“Seeing that his daughter was unmarried and at an age suitable for marriage, the king spoke with his guru and relatives to see what should be done. They advised him to plan a svayamvara, so the king decided upon a contest, where whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s bow would marry his daughter.” (Janaki Mangala, Svayamvara Ki Taiyari, 8 )
nṛpa lakhi kum̐ari sayāni boli gura parijana|
kari mata racyau svayaṃbara siva dhanu dhari pana ||
Rather than individually strive for specific good qualities, just by following the highest system of regulation, the pinnacle of spirituality, the only discipline that is all-inclusive, as an aftereffect, an almost insignificant result will be the possession of every noteworthy attribute. Try to find goodness on your own and you will be tested to the limit by the impiety of others. Try to be kind to others and you’ll find someone who is so unkind that they’ll make you question your sanity. Try to be honest and you’ll be tempted to lie to achieve your cherished benefit. Once the failure arrives, the dedication to holding on to the quality in question will diminish. With bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, the only aim is to remain connected in consciousness with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As a result of the divine trance, every activity gets dovetailed with service to Him, the original creator. Since the beneficiary is pure, the actions taken up by the devotees are pure as well. Since the actions will be pure, the qualities exuded will be top notch as well, as was shown by King Janaka, who was a king like no other.
How can a king have all good qualities? Especially in ancient times, were not kings required to fight with enemies? We know that King Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five Pandava brothers, felt tremendous remorse after emerging victorious in the Bharata War. Though he was abiding by dharma, or religiosity, and thus had no sin attached to his killing, he nevertheless felt terrible that millions of soldiers had lost their lives on account of his fighting. Indeed, violence can be so grotesque that many believe that fighting of any kind is sinful, that violence should never be an option.
“According to Vedic injunctions there are six kinds of aggressors: 1) a poison giver, 2) one who sets fire to the house, 3) one who attacks with deadly weapons, 4) one who plunders riches, 5) one who occupies another's land, and 6) one who kidnaps a wife. Such aggressors are at once to be killed, and no sin is incurred by killing such aggressors.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 1.36 Purport)
Without knowing the original Personality of Godhead, the person most of the world refers to as God, these issues will perpetually remain a mystery. No guiding principle can be considered absolute because of duality. What is considered beneficial for one person may not be so for another. With respect to violence, while refraining from aggression is considered pious by the person not wanting to hurt others, the lack of force then allows for miscreants to run rampant with their evil ways. From their violence comes the loss of innocent life, with no one around to protect those needing protection. Thus what one person considers pious all of a sudden becomes the cause of supreme distress to others. How then can we say that any one system is universally applicable?
With the Supreme Lord, His association is the highest benefit for every living being. The soul is naturally meant to offer love, as is seen through the behavior of living entities. Regardless of the level of maturity or intelligence, that attraction to love will be there. With the Supreme Lord, you get the reservoir of pleasure, the storehouse of virtuous qualities. The guiding virtue, the one principle of dharma that has no duality, is to remain connected with God. Those who are actually connected with Him through a bona fide system exhibit all good qualities, even when their behavior may hint at duality to others.
King Janaka’s dilemma taxing his brain was an example of a situation where there appeared to be duality but the right choice was made regardless. Though a ruler of a country wielding tremendous power, there was not a hint of sin in Janaka, who ruled over the kingdom of Mithila many thousands of years ago. He never did anything wrong, for he followed the advice of his gurus. The kshatriya, or warrior caste, is responsible for protecting; therefore they can use force when necessary. The gurus belong to the brahmana, or priestly class. A bona fide priest is a teacher of spirituality, giving advice to those looking to remain connected with God. The kshatriyas serve the Supreme Lord by protecting the innocent members of society. Through their work coupled with detachment to the outcome, they steadily ascend the planes of consciousness. It is the consciousness that determines one’s disposition; happy or sad, elated or morose, transcendentally situated or materially entangled.
The soul is meant to be free. The soul is so tiny that it cannot even be measured or noticed with blunt instruments. Its presence is felt through the visible actions of an autonomous living being. The covering is what limits the soul’s exhibition of qualities. For instance, there is no reason to sleep; it is just that the body demands it. The soul never sleeps; it is constantly active. The soul’s inherent properties are nicely reviewed in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God spoken on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra to Yudhishthira’s younger brother Arjuna.
Since Janaka followed the advice of his royal priests, the resultant reactions of his work did not belong to him. Moreover, these priests were God’s representatives, so the king was essentially following the divine order. Through this system life becomes much easier, as the burden of responding to life’s difficult questions can be shifted to others, people who are more than willing to accept the challenge because of their wisdom.
One particular dilemma had Janaka puzzled and worried at the same time. One day he found a baby girl while ploughing a field, which was to be cultivated for a sacrifice. He was childless at the time, and the girl was so precious that Janaka took her in as his own daughter. Even when he found the girl, he was a little worried that maybe he was doing the wrong thing by harboring affection for her and wanting to take her home. As if the authorities above knew what he was thinking, a voice suddenly appeared on the scene and told Janaka that this girl was indeed his daughter in all righteousness. His concerns vanished, Janaka named the girl Sita and then handed her over to his wife Sunayana, who raised her with the affection of a mother.
Though Janaka was trained in mysticism and knew how to stay detached from the senses, he was very fond of his daughter, whom he viewed as his prized possession. Sita’s qualities are what won Janaka over. She was just as pious as her father, and she was learned in the scriptures and considered unmatched in beauty. Janaka wanted to personally protect her for the rest of her life, but that did not square with dharma. When she reached an age suitable for marriage, the pressure really started to mount on the king. For one who is deferent to dharma, having an unmarried daughter who is at an age suitable for marriage is considered very bad. For starters, it is the father’s duty to ensure that his daughter is protected throughout her life. Marriage exists to uphold this principle. Secondly, others follow the example of great men.
If Janaka did not marry Sita off, he would invite scorn and ridicule from others. No longer would he be the pious king so dedicated to righteousness. Not that he cared himself for the glory, but Janaka knew that if he didn’t follow dharma, then he could not expect the citizens to either. In this way the execution of his duties as a king would be hampered by his transgression of keeping Sita unmarried.
To add further complexity to the matter, Janaka didn’t know who Sita’s parents were, so he couldn’t match her horoscope up to any prospective candidate’s. The horoscope created by a brahmana at the time of the child’s birth is considered flawless, and it predicts the qualities of the child. These qualities are then paired up during the search for a prospective spouse, with an ideal match foretelling that the marriage will go off well.
So, what did the king do? The secret to Janaka’s success was his love for God, which up until this point he harbored only through connection to the impersonal feature known as Brahman. When he got Sita as a daughter, that love extended to the Supreme Lord’s wife. Sita was actually an incarnation of goddess Lakshmi, who is Lord Narayana’s eternal consort. Narayana is the Supreme Lord, whose name means the source of all men. The very same Narayana had descended to earth at the time as the prince of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama. As Lakshmi and Narayana can never remain separated for long, Janaka served as an instrument to unite the divine pair, though he had no idea what role he was playing.
His connection in yoga to Brahman and his love for God’s wife guided Janaka along the proper path. He did not need to explicitly try to develop the qualities of righteousness, for that route is very difficult. Sita is the very embodiment of dharma, so just having love for her is enough to not only get you tremendous fortune, but also to imbibe the divine qualities in you. Worried about facing ridicule from his family and losing Sita as a daughter, Janaka made the right decision by approaching his gurus and relatives. They advised him to hold a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony. This way the choice wouldn’t necessarily be made by Janaka. Svayamvaras were rarely held, only in those circumstances where the daughters were considered really exceptional by their fathers.
The svayamvara was a good idea, but Janaka needed to decide what kind it would be. He didn’t want Sita to marry just anyone. Again, he tapped into his love for God and His associates to find the answer. Many years back, Janaka’s family had received an extremely heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva. Mahadeva is Narayana’s number one devotee. Lord Shiva is himself so powerful that he destroys the entire cosmic manifestation at the appropriate time, and yet he is so humble that he prefers to just sit in quiet meditation and recite Narayana’s name of Rama. Though this bow was impossible to move, Sita had one day lifted it with ease when she was a child. Therefore Janaka’s beloved daughter was already connected to the bow.
“Having obtained the bow, my truthful father first invited all the princes of the world to an assembly of great rulers of men, and spoke to them as such.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.41)
The decision was that the svayamvara would host a contest to lift Lord Shiva’s bow. In this way the ceremony would honor Mahadeva, keep the relatives happy, follow the advice of the gurus, and at the same time make it extremely difficult to find a suitable match. Who in the world was going to lift this bow? Even if everyone from around the world came and couldn’t lift it, at least Janaka would be off the hook. He would know then that no man was worthy of marrying his daughter, which was his inclination anyway.
What Janaka didn’t know was that his decision borne out of tremendous love for God would bring to him the fruit of his existence. The result of penance, austerity, sacrifice and charity performed in the devotional mood is that one eventually gains the audience of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the person to whom such kind acts are dedicated. Janaka already had one piece of the puzzle in Sita, and from the svayamvara he would get the other half, the Supreme Lord in the form of Shri Rama. The savior of fallen souls, the kindest living entity there is, the glorious husband of the goddess of fortune and the protector of the surrendered souls would arrive in Janakpur at Sita’s svayamvara and effortlessly raise Mahadeva’s bow; thus giving the world at the time and countless future generations a glorious occasion to sing about, study and remember constantly. As God’s glory naturally extends to His immediate family and associates, the person who was responsible for that blessed event also earned high praise and an exalted position. Because of his devotion, King Janaka is known today as one of the twelve authorities on devotional service. His example is the best to follow, as there was no king like him in the past, nor will there be one like him in the future.
“My precious daughter is now at an age appropriate,
For marriage, to be given to a husband is she now fit.
But in qualities Sita is like no other,
The jewel of this earth is my beloved daughter.
Let me consult with my gurus and family,
Their opinion on the matter let me see.”
Hold a svayamvara, self-choice was what they advised,
With that King Janaka a contest with bow devised.
“Whoever can lift Mahadeva’s bow will win,
Hand of Sita, in whom exists not a hint of sin.”
Janaka was pious but devotion is what he followed,
To earn eternal fame and virtue for him this allowed.
Gained company of Rama, God in His sight,
He who married Sita, of the devotee’s heart delight.