“Feeling bad over his vow after understanding what it meant, the king started to lament. Yet he kept himself very patient and went and showed his guests the svayamvara grounds, offering them all kinds of respect.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 6.1)
lāge bisūrana samujhi pana mana bahuri dhīraja āni kai |
lai cale dekhāvana rangabhūmi aneka bidhi sanamāni kai ||
“Uh oh. I made a big mistake. What seemed like a good idea at the time is now turning out the wrong way. Everyone is watching me too, so how do I hide my feelings? I’m not just a little sad; I’m utterly dejected. How am I going to fix things so that my previous error does not result in the worst possible loss? I made my decision based on the good counsel of people I trust, and there was deliberation, because the decision would have resounding effects. It wasn’t a choice made on a whim, and still somehow now it looks like it was a mistake. Oh well, what choice do I have but to continue on, to pretend like I am not affected?”
The mind can move very quickly, and so thoughts like these rushed through King Janaka’s mind within a few seconds after he glanced upon the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama. The eldest son of King Dasharatha had a beauty that seemed unimaginable. Lord Brahma is the creator, so every visible covering on an individual is his handiwork. Sort of like the sculptor who takes their raw materials to make something beautiful, Brahma has the ability to give any person beauty, wealth, good parentage and intelligence. Yet Rama’s beauty was something out of this world. His younger brother Lakshmana, who was accompanying Him at the time, had an almost identical countenance, with the lone exception his bodily complexion, which was fair while Rama’s was dark.
The thought was that these two boys must have been Brahma’s first creation. Then, with whatever elements he had left over he created the rest of the world and its creatures. King Janaka had previously felt brahmasukha, or the pleasure of realizing Brahman. That happiness is not tasted by everyone. In fact, it is one of the most difficult pleasures to find, as no amount of exercise or money can bring it about. Only through steadfast practice in yoga, with a mind connected to the impersonal feature of the Supreme Spirit, can one even think of tasting the transcendental association of Brahman.
Janaka tasted brahmasukha from practicing yoga while simultaneously carrying out his occupational duties as a king. This is the method of practice followed by the most elevated transcendentalists. The eligibility for tasting transcendental happiness is not dependent on gender, social status, or explicit desire for yoga. Many years later a sweet mother in the farm community of Vrindavana would follow Janaka’s behavior, tending to her household chores throughout the day but remaining in yoga the whole time.
As Janaka could carry out a king’s duties, which require passion in defending the innocent and detachment in distributing charity, without breaking his yoga, any temporary bout of elation or sadness surely couldn’t phase him. But the vision of Rama had a profound effect on him. Rama and Lakshmana were visiting the kingdom with Vishvamitra Muni. Think of a set of bodyguards who protect a priest and you sort of get an idea of the particular role of the two brothers. They were disciples at the same time, so they treated Vishvamitra like their revered spiritual master, whose orders are never to be disobeyed. The muni derived tremendous pleasure from being protected by the brothers, who though young at the time could defeat the most powerful enemies.
At the time Janaka was holding a svayamvara for his beautiful daughter Sita Devi. The marriage hadn’t been arranged yet; the groom would be chosen from the visitors. As the daughter of the most pious king deserves the most chivalrous prince for a husband, a contest would determine the winner of Sita’s hand. Whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s extremely heavy bow would win the company of Sita, the goddess of fortune. She would grace the triumphant prince with her beautiful vision every day, and she would bless his family with great fortune.
Janaka settled upon the contest option after consulting with his priests. He wanted only the best for his daughter, so any ordinary fellow would not do. But now seeing Rama, Janaka remembered his vow and started to lament. Why the worry? Well, what if Rama didn’t win the contest? What if He failed to lift the bow? Then, by rule, Sita couldn’t marry Rama. Janaka settled upon the contest because he couldn’t think of a suitable husband for her. But now here He was, more perfect than anyone could imagine. We each have our own idea of what a perfect person is, but the Supreme Lord breaks all boundaries of thought. The human brain has limited abilities, which means that imagination is limited as well. No one could ever imagine Rama’s beauty, which was accompanied by His terrific character. No one is more respectful than Rama, and since He had protected Vishvamitra from the attacks of vile creatures like Tataka, no one was more powerful than He. His family line was also splendid. So everything about Him was compatible with Sita.
As if dealt a blow to the stomach, Janaka couldn’t get the vow out of his mind. What a mistake he had made, or so he thought. Despite the situation, he shook off the despondency and took his guests around the svayamvara grounds. Such a great king never allows anyone else to know that he’s not doing well. Why would he want to bring everyone else down? He was the host after all. It is said in the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala that the guests were given all sorts of respect as they were shown around. To disrespect a guest means to make them feel unwelcome. If the host should burden the guests with their problems immediately upon their arrival, what sort of welcome would that be?
Janaka’s worries would turn out to benefit him in the end. For starters, it would add some anticipation to the contest. When Rama would step up to the arena, all eyes would be on Him, with many praying to God for His victory. This is ironic considering that Rama is the person who would hear those prayers. Deciding to grace the Raghu dynasty with His presence, Rama was the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the guise of a human being, with His primary mission to take out the evil element concentrated on the island of Lanka at the time. Thus there was no way for Rama to fail at lifting the bow.
Janaka’s vow also further enhanced the glory of Rama, and Lakshmana too. Rama is celebrated today for lifting a bow that no one else could even move, and Lakshmana is His faithful younger brother. A younger brother like that is loved and appreciated by an elder one like Rama, who has such good qualities. The king’s vow increased the fame of the Raghu dynasty, which had previously set the table for Rama to appear in its family. The king and his queens who raised Rama were made proud on that day, and all the people of Ayodhya who loved and adored Rama basked in His victory as well.
If the vow had not been taken, or if it had been revoked, the grandeur of the event would have been diminished. Janaka would have been blamed for being dishonest, someone who doesn’t follow through on what they say. Though he felt sad over having made a vow that had the potential to hurt him, he nevertheless stayed true to his character, giving respect to Vishvamitra, Rama and Lakshmana. Thus Janaka gives a great example on how to live life. So many decisions will be made that don’t pan out or which seem like they will bring bad results. There is no such thing as peace in a land where everything is temporary. If you win the lottery and have all your expenses taken care of for the rest of your life, you still have to worry over what to do with your time. You have to make sure to protect your winnings as well.
There can never be full protection in a place where everything is destined for destruction, be it in one day or one hundred years. Therefore the concern over the outcome of events never should take precedence. The attention to dharma, or religiosity, is what proves to provide the ultimate good to the individual, as it did for Janaka. He stayed true to his vow to uphold religious principles, harboring love for the Supreme Lord all the while. That love was all that was required to have the right outcome: Rama as Sita’s husband.
Commitment to hospitality is the host’s test,
Must make feel welcome and wanted the guest.
With fear over uncertain outcomes mind is harassed,
But burden on to arriving guests shouldn’t be passed.
Lament from vow consuming Janaka the host,
But resolve from him now required the most.
To give respect to his word the people he owed,
So visitors the svayamvara grounds he showed.
With fear over outcomes no need to be consumed,
From Shri Rama’s strength blissful end always assume.