The verdant forest, the flourishing, varied life it nurtured, and her new family; she loved her new home immensely. 

Vali’s brother Sugriva was thrilled when he saw her. He fell at her feet, and said, “Now I have a mother too. It will be my duty to keep you happy and secure in Kishkindha.” All was perfect. Their happiness reached sublime levels when Angad was born to them.

Vali went from strength to strength as he fought and won numerous battles and wars at a relentless pace. While Tara was proud of her husband’s fabulous feats, she sensed something dark seething within him. He was slowly but surely losing his gentle, kind personality. A fiery, dreadful rusticity drawn from his animal power overflowed his body and mind.

He treated everyone with brusqueness and showed little compassion for the weak. He was so used to being the victor that he forgot what it was to lose. This worried Tara. She spoke to him about it. But he always brushed her worries aside, telling her that the wife of Vali should be strong and fearless.

Then Dundhubhi, a Danava who took the form of a monstrous bull, challenged Vali. Until this episode, Vali’s vanity was still within reasonable limits. His sense of arrogance was not overwhelming even when he had managed to hold Ravana under his arms so tightly that the King of Lanka could do nothing to free himself. He had to concede defeat and begged to be released. 

Dundubhi was a monster who had come to believe no one could defeat him; that is, until he met Vali, whom he challenged thoughtlessly. The instant they started the combat, half of Dundhubhi’s strength passed on to Vali. Vali badgered the bull mercilessly for a while. Then, he held Dundubhi by his tail and swung him like a sling a couple of times before flinging the dead animal in a random direction.  

Dundubhi’s carcass fell with a thundering crash into Sage Matanga’s ashram on Rishyamukha Hill where the wise man was deep in meditation.  Furious at having his meditation disturbed and the purity of his ashram besmirched by the Danava’s carcass, Sage Matanga cursed, “If the person responsible for this vile act sets foot on this hill, his head would blow into smithereens!”

For the first time, Vali’s demonstration of strength resulted in a curse instead of words of praise and looks of admiration. He was taken aback and a little seed of fear entered his mind. He wondered how a few words spoken by an old man could have more power than all the years of committed, persistent practice and hard work he had put in to build his strength and power.

That seed of fear grew roots, stems, branches, and flowered too, resulting in new and more powerful seeds of fear until Vali’s entire being was caught in an inextricable, gigantic knot of uncertainty and dread.  His self-confidence was dented, and in an effort to hide that, he continuously challenged and fought combats, killing many men, rakshasas, and danavas, many times needlessly. 

Strangely, with each victory, instead of his fear reducing, it increased, and he became obsessed with it. No one other than Tara noticed these changes, at least initially. She tried telling him he need not be scared, and that he was strong and powerful. After all, only Rishyamukha Hill was out of bounds for him. 

But she couldn’t get past that impenetrable wall of fear he built around himself. The worst part was he refused to acknowledge it. Instead, he hid his self-doubt behind a facade of arrogance, overconfidence, and vanity which reached a peak when Mayavi, another demon, challenged Vali to a fight. Mayavi was a magician and could turn himself into anything. In terms of physical strength, he was nothing compared to Vali. 

The older, confident Vali would have laughed off the challenge knowing he didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. But caught in the throes of fear, he wanted to prove to himself that he was still strong. So, he came out of his palace and stood at the entrance when he heard Mayavi’s challenge.

Seeing Vali in all his muscular glory, Mayavi panicked, and he turned on his heel and fled. By then, Tara and Sugriva also came out. Both were happy seeing the fleeing demon thinking Vali would return home. They were surprised and shocked to see Vali whose face was black with anger giving chase to the demon. 

Tara shouted, “Come back, Vali! He has run away in fear! Why are you chasing him? Let him go!” But Vali couldn’t be stopped.

Sugriva quickly picked up his mace and ran after his brother. Tara felt a deep sense of foreboding as she saw the brothers disappear into the dense, dark wilderness. News about Vali’s next escapade with a demon spread across Kishkindha, and nearly everyone cheered, believing that their king would add another feather to his already overloaded cap. 

Only Tara was anxious. But she hid it well and worked with the council of ministers to ensure the kingdom ran smoothly. She had to step in because the brothers hadn’t returned. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years! 

Finally one day, Sugriva returned alone. He entered the court of Kishkindha, his face revealing fear, doubt, and sadness. He narrated what happened. 

“Vali and I followed Mayavi for a long time. Being a magician, he was able to change shape and form and often misled us. I tried hard to convince Vali to return home. But he was fixated on finishing the demon.” 

“At last, we saw Mayavi entering the mouth of a deep cave. Vali told me to wait at the entrance and stand guard to catch Mayavi if he tried to run out, and he disappeared into the darkness of the cave.” 

“I waited outside for many months. Then one day, I heard the agonizing screams of Vali coming from the cave. It sounded like he was in deep pain. Immediately after, a stream of blood flowed out too, and I found Vali’s ring floating in it.”

“Fearing the worst, I quickly closed the mouth of the cave with a huge boulder to keep Mayavi inside and came rushing here to ask your advice on what action must be taken now.”

There was shocked silence in the room for a while. Then Tara let out a piteous wail calling out, “Vali! Vali! You have left me and our son alone! Why did you not heed my words? Why did you have to follow that vile demon? To meet your death?”

The ministers too accepted that Vali must be dead, especially when they saw Vali’s blood-covered ring in Sugriva’s hand. They all decided Sugriva did a wise thing by closing the mouth of the cave. Now, Mayavi wouldn’t be able to escape. 

After the period of mourning, Sugriva was crowned king. He ruled wisely and well, following in the footsteps of his esteemed brother.

But after a few months, Vali returned to Kishkindha, safe and victorious. While everyone else including Sugriva rejoiced and happily welcomed Vali back, Tara’s first thought was not of joy but of an inexplicable trepidation. Something told her that his return did not bode well for the brothers. 

First, the changes in Vali’s demeanour that were visible only to her until now were seen and experienced by everyone in Kishkindha. He had almost become brutal now. Perhaps, the inordinately long time he spent in the dark caverns fighting Mayavi enhanced his self-doubt and fear far more than before, thought Tara. 

Second, he began to doubt his own family. He accused innocent Sugriva of numerous nasty deeds. He said his brother deliberately closed the cave opening so that he could take over the kingdom. He refused to see reason or give time to Sugriva to explain his version of things. He even tried to kill his brother.

He held Ruma, Sugriva’s wife, prisoner, saying that this was revenge for holding Tara against her wishes. He didn’t give Tara an opportunity to explain that she was not a prisoner. She was free to do what she wanted. The ministers feared him and most of them refused to side with Sugriva. 

Vali was beyond all reason and sense. He was baying for his brother’s blood. Poor Sugriva had no option but to run from Kishkindha leaving his wife at the mercy of Vali. He and his small band of supporters hid in Rishyamukha Hill, the only place Vali didn’t dare set foot. 

Angad and Tara also lived in fear of Vali’s indomitable strength. Yet, Tara couldn’t stop loving her husband because she could see the torment that was threatening to tear him apart.

Vali’s End

Today when Sugriva challenged Vali in an attempt to get Ruma back, she was surprised and knew that her brother-in-law was up to something. There is no way he would have challenged the undefeatable Vali without having a plan up his sleeve. She had sent spies and found out about Rama and Lakshmana, the powerful princes of Ayodhya who were currently in exile and had befriended Sugriva.

Rama had promised to help Sugriva kill his arrogant brother and restore his wife to him. Tara felt a deep sense of foreboding. Today nothing untoward had happened to Vali. He had easily defeated Sugriva who had to run for his life again. 

But Tara couldn’t stop the bad feelings from consuming her. The sudden return of the gentleness in Vali’s voice choked her and she cried bitterly in silence. She felt it was the beginning of the end.

The next day, Sugriva was again at the door of Vali’s palace challenging him to a fight. Tara noticed that he had a garland around his neck. Why would Sugriva wear a garland to combat? There was something fishy, she thought to herself.

Again, she tried to stop her husband. “Don’t you know that Prince Rama of Ayodhya is helping Sugriva?”

“But what of it? I am ready to fight him too. I have heard he is an honourable Kshatriya.”

“But what if they are trying to trick you?”

“Bah! Tara, you have started again! What can they do? Don’t worry. I will return victorious like I did yesterday.”

In the confusion and the rush, Tara forgot to perform the usual send-off ritual for her husband. She realised it when it was too late to call Vali back. Her heart palpitated crazily. 

When Vali saw the garland around Sugriva’s neck, he mocked, “So you have worshipped yourself because no other god is coming to help you, eh?”

Sugriva simply charged towards his brother and a fierce fight followed. There was no doubt that Vali was winning and Sugriva was being pushed to the brink of defeat. At one point, Sugriva fell flat on his back. Vali lifted his mace backwards and was in a position to land a hard blow on his brother. In that instant, an arrow from somewhere behind the dense forest foliage came whizzing past and hit Vali’s exposed chest, puncturing his lung!

Vali’s face contorted with pain. The mace slipped from his hands and he held his chest. He staggered forward and fell on his brother who held him gently even as tears of remorse and guilt flooded his eyes. Sugriva turned over and laid Vali on the ground and whispered in his ears, “I am sorry, my dear, beloved brother! I knew of no other way.”

Vali was confused. He wondered why his brother was apologising to him. Then, he saw two young, handsome men, one dark and the other fair, walking towards him. The dark one folded his hands and said, “O Vanara King, I am Prince Rama of Ayodhya.”

“Did you shoot me from behind the trees?” Vali asked through painful gasps. It struck him he had time only till his ruptured lungs stopped working altogether.

“Yes, I did.”

“But why?”

“Because I promised your brother I would get him justice in return for his help to rescue my wife, Sita from Ravana.”

Vali’s face registered surprise and shock. “But you could have come to me! I have already defeated Ravana once, and I would have easily done what you needed, O Rama!”

“I chose Sugriva because he would understand my predicament better than you. Another man also holds his wife against her will!”

Vali’s face filled with shame! Now that he knew death was certain, all his earlier fears and uncertainties melted into nothingness. He realised his folly. And yet one question bothered him.

“But you could have challenged me to open combat. Why choose to hide and kill me through treachery?”

“I merely honoured the Kshatriya dharma, O Vali. Your brother sought my help and I was duty-bound to help him. It was well within the stipulated rules to use this method to kill a Vanara. Do you not accept your mistakes and that you deserve to be punished after all that you have done to your brother?”

Vali was silent for a while. He closed his eyes, and took a couple of deep, difficult breaths, and scathing memories of his horrible behaviour towards Sugriva came rushing back. 

“Yes, Rama. I made many mistakes. I couldn’t keep my anger in check which blinded me to the truth. I made decisions impulsively which did not bode well for my family, kingdom, and subjects. I deserve punishment. But to be killed like this? I am not sure, Rama!”

“That debate will never end. But remember this, Vali. My actions will have consequences too. We will meet again in our next births and our roles will be reversed! Go in peace, O Vanara King. You have proved your worth in this birth.”

By this time, Tara and Angad had reached the scene of action. Tara shed silent tears of indescribable grief. She was too choked to even weep out loudly. She just sat on the ground, placed her husband’s head on her lap, and held his hand. “You are wise, Tara. You tried to warn me many times. I didn’t listen. But don’t blame me. When the time comes, ordinary mortals automatically become blind to danger.”

“You are a wonderful, loving husband. If I get an opportunity to relive my life, I would not change one second of it, especially the time with you. Know that you will always be in my heart!” Vali smiled ecstatically at his wife’s open confession of undying love. 

Then he turned to his brother who was standing a little away with his head down, copious tears flowing unabashedly down his face. When he noticed Vali watching him, he ran to him, sobbing like a little child clung to his brother. Vali winced in pain when Sugriva’s bear hug increased his difficulty breathing but didn’t release him. Instead, he held him tighter. 

“Don’t grieve, Sugriva. I have done you far more injustice than you could do to me in this birth. I am at peace and hold no grudge. On the contrary, I beg you for forgiveness. I am not even fit to ask Ruma for forgiveness. Please let her know of my sincere, deep repentance, for what it’s worth.”

Then, placing Angad and Tara’s hands over Sugriva’s, Vali said, “Look after them as your family. Angad, Uncle Sugriva is your father now. Listen to his advice and heed his words. He will be a better father than I could have ever been.”

Those were Vali’s last words. Turning to Rama, he folded his hands humbly and breathed his last with a peaceful smile. 

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Ratna Prabha

Thank you for visiting my website. I welcome you heartily to read my stories, poems, and reviews. I would be extremely grateful if you could leave comments and feedback so that I may learn and improve my craft.

4 Comments

  1. A story about Vali is rarely told. Sometimes self doubt turns into a demon. Brilliant narration

  2. Beautifully written ratty … loved the simple narration . Looking forward to reading more about our great stories , that seem to be getting lost in today’s modern era . They need to be remembered 🙏

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