“Surely this Ashoka grove, which is filled with many trees, must be guarded by many Rakshasas, as it is carefully tended to and purified in every possible way. And the guards there must protect the trees, and the all-pervading deity, the wind, does not blow there.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.62-63)
dhruvam tu rakṣo bahulā bhaviṣyati vana ākulā |
aśoka vanikā cintyā sarva saṃskāra saṃskṛtā ||
rakṣiṇaḥ ca atra vihitā nūnam rakṣanti pādapān |
bhagavān api sarva ātmā na atikṣobham pravāyati ||
Whether or not he did it intentionally, Ravana kept Sita Devi in a sacred place, one unlike any other inside of Lanka. While the rest of the town was adorned with gold, jewels and crystals, Sita’s surroundings were pristine, thoroughly cultivated, sacred and well-guarded. The trees were so aligned and protected that not even the wind could blow there violently. That being the case, how could the wind’s son, Shri Hanuman, enter that place and find the most beautiful woman in the world, who was waiting for news of her husband, to know whether or not He was going to come and rescue her and whether He was feeling the pain of separation from her? Despite the impediments and the restriction placed on the wind, Rama’s messenger, Ramadutta, would find a crafty way to enter not only the Ashoka garden, but also Sita’s heart.
Imagine being stuck in a place where you have nothing to do except count the seconds until the inevitable end of everything. Worse than being held in a prison, Sita was constantly harassed, day after day, by people ordered to make her stay in this grove a living hell. What had she done to deserve this? Up until this time she was respected by everyone. A man takes his pride from his manhood - his ability to protect his dependents, to brave through tough times and to show strength when it is difficult. A woman gets her standing from her chastity - the fact that she doesn’t give out her love easily. Take away a man’s manhood and you take away his essence, and take away a woman’s chastity and her reputation is ruined.
Sita was known as the most chaste woman in the world; therefore she automatically earned the highest respect. Moreover, her husband was famous as the manliest fighter, a person capable of defending any person who sought His protection. He has actually maintained this characteristic since the beginning of time and still does to this day. The mere utterance of His name delivers countless more individuals than does His personal self. In fact, Sita’s ability to remain alive while held against her will in Lanka shows the power of the holy name.
How does this work exactly? The Supreme Lord is known by His attributes; otherwise He is not distinguished from any other person. Since the entire creation falls under His purview, into the definition of “God”, it is tempting to think that God is attributeless. “He must be without a form because only those things which are subordinate to material nature undergo change. If God creates nature, He must not ever change. Therefore His form must be nonexistent, i.e. He must be formless.”
This is surely one way to look at God. Take every single activity, motion of nature, event in life, and just abstract out to the largest scale and you get “the creation”. Since this giant neural network of cause and effect is guided by intelligence, there must be someone pushing the buttons, someone who is the source of that intelligence. Without knowing this person’s features, the abstract understanding remains the height of realization. The Vedas refer to the abstract, all-pervading Absolute Truth as Brahman. Brahman is everything. He is the living entities as well, who are struggling hard with the material nature. Even matter is from Brahman, but it is a different kind of energy, an inferior one to be more precise. The living entities that are Brahman are superior. The wise take to studying the scriptures that detail the differences between the two energies and make themselves familiar with Brahman in the process.
Yet, just as the light of the sun does not give us the complete picture of the sun itself, the entire creation as a whole, the light of Brahman, does not provide the necessary insight into the fountainhead of all energies, the Supreme Lord. While Brahman is impersonal, the Lord takes on personal traits, spiritual qualities belonging to forms known as avataras, to show us what Brahman actually looks like. Brahman is actually subordinate to Parabrahman, which is the title reserved specifically for God. The spiritual attributes of the formed incarnations show that Parabrahman is the most renounced, the wealthiest, the strongest, the wisest, the most famous and the most beautiful.
In His avatara as Lord Rama, God graced a select few individuals with His sweet smile, His dedication to piety, and His promise of protection. In the Vedic system the husband’s duty is to protect the wife, who operates under his direction. Rama was perfect in this regard, as Sita always felt safe in His company. Even when Rama was sent away from His kingdom of Ayodhya, Sita did not find the pleasure of life in the palaces preferable to Rama’s company in the forest. She felt safer with her husband by her side.
Therefore it was a little disconcerting when Sita was taken away by Ravana, the Rakshasa king of Lanka. Not that Rama failed to defend against Ravana, the ogre didn’t even mount an attack against Rama. Rather, he took Sita away in secret, while Rama temporarily wasn’t by her side. Through the divine will, the need for bringing about Ravana’s end, Rama purposefully limited His display of opulence.
The holy name, however, is never limited. Sita kept reciting it while in Lanka, so she was able to think of her husband, keeping Him by her side even though He was far, far away. Ravana tried to win her over but to no avail. She was not budging from her dedication to chastity. She would not even look at the vile creature who already had hundreds of the most beautiful princesses as queens. The holy name thus proved many thousands of years ago during Sita’s time to be most powerful, and it is just as powerful today. Shri Hanuman even used it to succeed in his mission to find Sita.
Lord Rama, being the most knowledgeable, could have located Sita Himself, but the wiser thing to do was to allow those eager to serve Him the chance to take up the cause. The living entities are mini-gods, so they have some independence in their exercise of freedom. Brahman is transcendental to matter; hence there is no reason to be subjected to the threefold miseries. The pains inflicted by natural forces, the influence of other living entities, and the workings of the body and mind have no bearing on the qualities of Brahman. Nevertheless, the conditioned living entities struggle very hard with material nature; a fact we’re reminded of by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita.
“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7)
Krishna is the same Rama but in a different outward, spiritual manifestation. Lord Krishna is considered the original Personality of Godhead, the origin of Parabrahman. His face is full of sweetness, as are His words. The living entities struggle with material nature, but when they find their occupational duty of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, the same material elements become favorable. This was quite evident with Shri Hanuman, who found himself placed smack dab in the middle of a supremely difficult mission.
While a band of monkeys took up the task of finding Sita, only Hanuman from that group made it to Lanka, for no one else could leap across the massive ocean separating the island from the mainland. How did Ravana bring Sita back there then? He had an aerial car that previously belonged to his brother Kuvera. Ravana used it to fly around and terrorize people. Hanuman had to find Sita all by himself, without anyone around to help. After overcoming many obstacles, including a doubtful mind fearing the worst outcome, Hanuman was on the precipice of finding King Janaka’s daughter, though he didn’t know it.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman is thinking over what he will find in the Ashoka wood, the one place in Lanka he had yet to search. Having mentally entered the area, he started surveying the scene and going over what he should expect. The place would be sacred and guarded by Rakshasas. It would be so well-protected that the wind wouldn’t blow there. Thus Hanuman would have to contract his form, something he was more than capable of doing. He did not want to get noticed by the Rakshasas, because that might jeopardize the success of the mission.
The fact that the wind wasn’t blowing there violently was another impediment to deal with. On the strength of the wind Hanuman was able to leap across the ocean and make it to Lanka. The wind, or air, is actually the vital force to sustain life within all of us. One who can learn to control the vital breaths within the body can find good health and the ability to survive through duress. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us that the ancient yoga practice of pranayama is very popular today.
Hanuman, however, didn’t require violent wind to find Sita. He was determined to please Rama, to keep the smile on the face of the jewel of the Raghu dynasty no matter what. Using his keen intelligence, he would find his way into the woods unnoticed. He would meet with Sita and give her news about Rama. Along with regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, hearing about God and His activities is the best medicine for the mind and the heart. In this respect, Hanuman gave tremendous transcendental healing satisfaction to Sita, who loved to hear about her husband and how He was doing. Hanuman would return later to Lanka, but this time with the full army of monkeys commanded by Sugriva. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana would be there too, ready to rid the world of Ravana.
Hanuman’s determination played a vital role in the eventual victory, and his presence continues to be felt today. Chanting the name of Rama brings with it the vision of Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman. Rama may have personally defeated Ravana, but His name is what carried Hanuman into Lanka and helped him defeat the elements obstructing his path. Rama’s name helped Sita remain alive while in a perilous condition, and it continues to deliver the souls struggling with the pangs of Kali Yuga, the present age of quarrel and hypocrisy. Therefore the holy name and its many carriers are the only life raft for the souls looking for true enlightenment and lasting happiness. As Hanuman is one who cherishes the holy name and keeps it with him at all times, he is supremely worshipable.
Sita, in a tough situation she did find,
Harassed by vile witches, troubled she was in mind.
She did nothing wrong in life, her husband she missed,
Repeating His holy name her only solace.
Hanuman, Ashoka wood ready to enter,
But first conditions in mind he did ponder.
Trees to be guarded by Rakshasas full of sin,
So aligned that to enter difficult for even the wind.
Hanuman’s determination the Rakshasas to beat,
In his heart, Sita, Rama and Lakshmana take their seat.