“In one who has unflinching devotional faith in Krishna, all the good qualities of Krishna and the demigods are consistently manifest.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.18.12)
Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, and the female sage Anasuya, mother of Dattatreya and sister of Lord Kapila, had a wonderful conversation many many years ago which is documented in the Ramayana of Valmiki. Lord Rama, an incarnation of God, was passing His time in the forest with His brother, Lakshmana, and His wife, Sita. The group visited various places throughout India, stopping by the hermitages of the great saints.
These events all took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Man was still generally pious during that time so it was not uncommon to find great sages living in the forests. City life is sufficient for most people since it reinforces a community mentality, where goods and services are easily available. Yet for those seeking higher knowledge, or information of the Absolute Truth, the peace and quiet of the forest is preferable. The highly advanced brahmanas, the priestly class of men, would renounce city life to go live in the forests. Generally the wilderness is reserved for the animal kingdom since man is usually too attached to sense gratification to survive such an austere lifestyle. But the performance of austerities for religious purposes is actually one of the important practices recommended by the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. These austerities are referred to as tapasya, and the sages living in the forest were well accustomed to performing them.
While the sages lived in the forest, contemplating the meaning of life and performing various sacrifices for Lord Vishnu, they would often times receive guests in the form of travelers or pilgrims. This is still the case today as millions of people each year visit the famous tirthas in India. It is beneficial for one to visit these sacred places since saintly people usually reside there. The purpose of the priestly class is not only to perform religious functions for themselves, but to also guide the rest of society on the proper execution of dharma. This human form of life is meant for God realization, thus becoming purely God conscious is the ultimate objective. Man has a natural propensity to sin, thus it is the duty of the saintly class to steer society in the right direction.
Lord Rama and His family members were all very pious. Since He was God Himself, Rama was the embodiment of virtue and chivalry. Nevertheless, since He took birth in the kshatriya race, Rama followed standard protocol by taking instruction from brahmanas on all matters. The Vedas declare that the highest reward in life is to have the association of a saintly person. This means that if one is fortunate enough to meet face-to-face with a devotee, they should take full advantage. Rama was well aware of this tenet, so He and His group made sure to visit all the great sages residing in the forest. On one particular occasion, the group stopped at the hermitage of Atri Rishi and his wife Anasuya. At the time, both Sita and Rama were very famous throughout the world. Kings during those times were referred to as the lords of earth. Rama’s father, King Dasharatha, was held in very high regard. Rama actually took birth in the Ikshvaku dynasty. Ikshvaku was the son of Manu, the first man on earth.
“At the time of a great sacrifice performed by Daksha, with affection the very intelligent Varuna gave Devarata an illustrious bow along with quivers which would never run out of arrows. Incapable of being moved on account of its weight, the kings could not even dream of bending the bow. Having obtained the bow, my truthful father first invited all the princes of the world to an assembly of great rulers of men, and spoke to them as such: ‘Whichever man is capable of lifting and string this bow will receive my daughter's hand in marriage. Of this there is no doubt.’” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.39-42)
When Anasuya welcomed Rama and His family, she immediately struck up a conversation with Sita Devi. This practice is customary even today in social situations, where we see women huddling together and the men separating to go have their own conversations. Anasuya knew all about Sita’s family history but she was nevertheless very eager to hear Sita’s narration of the events surrounding her marriage. The above referenced statement was part of Sita’s telling of the story.
Maharaja Janaka, the king of Mithila, one day found a little girl in a field that he was intending to plough. A bond was immediately formed and Janaka decided to take the girl in as his own daughter. He named her Sita since she came out of the ground. Sita Devi was actually an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and wife of Lord Narayana. According to the Vedas, Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but He has many direct expansions. Lord Narayana is one of the primary expansions, meaning He can be considered to be God. Rama is also an incarnation of Krishna thus He is also taken as God. Therefore Sita Devi is to known as the eternal consort of God. Janaka was unaware of her divinity, but he could still tell that she was something special. Her behavior was perfect in every regard. Though she never attended school, her knowledge of the Vedas was perfect. This shouldn’t be surprising to us. A pure devotee of God naturally acquires all good characteristics and knowledge of the scriptures.
Janaka was in a quandary. He didn’t think there was any man worthy of Sita’s hand in marriage, but he knew it was his duty, as the father, to get her married. As a compromise, Janaka decided to hold a self-choice ceremony (svayamvara), where princes would come and try to lift the illustrious bow of Lord Shiva. A long time back, the great Prajapati Daksha performed an elaborate sacrifice. As a result of the events that occurred relating to this sacrifice, the celestial bow of Lord Shiva was given to Devarata, a great king. This same bow was eventually passed down to King Janaka. Its weight was enormous and no king could dare think of even moving it. Ironically, in her youth Sita Devi was once lifted this very bow without a problem. Knowing all these facts, Janaka decided that Sita would only marry the prince that could lift this great bow. In essence, he was confident that no one would be able to lift it and even if they did, that person would surely have to be a celestial.
Herein we get another glimpse into Sita Devi’s greatness. Every person born in this world has certain attributes based on their guna and karma, or qualities and work. When it comes to marriages in the Vedic tradition, these qualities are compared between boys and girls in order to find a suitable match. From Janaka’s decision, we can understand that the only match for Sita was Lord Rama Himself. Only Rama had the necessary strength to move the bow.
Greatness can be described in many ways. We can praise someone based on their qualities and their different accomplishments. Sita Devi’s greatness can surely be characterized along these lines, but her most outstanding feature is that Lord Rama is the only suitable husband for her. This distinction is reserved for only the purest of devotees. God doesn’t just accept anybody as a wife or intimate associate.
When we make friends with someone, it is usually because the other person is nice to us or has our best interests at heart. We don’t make friends with people that are mean to us or who envy us. We still may be kind to everyone we meet, but that doesn’t mean we’ll befriend every single person. God is similar in this regard. By default, He views every living entity equally.
“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.29)
The exception to this rule applies to the devotees. The bhaktas love God purely and without any motive. This is the definition of true love. For God to accept us as His friend or life companion there must be an exchange of love. This love may be of different varieties, but the sentiment must be genuine.
God is so great. He is kind, compassion, and very sweet. Rama means one who gives pleasure to others and this was certainly true throughout Lord Rama’s time on earth. As great as Lord Rama is, Sita Devi might even be greater, for she loves the Lord and all His devotees so much. She is the standard bearer for the perfect execution of devotional service.