Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Red Carpet Event

Sita and Rama wedding“After hearing the news, Danavas, Devas, Rakshasas, Kinnaras and so many snakes are very happily arriving dressed up as kings.” (Janaki Mangala, 10)

dānava deva nisācara kinnara ahigana |
suni dhari -dhari nṛpa beṣa cale pramudita mana ||

There’s a hot new club in town. Everyone’s talking about it, raving about the ambience, how enjoyable it is to go inside, and especially how exclusive the club is. So many people want to get in, but not every person is allowed. From the line formed behind the velvet rope the bouncer can just pick someone on a whim to let in. Dress yourself up right and you just might pass the test. Curiosity is so aroused that even people who are not interested in night clubs manage to make their way out, hoping to be allowed in. Those under the age limit show their fake identifications, hoping to fool the bouncer.

A long time ago one particular event was so famous that it attracted humans and other species as well around the world. The place, time, circumstance, people involved, and event itself were of the purest variety.  As it was considered a tremendous blessing just to be able to attend, people came from far and wide, matching their outward appearance to the occasion. For their efforts they would be witness to the most splendid marriage ever seen on this earth.

Sita and Rama weddingWhy the attention given? What was so unique about this event? Why not just attend a local wedding, one involving friends or family members living in close proximity? Why the need to travel so far? Obviously a marriage is not a rare occasion, but based on the qualities of the participants, the event’s significance can increase. With this particular wedding, the groom was not known beforehand. Rather, the king holding the ceremony vowed to give away his precious daughter to whoever could lift an extremely heavy bow, which initially belonged to Lord Shiva, the greatest among the gods.

The king was famous. Known as Janaka throughout the world, even the miscreant class of men respected him. It takes a lot to gain the honor and respect of those who are themselves lacking it, but Janaka managed to reach the height of stature. Virtue is its own reward, especially when it is tied to dharma, or the occupational duties governing man’s conduct. Rather than speculate on who God is and whether or not He is just a manmade concoction, the Vedas remove the doubt through authorized information. Even if one isn’t prone to accepting the truths about the Personality of Godhead and His merciful spiritual form, if they just follow the prescribed guidelines given for human behavior, they can make tremendous progress. Just by following virtue, adhering to religious principles, irrespective of your own realizations others will respect you.

The reprobates, thieves, cheaters and plagues on society get the opposite treatment. Their reputations are based on their behavior which goes against dharma. Everyone must follow some philosophy, which then determines their accepted system of maintenance. Under mental speculation, the human being is walking around a dark room not knowing what anything is. He and his fellow man operating under the same mindset can only speculate about their environment and thus never reach a proper conclusion. Under the veil of darkness, there is no such thing as good or bad, pious or impious. The thief’s dharma is given as much credence as the honest man’s, for both are based on mental speculation and not authority.

“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 JanakaJanaka was not in the dark. Following the prescribed duties assigned to the royal order, he worked whenever work was called for and stayed renounced the rest of the time. This amazing ability earned him mention in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God sung by Lord Krishna, who is the Supreme Personality, the leader of worshipable figures, the energy behind the movements of the creation. The mental speculators can eventually conclude that there is an energy driving the forces of nature and the actions of man, yet they fail to assign intelligence to that energy. Moreover, since they are tiny fragments of that energy as a whole, they consider everyone to be their own gods, or ishvaras.

Ironically enough, the fact stumbled upon by the mental speculators is quickly revealed to those following dharma. The individual soul is indeed ishvara, or a controller, but he is not the original or even supreme controller. God can be defined by saying that He is the supreme ishvara, Parameshvara. One who knows this understands that they can perform their prescribed duties without attachment, for Parameshvara is responsible for the results of action. Though the giant collection of energy is more powerful than we are and thereby represents a force impossible to control, we still must act. Even when sitting quietly in an empty room, the mind continues to operate. To harness that potential for action, we need some type of system of maintenance, which will properly guide our behavior and remove hesitation.

We can continue to speculate on what type of behavior to follow, but whatever is produced through the mental effort will be flawed because the ultimate conclusion is not known. On the other hand, by following dharma, which is rooted in the conclusion that God is the Supreme Lord, full of form, who is meant to be the intimate friend of every living entity, hesitancy is removed in action and auspiciousness results. Janaka, just by following dharma, one day found a beloved baby girl in the ground. Naming her Sita and raising her as his daughter, he felt like the most fortunate man in the world. What he didn’t know was that the goddess of fortune herself, Lakshmi Devi, was Sita and had come as his daughter. His inclination was correct, even if he didn’t know the basis for that correctness.

Sita DeviOthers around the world knew of both Sita and Janaka. The king was hesitant to marry her off because he didn’t want to lose her and also because he wasn’t sure he could find a suitable match. He couldn’t use a horoscope comparison because he didn’t know Sita’s biological parents or if she even had any. Just as the Supreme Lord is original, formless and eternal, so the same properties apply to His eternal consorts. By formless we mean without a material form that is subject to defects. It is difficult for the conditioned human being to imagine that God can appear on earth and emerge from someone’s womb, for as soon as you say someone is a person it means that they are flawed. “To ere is human” after all, so to describe God as being personal seems to indicate that He is flawed.

Spiritual attributes are difficult to comprehend; therefore extensive training in a bona fide spiritual discipline is required. Those anxious to see God, to see the person they think is invisible, are advised to first try to realize the presence of the soul within their own body. Without knowing that we are spirit soul and not body, how are we going to understand what formless actually means when applied to God? We need external light to be able to see the objects around us; otherwise we are clueless as to our surroundings. If we need light to see normal objects, why wouldn’t we need assistance in seeing God? Moreover, just because the lights are turned out doesn’t mean that the surrounding objects disappear. In the same way, not being able to see God with our paltry vision doesn’t mean that He is invisible, not able to be seen, or lacking spiritual attributes.

As she had no father and mother, Sita’s marriage was difficult to arrange. Through consultation with his priests and relatives, Janaka decided to hold a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony. When kings from around the world heard the news, they flocked to Tirahuta, Janaka’s capital city. The event was so eagerly anticipated and talked about that even others outside the human species decided they would try to attend. In addition to the human form, there are millions of other possible combinations of material elements that can house a conditioned spirit soul. An ant, dog, cow, fly, bird, and beast are all equal constitutionally, but we see differences based on their outward appearances. There is not just one form of the human species either; there is variety within variety. The human species in general is considered the most auspicious form of body to accept, as it carries the highest potential for intelligence. With first class knowledge comes dedication to a first class system of maintenance. A topnotch system of regulation carries the increased odds of the most suitable end being reached, that of God’s association for the rest of time.

Danavas heard the news and decided to appear on the scene. The history of the creation is provided in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. First there is the Supreme Lord, who resides in the spiritual sky. He is both with spiritual attributes and without, a combination that is impossible to comprehend with a brain restricted by the limits of time and space. God’s personal form is His original, and His impersonal aspect is just a feature, though to Him there is no difference. Like the difference between the sun and the sunshine, the Supreme Lord’s influence is seen throughout the creation, even within the tiny atom, but He still has an original body and form.

Lord VishnuFrom the Supreme Lord - known as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness and Rama because of His ability to provide transcendental pleasure - come all other living entities. In the material creation, Lord Brahma, the first living entity appearing from the lotus-like navel of Lord Vishnu - the four-armed personal expansion of the Supreme Lord - takes care of populating. From Brahma come both saints and demons alike. Since the beginning of time there has been an ongoing struggle between good and evil, those devoted to Vishnu and those opposed to Him. The devotees are known as suras and their counterparts asuras. Amongst the asuras there are so many different species, with the Danavas being one of them. Though the Danavas have an ancestry described in the Vedas, their qualities can also be found in the human species. One can act like a Danava or asura without having a known link to the original creatures of the same type.

Devas also attended Sita’s svayamvara. A deva is a god, someone who is worshipable but not quite on the level of the Supreme Lord. The suras as a species are devas, and they can provide benedictions to their worshipers, for this is what they are tasked with by the Supreme Lord. In the grand scheme of things the devas and the Danavas are the same, for they are both conditioned. The devas are just further along in the evolutionary process than the Danavas, for one who is devoted to God even with impurity mixed in is closer to gaining final release from the material world, which operates under karma. Through karma comes the swinging pendulum of acceptance and rejection, which manifests in both pious and impious acts.

Nishacharas also attended. The name indicates that they are night-rangers, which means they travel through the night in false guises to attack the saintly class of men. Also known as Rakshasas, these hideous creatures have no concern for piety, decency, or the right of others to live their lives peacefully. The Rakshasas had a strong influence during the period of time when Janaka’s event was being held, for their leader Ravana was extremely powerful and feared throughout the world. The person to be married to Sita had actually appeared on earth specifically to do away with Ravana.

Kinnaras, who are heavenly bird-like figures expert in singing, and serpents also attended the ceremony in Janaka’s kingdom. All of these non-human figures dressed up as kings to fit the occasion. They did whatever was necessary to make it to the most famous wedding ever held. They arrived happily and with excitement, for why else would they go to so much trouble? Though they wouldn’t win Sita’s hand in marriage, they would get to witness Narayana’s amazing feat of lifting Lord Shiva’s bow.

Lord Rama lifting Shiva's bowLord Rama, the prince of the Raghu dynasty, was Lord Vishnu Himself coming to Janakpur to reunite with Lakshmi Devi, His eternal consort. The attendees got to observe a historic event, which featured a feat of strength still talked about to this day. Their eagerness to be allowed entry was indirectly tied to spiritual life. Their association with Sita and Rama would give them something to talk about for many years to come. They could say that they were there that day when Rama lifted Lord Shiva’s bow and gave Janaka the son-in-law he deserved.

In Closing:

Night-rangers, gods and demons to Janakpur flow,

For witnessing Sita’s marriage they are all ready to go.

Each species has modes of nature in combination,

For them all Janaka’s contest drew their attention.

By Janaka’s daughter the whole world was impressed,

That even snakes dressed as kings so wedding not missed.

For the host, a son-in-law like from heaven sent,

To wed Janaki was only Shri Rama meant.

Interest in svayamvara for creatures not in vain,

Sight of union of Sita and Rama their eyes gained.