Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Perfect Prayer

Sita Rama “If I live by you, O Raghava, Shakra, the lord of celestials, shall not be able with his mighty power to defeat me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

When reading the Vedic literatures, one will find many references to the “lord of celestials” and the “wielder of the thunderbolt”. These descriptions all deal with Lord Indra, who is known as the chief demigod. According to Vedic philosophy, the material world is managed by millions of demigods. These are high class souls that have been given material bodies possessing powers above those of regular living entities. They are still nonetheless, mortals. Lord Brahma, the first created living being born out of the lotus navel of Lord Vishnu, is one the highest demigods, living for millions of years. Yet he is still subject to the cycle of birth and death. The demigods are God’s chief ministers acting in accordance with His rules, similar to the way government officers act at the pleasure of the president or prime minister. These demigods are given great respect, but are never to be considered on the same level as God.

When Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead according to the Vedas, incarnated as Lord Rama in the Treta Yuga, He married the beautiful princess Janaki, the daughter of King Janaka. Janaki, who was more commonly referred to by the name of Sita, was the incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the wife of Lord Narayana, Lord Krishna’s four-armed expansion who is the source of all other expansions. Lakshmi is completely devoted to Narayana, and thus when appearing in the material world, she naturally played the familiar role of God’s wife. Lord Rama was the eldest son of King Dashratha of Ayodhya. Dashratha was very partial to Rama and decided to install Him as the new king. However, on the day set for the installation, fate would play its part and plans would change. Lord Rama was instead ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years as a recluse, living off fruits and roots. He would have no claim to any part of the kingdom, its army, its wealth, or its protections. The Lord, possessing the opulence of renunciation to the fullest extent, gladly accepted this order from His father. Prior to leaving, He went to inform His wife of the bad news. Sita Devi didn’t take to this too well and she insisted on accompanying Rama to the forest. Lord Rama very strongly stressed the point that forest life would be very dangerous for anyone, let alone a beautiful princess such as Sita. The Lord tried His best to dissuade her, but Sita’s case for coming along was too strong for the Lord to deny.

Indra wielding his thunderbolt As part of her plea, Sita mentioned that not even Lord Indra would be able to defeat her as long as Rama was by her side. This point is very significant because it gives an indication of Rama’s power. Vedic history is full of instances of fighting between the demigods and the asuras. Indra served as the commander in chief of the demigod army in all of these wars. The demigods are the godly class of people, meaning they are devotees of the Lord. Asuras are atheists who deny the existence of God. Asuras and demigods have been fighting since time immemorial and this fighting continues to this very day. When studying Vedic history, one will find that Lord Indra is often called upon by the demigods to save the day when the asuras start to gain in strength. Being the lord of heaven, Indra uses the mighty thunderbolt as his weapon. The thunderbolt has amazing powers that even amaze the scientists of today. They say that if man could find a way to harness the electricity generated by the thunderbolts of only one storm, that it would provide enough energy to run the entire U.S. power system for twenty minutes. One lightning strike could provide enough energy to light one hundred and fifty million light bulbs. Thus we can see why Lord Indra is considered so powerful.

The fact that Lord Rama would be able to protect Sita from India’s thunderbolts is not surprising. God is the Almighty and He is all powerful. He can protect His devotees from all calamities. When Lord Krishna personally appeared in Vrindavana some five thousand years ago, His foster father, Nanda Maharaja, would regularly worship Lord Indra. One time, the Lord, who was a very young boy at the time, asked His father to worship the local Govardhana Hill instead of Lord Indra. Nanda Maharja was very reluctant to take this advice out of fear that it would anger Indra. Nanda was pure a devotee after all, so He had full faith in His son’s words. Heeding his son’s advice, Nanda and the residents of Vrindavana instead decided to worship Govardhana Hill. They brought many great preparations and performed a wonderful puja. Lord Indra was greatly angered by this. Though they are very exalted personalities, even the demigods fall prey to false pride and ego from time to time. This was one of those times and Indra showed his anger by pouring down an onslaught of rain on the residents of Vrindavana. To protect His devotees, Lord Krishna lifted up the gigantic Govardhana Hill with one finger and held it up as an umbrella to protect all the residents of the town. It rained incessantly for seven days, but the Lord held the hill up the entire time. Afterwards, Lord Indra felt greatly sorry and offered His obeissances to Krishna. Ever since that time, devotees of Krishna perform the same Govardhana Puja annually on the day after Diwali.

Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill Sita Devi, being a pure devotee, knew that the Lord could protect her from anything, so that is why she made the comparison to Indra. Some may argue that Sita’s words wouldn’t hold true since she would eventually be kidnapped by the demon Ravana while staying in the forest with Rama. However, the kidnapping wasn’t due to any fault of Rama’s. The demigods wanted Sita to be kidnapped, for then Rama would have an excuse to march to Ravana’s island of Lanka and defeat him in battle. After all, that was the primary reason for the Lord’s advent on earth.

Sita’s statement also serves as a lesson on how one should offer prayers to God. In general, when we want to praise someone, we compare them to other great people. This is a sure fire way of understanding how someone feels about someone else. Great sports athletes are always compared to previous legends of the game. The golfer Tiger Woods is always compared with the all-time great Jack Nicklaus. In basketball, all up and coming stars are inevitably compared to the great Michael Jordan. This is very natural because through comparison, we can better gauge just how great someone is. So when we offer prayers to God, we should praise Him in a similar fashion. By declaring Lord Rama to be greater than the chief demigod, Indra, Sita offered the perfect prayer. God is so great and His glories are endless. May we always offer Him prayers in the same manner as His wonderful wife, Sita.