Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hitting The Road

Sita and Rama wedding“Thereafter, in country after country the message of the king was sent, upon hearing which everyone became happy. Together with their caravans stocked with provisions, every community then came to King Janaka’s city.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 1.2)

puni desa desa sandesa paṭhayau bhūpa suni sukha pāvahīṃ |
saba sāji sāji samāja rājā janaka nagarahiṃ āvahīṃ ||

“Did you hear the news? The famed King Janaka has announced that he is holding a svayamvara for his cherished daughter’s marriage. Whoever can lift up the illustrious bow originally belonging to Mahadeva, the greatest of the gods, will win Sita as a wife. We must go immediately, as this will bode well for our family. Not only will we be linked to Janaka Maharaja, who is known throughout the three worlds for his piety and dedication to virtue, but we will win acclaim for having lifted a bow that is famous for its incomparable weight. Ready all the provisions and stock them in the carts. We haven’t a moment to lose. Let us bring our entire clan to the sacred land of Janakpur, where we will vie for the beloved princess’ hand. An opportunity like this shouldn’t be missed.”

travelling caravanThat people from around the world would gather to one place for a particular event is not out of the ordinary. Companies hold conventions to show off their latest products, and widely anticipated annual sporting events are sometimes held in one particular city. People who are interested in the subject matter, in the topic at hand, will make the necessary arrangements to travel to these destinations, be it by automobile, train, or plane. The idea is that if the event is important enough, no amount of travel is too much. For the really important events, one needs to be there in person, to not only enjoy the scene, but to then later say that they were there. Many thousands of years ago, the vow of a famous king caught the attention of the many princes around the world. Just hearing about the king’s contest made them get ready for the trip of a lifetime.

The road trip is nice because you can get away. Prison life is considered a punishment not only for the fact that you are held in a house against your will, but you also have limited engagements. Variety is the mother of enjoyment, so if you take to the opposite extreme, monotony, the mind will feel trapped, so much so that any break in the routine will feel liberating. Even for the human being living outside the confines of a prison, life can get to be quite repetitive, especially if one is mature and working at a job that they attend regularly. In the larger scheme, the material universe itself is considered by enlightened minds to be an enlarged prison, with the confines spread further apart but having the same punishing prohibition on action, which is especially effective on those who are not spiritually conscious.

The road trip is best enjoyed when it comes about unexpectedly. On a whim you decide to pack up your stuff and travel somewhere by car, not having any set plans. Reaching the intended destination is the stated purpose to the trip, but the fun comes more from having a break from the grind, getting to escape from the doldrums of your stale life if but even for a weekend. The family vacations provide this sort of opportunity as well, as visiting a foreign city allows you to escape your accustomed surroundings and experience new things.

For the important trips, you’ll take items that you need, such as clothing, toiletries, and any gifts you would like to give to the people that will be hosting you at your final destination. The spirit of renunciation is more prominent in males, so they can get away with travelling with very little, just carrying the bare essentials. Not only are the females mindful of what they need for their own beautification, but they will consider what should be given to the people being visited as well. Even if you are going to visit just one person, they may have friends and family members around them. The mindful wife will remind the husband to pack gifts for those people, even if the husband is annoyed at having to bring extra luggage. If you’re travelling by plane, you will have to check-in the extra bags, which means that your items will not always be by your side. When not in your sight, there is the increased risk of the items getting lost. In addition, you’ll always have to carry those items around during transit.

presidential motorcadeThe extra burden is worth it if you really want to please the people you are visiting. Also, if you’re travelling with a lot of people, the heavier load is inevitable. With one event in particular many thousands of years back, families from around the world were preparing for a terrific road trip. These weren’t just ordinary families either. Picture every head of state congregating in one meeting place. A head of state travels with pomp wherever they go. Just as the President of the United States has the Secret Service and other entourage following him in his trips, the kings of ancient times would bring their royal families with them to important meetings. The family included not only wives and children, but also servants, priests, and important members of the community.

The news of this event was so appreciated that everyone in the notified communities wanted to go. The caravans for each royal family were filled with provisions; everything needed for daily maintenance in the foreign land. Relatives and other important community members were part of the travelling party as well. Such preparation only takes place when the event brings delight to the heart. People flock to pilgrimage sites on important holy days of the year so they can connect with God, to have the chance to think about Him and accumulate spiritual merits. If not for the relation to the Supreme Lord, these sites would not receive the attention they get.

Though this particular event many thousands of years ago didn’t openly relate to God, in the background it did. Janaka Maharaja was holding a ceremony to give away his daughter Sita in marriage. He had struggled with the decision up to this point, because he held great affection for her and he didn’t know who her birth parents were. Sita was Janaka’s adopted daughter; he found her as a baby when he was ploughing a field. Though a voice from the sky told him that the baby girl was his child in all righteousness, or dharma, Janaka still didn’t know any of the astrological signs at the time of her birth, which meant that he couldn’t get an accurate horoscope made that would be used to find a suitable husband.

Lord ShivaNot able to use matching qualities determined from the time of birth, Janaka did one better. He had been given an amazing bow belonging to Lord Shiva. This bow was so heavy that no one could lift it. Lord Shiva is one of the famous divine figures of the Vedic tradition. While in the Puranas reserved for those in the mode of ignorance, or the lowest mode of material nature, Mahadeva is sometimes described as the Supreme Lord, he is an elevated living entity who is very powerful. His greatest strength is his firm conviction to always chant the holy name of Lord Rama, who is none other than God Himself. This bow belonging to Shiva was meant to be lifted by that same Rama. Therefore wherever there is Mahadeva, the Supreme Lord can never be too far away.

Because of the bow’s origin, the contest relating to its lifting automatically had a religious significance. Add to the fact that Janaka was famous for his piety and renunciation from material attachment and you get an event that couldn’t be missed. After deciding on the rules of the svayamvara, or self-choice marriage ceremony, news was sent out to country after country. Hearing of the contest made people happy, for not only would they get to witness history by seeing if someone could lift Mahadeva’s bow, they would also get to see Janaka and his daughter.

What they didn’t know was that Sita was the goddess of fortune, Rama’s wife in the spiritual world. Shri Rama is the Supreme Lord who periodically incarnates on earth to enact pastimes. During Janaka’s time He had appeared as the son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Rama’s family wasn’t part of the clan that travelled to Janakpur because Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana at the time were escorting the sage Vishvamitra in the forests. Since he had been harassed by terrorists capable of assuming false guises, the sage wanted Rama, an expert bow warrior, to protect him for a bit, to alleviate the distresses caused by the rangers of the night. Since Rama was the eldest of four sons, Dasharatha was not going to send anyone in His place to contest for Sita’s hand. When following strict Vedic regulations, it is considered a sin for a younger brother to get married before an older one does.

Rama lifting a bowThe guests eagerly travelling with their families and paraphernalia to Janakpur would get to see Rama nonetheless. In this way they were actually making a pilgrimage trek, one that is still followed to this day. Vishvamitra, seemingly by chance, would bring Rama and Lakshmana to Janakpur. After many princes had failed to even move Shiva’s bow, Rama would step up and lift it without a problem, giving the onlookers a sight worth seeing. The beautiful Shri Rama would be reunited with Lakshmi Devi, Janaka’s daughter, in front of the fortunate attendees.

Because of Janaka’s position and the outstanding qualities of his daughter, when people first heard the news of the svayamvara, they were immediately pleased and decided that they had to make the journey to Janakpur. They were certainly very fortunate to be there that day, but this doesn’t mean that sincere souls looking for spiritual awakening and transcendental pleasure today can’t have the same benefit. Goswami Tulsidas composed his Janaki Mangala specifically so that the people of his time, and many future generations as well, could focus the mind on the marriage ceremony of Sita and Rama. Hearing of the event is as good as being there, such is the absolute nature of the Supreme Lord. Just thinking of Janaka and his immense love for his daughter that wasn’t even biologically his brings so much pleasure to the heart. In one sense harboring parental affection for an adopted child indicates an even stronger love than that given to a child one is biologically linked to. It is a matter of duty to love your own children, but that duty isn’t inherently there with someone else’s child. Janaka found Sita and raised her as if she were his own daughter, his most prized possession. The same king that was famous for his dispassion was also appreciated for his affection.

There is no contradiction, for Janaka lived a spiritual existence,. Affection for Sita never goes in vain. Her transcendental features drew people to Janaka’s kingdom that famous day many thousands of years ago. That attraction would prove fruitful for the residents of Janakpur, the attendees of the ceremony, the families involved in the marriage that would come, and the many sincere listeners who would recreate the sequence of events many times in their minds in the years to follow. The royal families from around the world hit the road to see the wedding of a lifetime, and what they took away from that event was the vision of Sita and Rama, the sight for sore eyes, the union of God and His pleasure potency. In all the worlds, one cannot find a better vision than this.

In Closing:

“The King of Janakpur has made a solemn vow,

Lifter of bow marriage to Sita he will allow.

On path of righteousness that king remains steady,

So let our family, provisions and carts be ready.

To Janakpur we will all travel,

In joyous occasion let our hearts revel.”

Thus arriving in the city were kings in a throng,

To try to lift bow that to Shiva did belong.

From what they would see from that road trip,

Made the difficult travel worth it.

Seeing Sita and Rama, God and His wife,

Married in splendor, vision to keep for life.