Monday, October 12, 2009

Places of Pilgrimage

Rama Darbar "Do you consider Rama as Dasharatha, and Janaka's own-begotten as myself, do you regard Ayodhya as a wilderness, go my son, at your sweet pleasure. Having thus spoken to that dear descendant of Raghu, who had made up his mind (to journey to the forest), Sumitra again and again said to him, ‘Go! Go!’” (Sumitra speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, Sec 40)

These words were spoken to Lakshmana by his mother Sumitra just prior to his embarking for the forest. Lakshmana’s older brother Rama had been exiled from the kingdom of Ayodhya, and Lakshmana had decided that he would follow Him. Sumitra is giving words of advice to her son so that he may act properly while living away from home.

God periodically comes to earth when there is a special need:

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

Ravana In Ayodhya and around the world many thousands of years ago, there was a great disturbance caused by the ten-headed demon Ravana. He had risen to power using the boons procured from various demigods, and he used his strength to subdue the saintly people living in the forests. At the behest of the demigods, God came to earth in the form of Lord Rama to personally put an end to the suffering of His devotees. God brought His associates from the spiritual world with Him. Ananta Shesha, the support of Lord Narayana, came to earth in the form of Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. Goddess Lakshmi, God’s wife in the spiritual world, came to earth in the form of Sita Devi, who not surprisingly played the part of Rama’s wife. As part of His pastimes, the Lord voluntarily accepted the punishment of exile handed to Him by His father Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Prepared to leave the kingdom for fourteen years, both Sita and Lakshmana insisted on accompanying Him. The above referenced statement by Sumitra was made just prior to the group leaving the kingdom.

Lakshmana was Rama’s younger brother and therefore had nothing to do with the punishment handed down by Dashratha. From his very birth, Lakshmana was ever attached to Rama, spending all his time with Him, not even eating without Rama. Lakshmana viewed himself as his brother’s eternal servant and care-taker, thus he took the unjust punishment of Rama very personally. He was actually prepared to install Rama as the new king anyway, and battle with anyone who dare objected to such an idea. Rama was extremely pious and dedicated to virtue, thus He had to talk Lakshmana out of such ideas. Rama had no problem abiding by His father’s orders, for the word of a king is very important. Born in the Ikshvaku dynasty, Rama took very seriously the role of prince and servant of the elderly class.

Dashratha with wives and childrenKing Dashratha had three wives, which was not out of the ordinary for the kshatriya kings of that time. Since sex desire is very strong in men and the kshatriyas generally live in the mode of passion, polygamy was allowed during that time, provided that the kings gave complete protection to all of their wives. Lord Rama was born from the womb of Kausalya, the eldest queen, and Lakshmana from Sumitra, so they were half-brothers. Sumitra was very pious herself, so she wanted to make sure that her son behaved properly while ranging the forest. She instructed Lakshmana to view Sita and Rama as mother and father, and to forget about the kingdom of Ayodhya. In essence, she was saying that we should treat God, in His various forms, and His eternal consorts, as our father and mother. Wherever God is, that is our real home.

Dashratha with Rama and Lakshmana It may seem odd to hear that Lakshmana was instructed to treat his elder brother as a father. Though that idea may seem strange in modern society, it is the proper code of conduct according to the Vedas. The eldest brother has the responsibility to set a good example for the other siblings, so he should in return be afforded the greatest respect. King Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five Pandava brothers, was given a similar level of respect. Even Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, treated Yudhishthira as a superior since they were related as cousin-brothers, with Krishna being younger. The entire Vedic system revolves around respect for the wise and the elderly. This makes sense because by respecting others, we come out of the selfish mindset that most of us inherently live by. “How can I be happy? What do I want to do? Where do I want to go?” These are the questions most of us ponder on a daily basis. By thinking of others, we rise out of the gross bodily platform. This also serves as good practice for our service to God, which is the ultimate aim of life. If we can rise to the platform where we identify ourselves as spirit souls, part and parcel of God, then we have made our life successful.

Lakshmana speaking to Sumitra Sumitra also advised Lakshmana to view Ayodhya as a wilderness. The lesson here is that we should only concern ourselves with those places where God resides. Many of us like to travel to various exotic destinations where we can see world famous attractions, buildings, and parks. While these places are very nice, the enjoyment we derive from these visits is temporary. We may go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and marvel at the view, but once we come back down, that thrill is gone. We give ourselves a short feeling of amazement, but we aren’t really any better off. When we visit tirthas, however, we achieve a spiritual awakening which can change our lives.

Krishna enacted many wonderful pastimes with His friends in VrindavanaTirthas are places of spiritual pilgrimage. They are areas where God personally came and enacted pastimes. In India, such places as Vrindavana, Mathura, Rishikesh, and Chitrakut are some of the more well-known tirthas. When we visit these places, we immediately remember God and His glorious nature. This is most beneficial to us, for the aim of life is to always keep our minds fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord.

Lakshmana Whether we get the chance to visit a tirtha or not, if God is always in our hearts, we will always feel at home wherever we may be. This was the position taken by Sumitra, which Lakshmana followed as well. No one spent more time with Rama during His life than Lakshmana did. He was always by His brother’s side, and in this way He always felt at home. Jai Shri Lakshmana.