“With their beautiful hair on the head and their eyes like lotuses, the beauty of Rama and Lakshmana defeats the pride of millions of cupids.” (Janaki Mangala, 50)
kākapaccha sira subhaga sarorūha locana |
gaura syāma sata koṭi kāma mada mocana ||
Goswami Tulsidas here continues his description of Rama and Lakshmana seated in the assembly in King Janaka’s court. The two brothers were innocently looking upon the festivities, but others took notice of their wonderful bodily marks and auspicious dimensions. Rama was dark-skinned and Lakshmana fair, and every one of their facial features was notable. The poet fails to find words to describe their beauty, so he resorts to comparisons to known objects. With the proper reference, doing a comparison and stating that the object in question is superior to the reference object, the listener can begin to get an idea of the wonderful qualities extolled by the poet.
To be defeated by a powerful figure is one thing, but if you took millions of the same formidable force, it would be next to impossible to achieve victory. In the Vedic tradition the god of love, Kamadeva, is known for his beauty. He has the emblem of the fish on his banner and acts as cupid wherever he goes. He takes full advantage of the spring season, which enhances the desire for conjugal love within the earth’s population, who have just survived the harsh winter. Difficult it is to conquer cupid, for it takes a powerful ascetic like Lord Shiva to burn up the fire of lust from within the body.
Now just imagine if you had millions of cupids standing side by side. The combined beauty would be too much to fathom. Immeasurable would be the reservoir of kama, or desire, produced. Yet Tulsidas says that Rama and Lakshmana, while sitting in Janaka’s court, not overly dressed either, would easily defeat millions of cupids in beauty. One takes their pride from their most outstanding attribute. A fighter feels self-worth from emerging victorious in combat. A police officer takes pride from their ability to defend and protect the innocent. Supreme wisdom and knowledge are what fill the exalted teacher with pride, and dexterity the athlete.
For cupid, pride comes from outstanding beauty. Therefore to find someone more beautiful equates to having your pride defeated. You are humbled in defeat, made to know that you are not supreme in your attributes. Only Bhagavan, the most fortunate, possesses the opulences of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation to the fullest degree and at the same time. Bhagavan’s name is rooted in fortune, which is the same word used here by Tulsidas. He says that Rama and Lakshmana are subhaga, or supremely fortunate. Rama is the very same Bhagavan, appearing on earth in the guise of a warrior prince. Lakshmana is His devoted younger brother and also a partial incarnation of God.
It should be noted that Bhagavan retains His fortunate standing in every circumstance. In the scene in question, neither Rama nor Lakshmana were opulently dressed. They were living in the forests as protectors to the exalted sage Vishvamitra. They belonged to the famous Raghu dynasty, but their visit to Janakpur was not an official one. Vishvamitra led them to the kingdom, where a grand sacrifice was taking place. The religious function in question was to determine the husband for King Janaka’s daughter Sita.
Sita Devi is known as the goddess of fortune, so whoever has her association automatically becomes supremely fortunate. As Rama is Bhagavan, or the most fortunate, He is eternally in the company of the goddess of fortune. The sacrifice in King Janaka’s kingdom was to merely reunite the divine pair, who are still together to this day. Rama was the elder brother, so only He was eligible to marry Sita, as the younger brother would not marry before the older one.
Janaka, a pious king, gave Rama and Lakshmana thrones to sit on. The king didn’t know who they were at first, but Vishvamitra introduced them. He described the brothers as conquerors of the enemies of the demigods. The suras are the pious class, and they can live on earth or in the heavenly realm. Either place has the same basic feature set, except in the heavenly realm the duration of life is much longer. Opposite to the sura is the asura, or demon. They are generally against religious principles and thus like to harass the saintly class as much as possible.
“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.29)
Bhagavan is neutral by default, but if He sees that devotional activities are being thwarted, He either personally intervenes or sends one of His representatives. In the case of Vishvamitra and the suras during this particular time, Bhagavan personally descended upon the scene as Shri Rama. While in the forests with Vishvamitra, Rama, though very young, killed the wicked female night-ranger named Tataka. He and Lakshmana defended the sage so well that in return the muni gave the boys special mantras to be chanted during fighting. The sacred chants would transform the arrows shot from their bows into mini-nuclear weapons.
Janaka offered the trio special favor in his kingdom because of their splendid qualities. The king was reluctant to carry on with the ceremonies after seeing Rama. Though the Lord was shyama, or dark, in color, He was still the most beautiful person in the assembly. He was so chivalrous that He had left home at a young age to defend an elderly brahmana. The sage personally vouched for Rama and Lakshmana’s chivalry by declaring them to be protectors against the enemies of the demigods. Rama also belonged to the famous Ikshvaku dynasty, so His ancestry was spotless.
In other words, Rama was the ideal match for Sita. The person Janaka thought didn’t exist was now right in front of him. Ah, but too bad, for the contest was already set. The king can’t go back on his vow after the fact. The rules stipulated that whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s enormously heavy bow in front of the gathered assembly would immediately get Sita’s hand in marriage. All Janaka could do now was hope. He gave his guests a choice viewing location with comfortable arrangements. Hopefully no one else could lift the bow and Rama wouldn’t fail to deliver.
Bhagavan never fails in His mission, so there was no chance for Sita to marry anyone besides Rama. The beauty of the two brothers in the assembly set the proper mood for the onlookers. The beautiful eyes of the boys looked like the lotus flowers that float in the pond. Their beauty would crush anyone’s pride, including cupid’s, and yet they were just sitting there innocently, as if they had no idea what effect their presence had on others.
With that vision the pure-hearted saints and residents of Janakpur got to soak in the visual nectar. They formed an attachment to those two brothers which would last well beyond Sita and Rama’s upcoming marriage. The same attachment can be formed by regularly remembering that scene and cherishing it. If the vision of the fair and dark sons of King Dasharatha should ever slip away, recite the holy names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
Janaka could have called off the contest, but sheer beauty was not enough. The credentials earned off of past accomplishments could be challenged by the other kings as well, as news of Janaka’s contest had spread throughout the world. “Why should Rama and Lakshmana be granted special favors? Shouldn’t they have to earn their victories like everyone else?” These were the issues at hand. The immense strength required to lift the bow and the delicate features of the two youths created a nice paradox. Kamadeva, or cupid, isn’t known for being an excellent fighter. He is passion personified, so if anything he can strike at the heart of one’s strength and weaken them through desires for conjugal affairs.
Bhagavan is purna, or complete, so His beauty is as full as His strength. He would remind us of this fact by stepping up to the sacrificial altar and easily lifting the extremely heavy bow that so many kings had previously failed to even move. Janaka’s name and fame would be established by keeping his promise and creating a contest where Rama’s standing as the strongest person in the world would be known to all. Rama deserved to have the beautiful Sita as a wife, and the pleased onlookers deserved to delight in the scene. In the same way, the pure-hearted souls of the world should get to hear the wonderful pastimes of the Supreme Lord that are described in the Vedic texts and are so nicely synthesized in the poems and songs of Goswami Tulsidas.
With the arrows that he fires,
In victims ignites lusty desires.
Kamadeva’s beauty considered the best,
With it defeats pride of all the rest.
Tulsi says Dasharatha’s sons superior,
In beauty all others are inferior.
Beauty and strength don’t seem to match,
Yet Rama’s amazing feat onlookers did catch.
Lifted Lord Shiva’s bow for promise to fulfill,
Of King Janaka, who is famous to this day still.