“Living in the kingdom of the Ikshvakus for twelve years, I enjoyed every delight imaginable to human beings and had all my desires fulfilled. Upon the thirteen year, the king invited all his ministers to an assembly to discuss the installation of Rama as the new king. When it was thus decided in that assembly that Rama would succeed His father as king, my respectable mother-in-law, Kaikeyi, begged for a boon from her husband.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.4-6)
In this world, one of the most beautiful relationships is the one between a mother and her child. The mother-son relationship is particularly strong because the mother views herself as the protector of her helpless son. With good mothers, this attitude continues throughout the child’s life, no matter the age. On the flip side of things, the relationship between the son’s wife and the son’s mother is usually one of the most contentious. The friction that exists between a wife and her mother-in-law has formed the basis of much comedy, playing on the stereotype of the relationship. As tough as this relationship usually is, there was no such friction between Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, and her three mother-in-laws.
Yes, that is correct. Sita Devi had three mother-in-laws since Lord Rama technically had three mothers. During ancient Vedic times, the governments were run by kshatriyas. Kshatriya kings were known as rajas, and they lived in the mode of passion. Vedic information tells us that all the activities of living entities can be classified into one of three distinct modes: goodness, passion, or ignorance. Goodness is represented by acts of knowledge, i.e. studying the Vedas and working towards the emancipation of the soul. Passion refers to fruitive activity, or karma, aimed at procuring various boons and results which bear fruit either in this life or the next. Ignorance is any activity which lacks both goodness and passion.
The government’s foremost duty is to provide protection to the citizens. Therefore certain qualities are required of the people who are to provide this protection. Just as any job has a certain skill-set required for success, the job of a kshatriya, or protector, requires one to be brave, strong, courageous, and an expert fighter. These qualities usually aren’t found in people in the mode of goodness, the brahmanas. The brahmanas, or priests, are non-violent by nature due to the fact that they understand the non-duality that exists between living entities. There has been a strong push for equality amongst genders and races in recent times, but the Vedas go one step further by telling us that there is indeed equality amongst all living entities. Constitutionally, there is no difference between human beings and animals. Animals have the same type of soul as human beings because there are actually no differences between the souls of living entities. God is the supreme soul, Paramatma, and we living entities are all jivatmas, minute or ordinary souls.
Since brahmanas understand the equality amongst all living entities, they are not inclined to be violent towards anyone. Also, brahmanas have specific prescribed duties they must perform, which include studying the Vedas, teaching others Vedic wisdom, performing sacrifices for Lord Vishnu, teaching others how to perform sacrifices, and giving and accepting charity. In order to be qualified to perform these tasks, one must go through years of training from a guru, or spiritual master. This means that brahmanas don’t have the time to practice the military arts. Kshatriyas are well-suited for providing protection because they are in the mode of passion. Since they are strong and more prone to physical activity, they are better suited to fight off enemies. Being in the mode of passion has a few drawbacks however. The mode of passion means satisfying the desires of the gross senses, the strongest of which is the desire for sex. The Vedas exist so that mankind can adhere to a set of law codes that will enable their souls to return back home, back to God’s spiritual kingdom after death. The desire for sex is the hardest to control and therefore also represents the biggest hindrance towards spiritual advancement. Sex life is essentially a temporary and illusory form of sense gratification, and it can be very addictive. Those who are attached to sex life are forced to repeatedly take birth in the material world, for life itself can’t exist without sex.
Since kshatriyas are in the mode of passion, it is much more difficult for them to control their sexual urges than it is, say, for the brahmanas, who are in the mode of goodness. Due to this fact, kshatriyas are allowed to marry more than once in order to satisfy their sexual urges. In this way, sex life is sanctioned, but it still remains regulated. On the surface this may seem strange to us. “The Vedas allow for polygamy? Isn’t that for freaks and weirdos?” If the wife remains completely protected by the husband, then this sort of marriage system is actually okay. The other benefit to this system is that it reduces the likelihood of illicit sex because there will be less unmarried women in society. We see that famous rock stars, athletes, actors and actresses today are constantly finding themselves in trouble due to marital infidelity and other problems related to illicit sex. In fact, studies show that one of the best ways to avoid being in poverty is to wait until after you are married to have children, i.e. abstinence until marriage.
The Vedas define illicit sex as any sexual activity that occurs outside the bonds of marriage and also outside of the desire for progeny. Kshatriya kings would often have many wives but they would only engage in sexual activity for the purpose of having children. In this way, even people in the mode of passion could make spiritual advancement. The first king on earth was Maharaja Ikshvaku, the son of Manu, the first man on earth. There are two famous dynasties of kings; one starting from the sun-god and the other starting from the moon-god. Ikshvaku was the originator of the solar dynasty since his father was the son of Surya, the sun-god. Ikshvaku set the standard for good government and administration. His descendants became known as the Ikshvakus and they all followed his example of chivalry and dedication to providing protection.
Therefore it was no accident that when Lord Krishna, God Himself, decided to appear on earth many thousands of years ago, He did so in the Ikshvaku family. Known as Rama, the Lord was the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. Rama took a vow to only accept one wife. His one wife was no ordinary woman either, for she was Sita Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Narayana. Lord Vishnu is also known as Lord Narayana, Krishna’s four-handed form who resides in the spiritual planets of Vaikuntha. Though Rama accepted only one wife, His father had three: Kausalya, Sumitra, and Kaikeyi. Kausalya was Rama’s birth mother, but the Lord treated all of Dasharatha’s wives with the same level of respect. So in this regard, Sita Devi inherited three mother-in-laws at the time of her marriage.
The reason for the friction that occurs between mothers and the wives of their sons is quite obvious. The mother views herself as the ultimate caretaker of the son. She not only bore the child in her womb for nine months, but she nurtured the child through the early years. A good mother, or parent for that matter, is one who doesn’t care about being liked or disliked. They will lay down the law and nag and pester their kids to do the right thing no matter what. Sometimes, kids will become frustrated with their parents or even hate them at times but, in the end, they grow up to appreciate and respect them. The love that a mother shows towards her son never ends. Even if the son reaches adulthood, the giving of instruction and advice never stops. However, when the son gets married, the natural order of things gets shifted a little.
For the son, the wife is a replacement for the mother in a lot of ways. The Vedas provide clear and defined roles for the husband and wife in a marriage. The husband is required to protect the wife completely, and the wife is to serve and honor the husband as her primary deity. Marriage is known as a religious institution, grihastha ashrama, meaning it is meant to help both parties make spiritual advancement. When there is a lack of adherence to dharma, the senses tend to act uncontrollably. This leads a person away from God. Therefore there is a specific dharma assigned to both the man and woman so that they can control their senses while being married. The mother of the husband naturally will feel a little threatened when her son gets married. The wife now becomes the primary caretaker, thus diminishing the mother’s influence. But a good mother will never stop loving her son; therefore she will not hesitate to give advice to the daughter-in-law. This can cause great friction because the wife is essentially being told what to do by a complete stranger. Also, she can’t get into arguments with the mother-in-law because that will upset the husband.
In Sita Devi’s situation, the potential for problems was compounded by the fact that she had three mother-in-laws. Yet from the above referenced statement, we see that her first twelve years of marriage were completely blissful. How was this possible? Sita was a pure devotee right from her birth. Though she never studied under a guru, she could actually teach anyone about the Vedas and the proper duties of a man and woman. She treated all of Rama’s mothers with love and respect and never had any friction with them. They all loved her and treated her like their own daughter.
This harmony existed because Sita was not only a great devotee, but she was living with God. The spiritual world is our natural home. Currently we are travelling in a foreign land, and the worst part about our trip is that we don’t know when it will end. Thankfully for us, Krishna and His bona fide representatives come to rescue us. The Vedas emanate from Krishna, thus they are non-different from Him. The various rules and regulations exist so that one can take the necessary steps to return back to the spiritual world. The devotees are pure liberated souls, meaning they can help others get out of the clutches of maya, or illusion.
True happiness only comes through association with God. This is what we can take away from Sita Devi’s description of the early years of her marriage. In fact, when Rama was later forced into exile, Sita insisted on accompanying Him. While living in the forest, Sita was equally as happy since she was with God. If we commit ourselves to taking up devotional service, we too can always be happy and look back on our time on earth with the same fondness that Sita did in regards to her early years of marriage.