Monday, December 12, 2011

A Captivating Scene

Rama breaking Shiva's bow“One is looking at the arena and the city with amazement. Their mind and eyes are so attracted to that place that they cannot even blink.” (Janaki Mangala, 12)

ranga bhūmi pura kautuka eka nihārahiṃ |
lalaki subhāhiṃ nayana mana pheri na pāvahiṃ ||

Goswami Tulsidas here continues his description of the scene of the svayamvara held for Janaki, the daughter of King Janaka, many thousands of years ago. The city itself was a wonderful sight, and the rangabhumi, or arena holding the event’s main festivities, was also something to behold. People from far and wide arrived for this event, and they were not disappointed by what they first saw. Indeed, their reaction was one full of so much astonishment that their minds and eyes were fixed upon the main attraction. Many couldn’t even bring themselves to blink, for they didn’t want to deprive their eyes of the splendid vision for a second. Based on what would happen that day and who else would arrive later on, that elation was set to only increase.

If you travel from a distant place to attend an event, when you first see the arena or place where the event will take place, you will likely feel some happiness. “Ah, I have travelled so far, and look! There is the place where we are going. See how beautiful it looks. Let’s hurry up and park the car so that we can get a better view.” From the initial sighting the anticipation increases, and with anticipation comes an enhanced feeling of excitement when the event actually takes place.

Shiva's bowJanaki’s svayamvara wasn’t a rock concert, the performance of a dramatic play, or even the forum for a grand speech. Rather, the rangabhumi in question was holding a contest, one requiring immense strength. There was a famous bow belonging to Lord Shiva that was so heavy that even heavenly figures couldn’t dream of moving it. The contest was simple: lift the bow to win Janaka’s daughter’s hand in marriage.

Why would so many people travel to Janaka’s city? Janaki was the most beloved princess, endowed with every virtuous quality. Obtaining a good wife is akin to coming in to a large fortune, but not necessarily as we’d initially imagine it. When you win the lottery or strike oil, you hope to be financially secure for the rest of your life. As woman is the energy of man, obtaining a good wife means that you will have support in your journey through life, that you will have someone to correct you when you do something wrong and lift you up when you don’t feel up to performing your occupational duties.

The Vedic tradition reveals that the spirit soul is the essence of identity, and when coupled with a material covering, the aim in life becomes the forging of a permanent God consciousness. As this is not the natural inclination of a living entity who is born ignorant and required to undergo extensive education, rules, regulations and purificatory rites are instituted which span from the time of birth all the way up until death. Knowing which duties to perform and when is quite difficult; hence expert guidance from spiritual leaders is required.

In the middle stages of life, one can enter marriage to get support from a life partner, someone to live with you day in and day out. In addition, through marriage the natural urges for sex life can be acted upon in a regulated manner, thereby ensuring that society is filled with wanted children who are raised properly. From the protection of women through marriage, so many benefits come.

Sita DeviJanaki was no ordinary woman. She was found while as a baby in the ground that Janaka planned to plough for a religious sacrifice. He was childless at the time, and since he harbored such great affection for her, he took her in as his daughter. He didn’t run the risk of taking someone else’s baby because at the time of finding her, a voice in the sky came upon the scene and told Janaka that this girl belonged to him in all righteousness, or dharma.

Janaka lived by dharma, so he knew that when Sita reached an appropriate age, he had to find a husband for her. Not knowing her family ancestry and considering her tremendous virtues, Janaka decided to hold a contest and invite kings from around the world. If no one could lift Lord Shiva’s bow it would be a sign from above that no man was worthy of having Sita for a wife.

Everything about Janaka was first class, including his hospitality. The excitement over the svayamvara was well worth it. The visitors travelling with their family and royal entourages were not disappointed by what they saw in Tirahuta, Janaka’s capital city. People looked at the sacrificial arena in amazement, so much so that they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. As if Janaka knew the event would be talked about for thousands of years into the future, he made sure not to skimp on pomp. The king who had the greatest wealth in the form of his daughter made sure not to be frugal with regards to her marriage ceremony.

Sita DeviWhat Janaka didn’t initially know was that his daughter was the goddess of fortune herself, Lakshmi Devi. Think of the Supreme Lord’s most confidential associate, someone who gives Him the most pleasure. That person is Lakshmi, who has many different expansions and forms in the spiritual world. To coincide with her husband’s descent to earth as the hero of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama, Lakshmi appeared as Sita. She specifically chose Janaka as a father because of his qualifications. He had not a hint of sin in him, and he had the purity required for offering affection to the goddess of fortune.

Janaka did not want riches, but he didn’t shun them either. Whatever was needed to abide by dharma, Janaka would do. As an expert transcendentalist, he was above attraction and aversion, and yet he harbored immense affection for Sita. To prove that this love wasn’t of the material variety, Sita would bring to Janaka the Supreme Lord Himself as a son-in-law. Normally attraction and aversion are considered detrimental because they are based on maya, or illusion. If I’m walking down the road on a hot day and I think I see a pool of water up ahead, I might get excited. The attraction for the water will keep me running faster towards the destination spot. When I get there, however, I see that the water was a mirage, just a bunch of heat rays rising up from the surface of the ground. In this case both the initial excitement and ending dejection were not wise, for they were based on illusion.

The material body is like a bubble, which gets created at some point and is then quickly destroyed. Even if the body remains manifest for one hundred years, in the grand scheme that is an insignificant amount of time. Though the material forms do exist, since their duration of existence is so short, they can be considered illusory. Harboring attachment to these forms is detrimental because it keeps one in the dark about their real identity as eternal spirit. Having aversion to these forms based on the same mindset is also detrimental because since these forms are temporary, what is the use in hating them?

“Even kings like Janaka and others attained the perfectional stage by performance of prescribed duties. Therefore, just for the sake of educating the people in general, you should perform your work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.20)

King Janaka watching daughter SitaBoth attachment and aversion can be purified when they are used to further one’s real position as servant of God. With Janaka, his initial aversion to material life kept him on the straightened path. He was Brahman realized, so he knew that the spirit soul is the essence of identity within all forms and that to act out of obligation to uphold righteousness is the right way to behave. He did what was prescribed for his order, not caring for the results of action either way.

At the same time, Janaka was not bereft of attachment. His love for Sita could not be measured, and that same love would be harbored for Shri Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. The first time Janaka saw the two brothers, he thought that maybe they were embodiments of the Brahman he had meditated on for so long. The Lord’s direct potency of yogamaya helped Janaka’s transcendental attachment increase. From transcendental love Janaka was able to experience more pleasure and receive benefits not granted to anyone else. Since Janaka had Sita as a daughter and Rama as a son-in-law, we can say that there was never a king like him in the past and there will never be one like him in the future.

The svayamvara ceremony inherited that uniqueness. Those staring in wonder were feasting on the fruit of their eyes. Though the eyes are composed of material elements, when they are used to further one’s God consciousness, they take on their true value. The attendees of the svayamvara got to see the city of Janakpur, which is like a tilaka, or sacred mark, on this earth. Sita Devi appeared in that great land and her marriage to Rama took place there as well. For the travellers, so many spiritual merits were accumulated just by going there. Through his piety, Janaka would attract many people to a ceremony that would benefit them immensely.

That great kings’ good character continues to generously benefit people today, those who are fortunate enough to mentally travel back to that famous day when Rama lifted Lord Shiva’s bow and won Sita’s hand in marriage. The ears are meant for hearing about God, and especially His name. At Sita’s svayamvara everyone would see Sita and Rama and recite their names. Thus even the many princes who failed to lift Lord Shiva’s bow got the victory of witnessing Sita and Rama married in an extravagant ceremony, one that you couldn’t take your eyes off of.

In Closing:

Stare at something long and get attachment,

To possess cherished item life’s attainment.

Visitors to Janaka’s ceremony this way felt,

From vision of bow and arena hearts did melt.

Finding baby Sita Janaka was charmed,

Attachment to her piety not harmed.

Rather love for her brought God to him,

When Rama bow’s contest did win.

Even failed suitors were there to witness,

Union of Sita and Rama, eyes to bless.