SaptaSaalChhed is an important event in Shri Ram’s life, when he destroyed seven trees to prove his strength to his friend Sugriv before the Vali Vadh. This is one of the favorite sculptures of ancient temple architects, which is actually a combination of two incidents that happened in Ramayana, packed with very nuanced details.
It doesn’t only narrate the two critical stories underlining the mindset of Prabhu Ram as Maryada Purushottam, but it says a lot about the in-depth studies these ancient sculptures had to do with regard to the historical scriptures and deep-rooted philosophies they unfold. You will find this sculpture on many temple walls and on the temple pillars.
Sculptures will have Prabhu Ram with his devastating Sharang Bow, shooting an arrow. You can see Lakshman standing beside him. In front of them, you can see seven trees that have been intersected by a single arrow, coming from the direction of Shri Ram and Lakshman. Next to these seven trees, you can see Vali and Sugriv fighting. Many sculptures show the arrow in the back of Vali, who will be looking at the direction from which the arrow has been shot, with rather curious expressions on his face. Bellow seven trees, you can see a five-headed snake lurking towards the fighting Vanaras. Many fine copies of these sculptures can be seen on the ancient walls of Sanatani temples. Till this date, I have found these sculptures n the walls of Shivalay Temple-Badami, Hoysaleshwar temple-Halebeedu, Kedareshwar Temple-Halebeedu and on the north wall of the legendary Kailasa Temple of Ellora. In the comments bellow, please let me know if you have encountered one of these in some other temples.
The story of SaptaSalaChheda and Vali Vadh
Vali was no ordinary Vanar indeed. He was a son of Indra who even challenged the sea and the Himalaya for a fight. Valmiki Ramayana says,
समुद्रात्पश्चिमात्पूर्वं दक्षिणादपि चोत्तरम्। क्रामत्यनुदिते सूर्ये वाली व्यपगतक्लमः।।
-Kishkindhakand, Sarga 11, Shloka 5.
Before sunrise, Vali would cross the ocean, swimming from west to east and south to north (performing Sandhya) without getting tired. Even though Maharshi Valmiki’s Ramayan doesn’t depict it, various other folklore has depicted what Vali was. He was the one who had defeated the mighty Ravana in hand-to-hand combat. He was the one who had a boon from Brahma, that whoever faced him in a duel, the opponent would lose half of his strength to Vali.
When Sugriv met Prabhu Ram, they made a pact, an unbreakable bond of friendship, to help each other. Prabhu Ram would help Surgiv to kill his brother Vali. Vali had forcefully abducted Sugriva’s wife, Ruma, and banished his brother from the kingdom, both of these offenses punishable by death. Listening to Sugriv, Prabhu Ram decided to end the tyranny of Vali’s deeds by killing him.
But being beaten brutally by Vali, Sugriv wanted affirmation about the powers of Ram, and whether he truley posseses the strength to kill Vali. In the 11th Sarga of Kishkindha Kanda, Sugriv says,
बहवस्सारवन्तश्च वनेषु विविधा द्रुमाः। वालिना तरसा भग्ना बलं प्रथयताऽत्मनः।।
Vali would break several trees growing in the forest, with his vigour and speed, showing off his strength. To free the firend’s mind off the worry is the duty of a friend. Thinking this, obeying the request of Sugriv to cut one Saal tree with one arrow, Prabhu Ram picked an arrow to mount it on his legendary Sharanga Bow. And then,
स गृहीत्वा धनुर्घोरं शरमेकं च मानदः। सालमुद्दिश्य चिक्षेप ज्यास्वनैः पूरयन्दिशः।।
स विसृष्टो बलवता बाणस्स्वर्णपरिष्कृतः। भित्त्वा सालान् गिरिप्रस्थं सप्त भूमिं विवेश ह।।
प्रविष्टश्च मुहूर्तेन धरां भित्त्वा महाजवः। निष्पत्य च पुनस्तूर्णं स्वतूणीं प्रविवेश ह।।
-Kishkindhakand, Sarga 12
Prabhu Ram, the one who is the destroyer of the enemy’s ego, strung his terrifying bow, generated the twang that carried in all directions, and discharged the arrow at one Sala tree. Released with a great force, that arrow decorated with gold pierced through seven Saal trees and entered the earth. At that same moment, it immerged from the shattered earth and re-entered the quiver with great speed.
This is when Sugriv knew what his friend was and what he can do on this earth. Now, fast-forwarding to the second battle, let’s arrive at the moment when Prabhu Ram shot Vali from behind. In the 14th Sarga of Kishkindha Kand, Maharshi Valmiki writes,
ततो धनुषि सन्धाय शरमाशीविषोपमम्।पुरयामास तच्चापं कालचक्रमिवान्तकः।।
Prabhu Ram fixed an arrow equivalent to the poisonous snake on his bow and stretched like a wheel of the lord of death – the Yama himself.
तस्य ज्यातलघोषेण त्रस्ताः पत्ररथेश्वराः। प्रदुद्रुवुर्मृगाश्चैव युगान्त इव मोहिताः।।
Listening to the terrible twang of the bowstring, birds and animals in the jungle started running, fearing the time of the destruction of the universe.
मुक्तस्तु वज्रनिर्घोष: प्रदीप्ताशनिसन्निभः। राघवेण महाबाणो वालिवक्षसि पातितः।।
A mighty arrow released by Prabhu Ram made the sounds like a thunderbolt went, like a bolt of blazing lightning, and pierced Vali’s chest.
ततस्तेन महातेजा वीयौटत्सिक्तः कपीश्वरः। वेगेनाभिहतो वाली निपपात महीतले।।
…and then, Vali, the king of monkeys, the radiant one, proud of his power fell down on earth with great speed.
There is a fashion nowadays to accuse Prabhu Ram for killing king Vali who was busy fighting his brother. These people are either easily gullible, have a specific agenda, or lack proper knowledge of what happened in the past. Grate sage Valmiki has narrated what happened next in detail. Let’s read about it.
While falling down on earth, Vali saw who had released the arrow. Lying down on earth, he asked Prabhu Ram,
हत्वा बाणेन काकुत्स्थ मामिहानपराधिनम्। किं वक्ष्यसि सतां मध्ये कर्म कृत्वा जुगुप्सितम्।।
I have done you no harm whatsoever, and yet, Oh scion of Kakutsa, performing an abominable act, you have killed me with an arrow. Being amongst the holy men, how will you ever prove this sinful act righteous?
Going further, Vali cursed Prabhu Ram and blamed him for being unworthy of being called the son of Righteous Dashratha. He said, Oh, Ram, you killed me like some farmyard animal. You cannot possibly be a protector of the earth, you claim, as you are a wicked person, treacherous, dishonest, mean, disguised with false humility, and a sinner to the core. If you had approached me instead of Sugriv, I would have brought Sita back to you in one day.
Listening to Vali’s harsh words, Prabhu replied with calmness,
त्वं तु संक्लिष्टधर्मा च कर्मणा च विगर्हितः। कामतन्त्रप्रधानश्च न स्थितो राजवर्त्मनि।।
अहं तु व्यक्ततामस्य वचनस्य ब्रवीमि ते। न हि मां केवलं रोषात्त्वं विगर्हितुमर्हसि।।
You have violated your Dharma, and you stand condemned for your actions because you have put your passions before your priority, straying away from the true path of the Kings. It is not very proper that you should blame, and despise me with a (blind) rage. I shall explain you clearly the reason for striking you down.
अस्य त्वं धरमाणस्य सुग्रीवस्य महात्मनः।रुमायां वर्तसे कामात्स्नुषायां पापकर्मकृत्।।
तद्व्यतीतस्य ते धर्मात्कामवृत्तस्य वानर। भ्रातृभार्यावमर्शेऽस्मिन्दण्डोऽयं प्रतिपादितः।।
(Even though a younger brother is considered as a son, and his wife as a Daughter in law,) You are filled with lust. You are a sinner for living with Ruma who is your daughter in law, when Sugriv the great is alive. This punishment is very much justified to the monkey, who have violated the morality by performing the sins against his brother’s wife.
आर्येण मम मान्धात्रा व्यसनं घोरमीप्सितम्। श्रमणेन कृते पापे यथा पापं कृतं त्वया।।
In the past, Sramana committed the similer mistake, and was punished very harshly by King Mandhata, the noble anscestor of mine.
न मे तत्र मनस्तापो न मन्युर्हरिपुङ्गव। वागुराभिश्च पाशैश्च कूटैश्च विविधैर्नराः। प्रतिच्छन्नाश्च दृश्याश्च गृह्णन्ति सुबहून्मृगान्।।
Oh greatest of monkey, I do not have an anguish, nor I regret this action. People trick and catch all sorts of animals by hiding or being out in the open, with the help of nets or ropes.
People hunt animals, alarming or without alarming them. They kill animals whether they are running or standing still. No blemish is attached to the hunters if the animal is alert or not.
यान्ति राजर्षयश्चात्र मृगयां धर्मकोविदाः।तस्मात्त्वं निहतो युद्धे मया बाणेन वानर ।अयुध्यन्प्रतियुध्यन्वा यस्माच्छाखामृगो ह्यसि।।
Even the Royal Saints who are the experts of Dharma go for hunting. Whether you were fighting or not, as you are a monkey, I (can) strike you down.
प्रत्युवाच ततो रामं प्राञ्जलिर्वानरेश्वरः। यत्त्वमात्थ नरश्रेष्ठ तदेवं नात्र संशयः।।
मामप्यगतधर्माणं व्यतिक्रान्तपुरस्कृतम्। धर्मसंहितया वाचा धर्मज्ञ परिपालय।।
With folded hands, Vali replied, “Oh best among men, whatever you have said is undoubtedly true. Oh the one with the knowledge of Dharma, I have not followed the Dharma in the past. I have violated the bounds of Dharma. Please pardoned and protect me.
Forgiving him, Prabhu Ram took Prince Angad under his protection, and Vali transferred the Kishkindha Kingdom to Sugriv. This clearly concludes and underlines the righteousness of Prabhu Ram in this Kishkindha Kand episode of the epic Ramayan. I appreciate you for stopping by and giving your precious time to read this blog. You’re welcome to ‘Like’ or add a comment if you enjoyed this blog post. If you’d like to be notified of any new content, why not sign up by clicking the ‘Follow’ button. If you’re interested in using any of my photography or articles please get in touch. Till then, keep travelling.