Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Royal Treatment

Vishvamitra and Lakshmana in Janaka's assembly“Hearing Vishvamitra compliment the beautiful arrangements, the king became happy. Then, he offered beautiful thrones for Rama, Lakshmana and the muni to sit on.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 6.2)

kausika sarāhī rūcira racanā janaka suni haraṣita bhae |
taba rāma lakhana sameta muni kaham̐ subhaga siṃhāsana dae ||

The lion is the recognized king of the jungle, as it can even scare away the larger elephant. Its roar is so mighty that just upon hearing it the inferior animals run away. As the most powerful person in the jungle is a kind of ruler, many aspects of a ruler are likened to the leader of the jungle. The king is a lion in the sense that whatever he says goes. In ancient times he was the most powerful fighter, and thus he could protect his citizens from foreign attack. In Sanskrit, the king’s sitting place is described as a simha-asana, or lion-seat. Today this is better known as a throne, but the reference to the lion is still there, as you will see images of lions on the corners of the throne. Many thousands of years ago, King Janaka, the lion of the kingdom of Videha, offered such nice thrones to three exalted guests, who weren’t even specifically invited.

Why was it notable that they weren’t given specific invitations? This wasn’t an ordinary event. King Janaka was marrying off his lovely daughter Sita, who is the goddess of fortune. The marriage ceremony was a contest, where the winner would have to lift Lord Shiva’s bow. First come, first serve. Whoever would first lift the bow would win, ending the contest immediately. Two guests in particular were notable figures, but since they were away from home they didn’t receive the personal invitation that had gone out to all the kings of the world. Nevertheless, Janaka learned who the two were very quickly by talking to their leader. Once knowing that information, he did not fail to honor them properly.

Vishvamitra with Rama and LakshmanaThe leader was Vishvamitra, who actually called the forest his home. He was a brahmana, or a member of the priestly class, so he wasn’t in Videha for the contest. With him, however, were two handsome youths, both of age suitable for marriage. As the younger was a devoted soul who would never do anything to dishonor his beloved brother, only the elder was eligible for participating in the contest. Before he knew who they were, Janaka was enamored by them. He had never seen such beauty before. Perhaps Lord Brahma, the creator, made their bodies first and then used whatever materials he had left over to make the rest of the creation, including its beautiful natural wonders.

Janaka had previously experienced brahmasukha, the happiness of realizing the impersonal feature of the Supreme Lord known as Brahman. Yet from seeing the elder brother, Janaka felt a happiness hundreds of times greater than that. Vishvamitra then informed Janaka that these two boys were descendants of King Raghu, jewels of their line. The elder, the delight of Maharaja Dasharatha, was the leader of his four brothers. Named Rama, He was loved and adored by the younger brother Lakshmana. The two were roaming the forests with Vishvamitra to annihilate the enemies of the demigods.

A demigod is a sort of saintly character who can provide marginal benefits to a devotee. Likened to a cabinet member or administrative department head, a demigod works at the direction of the Supreme Lord, who is known as Vishnu or Krishna in the Vedic tradition. The royal order has the duty to protect the innocent people of the world and defend them against the attacks of the enemies of the demigods. The more powerful enemies can put up a good fight against the exalted heavenly figures. In those situations, Vishnu Himself arrives on the scene to offer protection, as He did in His incarnation of Lord Rama.

Once he learned more about Rama, Janaka remembered his oath. He had sworn to give away Sita to whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s extremely heavy bow. But now there was a problem. He wanted Sita to marry Rama, this beautiful youth who was so strong and brave that Vishvamitra used him for protection. Lakshmana was not eligible for the contest because a younger brother didn’t marry before an older one did. What if Rama couldn’t lift the bow? What would Janaka do? He never wanted to lose sight of this beautiful youth, who had captured his heart already.

Janaka shook off his fear over the contest and put on a good face. He gave the trio a tour of the svayamvara grounds, which he had elaborately arranged. The entire place was beautiful, as it hosted all the kings of the world. Janaka was famous for his chivalry, and thus his daughter garnered much attention. To receive a beautiful, chaste and devoted wife is considered a great blessing not only to the groom but also to his family. A good wife can make up for all the shortcomings of the husband, and through her support the husband and his family can stay dedicated to the righteous path and meet auspiciousness at the end of life.

While giving the tour, Vishvamitra complimented Janaka on his work. This made the king feel very happy. What happened next is quite significant. In the Vedic tradition, those not personally in the presence of the Supreme Lord are given a variety of tools to use in their worship. Just because you’re not in a church or temple doesn’t mean that you should forget about God, who is the reservoir of pleasure. To facilitate proper worship in any area, there is the tradition of deity worship. The deity is the signature representation of the Supreme Lord in a form that is worshipable and honorable. Proper worship of the deity is as good as offering obeisances personally to the Supreme Lord.

Sita and Rama deitiesDeity worship can be simple and it can also be quite elaborate. In the larger temples, the carved statues are offered thrones to sit on. This way the worshiper can look at God the proper way. Without a developed consciousness focused on bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, looking at God as an equal is not a good thing. If the worshipable object is on the same level as us, what good is worshiping them? We treat our friends differently than we do our elders. We make jokes with our friends and we never let them win an argument, for they are our equals after all. The offering of the throne is a nice gesture, as it shows the respect needed for understanding God in the beginning stages.

Along with the throne, there are opulent decorations and regular offerings of prepared food items, flowers, water, incense, lamps and other authorized paraphernalia. The pattern should be quite easy to recognize by now. Pretend that the deity is the actual person it depicts. In other circumstances, this sort of imitation doesn’t actually affect the worshiped figure. You may worship a picture or statue of someone else, but they have no way of knowing what you are doing. There is a difference with God, however. His deity is identical to Him. It is an authorized form that accepts the obeisances of the sincere souls who approach Him in a mood of love and devotion. The conditioned living entity doesn’t have the eyes to see God right away, though His presence is everywhere. The mercy of the deity accounts for that deficiency and thus allows anyone to make progress in their worship.

Janaka offered Rama, Lakshmana and Vishvamitra thrones to sit on, so in a sense he did deity worship in person. Rama and Lakshmana were junior to him, but Janaka used the pretense of hospitality to worship them properly. Vishvamitra was a member of the brahmana community, whose advice and consent can grant any benediction in life. It was through the advice of the brahmanas that Janaka initially settled upon the idea of a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony. Now that decision was bearing fruit, with Rama and Lakshmana seated on thrones in his kingdom. Janakpur turned into a temple that day, and the deity of Rama seated on the throne would be so pleased that He would return the favor by getting up and easily lifting Shiva’s bow. The jewel of the Raghu dynasty fulfilled destiny and alleviated Janaka’s fears. Keeping that same husband of Janaki seated on the throne of your heart, worship Him daily and He will never leave your sight.

In Closing:

Of the jungle the lion is the king,

Terror just from his roar he can bring.

 

In same way ruler enemies can defeat,

Thus lion’s symbols adorn his seat.

 

Simhasanas, thrones presented to his guests,

In hospitality Janaka always offered the best.

 

In human form Rama and Lakshmana their lordships,

Thus with his offerings king did wonderful worship.

 

Shri Rama with Janaka then always to stay,

By lifting bow and winning contest that day.

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