“Why are you asking for only one flower? I would like to give you a whole tree of parijata flowers.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Queen Satyabhama, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 4)
According to Vedic injunctions, a woman is to be given protection throughout her lifetime. Similar to the way we treat our children, women are to always be provided for and watched over. They are the caregivers and nurturers in society, thus men must take responsibility for their welfare and safety.
In a girl’s youth, she is to be protected by her father. Maharaja Janaka, the king of Mithila, showed us the proper way to care for our daughters by the way he brought up Sita Devi. As the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi appeared on earth many thousands of years ago on a field in the kingdom ruled by Janaka. He was ploughing his field at the time when suddenly he discovered the baby girl. He was so enchanted by her that he took Sita in as his own daughter. Since she was his prized possession, she was given the best upbringing a girl could have. Though women didn’t attend school back during those times, Sita acquired perfect knowledge of Vedic principles from her mother and father and the brahmanas of the royal court. From Janaka’s example, we can learn the proper way to raise a child. Children should be given full protection and instructed on all Vedic principles throughout their childhood. In the modern age, we sit our children down in front of televisions to watch movies or play video games, but such a lifestyle isn’t very conducive to higher thinking. If we can arouse an interest in religion in our children, we are performing the highest service for them.
After a girl gets married, she lives under the protection of her husband. Not like the modern day system where husbands and wives get into arguments and then divorce, the Vedic system enjoins marriage to be a lifetime commitment. Even if the husband takes to the renounced order of life, sannyasa, the couple is still considered to be married. When they are living as grihasthis, or householders, the husband is required to protect the wife and ensure that she is always happy and satisfied. If a wife is devoted and chaste, a husband should do everything he can to see to her happiness. Lord Krishna, God Himself, lived by this principle during His time on earth. Once while visiting the heavenly planets, one of Krishna’s wives, Satyabhama, plucked a parijata plant. The demigods became very angry at this and lodged a complaint against Krishna. Unable to settle the dispute peacefully, the Lord, wanting to please His wife, went to war with the demigods over the flower. He of course emerged victorious and brought the flower down to His kingdom of Dvaraka so that His beloved wife could be happy. In this way, the Lord taught us that we should go to great lengths to ensure the happiness and protection of a good wife.
In her old age, a woman is to be protected by the eldest son of the family. In the Vedic system, one’s life is to be divided into four stages or ashramas. The final stage of life is known as sannyasa, where the husband completely renounces family life and dedicates himself to serving Krishna and preaching His glories to others. Though the exact requirements for a sannyasi have changed over time, the most important rule is that there must be no intimate connection with women. Sannyasa means complete renunciation from sex life. The husband and wife are still married, but the wife lives at home under the protection of the eldest son. The great devotee of the Lord, Queen Kunti, lived under the care of her five sons after her husband, King Pandu, died prematurely due to a curse. The Pandava brothers took perfect care of their mother, and she in turn was quite pleased with them.
Of these three protectors of women, the husband is considered the most important. Once married, a husband and wife become one entity, sharing a common fate in the afterlife. For this reason a husband is to be considered the most important person in a woman’s life, for he can deliver her to the heavenly planets, or better yet, to Lord Krishna’s spiritual planet, where having gone once, one never returns. The protections and benedictions given by the father and the eldest son are very nice, but they don’t compare to what a good husband can do for a woman.
When Sita Devi grew up, she was married to Lord Rama, a kshatriya incarnation of God appearing in Ayodhya as the son of Maharaja Dashratha. Due to unfortunate circumstances, after enjoying twelve years of blissful married life, Lord Rama was ordered to leave the kingdom and spend fourteen years as an exile living in the forest. Sita, the perfect wife, refused to let her husband live in the forest alone, so she accompanied Him along with Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. Just prior to leaving for the woods, Rama’s mother Kausalya imparted some final words of advice to Sita. She asked Sita to always remain by Rama’s side and to always serve Him. Now Sita obviously was well aware of her prescribed duties, for she recited them as arguments in her favor when Lord Rama had asked her to remain at home and not follow Him to the woods.
“The father gives in measure. The mother also gives to a limited extent, as does a son. Knowing this, which woman wouldn’t worship the giver of endless riches, the husband?” (Sita Devi speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 39)
Sita responded to her mother-in-law with the statement above. She wanted to let Kausalya know that she was well acquainted with the proper duties of a wife. Sita wanted to stress just how important a good husband is, and how a wife should always worship him. As stated before, a good husband provides his wife an everlasting fortune extending beyond the duration of their current life. “For this reason alone, a husband is worthy of worship and respect”, said Sita.
It is simply a matter of courtesy. Someone who provides us something beneficial automatically becomes worthy of our respect and kindness. This same principle holds true with cows. Hindus are mistakenly thought of as being cow worshipers, but in actuality they show a deep respect and appreciation for cows and what they offer mankind. Cows freely give us their milk, which can then be used to prepare hundreds of varieties of dishes. For this reason cows should always be protected and honored, instead of mercilessly sent to slaughterhouses. As children, our mothers provide us milk which allows us to grow up to be strong and healthy. Since the cow also provides us milk, they should be afforded the same respect as our mothers. Unnecessarily killing a cow is quite a horrendous act.
Wealthy businessmen and athletes often talk of “giving back”. Though they haven’t really taken anything from anyone, they equate “giving back” with charity and benevolence. The general idea is that one shouldn’t keep taking from someone without acknowledging and respecting the giver. By the same token, Lord Krishna is the ultimate provider. We gladly harvest the fruits of our labor, thinking ourselves to be the instrument behind their acquisition, when in fact everything in this world happens through God’s energies. As great as we may think ourselves to be, it is the rain provided by God that allows our food to grow which sustains our life. If anyone is worthy of our respect, it is God.
This is the lesson taught here by Sita Devi. God is the greatest provider of wealth and fortune, so who wouldn’t want to worship Him? As we get deeper and deeper into the Kali Yuga, many of us are forgetting Krishna and what He does for us. The time is now to turn our attention back towards Him and thank Him for all that He has done for us. Krishna is more than just a provider; He is our dearmost well-wishing friend. If we choose to have a relationship with Him, He can provide us unending happiness the likes of which we have never seen. So let us follow Sita Devi’s example by always remaining connected with the Lord, and honoring Him with all our thoughts, words, and deeds.