Monday, November 26, 2012

Friends of the Queen

Rama, Lakshmana and Vishvamitra“Their faces shining like lightning are so beautiful that they defeat the pride of Rati. The queen and her friends are looking at the two princes with the muni, a picture that enchants the mind.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 9.1)

janu damaka dāmini rūpa rati mada nidari saṃudari sohavīṃ |
muni ḍhiga dekhāe sakhinha kum̐vara biloki chabi mana mohahīṃ ||

There are distinct ways to pass time depending on situation. Say, for instance, you are in a doctor’s office waiting for an appointment. Waiting is invariably the case, as the doctor is almost always full with patients, accepting more people than they can handle. Thus the waiting room becomes your resting area for a certain period of time. While there you might watch what is on the television, read the magazines that are on the table, or talk to other people waiting for the doctor. Yet these activities aren’t the primary focus, and once the situation is changed, you probably don’t miss your previous experience. In a ceremony to determine a marriage a long time ago, there was much to look at to pass the time, but one vision was so wonderful that it would stay with the attendees for the rest of their lives.

We can think of it another way. Say that you work in an office with people who like to go out to eat lunch. You work hard during the morning, so you look forward to getting out and just relaxing in the afternoon. The problem, of course, is in choosing where to eat. Some people have dietary restrictions, while others refuse to go to certain restaurants based on their opinion of them. Perhaps you then settle on a compromise area, a place everyone can agree on. No one would consider this their favorite place, and they likely wouldn’t eat there if the circumstances were different, but for the time being it will do.

The visit to the restaurant is a kind of interest, and these sorts of compromise interests exist in so many different situations. In Janakpur a long time ago it may have appeared that the interested women of the royal court were just passing the time staring at two handsome youths who were escorts to a respected muni, but it was more than that. The event was to determine the husband of the king’s daughter. The king was named Janaka and his daughter Sita. Royal families from around the world arrived due to the unique way in which the marriage would be determined. The typical method of using horoscopes of the prospective bride and groom was not used. The family ancestries were not compared, and neither were the qualities of the princes taken into account. Rather, the eligibility for marriage relied solely on one thing: the ability to lift an extremely heavy bow.

Thus it was quite natural for the people watching the contest to size up the participants. “Oh, look at this person. They appear very strong. Oh, look at that person. They don’t appear as strong, but see how beautiful they are. Oh, that person belongs to a wonderful family, so they would be an ideal match for Sita.” Much fanfare surrounded the event, as so many royal entourages arrived in King Janaka’s capital city. Yet it was the group that lacked any fanfare in arrival that garnered the most attention.

And from where were they coming? Did they bring a caravan? Was this like an official state visit? On the contrary, this group was led by a muni who called the forest his home. The peaceful setting of the wilderness is conducive to spiritual life, especially activity in the mode of goodness. The three modes of nature govern all material activity. In simple terms we can think of goodness as that which leads to true knowledge, passion to a neutral state, and ignorance to a degradation of the consciousness. As no one intentionally prefers to become less intelligent, the mode of goodness is always the preferred route. Ignorance and passion get in the way of cognizance of this fact, and so to be able to practice methods belonging to the mode of goodness is considered a boon.

“The mode of goodness conditions one to happiness, passion conditions him to the fruits of action, and ignorance to madness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.9)

The muni in question, Vishvamitra, had a problem with man-eaters mired in the mode of ignorance who were disrupting his religious observances. The same went for the other munis who called the forest their home. Vishvamitra asked to have two sons of King Dasharatha as his bodyguards. They were quite young at the time, so they could be considered his disciples as well. To please the spiritual master is the quickest way to make progress in developing consciousness, and these boys never failed to follow Vishvamitra’s requests. They actually didn’t need to progress in anything since the elder was the Supreme Lord Himself and the younger the servitor God, the origin of all spiritual masters.

Rama and Lakshmana by name, the brothers came to Janakpur by following Vishvamitra. This was after they successfully removed the fears of the munis in the forest. They had to defeat and kill the man-eaters, and this was a noteworthy task. Rama and Lakshmana were up to it because they were expert bow warriors. When they arrived in Janakpur, people couldn’t take their eyes off of them. The vision was a paradox. You had the innocence of youth, with delicate and beautiful features all across the body. And these boys were also fighters; so how were they able to protect the sages? And they had not a hint of pride or sin in them. They were protectors of dharma, or religiosity, so they never did anything that went against the standard moral codes.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, it is said that the females of the royal court were so beautiful that their faces shone like lightning. In the Vedic tradition, Madana, or Cupid, is said to be very beautiful. He can arouse amorous feelings in others through the arrows that he shoots, and the spring season is his most potent weapon to aid him in this task. Madana’s wife is known as Rati, and she is also amazingly beautiful. Yet here it is said that the women of the royal court could defeat the pride of Rati with their beauty. Their shining faces added a nice touch to the scene.

Sita and Rama's marriageThey, along with Sita’s mother and her attendants [sakhis], intently stared at the two princes from Ayodhya, who were with Vishvamitra. It is said that what they were looking at enchanted the mind. This vision wasn’t merely a way to pass the time, to fill the void until the contest actually took place. Rather, in this oddest of settings, the people of Janakpur tasted the fruit of their existence. To see God and hold affection for Him is a wonderful boon, fulfilling life’s ultimate aim. The human being can use discrimination, so when they see something that is divine, they can alter their behavior going forward to keep that vision in front of them. The necessary tool in this endeavor is the mind, which can conjure up any image, from any time period, at any time.

That we can go back to that famous day and bring to mind Rama and Lakshmana proves this fact. The saints write devotional literature to help facilitate this. The incident of Sita’s wedding became famous throughout the world, and accounts of it are found in the ancient Sanskrit poem called the Ramayana. Tulsidas wrote the Janaki Mangala anyway as an exercise in remembrance of God. He painted a wonderful scene that could be used to both pass the time and derive pleasure at any moment. The Supreme Lord’s beauty has a lasting influence, and to remember Him is the most worthwhile activity.

In Closing:

Madana, Cupid, instigator of amorous life,

So beautiful also is Rati his wife.

 

Wives of the royal court even her pride defeated,

Their eyes on balcony’s perch were seated.

 

Queen and her friends a glance also took,

Enchanted were their minds with just one look.

 

Gift of the two brothers and the sage,

Divine vision with all of them then stayed.

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