“This beautiful Ashoka grove is certainly befitting the beautiful and cherished wife of Rama, the king of kings.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 14.50)
tasyāḥ ca api anurūpeyam aśoka vanikā śubhā |
śubhā yā pārthiva indrasya patnī rāmasya sammitā ||
Lord Rama is the king of kings. The word “indra” in Sanskrit is used to denote a king. It can also refer to the lord of celestials, Indradeva, who is in charge of things like rain and thunder. There is some force guiding the movements of nature, for man has no control over when it rains and when it doesn’t. He can likely predict the pattern for the upcoming days using satellite technology, but this is merely observation and not influence. The Vedas provide the names and personality traits of these controllers, who operate under orders from a higher authority. The lord of heaven is considered “indra” because he has the most responsible post, as without rain life could not survive on earth.
The same “indra” word is used to denote the top living entity in a particular occupation. In the above quoted verse from the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman refers to King Dasharatha’s eldest son as the king of kings. In the time period in question, the Treta Yuga, kings got their status from both heredity and ability. A king’s son was treated with respect and honor as he grew up, but he still had to prove his fighting ability to hold on to his status. You need such a fighter, else the society runs the risk of being controlled by rogues and thieves. The violence sometimes used by the protecting warriors seems sinful and unnecessary, but without it there would be no peace. There would be no ability to even criticize the fighting efforts of the martial force were it not for the protection they first provide.
As the king of kings, Rama was the best fighter. Using just a bow and arrow He could defeat as many enemies as would come His way. One time, He singlehandedly fended off fourteen thousand night-rangers, ghoulish creatures who didn’t fight according to the standard codes of warfare. Think of the terrorist who puts on civilian clothes so that no one will spot them. This isn’t done just for safety. They do it so that they can attack their targeted enemies when they least expect it. These night-rangers were similar in their tactics, almost snake-like in their behavior.
Rama, nevertheless, could defeat them without a problem. When you have such a capable fighter, it is important that their moral standing be very high as well. The same fighting ability could be used to force others into submission, to will everyone into surrendering their possessions and livelihood for the sake of the fighter’s enjoyment. Rama was most remarkable in this area. Though He was the king of kings, the best fighter in the world, He had not a hint of jealousy in Him. He was the most renounced, giving up His rightful claim to the throne of Ayodhya at a young age to fulfill His father’s promise. He deserved every offering of wealth made to Him, but He instead gave all of His possessions away prior to leaving for the forest.
“Rama always gives in charity but never takes any. He always speaks the truth and never tells a lie. O brahmana, this is Rama’s highest vow and He is incapable of deviating from it.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.17)
Though He always gave in charity, He never took any, for that is customary for the fighting kings. Why would Rama need anything when He is self-satisfied? Only those who are uncertain of their standing will constantly require support for their false ego. Rama knew that He was the best fighter, so He didn’t need to prove it. The match against the fourteen thousand night-rangers from Lanka was not His desire. They were sent to attack Rama by the leader of Lanka, Ravana, who was just the opposite in character. He regularly boasted about his fighting prowess, and he needed a sparkling city full of opulence to keep his ego inflated. Yet to fight a man who renounced everything and lived in a small hut in the forest of Dandaka, Ravana had to send thousands of his men. He didn’t go himself, of course, because he would have been defeated.
While a demon by nature and appearance, Ravana thought he deserved to have Rama’s wife. She was already married to the king of kings, but Ravana thought that she should be with him, for why would a princess choose to live in a forest? Ravana took Sita back to Lanka through a ruse, not daring to fight for her with Rama. Now Hanuman was in Lanka to locate that princess, to let her know that her husband was going to find and rescue her. To locate Sita, Hanuman had to dwell upon her qualities. Her standing as Rama’s wife was one of the best features to go by.
As Rama’s wife, Sita too was very renounced. She left the comfortable setting of the kingdom of Ayodhya for life in the forest. She followed her husband. Wherever He would go, she would follow like a shadow. Not a reluctant servant or a prisoner trapped in a marriage system they didn’t like, Sita took the most pleasure in serving Rama. Indeed, she sometimes offered this service against His wishes. In her mind, His judgment was sometimes incorrect. He wanted her to stay in Ayodhya for fourteen years, but she thought that He wasn’t thinking straight. But she knew how to get to Him, how to change His mind.
Sita remembered that Rama’s primary personality trait was His deference to dharma, or virtue. He was the king’s eldest son after all, so if He didn’t uphold virtue, who would? Sita used this trait to her advantage by reminding Rama that the wife’s duty in the Vedic tradition is to follow her husband, to treat him like her primary deity. Indeed, Rama had spoken on this very subject many times prior, for the pious take delight in describing the principles of piety, which serve a vital purpose. The Vedic tenets are not dogmatic or sectarian in their significance. They foster conditions that are conducive for attaining the highest goal, which is the same for every single person.
Sita was famous for her devotion to Rama, who was the best of all kings on earth. So Hanuman knew that in Lanka Sita would fit in where the conditions matched her character. He nevertheless searched the entire city, for who knew what Ravana was capable of. Finally, Hanuman came upon a beautiful grove of Ashoka trees. This spot seemed more suited to Rama’s wife. It was pristine, had flowers in bloom, and had bodies of water ideal for religious observance. Hanuman got a taste of the beauty himself when he jumped from tree to tree. In the process he got covered with flowers, looking to the creatures in that forest like Spring personified.
Hanuman’s hunch would prove to be correct, as Sita was indeed in this Ashoka grove. He would be surprised by her appearance, however. The grove was suitable for her living, but at that time she was barely hanging on to life. Separated from her beloved and uncertain of the future, she was not in a pleasant condition. Nevertheless, her beauty could never totally leave her, and from the auspiciousness of her form, Hanuman could eventually spot her.
Just as the Ashoka grove was befitting the wife of the king of kings, Shri Hanuman is worthy of the post of Rama’s greatest servant. His thought processes within Lanka prove that. To find Sita required both physical and mental dexterity. He was born with a monkey shape, but he used his abilities in mysticism to change shapes and course through areas that were otherwise difficult to pass. But more amazing was his constant connection to both Sita and Rama in thought. This connection is known as yoga, and it is the one practice that leads to the happiness that presently evades us. The gymnastics yoga and the yoga of sitting in quiet meditation are meant to lead to the same end, that of thinking of the Supreme Lord and those dear to Him. Rama is the king of kings on earth, and He is the leader of the divine figures in the spiritual kingdom. Sita is His suitable match in an eternal consort, and thus the couple can be remembered at any time to complete the perfection of yoga. Hanuman is an authority in this practice, and based on his spotless character, there is no doubting the validity of his preferred style of yoga known as bhakti.
Shri Rama is the king of kings,
Safety to dependence He brings.
At defending the innocent He is always reliable,
In Dandaka forest proved His prowess undeniable.
Fourteen thousand terrorist-like demons by Ravana sent,
Anticipating victory, instead to Yamaraja’s abode they went.
Rama’s deference to dharma by wife Sita was matched,
But she went to Lanka through the plot evil Ravana hatched.
To finding her now Shri Hanuman getting near,
To help remembered Shri Rama’s wife so dear.
Befitting queen in Ayodhya had full renunciation,
Thus Hanuman knew pristine Ashoka grove her likely location.