“Looking at Rama all the princes became disappointed. ‘Abandoning his vow, Janaka will give Sita to the dark-complexioned youth for marriage.” (Janaki Mangala, 57)
bheṃ nirāsa saba bhūpa bilokata rāmahiṃ |
pana parihari siya deba janaka barū syāmahiṃ ||
There was no way Janaka was going to break his vow. If he had been inclined to go that route, he wouldn’t have arranged for the marriage ceremony in the first place. It was his commitment to dharma that brought all the princes from around the world to his kingdom for that special day, the event of events. Whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s bow would win Sita’s hand in marriage. This was the promise made by the king, and because of his truthfulness and the divine qualities of his daughter, the assembled princes from around the world were eager to participate in the contest and hopeful of emerging victorious.
Ah, but there was a newly introduced wildcard. This handsome youth with a dark-blue complexion arrived on the scene with His equally as beautiful younger brother and the venerable rishi Vishvamitra. You couldn’t have created a better contrast if you painted the picture yourself. On the one side you had a line of arriving guests that looked like a conveyor belt. The princes didn’t come alone. They had their royal entourages with them, which included priests and paraphernalia required for travel.
“Gather all essentials and pack them in securely so that we’ll have whatever we need for the journey and the hopeful extended stay in Janaka’s kingdom.” The princes leaving home were on their way to a tournament-style venue. If you’re a sports competitor participating in a tournament, the goal is to make it to the final rounds. This means that the longer you stay at the tournament site as a participant, the more successful you are.
There were no extended rounds at this contest. It was one and done. You had one shot at victory, and if you didn’t win, you’d have to sit down and watch others make the same attempt. If you should happen to emerge victorious, you would get to marry the goddess of fortune in a grand ceremony. The wedding would likely take several days and you’d get to return home with the beloved princess and her maidservants. In this way there was a lot riding on the outcome of the event. The participants hoped to have an extended party, and the people back home wished for a triumphant and jubilant return.
Lord Rama, on the other hand, arrived at the event without much fanfare. He hadn’t gone there to specifically participate in the contest. He and His younger brother Lakshmana had other pressing matters which warranted attention. The lives of the innocent sages residing in the forests were at stake, as they were troubled by the attacks of the fiendish night-rangers, who changed their shapes at will and paid no regard to innocent life. A priest is not bothering anyone if he lives by himself away from society. What need then did Maricha and his band of Rakshasas have to harass saintly ascetics?
Never mind their motives, for one can spend their entire life studying the behavior of miscreants and not get anywhere. The more important issue was to provide protection. For this King Dasharatha’s eldest son was called to the scene. Though He was a youth with delicate features, there was not a single hole in His defensive capabilities. With His bow and arrow He could defeat an unlimited number of attackers. Add to the mix Lakshmana, who is equally as capable in fighting, and you get an impenetrable wall of protection.
After defending the sages in the forest, the unselfish brothers made it to Janakpur at the direction of Vishvamitra, who was welcomed kindly by King Janaka. The trio were given thrones to sit on to watch the festivities. Though they didn’t arrive in large caravans, the two brothers drew attention from the onlookers. Rama was especially noteworthy because He was the elder brother, which meant that He was eligible to participate in the contest. Lakshmana was younger and since Rama wasn’t yet married it would have been a sin for him to marry.
King Janaka initially didn’t want to marry off his daughter. He found her through divine intervention, in a field of all places. She was a baby at the time, and since he was childless she was a true blessing in his life. He loved her so much that he didn’t want to give her away to just any man when the time was right. But he knew that if he kept his daughter unmarried, he would invite ridicule from relatives and the citizens of the state.
As a suitable compromise, Janaka decided on the bow-lifting contest. He vowed to give Sita away to whoever could first lift the extremely heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva. This vow combined with Janaka’s respected standing in the world brought the many princes to his city. Though they were very powerful, they could not lift the bow. One by one they approached the sacrificial arena, made their attempt, and then paid respect to the bow as they left.
Now seeing Rama sitting there in all His beauty, the princes started to wonder if Janaka would break his vow. “We can’t compete with this dark-complexioned youth of divine features. He is so enchanting that He defeats the pride of millions of cupids. Why is Janaka even going to waste time with the contest? This youth is obviously the perfect match for Sita, so we don’t stand a chance.”
Though they were rooted in defeatism, these kind sentiments served to praise Rama even more. It is one thing for devoted souls to offer praise, but these were competitors, people trying to win the contest before Rama could. The Supreme Lord’s competitors can’t help but acknowledge and praise His qualities. Previously, when the wicked night-ranger Maricha had attacked Vishvamitra, Shri Rama, without blinking an eye, without breaking a sweat, calmly strung His bow and shot an arrow that struck Maricha so hard that it flung him over eight hundred miles away. Maricha never forgot that incident, and he knew that he only remained alive because of Rama’s mercy.
Now the contestants were watching Rama and they felt defeated already. The beauty of the Supreme Lord was so magnificent that they irrationally thought that Janaka would break his vow. Indeed, many of the town’s women had hoped that Janaka would break his promise, for what if Rama couldn’t lift the bow? In that case the king’s vow would serve to prevent the match made in heaven. That wouldn’t be good.
But things were arranged in this way for a reason. The fear of the competing princes should have been rooted in Rama’s strength, which was seemingly overshadowed by His delightful, youthful appearance. Contradictory attributes exist in the Supreme Lord, and this fact is very hard to understand for the mind conditioned by the bounds of dry logic. Rama is both formless and with form. His formless feature lacks His personal presence, whereas His spiritual form brings sweetness in association. The sweetness of that form was so strong that Rama defeated the pride of the princes participating in the contest.
Rama’s spiritual features can carry out any function. His delicate hands can lift a bow as heavy as iron. His sweet smile can instill both delight and fear. But best of all, the sound of His holy name can deliver the fallen souls drowning in an ocean of material suffering, where there is constant competition and uncertainty over the future. The holy names of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, bring the delight of the Raghu dynasty to the mind’s vision. There was no reason to fear Janaka breaking his promise, for Sita and Rama were destined to be with one another. Shri Rama would win the contest, playing within the rules, and thus prove to the world that He is worthy of the affection of the goddess of fortune.
“Wedding of Sita and Rama king will make,
And with that his promise he’ll break.”
Confidence of princes Rama’s beauty shook,
Afraid of Janaka’s vow breaking after just one look.
Forms of the Supreme Lord there are more than one,
Within any of them anything can be done.
In a youth heavy bow He can lift,
To eyes of devotees His victory a gift.
No fear, Janaka’s promise to stay true,
That it wasn’t their day the princes already knew.