“Gone is the duration of your life. Gone is your prosperity. Gone is your strength, and gone are your senses. The city of Lanka will become widowed due to your horrible deeds.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.12)
The demon Ravana is here being told that he will soon lose all that he had worked so hard for. A great demon possessing immense riches, Ravana would be forced to relinquish everything due to his stirring the ire of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. To make matters worse, all of Ravana’s associates would also be harmed in a similar matter due to their close ties and dependence on the demon.
Lord Rama is an incarnation of God who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. The Lord appeared in the guise of a human being; a kshatriya warrior famous throughout the world for His fighting prowess. His wife was the beautiful Sita Devi, the daughter of the King of Mithila, Maharaja Janaka. Sita was no ordinary woman either; she was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. The major religions of the world tell us that God exists, but they don’t go into much detail relating to His name, forms, and pastimes. This is where the Vedas are unique. They tell us that God has unlimited forms, ananta-rupam, but that His primary forms are those of Lord Krishna and Lord Vishnu. In the spiritual sky, Lord Vishnu resides with His wife, Goddess Lakshmi, and His eternal support and friend, Ananta Shesha Naga. Vishnu, also known as Narayana, is a four-handed expansion of Krishna, thus He is the same God that we all pray to.
The main difference between God and we living entities is that God represents the supreme energetic, while we are His energy. The more perfect we become in a spiritual sense, the better we represent this energy. In Sanskrit, God’s pleasure giving energy is referred to as hladini-shakti. Goddess Lakshmi represents perfection in the area of giving pleasure to the Lord. The Vedas tell us that God can be referred to as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all opulences and fortunes. One of these opulences is fortune, or wealth. Vishnu is the wealthiest because the goddess of fortune, Lakshmiji, is His wife. This shouldn’t surprise us as God is the original creator of everything, so it would make sense that He owns all the wealth in the world.
Ravana, a Rakshasa demon who roamed the earth at the same time as Rama, actually had a large pool with a deity of Goddess Lakshmi in his kingdom of Lanka. In the Vedic tradition, Lakshmi and Ganesha are regularly worshiped by those desiring material benedictions. Lakshmi provides good fortune to those who worship her, and Ganesha removes all obstacles in the pursuit of happiness. It is the inherent nature of man to want to improve his living condition. “Please give me all the wealth and fame that I can get and make sure that there are no obstacles in my way.” This is the general mindset of worshipers of Lakshmi and Ganesha. This thinking isn’t necessarily bad, but one should realize the ultimate purpose behind the boons bestowed by these two divine figures.
Material life represents a sort of prison house for the spirit souls. When a person is sentenced to prison, they are forced to remain inside the confines of a jail or a prison yard. They may perform different activities every day, but essentially the time spent there is meant to serve as a punishment. It is virtually impossible to find true happiness in a prison. The material world is taken to be a macro version of a prison. We can perform different activities and experience different highs and lows, but in the end, our time here is capped, with a fixed time allotted for when we have to give up our body. The entire material creation is also subject to destruction. All this may seem bleak, but there is a silver lining. If we develop a loving attachment to God during our lifetime, we are guaranteed to never return to this prison house.
"Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this." (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
There are essentially two paths that we can take in life. One path leads to bondage, and the other path leads to liberation. If we remain on the material platform and act solely in the interests of the senses, we remain on the path of bondage. If we act in a way that increases our love and attachment for God, we are on the path of liberation. In this regard, the boons bestowed by Lakshmi and Ganesha should be used by those on the path of liberation. Lakshmi is God’s wife, so she performs everything for the Lord’s benefit. The gifts she bestows upon us in the form of money and good fortune are intended to be used for the execution of devotional service. The same principle holds true for the boons bestowed by all demigods. Lord Ganesha is an exalted personality, well-respected by everyone. He is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, who are both great devotees of Vishnu themselves. By removing our obstacles, Ganesha hopes that we can have an easier time performing our religious duties.
For those who remain fixed to the path of bondage, the boons bestowed by Lakshmi ultimately lead to destruction. This was the case with Ravana. He was living very happily in his kingdom of Lanka. He had everything at his disposal: beautiful women, exquisite palaces, and an army full of highly capable Rakshasas. Yet he wasn’t satisfied with all of this. The pervading energy of material nature is known as maya. Her greatest power is one of illusion. Illusion means taking something to be one thing, when it is actually something else. Maya causes us to believe that material sense gratification will make us happy, when in actuality, it only causes us to be further bound to the cycle of birth and death. Intoxication is a great example of this. Many of us get excited when it comes time to go out and drink, but after the high wears off, we are left to suffer. Vomiting, headaches, hangovers, etc., are the after-effects of excessive drinking. Yet with all this suffering, many of us go right back to drinking alcohol the next day or the next weekend. This is all due to maya’s influence.
Ravana was under the control of maya. Not satisfied with having hundreds of beautiful wives, he decided to kidnap Sita from the forest while Rama was away chasing a deer. Taking her back to his kingdom of Lanka, Ravana tried his hardest to win her over, but she was unbreakable. A human incarnation of Lakshmi, Sita could never take her thoughts away from Rama, or God. In the above referenced statement, she is informing Ravana of what will happen to him for perpetrating such a heinous crime. He will lose his auspiciousness, strength, and his senses [indriyah]. Not only will he lose these things, but he will cause pain to all the members of his kingdom.
One must possess auspiciousness and strength in order to lose it, which means that Ravana certainly was very powerful. Sita warns him, however, that such material boons wouldn’t last forever. Though he worshiped Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma and even kept the deity of Lakshmiji in his kingdom, he hadn’t taken to the path of liberation. Moreover, he directly offended the Supreme Lord Rama and His pure devotee Sita. For Ravana, the same senses that derived pleasure from his material opulences would end up being the cause of great misery and grief to him. All of Ravana’s wives would be widowed. They were beautiful women, and they did nothing to bring about their future pain. Due to Ravana’s one horrible act, so many people would have to suffer.
Sita’s words would hold true as Rama would eventually march to Lanka, destroy all of Ravana’s army, and eventually kill Ravana himself. Even before this, Rama’s faithful servant Hanuman would come to Lanka and set fire to the city. The lesson here is that we should understand what fame and fortune are for. We shouldn’t reject or accept anything outright, but rather we should see how they relate to devotional service. In this age especially, the only dharma for mankind is the constant chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
Sita Devi is so kind and sweet. Just as everyone loved Lord Rama, everyone also had similar affection for her. This is the nature of the pure devotee of God; they have no enemies. Lakshmi is nice enough to bless us with so many boons. We should make a serious effort to ensure that none of her gifts are used for the wrong purposes. Everything in this life should be used to glorify the Supreme Lord and distribute His causeless mercy to others. This will purify us and grant us eternal association with the divine couple, Sita and Rama.