“Understanding that Rama’s beauty, patience, age and ancestry were completely perfect, the king remembered his own oath and thus started to lament.” (Janaki Mangala, 48)
rūpa sīla baya baṃsa rāma parisurana |
samujhi kaṭhina pana āpana lāga bisūrana ||
You think long and hard about a difficult decision. You don’t want to mess up because the stakes are high. Rather than make an impulse move, you get advice from the people you trust. This way you gather all sorts of opinions and viewpoints that you may not have considered yourself due to the attachment you have to the particular situation. Finally, you settle upon something, a move that will hopefully satisfy your wishes and alleviate your concerns. If you are a man of honor, this decision represents your vow, something you can’t break. But then later on, after the decision is made, a wildcard enters the equation. If you knew about this beforehand, you never would have made your vow. So now you are in trouble. What to do?
This was the situation faced by a famous king many thousands of years ago. He was childless when he found a beautiful baby girl in the ground one day while ploughing a field for a sacrifice. What an odd place to find a young child? How was she still alive? Who had placed her there? These things didn’t matter to King Janaka once he picked her up. Though he was above the influence of the senses, he couldn’t help but harbor affection for this innocent girl, wiping the dust off her face. He wanted to bring her home immediately, but he knew that he shouldn’t take someone else’s property. Then a voice from the sky told the king that the girl was his daughter in all righteousness, or dharma.
Dharma was important to Janaka. A king who doesn’t follow dharma isn’t much of a king. To be a good protector, one must be able to govern the citizens in such a way that they all stay happy, regardless of their situation. The only way to make this a reality is to follow the established law codes of scripture, which are presented nicely in the Vedas. If you go on your own whim, others will then have license to do so as well. As desires for personal satisfaction are sure to clash, the result is stiff competition. Man’s actions are then guided by the motto of “win at all costs”. In fact, this is the situation at present, where government leaders operate on the mentality that whoever will provide them the most votes should gain the most favor from government. Never mind that every person is equally a citizen and that the leader should be impartial. Send money to a candidate and you will get a seat at the table of power should they get elected.
Janaka’s guiding principle was to defer to dharma, so he was thrilled to hear that this girl was actually his daughter. The higher powers decided he should raise her as his own daughter, that he was worthy of having her and that she would bestow good fortune upon him. The baby girl was Lakshmi Devi appearing on earth to grace the line of Videha kings with the greatest fortune of all, the appearance of the Supreme Lord in their kingdom. Janaka, of course, did not know these things. He had a spontaneous and loving attachment to his daughter.
This attachment made arranging for her marriage quite difficult. As Janaka belonged to the royal order, he typically would find a suitable match based on strength. The ability of the prince to protect his daughter would be the overriding factor in determining his eligibility for marriage. The suitable match would also be determined off personal characteristics calculated from the alignment of stars at the time of birth. The problem was that Janaka didn’t know his daughter Sita’s exact date of birth or who her parents were. How then was he going to find a suitable match? Comparing horoscopes using Vedic science takes the guesswork out of these arrangements.
Janaka met with his counselors, and they settled upon a compromise. The king would hold a contest. Whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s bow would win Sita’s hand in marriage. First come, first serve. No round robins or heats. Whoever could lift it first would win the contest. The idea was that the bow was too heavy for anyone to lift. Just as Sita had amazingly appeared from the ground, her future husband would have to appear on the scene and miraculously lift the bow.
There was another side to this contest that Janaka didn’t immediately realize. If someone should attempt to lift the bow and fail, they would be automatically disqualified from marrying Sita. The focus was on finding someone who could lift the bow, which meant the elimination factor was ignored. But what if someone showed up to Janaka’s city who was perfect in every way? What if their beauty was unmatched and their ancestry sparkling? What if they had tremendous patience and dedication to chivalry? What if they were quite strong and had a charming visage? Then what could the king do?
Wouldn’t you know it, this is precisely the predicament that arose. Though princes from around the world came to participate in the contest, two notable warriors didn’t get the invitation. They were away from home at the time, protecting the sadhus from the enemies of the demigods. A sura is known as a demigod or devotee in Sanskrit. Their enemies are the asuras, the negation of the word “sura”. “How can someone be an enemy of a sadhu, a person who has no possessions and who hardly bothers anyone? A demigod is a deity in charge of a particular aspect of creation. Why should they have enemies?”
As we know, sometimes the workings of the criminal mind are impossible to figure out. There are bad guys out there, whether we like it or not. Since they do horrible things, someone needs to be there to punish them, to protect the innocent from their influence. Rama and Lakshmana, though very young, were quite able to protect a notable sadhu named Vishvamitra. He was being harassed by night-rangers who fought dirty. In conventional warfare, the participants wear identifiable uniforms and engage in conflict once the other party is ready. It seems strange, but warriors usually follow some sort of standard procedure when engaging in armed conflict.
Oh, but not these night-rangers. They would not announce their presence until the moment of attack. Should they be spotted, they could use illusion to disappear from the vision. They would take on another shape to mask their appearance as well. Rama’s first test was to fight against and kill a very wicked female night-ranger named Tataka. Rama was very hesitant to kill her since she was a female. Vishvamitra had to insist a few times to Rama to fight with as much force as possible. The night-ranger would use illusion quite often to try to escape, but no one can live when the Supreme Lord decides that they shouldn’t.
Rama was the Supreme Lord appearing on earth in the guise of a human being. The purpose given for His descents is to annihilate the miscreants and defend the pious, but in reality there needn’t be a specific purpose. Whatever makes the Supreme Lord happy, He does. He finally killed Tataka, and Vishvamitra was pleased with Him. He then gave both Rama and Lakshmana secret mantras to be used in fighting.
The group subsequently went to Janaka’s kingdom while the contest was going on. The king welcomed them hospitably, and was enamored by the vision of Rama and Lakshmana. As Rama was the elder brother, Janaka wondered if He should maybe participate in the contest. Seeing that Rama was perfect in every way, Janaka became lost in transcendental bliss. He had previously felt brahmasukha, or the pleasure of merging into the impersonal effulgence of the Lord, but this new happiness defeated that many times over.
After that initial happiness, Janaka remembered his vow. “Oh no! What if Rama tries to lift the bow and fails? Then He can’t marry Sita, though He is perfect for her.” In this way Janaka felt a kind of fear in devotional ecstasy. This emotion is described in more detail in Shrila Rupa Gosvami’s Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, which is nicely translated and commented on in the book known as The Nectar of Devotion, authored by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
In devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, there are different tastes that are available to the devotee. Sometimes fear is an enhancer of delight, as through that trepidation one thinks even more about God. Thus Janaka’s worrying over the contest was on par with his happiness over first seeing Rama. There needn’t be any worry, though. Lord Rama was meant to arrive in Janaka’s kingdom and marry Sita. Only He would be able to lift Mahadeva’s bow and thus prove to the world that Sita could only be His wife. Janaka’s regret would soon disappear, as his vow would further glorify both Sita and Rama, the divine couple who bestow good fortune upon the surrendered souls.
Daughter Sita to Janaka is very dear,
That wrong husband chosen is underlying fear.
With announced contest of bow matter considered rectified,
Priests, counselors, friends and even king now satisfied.
Contest rules simple, first come first serve,
Lifting Shiva’s bow meant Sita they did deserve.
But if perfect match arrived Janaka did not consider,
The case with Rama, but on vow the king must deliver.
Thus there was worry that with vow he made a grave mistake,
But king relieved when Shiva’s bow in His hand Rama did take.