“I have heard, O Sita, that your hand in marriage was won by the renowned Raghava on the occasion of the self-choice ceremony (svayamvara). O Maithili, I wish to hear that story in detail. Therefore please narrate to me the entire sequence of events as you experienced them.” (Anasuya speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.24-25)
Here we see the example of a perfect devotee, Anasuya, eagerly waiting to hear about Krishna and stories relating to Him. This is the key to making spiritual progress. Above all other religious practices, one must be eager to hear words and discourses about Krishna, or Krishna-katha.
The above referenced statement was part of a conversation between a highly exalted female sage, Anasuya, and Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. Lord Krishna is the original Personality of Godhead, but He has many different expansions and forms. Lord Rama is one of His primary incarnations appearing in the Treta Yuga of each creation. The world we are living in now has been created and destroyed many many times before. Each creation has a fixed time period of existence which is known as one Yuga. This time period is then further divided into four periods, which are also referred to as Yugas but with specific names attached to them. The Treta Yuga is the second time period of creation and it occurred many thousands of years ago. Rama was born as the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. As the events of His life unfolded, He was forced to accept an exile punishment from his father. Taking His wife, Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana, with Him, Rama travelled all across India, visiting various places of pilgrimage.
This sort of religious touring still goes on today. India is a place with a rich history, so there are hundreds of places of historical significance as it relates to Krishna, His various avataras, and His exalted devotees. Even during Lord Rama’s time, there were many great sages inhabiting the forests. Brahmanas are considered the highest class in society since they engage in the cultivation of knowledge. True knowledge is that found in the Vedas, the original scripture for man. The hustle and bustle of city life can be distracting for those seeking enlightenment, so the sages would often seek refuge in the forests where it was peaceful and quiet. Lord Rama used the exile punishment as an opportunity to visit these great sages. In actuality, Rama’s visit was more for the benefit of the sages than it was for Him.
The topmost brahmana is one who devotes His life to serving Lord Krishna, or God. One may be expert in the shastras and the performance of various sacrifices and therefore be a qualified brahmana, but that doesn’t automatically make them a Vaishnava. Devotees of Lord Vishnu are known as Vaishnavas. Lord Vishnu, Narayana, and Krishna are essentially interchangeable since they represent the same original God. Lord Rama knew these sages were Vaishnavas so He made their devotion to Him bear fruit by personally visiting them. Many hermitages were visited, with one of them being the home of the female sage, Anasuya. She was the wife of another famous sage, Atri. Anasuya was very happy to see the group, and was especially fond of Sita Devi. We see similar situations occur in our own life. If we attend a family get-together or are invited as guests of another husband and wife couple, it is common to see the women huddle together in the kitchen, while the men sit on the couch and discuss politics or sports.
Anasuya knew very well of both Sita and Rama, and she was especially fond of how their marriage was arranged. In the classic Vedic system, a father would give away his daughter to a suitable boy based on the similarities in qualities and horoscopes. The king of Mithila, Maharaja Janaka, considered Sita to be so exalted that he couldn’t decide on just any prince to give away his daughter to. Rather, he chose to hold a self-choice ceremony known as a svayamvara. Sita would marry whichever prince could string the illustrious bow of Lord Shiva that had been given to Janaka on a previous occasion. Many valiant princes came and tried, but only Lord Rama was able to lift and string the bow.
From Anasuya’s statements we can understand that the story of Rama’s lifting of the bow was well-known throughout India at the time. Even though Anasuya knew of the events, she still requested Sita to tell the story in her own way. This is noteworthy because according to social conventions, Anasuya and her husband were superior to Sita and Rama. Yet it was Anasuya who treated Sita as the exalted one. This is the code of conduct for pure devotees. When they meet God or one of His representatives, they offer them the highest respect. Sita Devi very nicely described the circumstances of her birth and how her marriage took place. Anasuya then presented her various ornaments as a gift.
This is another sign of proper etiquette. Brahmanas are usually the ones who talk about Krishna and other religious subjects. If a devotee is kind enough to enlighten us on spiritual matters, we should present gifts to them in return. That is the highest form of charity. This etiquette has been followed in India since time immemorial. Brahmanas and panditas perform religious functions and are given gifts in return. Students at gurukulas, the schools hosted by brahmanas, would give dakshina, or gifts, to their spiritual masters at the completion of their studies. In this instance, Sita was the daughter and husband of kshatriyas, but she was nevertheless given the respect of a highly learned person. She earned this respect through her pure devotion and love for Rama.
Just like Anasuya, we should also have an eagerness to hear about God and stories relating to Him. For our benefit, the great sages of the past have composed thousands of beautiful shlokas in praise of the Lord and His associates. If we are sincere in our desire to hear and learn, then the Lord will personally appear before us or He will send His authorized representative to teach us. Though there are nine processes that make up devotional service, just hearing itself is sufficient since all other good qualities will manifest as a result.