“Having been well-received by my righteous father, Vishvamitra spoke to him as follows regarding the two brothers, Rama and Lakshmana, both descendants of the Raghu dynasty. ‘These two sons of Dasharatha would like to see the bow. Please show that divine bow to Prince Rama.’ Hearing the words of the vipra, my father brought the bow forward. Bending the bow in the twinkling of an eye and applying string to it, the mighty prince Rama, who was full of valor, quickly drew the bow at full length.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.45-48)
We often herald the great feats of strength shown by others. Great bodybuilders, long distance runners, Olympic athletes, magicians, mystics, etc. all enjoy great acclaim and notoriety for their extraordinary feats of strength and skill. Lord Krishna, being God Himself and the original person, possesses all opulences. He is capable of the most extraordinary feats of strength, and unlike mere mortals, He doesn’t require any practice, nutritional supplements, or any other crutches to aid Him. By nature, He is the strongest.
In the sport of baseball, the last twenty years or so saw a rapid increase in the number of home runs hit. Not only were players hitting more home runs collectively, but individual records themselves were being shattered at an alarming pace. In the 1998 season, both Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire broke the single season home run record of sixty-one set by Roger Maris more than thirty years prior. By the end of the season, McGwire ended up with more home runs, but the chase for the record captivated sports fans around the country. Both players were celebrated, and baseball attendance skyrocketed as a result. A few years later, Barry Bonds would end up breaking the career home run record set by Hank Aaron. The career home run record seemed almost impossible to break, for it even took Aaron over twenty seasons of steady home run hitting to set it.
Yet all this record-breaking ended up being for naught as recently it was discovered that the majority of players in baseball during that time were illegally taking banned nutritional supplements such as human-growth-hormone and steroids. Steroids were banned in baseball and other sports a long time ago, but the testing procedures were very lax. For this reason, many players tried steroids and began using them on a regular basis once they saw their home run production increase. More home runs meant higher salaries, so the choice to take steroids became an obvious one. The steroid scandal left an indelible black mark on the sport of baseball. The speculation now is that these same great players - McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, and others - might not even make the Hall of Fame since their home run totals are viewed as being artificially inflated.
The steroid scandal sheds light on a larger issue. Not every athlete or person possessing extraordinary strength is a cheater. Nevertheless, even natural strength doesn’t come on its own. Every one of us is born with certain qualities, referred to as gunas in Sanskrit. Even if someone is born strong, they still have to go to a lot of trouble to become experts in their field. Great athletes, performers, and even yogis certainly deserve praise for their efforts, but one should keep in mind that such talent pales in comparison to the powers of God.
There are many annual awards shows celebrating people in the entertainment, science, and political fields, but there are no awards given to God. He is often overlooked in areas relating to strength. According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, God is known as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses six opulences in full and at the same time. Strength is one of these opulences. By possessing these attributes in full, it means that no one can be stronger than God. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Lord Vishnu is His primary expansion. We get information from Vedic literature that this entire material world, with its millions of universes, was originally created by a single exhalation of Lord Vishnu. He breathes out to create and then breathes everything back in at the time of dissolution. Being subject to the illusory power of maya, we living entities easily forget God’s greatness and strength. For this reason, from time to time He personally comes to earth to remind us of just how strong He is.
When Lord Krishna personally appeared on this planet some five thousand years ago, He performed many wonderful feats during His childhood. These incidents are all documented thoroughly in the tenth canto of the Shrimad Bhagavatam. The residents of Vrindavana were amazed by all of Krishna’s wonderful acts. The king of Mathura at the time, Kamsa, was deathly afraid of Krishna since a prophecy had declared that he would be killed by the Lord. The king sent demon after demon to Vrindavana to kill the young Krishna. One by one, Krishna foiled each plot by personally killing the demons.
Of all of Krishna’s great feats, His most celebrated show of strength was His lifting of the mammoth Govardhana Hill. Lord Indra was angry at the residents of Vrindavana for neglecting his sacrifice on one particular occasion. This Indra-puja was skipped at the insistence of Lord Krishna, for He wanted to teach Indra a lesson. Indra, being the lord of heaven, is a demigod entrusted with the power to produce rain. He is also the leader of the demigods whenever they are fighting with the asuras, or demons. For these reasons, Indra tends to get puffed up from time to time, thinking he is even greater than God. This proves without a doubt that worship of the demigods and worship of Krishna are two completely different things. The demigods are highly elevated living entities, servants of Krishna. Though they are advanced, they are still subject to the laws of material nature. Illusion, bewilderment, and false ego are some of the forces that living entities fall prey to. Lord Krishna, on the other hand, is the creator of all material energies, so by definition, He is immune to the effects of these forces.
Since the residents ignored his sacrifice, Indra poured down a torrent of rain for seven consecutive days. Lord Krishna, a young child at the time, held up Govardhana Hill by His little finger for the duration of the rainfall, and used the hill as an umbrella to protect the citizens from the rain. Afterwards, Indra was very contrite and offered His respectful obeissances to the Lord.
“Within this material world there are many fools like myself who consider themselves to be the Supreme Lord or the all in all within the universe. You are so merciful that without punishing their offenses, You devise means so that their false prestige is subdued and they can know that You, and none else, are the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Indra, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 27)
God’s pastimes and glories are unlimited, so devotees choose to remember and celebrate the more notable ones. Another famous feat of strength exhibited by God was His lifting and stringing of the illustrious bow of Lord Shiva. Prior to His advent as Krishna, the Lord came to earth as a pious prince by the name of Rama. As the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha, Rama and His three brothers were all great warriors following in the tradition of kshatriya kings known as the Ikshvakus. Lord Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana once accompanied the venerable sage Vishvamitra for a period of time in the forest. Vishvamitra and others sages were living in fear of Rakshasa demons at the time, so they required the protection of expert warriors. Rama and Lakshmana rose to the occasion, and in return for their service, Vishvamitra imparted on them very powerful mantras to be used in combat.
Unlike today’s warfare which is conducted using nuclear weapons and technologically advanced missiles, fighting during Vedic times was done with bow and arrow. This may seem like a primitive style of fighting, but the weapons actually had extraordinary strength. In the Vedic tradition, every important activity is performed with the aid of mantras, which are collections of important words or phrases that are invoked for a specific purpose. Sound vibrations are so strong that a mantra recited with faith and devotion, and at an appropriate time, will yield extraordinary results. Rama and Lakshmana were so pure and devoted to their guru that simply by chanting a mantra, they could make the arrows shot from their bows have the same strength as that of a nuclear weapon. In fact, many of these arrow-weapons were known by specific names, such as the brahmastra. Each weapon also had a counter weapon that could be invoked by its own mantra. This is how warfare was conducted. Not everyone knew all the mantras, for one had to approach an expert guru and learn the mantra from them after offering humble service. Rama and Lakshmana were the perfect disciples in this regard. Rama was God Himself, and Lakshmana was His pure devotee, so it’s not surprising to see that Vishvamitra was pleased with both of them.
After spending some time together in the forest, Vishvamitra brought the two boys to a great sacrifice held in Mithila. The king of Mithila at the time, Maharaja Janaka, was holding a svayamvara (self-choice ceremony) for his daughter, Sita Devi. Janaka had been given an illustrious bow of Lord Shiva on a previous occasion. This bow was extremely heavy and impossible to lift. Janaka wasn’t Sita’s biological father; he had found her one day while ploughing a field. Not knowing her family lineage, he decided that she was too pure to be married off to any ordinary person. Nevertheless, it was the duty of pious kings to marry off their daughters as soon as they reached an appropriate age. Janaka compromised with himself and decided that Sita could get married but only to whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s bow. Many great princes and kings from around the world came to his kingdom to win Sita’s hand in marriage, but they all failed.
From the above referenced statement of Sita Devi, we see just how easily Lord Rama was able to string and lift the bow. He not only lifted it, but He was able to break it, an act which caused a sound reverberation heard throughout the universe. The breaking of the bow seemed like a great act, but to Rama it was a piece of cake. As Sita herself describes, it all happened in a twinkling of an eye. This is the greatness of God. This wonderful event has been celebrated ever since, for it marked the union of Lord Rama and Sita Devi, the divine couple. Anyone who hears of this great feat with faith and devotion will surely always keep Sita and Rama in their heart.