“After the king declared the contest relating to Lord Shiva’s bow, the svayamvara preparations started. The place became so beautiful that by looking at it one would think that Lord Brahma himself had created it, as if to show off every one of his abilities.” (Janaki Mangala, Chanda 1.1)
panu dhareu siva dhanu raci svayaṃbara ati rūcira racanā banī |
janu pragaṭi caturānana dekhāī caturatā saba āpanī ||
As the creator, Lord Brahma can generate something simply by thinking of it. As we all trace our ancestry back to him, his ability in the department of creating is stupendous. Just as when we see something so amazing that we think that God Himself had created it, followers of the Vedic tradition, knowing that Brahma is charged with the task of creating by the Supreme Lord Himself, make the comparison to Brahma whenever they see something very beautiful. The grounds for a famous wedding many years back were so wonderfully decorated that it looked like Brahma was showing off, that he had gone overboard in making things look so beautiful. Even if he had, there would have been good reason for it. The princess being married at this ceremony was the goddess of fortune herself, and her father was the most pious ruler. This marriage ceremony thus deserved the most beautiful setting with unforgettably elegant surroundings.
Why not just have a small marriage? Why all the pomp? The king hosting the ceremony certainly had no attachment to royal fanfare. Known throughout the world for his expertise of meditational yoga, King Janaka lived without attachment. Dispassion is known as vairagya in Sanskrit and it is considered an opulence. A noteworthy characteristic doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around the possession of a physical object or ability. Beauty, wealth and strength refer to physical possessions borne of the type of body one resides in. Renunciation is included in the opulence category because it is very difficult to acquire, and it proves to be beneficial. Typically, it takes many repeated attempts into a material endeavor before one realizes the futility of the effort. Only after recognizing how much effort it takes to find paltry happiness in so many material affairs does one even think of giving them up.
The drunkard swears to never drink again when they do something stupid or when they get so sick that they feel like they are going to die. The person overindulging in food vows to go on a diet to enhance their appearance, which will ideally improve their health at the same time. The person who has a health club membership and never goes swears that they’ll never join a gym again after paying for so many months. Life is a pendulum of acceptance and rejection, with the initial impulse being acceptance. If the proper justification for avoiding the inevitably rejected activities remains unknown, acceptance will surely follow in the near future; thereby leading to a repeat of the same bitter taste.
Renunciation is also an opulence because one who possesses it can limit their interaction with things that they don’t need. The senses are temporary after all, and they can be influenced by the mind. Through the efforts of the mind, the happiness we think we’ll receive from a particular material object’s association can actually be secured without any effort. In addition, through renunciation contact with the inhibiting forces of matter is strictly limited, which automatically creates a somewhat pleasant condition. If it is extremely hot outside and I decide to remain within the home to avoid the heat, I automatically gain some relief.
“The demoniac, taking shelter of insatiable lust, pride and false prestige, and being thus illusioned, are always sworn to unclean work, attracted by the impermanent [asat].” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.10)
Despite his world famous renunciation, Janaka was not beyond happiness or attachment. The difference was that his attachment was on the sat, or the permanent. Spirit is permanent while matter is not. Select worshipable personalities in the spiritual sky, who are intimately tied to the Supreme Lord’s service, are also eternal. Harboring affection for them is never harmful. The more one is renounced from material life, the more they can relish the interaction with God and with His closest associates.
The supreme elation Janaka felt when he found a baby girl one day while ploughing a field proves this fact. The girl was the goddess of fortune, Shri Lakshmi, appearing on earth to correspond with the pastimes of her husband Narayana, who had appeared as Lord Rama. God exists, even if we may not recognize His presence. In the Vedic tradition, He is described by names which assess His position and give people a way to address Him and interact with His features. Narayana means the source of all men. Though Brahma is the creator, even he is Narayana’s son. Since Brahma took birth from the stem growing from the lotus-like navel of Narayana, Brahma is often referred to as the self-create.
The source of men makes trips to the manifested realm, the place we currently occupy, every now and then to share His resplendence with others. Just as Narayana retains His spiritual features when appearing on earth, Lakshmi remains the brilliant and beautiful wife of the Lord wherever she goes. Though Janaka did not know who this baby girl was, he immediately harbored affection for her. So much for his detachment. He took her in as his daughter and raised her under religious principles, considering her his most cherished possession.
Attachment is only harmful when it leads to a fall from grace, a deviation from the righteous path. For instance, if I have such an attachment to my dog that I forgo attending school or work in order to spend time with it, obviously my affectionate feelings are getting in the way of my important obligations. If I love to eat and sleep so much that I don’t pay attention to regulation, that I go so far as to eat unclean foods which carry bad karma and sleep through the important moments in life, obviously there will be negative consequences in the future.
The primary objective of the human form of body is to become God conscious. Whatever way allows us to go forward in reaching that goal should be tried, though there are authorized methods passed down since time immemorial to help keep one on the straightened path. Making up paths for self-realization is always dangerous, because the human mind is incapable of conceiving of the Supreme Lord’s position and features on its own. Renunciation is a key practice because the strongest attachments are formed with those things which have no relation to the ultimate goal of God consciousness.
Janaka turned out to be clever in this regard. He used his attachment to Sita to remain even more dedicated to piety. He combined both forces - his attachment to Sita and the requirement that he remain committed to religious principles. He was a king after all, so people would follow his lead. If the love for his daughter caused him to just make up rules and regulations, to forgo the pressing responsibilities in life, then the citizens would follow suit and chaos would result.
Part of his duties as a king and father required Janaka to get Sita married when she reached the appropriate age. Not wanting to give her up and not knowing who her birth parents were, Janaka decided to hold a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony. Sita would be wedded to whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s bow. This compromise satisfied all the parties involved, including Janaka. He figured that no one could lift the heavy bow, and if that was the case then no one was worthy of his daughter’s hand in marriage. If someone could lift the bow, then fate had obviously decided that they should marry Sita.
The dispassionate king could have easily held a subdued ceremony with no pomp, but it was his duty as a leader of men to host a grand event. Why would people want to attend a gathering that wasn’t elegantly decorated, especially if the host had the ability to spend loads of money? Plus, this event was a ceremony involving the goddess of fortune. Lakshmi is the giver of wealth and opulence, and that gift is meant to further a purpose. Lakshmi is always with Narayana, trying to please Him in every way. This is the secret of devotional service; that by following the principles of religion aimed at pleasing God, the person offering the service finds the highest type of pleasure as well.
Lakshmi’s gifts are meant to be used for her service and the service of her husband. Therefore no amount of money was too much to spend on Sita’s svayamvara. No amount of decorating was overdoing it, for the beautiful things in this world are but God’s gift to us, to show us what the Lord is capable of creating. The scene of the svayamvara was so beautiful that one couldn’t help but think of Lord Brahma. Just as we say things like, “They broke the mold”, when describing people and objects of amazing and unique beauty, Goswami Tulsidas tells us that an onlooker at the svayamvara would think that Brahma was trying to show off, that creating this world and populating it with creatures weren’t enough for him. He wasn’t satisfied with being the original creator that everyone knew. Rather, he would reserve his greatest talents for this wonderful event held in Janaka’s kingdom.
The decorations turned out to be worth it, as Lord Rama would come and lift the bow in front of a large assembly of onlookers. As a match made in heaven, Sita and Rama would be married through Janaka’s plan. The king’s attachment for her earned him God as a son-in-law, all the while making him even more famous for his dedication to piety and virtue. The time spent decorating his kingdom for the svayamvara was not in vain, as the scene was so memorable that people still talk about it today. Sita and Rama’s wedding was like none other, and the host of the occasion, Maharaja Janaka, was one of a kind as well.
After of Lord Shiva's bow taking vow,
Time for preparing for svayamvara now.
Upon seeing end result onlookers found,
That supremely beautiful was the ground.
Looked like four-faced creator from his abode,
Every one of his creating abilities showed.
Grand pomp deserved for fortune's goddess Lakshmi,
Place where God to reunite with wife Sita Devi.