Kali Mathei is an elder and traditional healer of the Adiya tribal community of Thrissilery in the northern part of Wayanad district. He narrates the Ramayana story, which he inherited from his father, in the following manner:

We believe our Pakkatheyyam (Lord of Pakkam) resides in the Pulpally region. One day, Pakkatheyyam confronted Sita, who was staying in Pulpally. “Look, Sita, don’t stay here. This area belongs to me. You can choose any place outside my area and build your hut there.”

Pakkatheyyam then planted a boundary stone and measured out his land. (It was customary for the devas [deities] in ancient days to establish their control over lands. The jurisdictional limits of each god were clearly demarcated, and they also had their own temples. They set up dominions in places such as the Kottiyoor temple, the Thirunelly temple and the Valliyoorkavu temple, and settled there.)

So, Sita left Pulpally and walked through the forest, crossing hills and dales, carrying all her belongings in a bamboo basket. Rama and Lakshmana were returning the same way, after a battle. Sita stepped aside for them. Rama’s eyes fell on Sita. A flame leapt up in his heart. He said to Lakshmana, “Lakshmana, what a stunning beauty she is! I would like to marry her.” By this time, Sita had disappeared among the trees.

Rama had already lost his heart to her. She had to be won over at all costs. But how would he tell her what was in his heart? Who else could speak to her? And what if she rejected him? Rama shared these thoughts with Lakshmana. Lakshmana replied, “Brother, you are an archer without parallel. You are the king designate. Why feel diffident? We will meet Sita and tell her our wish. If she does not agree, we will use force and subdue her.”

Meanwhile, Sita had reached another hill, where Rama and Lakshmana could not see her. Ravana was travelling along the same path. Gently persuading her to pause en route, Ravana befriended Sita. Eventually, Ravana won Sita’s heart over and took her to the city of Lanka in a bullock cart.

Lanka lay beyond a river, and to cross over, a bridge was needed. Hanuman and his friend the Bear built one. They encountered a problem while constructing it: Hanuman brought huge blocks of stone using both his mighty hands, but with much difficulty; Bear, on the other hand, took the stones in one hand with great ease and built the bridge.

Hanuman was enraged by this. “You are a woman, I am a man. How dare you carry with one hand the stones I bring with both?” In a fit of rage, he encircled the hill with his long tail and shouted, “I will pull down this hill.”

Sita was at this time planting millet in the valley below. Hearing Hanuman’s threat, she implored, “O revered Hanuman, please do not pull the hill down now. We will be buried under the earth.” Hanuman yielded to her request and desisted.

In return, Sita blessed Hanuman. “O revered Hanuman, hereafter, you will not need to eat food from the ground. I have prepared food for you on the trees. You can eat that. Don’t drink warm water, drink only fresh water. That is better for you and your progeny.” Accordingly, the monkeys, even to this day, live by eating fruits from the trees and drinking clear water from the streams.

Crossing the bridge, Ravana and Sita entered the city of Lanka. Ravana put Sita up in the topmost room of a twelve-storeyed tower. Sita said, “Until twelve years have passed, you should not touch my body, not even my clothes. I shall become your wife only after that. Till that time, I will sit here and meditate.” Ravana agreed.

Meanwhile, Rama and Lakshmana were wandering around on the hill slopes and riverbanks. Rama’s desire to marry Sita was growing stronger by the day. He told Lakshmana that he could not imagine a life without her. They combed Pulpally and Thirunelly, asking everyone they met if they had seen her. Finally, they landed at Pakshipathalam, where they saw Hanuman and his companions resting. Rama asked them if they had seen Sita.

Some of the monkeys reported having seen Sita and Ravana cross the bridge. Rama was not familiar with Lanka, the city across the bridge. He had never been there. But he knew that Ravana was the ruler of Lanka and that he was a bad character. So Hanuman spoke up: “Wasn’t it Sita who blessed me? I will go over there and bring her.”

Rama replied, “You are a monkey. Won’t that scoundrel arrest you and put you in chains?”

Hanuman said, “Don’t insult us by calling us monkeys. We will show you how strong and clever we are.” So saying, Hanuman leapt onto the adjacent tree, and then, to the next one. Leaping from tree to tree in this manner, he reached the top of a palm tree near the bridge. From there, the city of Lanka could be clearly seen. Hanuman did not land on the ground, nor did he cross the bridge. Instead, he leapt from the palm tree onto an areca nut tree on the other side of the bridge.

Rama was not sure where Hanuman had gone and whether he would find Sita. Rama and Lakshmana thought that he had left in protest against their speaking ill of the monkeys. So the brothers continued their search.

After a long search, Hanuman discovered that Sita was in a room at the top of Ravana’s palace. But how would he reach her? Looking around the palace precincts, he saw a small pond. He devised a clever plan. An Adiya woman (a member of the Adiya community) was washing Sita’s clothes at the pond. Hanuman stopped nearby, pretending that a thorn had pierced his foot. “Hey monkey, what are you doing here?” asked the Adiya woman.

“A thorn has pierced my foot. I am trying to pull it out,” replied Hanuman, leaping onto the coffee tree nearby. He observed the woman, who was humming while washing the clothes. After a while, when the cleaned clothes had dried, she put them in a basket.

When the attention of the woman was elsewhere, Hanuman quickly entered the basket unseen, and hid under the pile of clothes. Unaware of this, the woman hoisted the basket onto her head and walked away. On reaching the room where Sita was staying, she put the basket down and left. Hanuman leapt out of the basket.

Sita, who was lost in reverie, was startled at his appearance. Recognising him, she said, “You are the fellow who wanted to pull the hill down on us. You better go away. If people see you here, they will kill you. If Ravana comes to know you are here, he will throw you into a cage.”

Hanuman climbed out through the window and sat on top of a coconut tree. Looking around, he saw children playing marbles in the courtyard and people walking through the by-lanes. To attract their attention, he played a trick. He plucked some coconuts and started hurling them down. The people walking on the streets saw this.

Those in the palace heard the sound. They came out to see what the commotion was about. “Who is this madcap, plucking the ripe and unripe coconuts? Catch that rascal and kill him.” Hanuman paid them no attention; he continued throwing the coconuts down. Soon, the trees started to look bare, and the city was in chaos.

Bows and arrows in hand, people started surrounding the tree on which Hanuman was perched. Hanuman shouted, “If you want to catch me, you will first have to cut down all the trees, coconut, areca, banana, coffee, everything. I will come down only when all the trees have been cut.”

Excerpted with permission from Living Ramayanas: Exploring the Plurality of the Epic in Wayanad and the World by Azeez Tharuvana, Eka.

Living Ramayanas

Also read:

Why the rest of India should read Wayanad adivasis’ retelling of the Ramayana