“O Rakshasa, It might be possible for a person to live for a long time after forcibly taking away Shachi Devi, a woman of unmatched beauty and wife of the wielder of the thunderbolt [Indra]. But a person who abuses me shall not be released from death even if they were to drink amrita [nectar which grants immortality].” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 48.24)
One of Lord Krishna’s names is Mukunda, meaning one who grants liberation. The Vedas tell us that reincarnation is a fact and that the soul constantly transmigrates from one body to another until it becomes eligible for liberation, which represents the end of reincarnation. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, thus He is the only person able to grant this great reward, which is known as moksha or mukti in Sanskrit.
Lord Krishna is God but we see that followers of the Hindu faith often worship many gods. Those who are ignorant of Vedic teachings are often led to believe the false notion that Hindus don’t believe in a single god and that they are polytheistic. This is not the case, for the Vedas decisively state that Hari, one of Lord Krishna’s names, is the original form of God. There are, however, thousands of highly elevated living entities known as devatas. In English parlance, this translates to a demigod, meaning someone who is godly. What does it mean to be godly? The demigods have extraordinary strength and powers not available to the common man. This is by design, for Lord Krishna needs someone to manage the affairs of the creation. The material world is considered to be a representation of the Lord’s inferior energy. Spirit is always superior to matter because without spirit, matter would be useless. We see this fact on full display at the time of a person’s death. The only difference between a living body and a dead one is the presence of the soul. Thus we can conclude that spirit is superior to matter.
The spiritual energy is God’s superior energy, something which He directly associates with. We are also spirit by nature, but we are considered God’s separated expansions. This means that we are god-like in quality, but far inferior to Him in quantitative powers. The living entities, or jiva souls, can most certainly associate with material nature, or God’s inferior energy. The Supreme Lord is the creator of maya, or the illusory energy that pervades the material creation, but He can never be touched by it. Therefore, He deputes other advanced living entities, known as demigods, to take charge of running various departments of creation. There are demigods in charge of creation, maintenance, dissolution, providing rain, doling out wealth, and granting learning ability. The chief demigods are Lord Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Of these three, Lord Vishnu is considered superior because He is a direct, personal expansion of Lord Krishna. Though Vishnu maintains, He still remains aloof from the affairs of the material creation. Essentially there is no difference between Vishnu and Krishna except in Their appearance.
“Narayana [Vishnu] is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and from Him Brahma was born, from whom Shiva was born.” (Varaha Purana)
The demigods are highly advanced, but with the exception of Lord Vishnu, they too suffer through birth and death. Lord Brahma lives for billions of years; he is the first created living entity and the last one to die. Yet just because he lives a lot longer than us, it doesn’t mean that Lord Brahma is immortal. In a spiritual sense, we are all immortal because our souls never take birth, nor do they die. However, the concepts of liberation and immortality really apply to the residence of the soul. Liberation, or moksha, means the soul never has to take birth in the material world again. A liberated soul achieves the same nature as God, for the Supreme Lord never associates with His inferior energy. So in this regard, no living entity, including a demigod, can grant liberation. This can only come from Lord Krishna’s grace.
“According to some, Lord Vishvanatha [Shiva] is the great physician who cures the disease of material existence by delivering a person through the ear, which receives the vibration of the holy name of Lord Rama. Because of this, this holy place [a bathing ghat in Kashi] is called Mani-karnika.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 17.82 Purport)
A point to note here, however, is that Lord Shiva can also sometimes grant liberation. They say that if a person quits their body while in the holy city of Kashi, Lord Shiva whispers the name of Rama into their ear, thus granting them liberation. In these cases, it seems that Lord Shiva is granting moksha, but it is actually occurring through Lord Krishna’s will. Krishna is the original form of God, with Vishnu being His primary expansion. To enact pastimes on earth, Vishnu descends and appears in various guises. When God descends to earth in the form of a living entity, He is known as an avatara, or incarnation. One of Vishnu’s most famous incarnations was that of Lord Rama, a pious kshatriya prince who appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga. Lord Shiva is known as Mahadeva, meaning the greatest demigod. He is described as such not only for his extraordinary powers, but also for his great devotion to Lord Vishnu.
Of all of Vishnu’s forms, Lord Rama is Lord Shiva’s favorite. The Adhyatma Ramayana found in the Brahmanda Purana contains a narration of the events of Lord Rama’s life, as told by Lord Shiva to his wife, Parvati Devi. Lord Shiva is such a great devotee that he only likes to speak about Lord Rama. He was very excited to tell the story of Rama to his wife. In this way, we see how a marriage can be made perfect. The husband should be viewed as the foremost deity for the wife. This means that it is the duty of the husband to discuss spiritual matters with his wife, for they will both benefit from this. Devotees are always benefitted by speaking about the Lord, and the recipients of such instruction gain invaluable spiritual knowledge as a result.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
Why would a person be granted liberation by hearing Lord Rama’s name in their ear? In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells us that those who think of God at the time of death never have to take birth again. This is because our consciousness at the time we quit our body determines the type of body we receive in the next life. Our consciousness at a specific point in time is not something we can necessarily control, for it is developed over the course of our lifetime. We have certain things that we think about while we go to sleep each night, and these things can change over time. The consciousness at the time of death represents the sum total of all the experiences of our current life, and even previous ones. Thus it is very hard to ensure that we’ll think about God at the time of death, so Lord Shiva kindly helps the process along.
It is also said that those who die while residing on the banks of the holy river Ganges also receive liberation. In the Vedic tradition, the Ganges River is taken to be a demigod, Mother Ganga. Again it appears that a demigod is granting liberation, but this is actually not the case. Ganga Devi is considered sacred because she flows from the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. Lord Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has declared that just as Lord Krishna is worshipable, so is His land. Essentially this means that anything directly associated with Krishna is to be worshiped in the same manner as one would worship the Supreme Lord Himself. Since Ganga Devi comes from the lotus feet of the Lord, she is non-different from Him. Therefore, anyone who quits their body while near the water coming from Vishnu’s feet increases their likelihood of attaining moksha.
Based on the authorized statements of the Vedas, we see that only God Himself can grant liberation. Hence He is known by the name of Mukunda, or one who grants mukti. The atheist class, however, don’t realize this. From the beginning of time, there has been an ongoing struggle between the demigods and the demons, who are also known as asuras. The demigods are known as suras because they are devotees by nature. An asura is the opposite of a sura, meaning they don’t believe in God. The asuras constantly clash with the suras because they think that if the godly class is defeated, worship of God will stop. Instead of believing in God, asuras view the Lord as a competitor. They would rather people worship them instead of Krishna.
During Lord Rama’s time, there was one asura in particular, known by the name of Ravana, who had risen to power. Ravana was a Rakshasa, a demon with ghastly physical attributes. Rakshasas are meat eaters who range the night while terrorizing the innocent. They have no problem eating human flesh. They are expert in illusion and not afraid to use their black magic powers when battling others. Ravana was quite powerful due to boons he received from Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. This certainly seems a bit odd. Why would the godly class grant boons to sinful people? Unlike God, the devatas are required to give away benedictions to whoever worships them properly. This is how material nature works. Since matter is part of God’s inferior energy, the Lord has no direct interest in it. God doesn’t play favorites when it comes to material fortunes or misfortunes. Matter is dull and inferior and something we should strive to break free from, hence the Lord does not consider anything in terms of good or bad as it relates to the body and the senses.
“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.23)
Nevertheless, the living entities are stuck associating with matter by default. Living entities have different desires and possess varying levels of intelligence, so there will always be people who wish to increase their material possessions and opportunities for sense gratification. These people are known as karmis, or fruitive workers. It is the duty of the demigods to facilitate the requests of the karmis. Since there is no distinction between good or bad on a material level, the devatas must grant benedictions to whoever pleases them, regardless of the motive. Ravana, being an atheist, was especially intent on increasing his fighting powers. After he got what he wanted from the demigods, he went to war against the saintly class. He even defeated his own brother, the treasurer of the demigods, Kuvera.
Ravana was extremely wealthy and ruled over a beautiful island known as Lanka. He had hundreds of wives, but one day he heard of a beautiful woman, Sita Devi, who was residing in the forest of Dandaka. Sita was Lord Rama’s wife, and she had accompanied her husband on His sojourn through the woods. Ravana set up a ruse which lured Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, away from their cottage, leaving Sita all by herself. Ravana approached Sita and propositioned her.
Sita was no ordinary human being. When God appears on earth, His pleasure potency expansions from the spiritual world come with Him. Sita was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Vishnu in the spiritual world. Sita was ever devoted to Rama and never thought of another man during her entire life. She sternly rebuked Ravana. Undeterred, the demon prepared to steal her away. In the above referenced quote, Sita warns him of what will happen if he should perpetrate such an iniquitous deed.
In battles between the suras and asuras, Lord Indra is usually the leader of the demigod army. He wields the thunderbolt and is considered very powerful. Sita makes reference to the fact that one has a possibility of remaining alive should they steal Indra’s wife, Shachi. Stealing another’s wife is an act of vikarma. Karma actually refers to prescribed duty, or those actions which allow one to advance to a higher position in the next life. It is similar to the theory of evolution, but this is an evolution of the soul and not the species. Vikarma is abominable activity; those actions which lead to demotion to a lower species in the next life. Stealing another’s wife is quite a deplorable act, so one surely suffers the consequences. However, the punishment doesn’t always come about right away. Sometimes a person desires to sin even more. In these instances, the laws of nature allow the person to remain alive so that they can act out their desires. Not only can such a person remain alive, but they even have a chance at moksha, or liberation. There is always an opportunity for repentance and forgiveness.
Sita Devi accurately stipulates that this opportunity for moksha doesn’t exist for one who insults her. This is because Sita is a pure devotee of God, His most beloved of associates. The Supreme Lord is neutral when it comes to issues relating to the material world, but this isn’t the case for His devotees. The Lord doesn’t mind being insulted personally, for He even appreciates insults when they come from His intimate associates like Sita Devi or Shrimati Radharani. However, He never tolerates ill-treatment towards His devotees. Sita is informing Ravana that even if he should drink nectar which grants immortality [amrita], he still won’t escape death.
The irony is that Ravana did eventually go through with kidnapping Sita, but he still received liberation. This is a special circumstance, however, as Ravana was directly killed by Lord Rama, or God. Since Ravana was thinking of the Supreme Lord at the time of death, he was granted a specific type of liberation. Sita Devi’s comments are still noteworthy, for we should never create enmity with the devotees of God. Sita is kind and sweet, and the giver of great wealth and fortune. All the money that we possess should be considered her property, so we should use it in the right way.
One of Krishna’s names is Madhava, meaning the husband of the goddess of fortune. This means that all the fortune that Lakshmi possesses is used for God’s benefit. We should use the blessings Lakshmiji gives to us for the same purpose. All of our activities should be dedicated to the Supreme Lord. Acting in this way will make us happy. Ravana tried to steal Lakshmi and use her for his own benefit, and it ultimately led to the downfall of his city and all its inhabitants. Due to the special circumstance, Ravana received the liberation of merging into the Lord’s body. For the devotees, however, God bestows the boon of His eternal association, which is a far greater reward than mukti. Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman are eternal servants of Lord Rama. If we remember and honor the Lord with our thoughts, words, and deeds, we too can receive the highest form of liberation, Krishna-prema, or love for God.