“Knowledge of the three periods of time (past, present, future) Vishvamitra holds in his hand, so why would he bring to this svayamvara boys devoid of strength?” (Janaki Mangala, 77)
There is a section in the Shrimad Bhagavatam where Narada Muni approaches his father Lord Brahma to hear about the cause of all causes. Brahma is considered the creator, the grandsire, the original living being. Every creature can trace their ancestry to him, and since he is responsible for the population of creatures, he knows about the present. Since he is the oldest person in the world, he also knows about the entire past, as Brahma’s original act of creating took place in what is the past for everyone else. He also knows about the future because it is due to his influence that future generations of creatures manifest. That same knowledge of the three time periods is found to some degree in the brahmana, who is the servant following in the line of devotional service established by Brahma.
“My dear father, all this is known to you scientifically because whatever was created in the past, whatever will be created in the future, or whatever is being created at present, as well as everything within the universe, is within your grip, just like a walnut.” (Narada speaking to Lord Brahma, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.5.3)
Past, present and future are the three time periods, and they are different for each person. My past is different from your past, and my future will be different from your future as well. Narada Muni, who is himself very wise, once approached Brahma to know the cause of all causes. Only Brahma could really know this since he was around at a time when no one else was. Brahma wasn’t the original cause, as he took birth from the stem of the lotus flower that grew out of the navel of Lord Vishnu. And Vishnu is a personal expansion of the Supreme Lord Krishna, who is thus known as the cause of all causes.
Brahma is provided knowledge of the Absolute through the medium of the heart. He then follows devotional service while simultaneously carrying out his duties as the creator. The first human beings are of the brahmana order, so they only know devotion to God. As such, they know of past, present and future through Brahma’s influence. Narada is also a brahmana, and from approaching Brahma, who initially approached Vishnu, his knowledge is perfect. Vishvamitra is a brahmana in this line, and through austerity, penance, and acceptance of authorized information passed down through disciplic succession, he knows past, present and future.
In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, it is interesting to note that women of the court in Janakpur were well aware of Vishvamitra’s knowledge. These sakhis, or friends to the queen, stepped in to reassure the worried queen about the outcome of a contest. This wasn’t a friendly competition or a game to watch to pass the time. The winner of the contest would get to marry the queen’s daughter Sita. She is the goddess of fortune, so whoever is blessed with her association is considered very fortunate. King Janaka and his wife got to raise her as their daughter, but when she reached an appropriate age, she had to be married off, lest she remain unprotected later on in life. The fortune of Sita’s association was to be granted to a capable prince. To ensure that the prince was capable of adequately protecting her, Janaka set up a contest, where the task was to lift an extremely heavy bow initially coming from Lord Shiva.
Princes from around the world came to Janaka’s capital city for the contest, and Vishvamitra arrived too, bringing two princes from Ayodhya with him. These youths captured the attention of everyone, both friend and foe alike. There were more friends than foes, as the innocent spectators of the town immediately took a liking to the two boys, who were named Rama and Lakshmana. The rival princes were on the opposite end, fearing over the potential outcome. Yet even those who were in favor of Rama and Lakshmana had cause for concern.
Rama was the elder brother, so Lakshmana would not participate in the contest. Sita’s mother noticed Rama’s delicate features and His exquisite beauty. She determined immediately that He was a perfect match for Sita; never mind the contest. The king had made a vow, however, so he could not now go back on his word. For Sita to marry this boy, the boy would have to lift up the bow, which previously required hundreds of men just to move. The queen began to worry, thinking that the desired outcome would not occur.
In stepped the sakhis to reassure her. They made a very good point by reminding her that Vishvamitra has knowledge of the three time periods in the palm of his hand. Narada Muni made a similar comparison when offering a prayer to Brahma. He said that Lord Brahma holds the information of past, present and future like a walnut within his grip. The walnut is rather small, so when it is inside the closed hand, it cannot move anywhere. Similarly, Vishvamitra knew of the past through study, was aware of the present through knowledge of his surroundings, and knew of the future based on proper assessment. Therefore he wouldn’t bring Rama and Lakshmana to this svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony, if they were not strong.
Vishvamitra previously had proved his knowledge of the future when he went to Ayodhya to specifically ask for Rama’s protection. Rama was quite young, and the father, King Dasharatha, did not want to let Him go off to the forest without protection. And yet Vishvamitra wanted this youth to protect him from the attacks of the wickedest creatures in the world. Lakshmana came along too, and the brothers showed that even with their beauty in youth, they could still defeat anyone in battle.
And now in Janakpur, Rama was slated to lift Shiva’s bow and marry Sita. The sakhis relied on Vishvamitra’s knowledge to allay the fears of the queen, and in a similar manner we can rely on the advice of the sages to know that bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the only way to win God’s favor. Through chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and hearing of Rama’s triumph in the assembly in Janakpur, know that victory will ultimately arrive for you too in the form of ascension to the spiritual kingdom.
With knowledge of past, future and present,
To Janakpur with two brothers sage went.
If of Rama’s abilities he didn’t know,
Why to contest would he go?
This information to queen friends gave,
So that from despair she would be saved.
Future of devotees Vaishnava knows as well,
That in spiritual kingdom in afterlife they will dwell.