The Ramayana

The Ramayana Summary and Analysis of Book Four


From his perch on a mountaintop, Sugriva sees the approach of Rama and Lakshmana. He is terrified that they are warriors sent by his brother Vali to kill him, but his advisor Hanuman reassures him and goes down to ascertain the identity of the two men.

Appearing before Rama and Lakshmana as a brahmana (a member of the priestly class), Hanuman inquires why they have come to this isolated place. The brothers explain the story of their exile from Ayodhya and Sita's abduction. Hanuman tells them that his king was also exiled and his wife abducted.

Hanuman takes the brothers to Sugriva, who explains his miserable exile at the hands of his duplicitous brother Vali; though the mountain of Rishyamooka is safe from Vali due to a rishi's curse, Sugriva still fears that his brother will find a way to kill him. The human princes and the monkeys swear their eternal friendship over a sacred fire. Sugriva proclaims that fate has caused their paths to cross, and brings out the bundle of ornaments that Sita dropped in the forest when Ravana kidnapped her; Rama weeps and thanks him for this sign, vowing to kill Vali and restore Sugriva to his throne and his wife.

Sugriva explains the cause of his estrangement from his brother. Once, his brother fought with an Asura and the two disappeared into a cave. Sugriva heard agonized screams from his brother and saw blood leaking out of the cave. Certain that Vali is dead and that the Asura is looking for a new victim, Sugriva rolls a stone in front of the cave's mouth and performs funeral rites for his brother. The ministers crown him king in his brother's absence, and he rules justly.

That is, until Vali's unexpected return. Vali believes that his brother betrayed him and attempted to trap him in the cave when he was still weak from his battle with the Asura. He dethrones Sugriva and attempts to kill him, but Sugriva escapes to the mountain sanctuary of Rishyamooka.

Rama and Sugriva go forth to take back the monkey kingdom of Kishkinda. Sugriva engages in hand-to-hand combat with his brother, expecting Rama to shoot Vali with an arrow; however, the two look so similar that Rama is unable to tell them apart, and Sugriva is forced to retreat. He angrily berates Rama, who calmly explains the situation to him. The two return to Kishkinda, and Sugriva and Vali fight each other once more. Just as it looks as though Sugriva will lose, Rama sends an arrow through Vali's heart.

With his dying breath, Vali asks why the noble Rama has engaged in such a duplicitous act; he killed another living being in a sneaky and unfair manner, and moreover, he murdered Vali despite the fact that the monkey king had done him no wrong. Vali tells Rama that he understands his vow to Sugriva, but Vali would have been happy to help Rama find his lost wife and he would have done so even more quickly than Sugriva. Vali asks Rama to make sure that his son Angada is well cared-for. Rama replies that he has performed this action out of dharma, and he holds Vali as he dies.

Sugriva assumes the throne. The four-month rainy season has arrived which makes it is impossible to travel, so Rama and Lakshmana take shelter in a cave. They plan to go in search of Sita with Sugriva's help after the rains end, but fairer weather finds Sugriva holed up in his harem, focusing more on drinking and women than on justness and ruling. Hanuman reminds Sugriva of his duty to Rama and Lakshmana, and Sugriva sends out a summons for all vanaras to return to the kingdom to launch the search for Sita. Still, the monkey king continues to lounge around rather than assisting Rama and Lakshmana.

Rama grieves terribly for his lost wife, and finally Lakshmana goes to confront Sugriva about his broken promise. Lakshmana's terrifying appearance startles Sugriva out of his drunkenness, and he assembles four different search parties to find Sita, sending one out in each direction. Sugriva at last proves to be a valuable ally; he has a strong understanding of the lay of the land due to his long wanderings.

A party including Hanuman and the crown prince Angada (son of Vali) heads towards the south, where they encounter many strange sights, such as vicious rakshasas and magical cities. At last they find themselves on the seashore; still, there is no sign of Sita. Suddenly the eagle Sampati, brother of Jatayu, appears. Though he is old and has singed wings (he flew too close to the sun when he was young), he has sharp eyesight. Hanuman asks him to look for Sita, and Sampati peers over the ocean - and sees Sita crying in a garden! But this island is hundreds of miles away; the monkeys debate how they will get there. Jambavan the king of the bears reminds Hanuman of his parentage: his father is the god of the wind. Hanuman doubts himself, but Jambavan urges him to remember who he truly is. With renewed faith in himself, Hanuman grows extremely tall, and after launching himself from nearby mountains, he flies through the air to the island of Lanka, where Ravana is keeping Sita prisoner.


The Ramayana has a tendency to suggest parallels, and to repeat important events. This literary technique is particularly apparent in this section of the story: Rama meets Sugriva, another exiled king who has lost his wife. In order to obtain the help that will help him find his wife (and later, regain his throne), Rama must first help Sugriva to do these things; Sugriva serves as a parallel to Rama. However, the two are quite different in their execution of dharma; while Rama enthusiastically fulfills his part of the agreement, Sugriva is much slower to offer his help to Rama.

Other examples of repetition appear in the text: two rakshasas approach Ravana to tell him about the virtue of Rama and the beauty of Sita; twice Sugriva and Rama confront the usurper king Vali. The brothers Rama and Lakshmana themselves exhibit another example of doubling; they are described as being nearly identical despite their different skin tones.

Rama's killing of the vanara king Vali raise questions about the dharma of killing. Though Rama is part of the class of warrior kings, killing in cold blood is a ghastly crime in Hindu religion. The text suggests that the taintless Rama may be committing a sin by killing Vali through trickery. Vali pitifully asks Rama why he has felt the need to kill him, when the monkey king has done nothing at all to harm him. Rama knows that this is an immoral act, but he does not want to break his promise to Sugriva. Whether or not Rama will be punished for this act remains to be seen.

Western readers who are new to the Ramayana may find episodes or literary techniques that evoke more familiar myths and stories. One example is the tale of Sampati the eagle, whose story is similar to the Greek myth of Icarus, a young man who built wings for himself but flew so close to the sun that the heat destroyed them, and he fell crashing down to earth. It is possible that these similarities derive from ancient Indo-Aryan myths older than Greek or Indian culture; it is also possible that the components of a good story are similar across cultures, leading different storytellers to develop similar tales. In any case, readers should consider what is accomplished in the narrative by the inclusion of these episodes. In the Greek tale of Icarus, the main point of the story is the punishment of hubris; whereas in the story of Sampati, his damaged wings were the result of a youthful error, and offer him the opportunity to be divinely healed by Rama.

This section of the poem introduces us to Hanuman, one of the most beloved characters in the Ramayana. Hanuman proves himself superior even to his king Sugriva, demonstrating his courage, intelligence, and skill. It is for these reasons that Hanuman is a frequently worshipped deity in India; the monkey hero is a favorite character of many who read the Ramayana.