“The king said these words to the muni in a very humble and polite way. He presented Rama and Lakshmana to the muni and then touched his lotus feet.” (Janaki Mangala, 26)
dīna bacana bahu bhām̐ti bhūpa muni sana kahe |
sauṃpi rāma arū lakhana pāya paṃkaja gahe ||
With a young child’s first day of school, the moment is much more difficult to handle for the parents. Should the child start to cry immediately upon separation, through interaction with fellow students and classroom activity during the day, the separation can be forgotten rather quickly. The parents, however, are always left to worry about the child. They have raised them from the time they emerged from the womb, so to suddenly hand them over to the care of a teacher is not easy. For a particular king a long time ago, the pain was doubled by the fact that two of his four sons were leaving home. They would be under the care of an expert teacher, but they would be required to serve as his protection of all things. Because of that generosity, this king would go down in history as one of the most famous.
The Janaki Mangala, the sweet song written by Goswami Tulsidas that describes these events so nicely, presents some of the interactions between the king and the guardian of this situation. King Dasharatha did not have a son for the longest time. For a king following Vedic traditions that is a big deal. At the time of birth three debts are incurred. We owe our present circumstances to the past actions of spiritual entities. From the demigods, or devas, we get the rain necessary to maintain life. If our parents couldn’t survive from eating grains, milk and fruits, we never would have developed within the womb to the point that we could take birth. If not for the rishis of the past, who safeguarded Vedic wisdom and the knowledge necessary for flourishing in life, we would live like animals, following only our sensual pursuits.
The third debt is what troubled Dasharatha. If not for our forefathers, the family that we are born into wouldn’t exist. For the king of Ayodhya, his family was quite famous and well-known for their dedication to virtue. If you’re born into a family of reprobates, perhaps you’re not overly concerned with keeping it going. But if you take birth in the most pious family that the society relies on for its welfare, you want to make sure that the legacy continues after you depart this world.
Long without a son, Dasharatha took the advice and consent of the priestly class and performed a grand yajna, or sacrifice. The remnants of that sacrifice were handed over to the king’s three queens, who simply by consuming the spiritualized food became pregnant. Four male children were soon born: Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. The four boys were naturally fond of each other, and they enjoyed growing up in the family environment in Ayodhya.
The eldest Rama was everyone’s favorite. This was especially true for Dasharatha. A parent is not supposed to have a favorite, as they love their children equally. Yet the bond of affection was strongest towards Rama. The child was the leader of His brothers, and they all worshiped Him like a father. Though they all loved Rama equally, Lakshmana was the one closest to the Lord. He would not eat or sleep without Rama by his side. He would not do any of these things before the Lord would. He would never dishonor his eldest brother; not in thought, word, or deed. To use a common modern expression, Lakshmana would gladly take a bullet for Rama.
The boys were groomed to follow in their father’s footsteps. The kings in those times weren’t just administrative heads; they were the best fighters in the world. After all, the primary duty of government is to protect property and life. These two vital aspects are threatened by miscreants, those who don’t have respect for what others have lawfully earned. A miscreant will not take well to logic and understanding. Imagine being the victim of a holdup like a carjacking and then trying to explain the issue of property rights to the culprit. “Sir, excuse me, but I bought this car with my own money. Therefore I am the owner. If you would like a car I suggest you work honestly so that you can buy one yourself.”
The warrior class of men exists to deal with the thieves in society. As an aggressor has no concern for rules of propriety, the defenders must use force when necessary. In the Vedic tradition it is considered a laudable sacrifice to lay down your life on the battlefield fighting bravely. The slain warrior is immediately granted residence in heaven, so noble is their bravery. To get to heaven involves many pious deeds. One must be quite religious, without sin and following the guiding principles presented by the priestly class. Yet the same benefit of ascension to heaven can come by nobly defending the innocent and dying in battle.
Dasharatha was a world-famous fighter, a protector of dharma, or virtue. His sons were to follow in his footsteps. Yet a fighter should be mature. You wouldn’t send children out to act as police officers. There is an age restriction for a reason. This made the visit by Vishvamitra all the more strange. An exalted sage living in the forest, Vishvamitra one day visited Ayodhya and was greeted hospitably by King Dasharatha and his family. The king was ready to give the world to the sage, as the administrator class operates off of the advice and consent of the priests, who are knowledgeable on all affairs.
Vishvamitra wanted to take Rama and Lakshmana with him. This wasn’t necessarily to teach the two boys about the art of fighting with the bow and arrow, the standard method of warfare of the time. He didn’t need to instruct them further on the Vedas or have them live with him so that they could find enlightenment. Vishvamitra was being attacked by the worst kind of villains. He knew that only Rama and Lakshmana could protect him.
In the father’s eyes, the two boys were quite immature. They hadn’t left home, and they were enjoying the company of the family. Dasharatha had a royal army full of capable fighters, so why wouldn’t the sage want one of them? Dasharatha was ready to lend his entire army headed by himself instead of giving over Rama, his favorite son.
In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we see the end result of the interaction between the king and the sage. In utmost humility and kindness, Dasharatha offered praise to the muni, saying that his blessings would grant any reward to any person. The king brought Rama and Lakshmana before Vishvamitra and then touched his lotus feet. Just imagine the situation. A chivalrous fighter whom the entire community honored as the chief person in the city was bowing down before a mendicant with a beard. The brahmanas may look meek, but in mind they are the strongest. Their wealth is their devotion to God, and by accepting the dust of their lotus feet one can receive the most wonderful blessings in life.
Though Rama and Lakshmana would be protecting Vishvamitra from the attacking Rakshasas, the sage was essentially their guardian. Dasharatha wasn’t watching his children go away to school for the first time. Instead, he watched his two boys leave to certainly face attacks from creatures that were known for eating human beings. The anguish the king faced is unimaginable. Yet the incident once again proved his dedication to dharma. The famous ruler worked with detachment, following the guidelines prescribed to his order without concern over outcome. If he had kept his sons with him out of familial affection, then the responsibility for the outcome of the actions would belong to him. But since he followed protocol, Vishvamitra, and more specifically the person he was serving, bore the burden of the results.
Who were Vishvamitra and the other sages worshiping? Dharma comes from God. The material world is a sort of playing field which can provide different results based on the game that one plays. Dharma is the set of rules aimed at allowing the field to provide the sweetest tasting fruit of devotion to God. The playing field allows for all sorts of other activity, so following dharma is very difficult. Yet the reward is worth the effort, so the highest class of men known as the brahmanas remains on the righteous path. They worship God through their actions, and since they have sublime wisdom, they share it with others when appropriate.
Dasharatha’s eldest son was actually the person who originally instituted dharma. In this sense the king and the sage both were serving God, as loving Rama is the highest dharma for any person. Bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service, is the spirit soul’s constitutional engagement. Dasharatha loved Rama so much that he was willing to let Him go at the behest of the brahmanas. Vishvamitra loved Rama so much that he made sure to use his position in society to gain the Lord’s association. Rama and Lakshmana would prove the sage correct by valiantly protecting him from all sorts of attacking Rakshasas. For their bravery, the fame of the Ikshvaku dynasty and its leader at the time, King Dasharatha, would increase exponentially.
Though we may not be in the royal or priestly order in this lifetime, the same sacrifice can be made by regularly chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Recitation of the holy name through love and devotion is the only dharma for this age. It is applicable to every person, regardless of their social standing. The dark age of Kali has broken three of the four legs of dharma, leaving only one left standing. Therefore the many rules and regulations that previously formed the pillars of dharma cannot be erected. Yet just the dedication to chanting, to remembering God and glorifying Him, is enough to bring the same benefit of the Lord’s association. Hearing about Rama and Lakshmana going away with Vishvamitra is as good as having witnessed it. Hearing about God in the proper mood is as good as sacrificing work efforts for His benefit. Rama and Lakshmana protected Dasharatha’s good name and they supported Vishvamitra’s dedication to sacrifice. In a similar manner, the Lord and His personal energies will protect the surrendered soul who takes chanting of the holy names to be their life’s primary engagement.
Vishvamitra wanted king’s son, his brother too,
But Rama is God, thus who was guarding who?
Dasharatha did not want to let Rama go,
But dedication to dharma not to forego.
No worries, as both sides the Lord to please,
Rama to protect Vishvamitra with ease.
Vision of departing son to remain in king’s mind,
To that pleasure at any time to find.
In the modern day chant the Lord’s names,
So that His favor you’ll always gain.