All good things have to come to an end, because it’s only when an end comes that a beginning is born. Among other things, mythology teaches us about the circle of life. Though the gods have supernatural powers they too are fallible and must leave when their time on earth is up. Despite their immortality, they cannot remain in the same form forever.
This story begins towards the end of the Ramayana, after Rama has vanquished Ravana and is back in Ayodhya as the ruler.
Rama was sitting on his throne when his ring fell off and rolled to the ground. Before he could retrieve it, a hole appeared on the ground and the ring fell through it. Rama asked Hanuman if he would help him get it back. Hanuman had the power to grow big or small.
At once he began shrinking. When he was no more the size of a thumb, he jumped into the hole and disappeared from sight.
Meanwhile, sage Vashishta and Lord Brahma came to visit Rama to discuss something confidential with him. Since Hanuman was not around, Rama requested Lakshmana to guard the door and make sure nobody entered the room.
“If anyone enters despite this order, they should be beheaded!” he said. Lakshmana nodded.
But after a while, sage Vishwamitra (who had a flaming temper!) came by. He insisted on meeting Rama. When Lakshmana refused, Vishwamitra said that he’d reduce Ayodhya to ashes! Clearly, he was not a man who took no for an answer! Lakshmana requested him to wait outside and stepped in to inform Rama about the sage’s arrival. By then Vashishta and Brahma had already spoken to Rama and the conversation had come to an end.
Lakshmana let Vishwamitra inside. The sage told Rama that the time for him to leave Earth had come. When Lakshmana heard this he said, “Rama, you must chop off my head. I entered the room despite your orders. My end has come too!”
When Rama refused to listen, Lakshmana went to a river and allowed it to take him.
Don’t be shocked. Lakshmana was an avatar of Sesa, the serpent on whom Lord Vishnu sleeps. And Rama was an avatar of Lord Vishnu. So if Rama’s time had come, so had Lakshmana’s! Rama arranged for the coronation of his sons Lava and Kusa and followed Lakshmana to the river.
Meanwhile, where was Hanuman? The hole went all the way to the underworld!
When he arrived there, a group of women caught him and took him to the king of the spirits. Hanuman told the king that he’d come in search of Rama’s ring. When the king heard this, he laughed. Then, he took a platter full of rings – thousands – and showed them to Hanuman. All of them were the same! They each looked like Rama’s ring!
Seeing the confusion on Hanuman’s face the king gently said, “There have been as many Ramas as there are rings on this plate. When you return to earth, you will not find Rama. His incarnation has come to an end. Whenever an incarnation is about to be over, Rama’s ring falls to the underworld.”
Hanuman wept. “I will follow my Lord wherever he goes!” he said. The king shook his head. “Rama knew that you’d say this,” he smiled. “Why do you think he sent you after this ring in the first place? Your time on earth has not yet ended. Rama is gone. But you can always keep him alive in your heart!”