Monday, July 16, 2012

Painting the Picture

Lord Rama“…A broad chest, shoulders like a bull, mighty arms, wearing yellow clothes, a sacred thread, and a pearl necklace…” (Janaki Mangala, 53)

ura bisāla bṛṣa kaṃdha subhaga bhuja atibala |
pīta basana upabīta kaṃṭha mukutā phala ||

Goswami Tulsidas previously mentioned just how enamored everyone in the assembly was over the two youths brought in by the exalted Vishvamitra Muni. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing, and Janaka himself started to doubt whether his decision was correct. Was there really a need for a contest anymore? Previously the king believed that his daughter was so beautiful and virtuous that no man existed in the world who was deserving of her companionship for life. Though it was standard for a daughter to take on the role of a supporting wife in marriage, in this situation the pressure was put on the male to give protection.

A beautiful woman will garner much attention from males, as the urge for sex is especially strong in men. A human being has potency, and within the male it manifests through sex life, the ability to create another living being. To this end, the natural relationship with the opposite sex is sought out. Biologically, the woman tends to have different priorities and can have interactions with a man and not be tempted towards conjugal relations. If you put a beautiful woman into a room with many men, even if the men are in committed relationships, they will give the beautiful woman much attention. There is typically a purpose as well: to increase the closeness of the ensuing relationship. In the reverse situation, the man can turn into a friend or confidante of the group of women. Plus, being naturally stronger, the male has a better ability to fend off the advances than a woman does.

Janaka knew that his daughter’s beauty was extraordinary. She was an ideal daughter for the king, who was known throughout the world for his piety. He held a strong affection for her, but this did not preclude him from following protocol. When Sita reached an appropriate age, the king knew he had to arrange for her marriage, to find someone to protect her for the rest of her life. Janaka decided that a proper match couldn’t be made in the traditional way, so he decided to instead hold a contest.

For a pious king, your word is everything. Janaka made a vow to give Sita away to whoever could lift an extremely heavy bow originally coming from Lord Shiva, the god of the mode of ignorance. Every behavior we see can fall into one of three modes: goodness, passion, or ignorance. In the short description goodness leads to higher knowledge, passion to a neutral state, and ignorance to degradation. As the aim of the evolutionary process of reincarnation is to move upwards, towards a perfect consciousness, people who fall into the different modes are given religious rituals and regulations, which have an accompanying worshipable deity. The mode of ignorance lacks high knowledge of the self and also a temporary reward of fruitive activity that has some benefits. Ignorance doesn’t lead to anything tangible, so one shouldn’t desire to stay in that mode for too long.

“There are eleven Rudras, of whom Shankara, Lord Shiva, is predominant. He is the incarnation of the Supreme Lord in charge of the modes of ignorance in the universe.”  (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.23 Purport)

Lord ShivaLord Shiva, as a divine and worshipable personality, is not in the mode of ignorance, but he is assigned the status of worshipable figure for those in this mode. He grants benedictions to those who worship him properly, though he has no interest in such gifts. He lives like a recluse, with the holy name on his tongue serving as his wealth. He constantly recites the name of Rama to feel pleasure, and when he’s not chanting, he’s describing the glories of the Lord to his wife Parvati, the mother of the universe.

Lord Shiva also takes pleasure in glorifying God’s many incarnations and expansions, like Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna. In the Padma Purana, Mahadeva glorifies the twelfth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita in a discussion with Parvati. The Bhagavad-gita is a famous work describing a conversation between Lord Krishna and his friend Arjuna that took place on a battlefield some five thousand years ago. The work was subsequently divided into chapters based on the subject matter, and the twelfth chapter is considered the best one by Mahadeva, as it expounds on devotional service, which is a discipline above the three modes of nature.

As Lord Shiva’s intent is to stay in pure goodness and constantly connect with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, things directly relating to him are auspicious. His bow thus represented him in Janaka’s kingdom, and it served as a nice way to determine the suitable husband for Sita, the king’s daughter. But then Vishvamitra Muni came to town unexpectedly, with two handsome youths as his escorts. Word spread throughout the world about the bow-lifting contest, but Vishvamitra lived in the forest, and he didn’t have any sons that were candidates.

Rama and Lakshmana were sons of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya, and they were both unmarried. At the time they were in the forest with Vishvamitra defending against attacks from night-rangers. The brothers appeared in Janaka’s kingdom seemingly by chance, though the arrangement was made by higher authorities. Rama was the same worshipable figure of Mahadeva, and the same Krishna who would later deliver the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna. Lakshmana was Rama’s younger brother to the eyes of the world, but in spirit he was the Lord’s number one protector and friend.

Lord Rama and LakshmanaBecause of their divine qualities, Rama and Lakshmana garnered much attention when they entered, though they weren’t explicitly looking for it. They did not arrive like the other guests, who brought their royal clans with them. Think of an official state dinner hosted by the President of the United States. Now imagine that the dinner is in honor of every world leader. This sort of gives an idea of what was occurring in Janaka’s kingdom on this day.

Now, here came two boys who were not opulently dressed, as they were living in the forest. Yet they were so naturally beautiful that people couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Being God Himself, Rama especially garnered attention, though Lakshmana was practically a mirror image of Him, with the slight difference being that Rama was dark in complexion while Lakshmana was fair.

When Janaka saw the two boys, he thought that perhaps the impersonal Brahman he had previously worshiped had taken the form of two youths. He then heard about the boys’ ancestry and how they had protected the sage against the enemies of the demigods. In this way Rama, who was elder and thus eligible for participating in the contest, was the perfect match for Sita. He belonged to as famous a dynasty as you could get, the Ikshvakus, and He had such tremendous strength at a young age that He fought off the vilest creatures in the world.

Ah, but there was one slight problem. The king swore to give Sita away to whoever could lift Mahadeva’s bow. He couldn’t now go back on his word. Janaka held it together and decided to show the trio around the grounds, giving them thrones to sit on to watch the festivities. The above referenced verse describes how Rama looked while seated on that throne, when everyone else was looking at Him.

Previously we were told of the reaction others had, and in this verse we get an idea of what caused that reaction. Rama had a broad chest, shoulders like a bull, and mighty arms. These three features indicate strength, which is required in a fighter. Violence and force are only harmful when used improperly. When in line with religious principles, they help to protect the innocent, thereby creating peace when it is otherwise threatened. Rama was of the royal order, which held many responsibilities, with fighting enemies included among them.

Lord RamaRama wore yellow clothes, as is standard for Lord Vishnu. The Vedas describe the Supreme Absolute Truth as having no form and a form. The formless aspect is a sort of energy that pervades space. Every living being has a spark of the spiritual force within them, though we can’t see it. The results validate the fact that there is something amazing within each of us. As that force pervades all of space, it can be thought of to be a singular collection. The individual spirit is Brahman, and the Supreme Spirit is Parabrahman, though we can’t necessarily see either one.

The formed aspect is the original, and something can only be without form if something with form exists. That spiritual form is inconceivable in its brilliance, especially to eyes that can be tricked into mistaking a rope for a snake. The spiritual forms of the Supreme Lord are many, with Lord Vishnu being one of them. Sometimes Rama is considered an incarnation of Vishnu, while other times He is described as the original Lord. In the Narasimha Purana, the half-man/half-lion incarnation of Vishnu is described to be the original personality, but there is no contradiction. Vishnu, Krishna, Rama, Narasimha and the other avataras are equally the original Lord, whose personal expansions are non-different from Him. In all of these forms, the Supreme Lord wears yellow garments.

“Lord Narasimhadeva is here, and He is also there on the opposite side. Wherever I go, there I see Lord Narasimhadeva. He is outside and within my heart. Therefore I take shelter of Lord Narasimhadeva, the original Supreme Personality of Godhead.”  (Narasimha Purana)

Rama wore a sacred thread across His body. The brahmanas, the priestly class, are known as dvija, or twice-born. The first birth is from the parents and the second takes place during initiation with a spiritual master. Initiation marks the beginning of accepting the sublime instruction of Vedic teachings, and for the brahmanas the instruction applies to the mode of goodness, which leads to the highest knowledge. Formerly, the kshatriyas and vaishyas would also receive sacred threads, and they took instruction from brahmanas as well. Since their occupational duties involved fighting and trade, the instruction they received was slightly different. Nevertheless, the sacred thread marked the sign of a second birth for the eldest son of King Dasharatha, thus showing that He was cultured and not living like an animal. The ability to practice religious principles is what separates the human beings from the less intelligent animals.

Rounding out the sweet vision were the pearls worn around Rama’s neck. That mental picture is nicely painted by the poet in this verse, and regularly keeping that vision in the mind can only do good things for one’s mood. The people in Ayodhya couldn’t keep their eyes off of Rama, and they would receive the fruit of their existence when He would lift Lord Shiva’s bow and wed Sita.

In Closing:

Broad was His chest,

With necklace of pearls the best.

 

Having shoulders like a bull,

Arms with might were full.

 

And around body a sacred thread,

To this vision peering eyes led.

 

Hopefully this youth to win contest,

Lift Shiva’s bow, pass strength test.

 

Verse of Janaki Mangala this image paints,

Authored by Goswami Tulsidas the saint.

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