Sunday, June 3, 2012

Going By What You Know

Sita Devi“Janaki, Rama’s beautiful queen, always dear to Raghava, expert at walking about in the forest, will certainly come this way.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 14.45)

sā rāma rāma mahiṣī rāghavasya priyā sadā |
vana samcāra kuśalā nūnam eṣyati jānakī ||

To predict the behavior of someone else, you rely on your knowledge of their personality traits, what is important to them and what things they like to do. Sometimes jokes are even made of these tendencies, such as with police officers and doughnut shops. The stereotype is that police officers like to frequent doughnut shops during their breaks, so the joke is that if you want to find a police officer, just go to one of these shops. The same type of categorization is made based on the behavior of the people we know very well. If they like to eat at certain places, sleep for certain periods of time, watch specific television shows, etc., we can use that information to predict where they will be at a certain time.

For a hero a long time ago that knowledge was necessary because he needed to find a particular princess, who had been forcibly separated from the company of her dear husband, who was the eldest son of King Dasharatha and the jewel of the Raghu dynasty. His wife was equally as worthy of being a member of this royal family, and so the pair looked like they were a match made in heaven. King Raghu was a famous ruler in this dynasty from several generations back, so his descendants were expected to uphold the good family name.

Sita and RamaThat name was synonymous with virtue. For the person in power, the dedication to virtue is most important. If you follow virtue in your own life, perhaps you can set a good example for family members and you also maintain a proper end for yourself going forward, but the more people that you influence, the more important your behavior becomes. In a governed community, no one person is more scrutinized than the leader. Whether they are elected to that post or occupy it based on heredity, the attention paid to them is the same. The subjects will follow the lead of the head of state, and so if there is corruption at the highest levels, you can’t expect the community to live in peace.

King Dasharatha upheld his end of the bargain nicely, and his four sons would follow in his footsteps. Rama was the eldest, so He was to inherit the awesome responsibility of ruling over a kingdom and setting a good example. The kings would beget children to keep the family line going, and for this to happen they needed suitable queens. Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka, was Rama’s queen, and she was suitable for Him in every way. More than just a factory to produce children, the religiously wedded wife is the support system for the pious husband. Wouldn’t we all be more productive if we had people helping us out? Wouldn’t our jobs be made easier if others lent their expertise and guidance to our affairs, especially if they were knowledgeable on the subjects in question?

The chaste wives of the Vedic tradition fulfill this role very nicely, and Sita was no different in this regard. Because of her utmost concern for Rama, she was always dear to Him, so much so that Dasharatha’s eldest son never wanted her to suffer any pain. This was shown when Rama was banished from the kingdom for fourteen years on the day just before He was to be handed over the throne. Rama did not want Sita to come with Him, and not because of anything she had done. Rather, Rama did not want her to suffer in exile, to live in the austere conditions of the wilderness.

“Moreover, O highly knowledgeable one, I heard before from the brahmanas in my father's home that in truth I should reside in the forest. Ever since I heard those words from the brahmanas versed in interpreting marks on the body in my home, I have always been enthusiastic about living in the forest, O highly powerful one.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 29.8-9)

Sita and RamaSita had an interesting history that was appropriate for mention during this particularly troubling time. She, of course, wanted to go with Rama, for she did not want Him to suffer alone. It is the duty of the wife to support her husband, and Sita conveniently invoked those duties to get what she wanted: Rama’s association. To support her arguments, she pointed to her own past history, such as when brahmanas in her father’s kingdom had hinted that she would live in the forest. Moreover, it was known to all that Sita was found as a baby while in the earth. King Janaka discovered her while ploughing a field and then took her in as his daughter.

This presentation wasn’t required from Sita, but she did not want to take any chances. Why give Rama an opportunity to defeat her with logic and reasoning when she had an impeccable case supporting her position? The upholder of dharma had no choice but to agree to her requests, which made Sita very happy. Thus the couple happily roamed the forests of India, visiting various hermitages along the way and receiving the blessings of many saints. Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana was with them, as he also refused to remain in the kingdom without Rama.

Hanuman, a valiant warrior sent to the island of Lanka to find Sita many years later, was well aware of this history, which is nicely documented in the Ramayana poem for our reference. Sita was kidnapped by the Rakshasa king of Lanka during her stay in the forest, and Rama and Lakshmana subsequently teamed up with a band of forest-dwellers in Kishkindha to find her. Hanuman was the only one of the Vanaras in Kishkindha who could make it to Lanka, where it was learned Sita had been taken.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman reminding himself of some of Sita’s attributes. To Hanuman, this serves as assurance that he has made the right decision in staying up on this tree in the Ashoka grove, a park of trees and flowers situated next to the head palace in the city. Up until this time Hanuman has not found Sita, but for some reason this pristine area inside of an otherwise passionately consumed city gives hints that maybe Janaka’s daughter is here.

Hanuman worshipingWe see that Hanuman knows that Sita is expert at walking about in the forests. Though she was the wife of the prince of Ayodhya, and thus very wealthy, she had no attachment to that wealth. In fact, just prior to leaving for the forest, at Rama’s insistence Sita gave away in charity all of the couple’s wealth to brahmanas, or priests. The priestly class doesn’t require such gifts, but when they come from the kind and benevolent Sita, how can they refuse? Sita and Rama are the goddess of fortune Lakshmi and the Supreme Lord Narayana respectively, appearing on earth in manifestations that others can see and appreciate.

Sita offers the same benedictions to Rama’s dearest servants who are outside of the priestly class, reminding us that her behavior during her time on earth gave a fortunate glimpse of her true nature, which the humble listeners to the Ramayana poem are gifted. Hanuman to this day takes so much enjoyment from reading the Ramayana over and over again, and the sections describing Sita’s characteristics are certainly noteworthy. Hanuman himself was an expert on the divine qualities of Rama’s wife, and he used that knowledge to figure out where she would be at a specific time.

The successful end was to be expected for Rama’s dearest servant. Just as Hanuman was able to locate Sita based on her characteristics previously shown, we should know that the Supreme Lord’s favor as well as Hanuman’s can be predicted in the same way. Whoever should regularly recite the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and give honor and respect to the devotees of the same Sita, Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman will surely be granted favor from the worshipable figures in question. The greatest favor they can bestow is their association, and that comes from the holy name itself, which is all-inclusive. Based on what we know of those wonderful characters, their benevolence is never limited to any section of society and it is always waiting to be bestowed on whoever so desires it.

In Closing:

In opulent palaces Sita didn’t like to stay,

Would rather go to forest, take the ascetic’s way.

 

This tendency brahmanas in her youth indicated,

On that her argument to follow Rama predicated.

 

Hanuman also knew that Sita as baby found in field’s dirt,

Thus of divine qualities of Rama’s wife he was an expert.

 

Chances to find her dwindled as the clock ticked,

Relied on this information for her behavior to predict.

 

Know that Hanuman succeeds, Sita to meet,

Use knowledge of God’s qualities for happiness to greet.