Friday, June 4, 2010

Auspicious Measurements

Lord Rama “I am faithfully engaged in the service of Rama, who is greatly fortunate, fixed in truthfulness, gifted with all auspicious marks, and has the bodily measurements of a banyan tree [nyagrodha-parimandala].” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.34)

God is great. The Vedas, the original scriptures for mankind, try to put this greatness into words. The Lord also helps us by appearing from time to time in this world to enact pastimes and protect His devotees. The total number of incarnations is too large to count, but the Vedas give us an idea of the more important ones. Aside from telling us when and where the Lord appears, the Vedas inform us that God’s incarnations can be identified by the presence of auspicious marks on the body.

“This baby has all the symptoms of Lord Narayana on His palms and soles. He will be able to deliver all the three worlds.” (Nilambara Chakravarti remarking on baby Chaitanya’s features, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 14.16)

Lord Chaitanya When God incarnates, His auspicious marks appear on the soles of His feet and also in other areas. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His primary expansion is that of Lord Vishnu. When appearing on earth, these expansions are referred to as Vishnu incarnations. The beautiful auspicious marks of Lord Vishnu also appear on the bodies of His various incarnations such as Matsya, Kurma, Narasimha, Rama, etc. The Lord’s most recent appearance on earth as a human being was as Lord Chaitanya, who also possessed these auspicious marks on His body. Though Lord Chaitanya is not included in the list of major incarnations of Lord Vishnu, His appearance is hinted at in both the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata. In addition to having auspicious marks, Lord Chaitanya also had unique bodily dimensions. His arms and His chest had the same measurements, thus He was referred to as nyagrodha-parimandala.  When translated, this term means that His body had measurements like those of a banyan tree. This same description, nyagrodha-parimandala, also applied to God’s incarnation as Lord Rama, who appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga.

Krishna's lotus feet Why would God need to have auspicious marks and unique measurements for His body? When the Lord appears on earth, He doesn’t openly disclose His divinity. Human beings have free will, in that they are not forced to do anything, including love. We have experience of this in our own lives. We may love another person very much, but it isn’t guaranteed that the love will be returned. It works the same way between the living entities and the Supreme Lord. God is the original reservoir of pleasure, but the material world poses an obstacle to the living entities. Here, we are given all sorts of avenues to seek pleasure. We can seek out sense gratification through many different activities, but they all lack a relation to God. The Lord wants to reclaim His lost sons and daughters, but there is no way He can force us to love Him. If there is coercion involved, the relationship can’t be defined as a loving one.

“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)

The Supreme Lord comes to earth to annihilate miscreants and to give pleasure and protection to the devotees. God is always God, however, thus when He appears in the body of a human being, He will naturally possess extraordinary qualities. These include auspicious marks on His body and unique measurements for His limbs and other body parts. These unique dimensions remind people that He is no ordinary human being, for we tend to be drawn to people who have extraordinary abilities. The Olympic runner, Usain Bolt, was a great example of this. At the 2008 Summer Olympics, Bolt shattered the world record in the 100m dash. The uniqueness of his body is what really intrigued people. It has always been assumed that tall people wouldn’t make good runners because their height would require too much effort from their long legs. Bolt debunked this theory by not only winning gold medals, but by easily defeating the competition. His unique running style and bodily dimensions made him an athlete of interest around the world.

Lord Rama In a similar manner, God breaks the mold when it comes to all areas of opulence. As Bhagavan, He possesses the qualities of renunciation, beauty, wealth, fame, knowledge, and strength to the fullest degree. When the Lord appears on earth, His body is not material, meaning it is not subject to creation and destruction in the same way that ours are. However, in order to fit in with the rest of society, the Lord’s body appears to be material. This, again, is to keep His divinity under wraps as best as possible. The devotees, however, can tell that He is God based on distinguishing features.

In His incarnation as Lord Rama, God took birth as a pious prince, expert at warfare and dedicated to the welfare of the pious. His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana, accompanied Him on a fourteen year sojourn through the forests of India. On one occasion, the group was visited by the Rakshasa demon Ravana, who appeared in front of their cottage in the guise of a mendicant. Ravana was a committed atheist who had intentions of kidnapping Sita and making her his wife. He created a diversion whereby Rama and Lakshmana were led away from the cottage, leaving Sita all by herself. At first, Ravana approached Sita in a humble manner, but then eventually the demon revealed his true form.

Sita sternly rebuked Ravana. In the above referenced statement, she is describing the glories of her husband to the demon. This was done for two reasons. Sita inherently loved Rama and depended on Him for everything. This is the dharma of pure devotees; they don’t surrender to anyone else except God and His representatives. Sita’s description also served to inform Ravana that Rama was no ordinary man. Ravana had ascended to power by propitiating various demigods with sacrifices and austerities. They rewarded him with many boons, and Ravana in turn used those boons to defeat many great demigods. For this reason, he thought that he was invincible.

Sita and Rama Ravana wasn’t threatened by Rama. “This poor prince is living in the forest like a homeless man. How powerful can He be? I’m richer than He is, and I rule over a large kingdom. How did this man get such a beautiful wife? I will take her for myself.” From Sita’s description, we see that Rama not only possessed auspicious marks, but that He was greatly fortunate [maha-bhagam] and dedicated to the truth. This stood in stark contrast to Ravana’s features. Sita was letting Ravana know that her husband was nothing like him, and that she had no desire to be with such a demon.

In the end, Ravana would not heed Sita’s warnings, and would kidnap her anyway. Rama, with the help of Lakshmana, Hanuman, and the Vanara army, would march to Lanka, defeat and kill Ravana, and rescue Sita. Everything relating to God is beautiful and auspicious. If we make Him the object of our worship and become His dependent, we will always feel as if we are in the presence of greatness. May the all-auspicious Lord Rama grant us the benediction of having His beautiful darshana, day-after-day.