“Keeping in mind the time of sandhya, that lovely woman of fair complexion, the daughter of Janaka, will surely come to this river of auspicious water to perform that sandhya rite.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 14.49)
sandhyā kāla manāḥ śyāmā dhruvam eṣyati jānakī |
nadīm ca imām śiva jalām samdhyā arthe vara varṇinī ||
In trying to predict the behavior of the woman he was assigned to find, Shri Hanuman went over some of her glorious attributes. This thinking turned out to both portend future success and shine light on the spotless character of the eternal consort of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Remembering her provided pleasure to Hanuman and gave countless future generations a chance to peek into that wonderful Ashoka grove at an opportune moment. History was being made, and rather than speculate as to what was going on, we have the recorded thoughts of Hanuman found in the sacred Ramayana of Valmiki.
In the verse referenced above, the first mention is to the time of sandhya, which as a Sanskrit word means “junction”. The junction can refer to the period of time in between night and morning, morning and afternoon, or afternoon and night. Twilight and dusk are two equivalent terms for sandhya, and generally sandhya references dusk, but in this case it refers to dawn. The seeker in question had spent the entire night awake looking for the missing princess. Though it is more difficult to see at night, it is also more difficult for others to spot you, which was a key concern for the warrior in question. He was not to be spotted; otherwise the whole mission could be jeopardized.
The princess in question, Sita Devi, was previously taken to Lanka against her will, and it was up to Hanuman to find her and report back on her location to the camp at headquarters, where awaited the Vanara king Sugriva and his two newest allies, Rama and Lakshmana, sons of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Sita was Rama’s wife, and based on His splendid characteristics, the Vanaras in Kishkindha automatically had an eagerness to find Sita.
Of the searching Vanaras, Hanuman was the most eager, and he also happened to be the most capable. That combination landed him deep inside enemy territory, where it was believed Sita was. The fiendish ogre of cruel deeds, the King of Lanka, Ravana, had taken Sita to his home through a backhanded plot. Now it was time for him to pay. As Sita so appropriately told him during her rebuke of his initial advances in Lanka, when the time of death approaches for someone, they follow dangerous behavior which causes that death to manifest. As it was Ravana’s turn to die, it was the influence of that time which caused his stupid act of stealing another man’s wife, a man who happened to be the most capable bow warrior.
“When the time for the destruction of living entities arrives, people are seen to perform activities that endanger themselves due to the influence of that all-devouring time.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.16)
Time’s importance is stressed quite often in the Vedic tradition. There are both auspicious and inauspicious times; thus the important religious rituals are centered around auspicious times. You do something important at the wrong time and place and you will pay for it later. It is never the proper time to deceive the Supreme Lord’s wife, and there is never a proper place to take someone who is not your wife. Thus Ravana showed how to disrespect both time and circumstance.
Meanwhile, since she was of the godly nature, Sita showed how to do things at the right time and place. The pious perform their religious practices during the morning and evening sandhyas. The morning is considered the best time for chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. We see that even though Sita was in a distressed condition, separated from her husband, she would still pay attention to the proper times of religious observance. This wasn’t required of her, but she was taught the principles of godly life from childhood and she never strayed from them. In fact, she used those principles as an excuse to further pursue her cherished bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.
For example, it is a Vedic principle that a wife should view her husband as her primary deity. This means that she doesn’t even need to specifically worship God; she can just honor and serve her husband and find the way to the spiritual kingdom through him. Of course the accompanying requirement is that the husband be engaged in proper worship, that he direct all his efforts to pleasing the Supreme Lord. The wife in this case turns into the servant of the servant, which in the spiritual chain is equal in stature to the first servant.
Sita’s husband happened to be Bhagavan, God who possesses all opulences at the same time and to the fullest degree. She already loved Rama without motive, but during her time on earth it was also her occupational duty as a religiously wedded wife to support Him. Thus she used the Vedic principles to follow behavior that already gave her the highest pleasure. In a similar manner, the auspicious times of sandhya give the devoted souls an excuse to follow their devotional vows, to think of God through a sanctified process.
We see that Sita is described as a lovely woman. The exact characterization is shyāmā, which can mean “perfect in all regards”. As the male is the enjoyer and the female the enjoyed, the ideal female is one who is enjoyed to the fullest by the male. The ideal female requires perfect bodily features and beauty that doesn’t wither away with the passage of time. Since she was shyāmā, Sita possessed perfection in these areas. She is also described as “vara varnini”, which means of the best color or complexion. In this context it can mean “fair-skinned”. These are typically superficial attributes that are especially scrutinized in an arranged marriage system, where photos of the prospective bride and groom are passed around to be studied by the matchmakers. In Sita’s case none of these features really mattered, but since she is Rama’s wife, even her outward features are flawless.
She had inner beauty in her devotion to righteousness and outer beauty from her bodily features, but her gloriousness didn’t stop there. She was also known as Janaki, which means the daughter of Janaka. Thus her family heritage was spotless as well. Janaka was famous throughout the world as a pious king and elevated transcendentalist. His daughter inherited his good qualities, which meant that Sita was the ideal queen. Ravana already had the company of so many beautiful women, but he still wanted Sita. He offered her the role of chief queen, but of course she can never be with any man except Rama.
The sandhya rites would be performed with auspicious water that was available in a river that Hanuman was near. He was perched on a tree looking down on the scene in this Ashoka grove that was situated next to Ravana’s palace. He had spent so much time searching for Sita already but to no avail. Now he was inside this wonderful area of natural beauty, and he settled upon this one spot because he thought for sure that Sita would come by it. There was purity everywhere, so why shouldn’t the purest woman in the world come into Hanuman’s vision?
Though at the time Sita wouldn’t be walking about, the meeting would eventually take place anyway, showing that Hanuman’s intuition was correct. Hanuman’s purity made him qualified for that meeting. The impure Ravana tried to force himself on Sita and thus his meeting with her signaled his demise. On the other side, the pure Hanuman waited for the right time and place to see the beautiful wife of Shri Rama. Hence that meeting would only benefit him going forward. Thankfully the details of that fateful encounter are kept safe in the verses of the Ramayana, where they are regularly consulted and enjoyed by those looking for a higher taste in life, a meaning to the repetition of days encountered in a land of temporary highs and lows.
Deference to time and circumstance the pious way,
Auspicious is sandhya, the junction of night and day.
Though as God’s wife rules of religion she didn’t need.
Pious observances and rituals Sita always did heed.
Hanuman looking for her, King Janaka’s precious daughter,
Perhaps she’d do sandhya rites in lake with auspicious water.
Flawless features as shyāmā, wonderful also her complexion.
Devotion to God in life her only guiding direction.
Her beauty safely on perfection’s side,
In Hanuman’s heart she and husband Rama reside.