“They pray to God to grant them blessings: ‘May You garner fame and return victorious. May You not lose a single hair while bathing.’” (Janaki Mangala, 29)
īsa manāi asīsahiṃ jaya jasu pāvahu |
nhāta khasai jani bāra gaharū jani lāvahu ||
The influence of yogamaya is so strong that even while in the presence of the Supreme Lord others are overcome with fear and concern over the future. In His spiritual manifestation as the eldest son of King Dasharatha, Lord Rama was so much loved and adored that the residents of the town prayed to God for His welfare as He embarked on a journey with Vishvamitra, the exalted sage residing in the forest. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were not yet twelve years of age according to the time elapsed from their appearance in the world, and yet they were called upon to protect Vishvamitra from hideous creatures who fought unfairly. Rama stayed true to His role as protector, and the residents, ignoring His tremendous fighting ability, prayed that He and His brother may return home safely, and especially victorious. They prayed that not a single head of hair would be lost while He would bathe.
What is the significance of this prayer? Why such a strange request made to God? The idea is that they didn’t want Rama to get hurt. Losing a single hair while bathing in a lake is as trivial a loss as you’ll find, but this fact was given attention because the residents of Ayodhya did not want any harm done to their beloved Rama and Lakshmana. The Lord’s sweet smile, the beautiful hue of His skin, which was similar to the dark-blue raincloud or the blue lotus that springs forth upon the sight of the sun, and His overall demeanor enchanted everyone. His brother Lakshmana was like a twin, with the only difference seen in his fair skin color. Isha is a word that addresses God’s position as the controller. The term Ishvara is also often used, which means the chief controller.
The prayer by the residents who watched Rama depart shows that they did not know He was God. Isn’t ignorance a bad thing? If we can’t identify someone properly, how can we interact with them in a meaningful way? Complete knowledge of another’s standing isn’t always helpful. For instance, if one of our friends or family members becomes famous or wealthy, should we then treat them differently? In these instances the more we can forget about their external stature, the better the relationship will be.
The same concept holds in the dealings with the Supreme Lord. His position as the most beautiful, renounced, wise, strong, wealthy, and famous is only worth knowing for those who originally believe that mortal men can hold this superior position. If you already believe in God, you are better off dealing with Rama under the sway of yogamaya, which is His direct energy responsible for clouding the vision of the surrendered souls. Through yogamaya, Rama’s mother Kausalya thinks He is helpless. King Dasharatha holds the strongest parental affection for the Lord. Even Rama’s eternal companions like Lakshmana and Sita, who both know how great Rama is and how He can defeat anyone in battle, still have concern for His welfare, not wanting Him to suffer in any way.
It is this concern that makes these personalities ideal candidates for receiving Rama’s association. Why would someone want to be around enemies? If you know that someone doesn’t like you, has no idea what makes you tick, and has reached erroneous conclusions about your position in life, would you enjoy spending long stretches of time with them? If, on the other hand, you had someone who cared about you so much that even if you were already taken care of they would never stop loving you, wouldn’t that person’s association be the most enjoyable to you?
Shri Rama was a descendant of the Raghu dynasty, which aside from having a reputation for piety was successful in its protection of the innocent. Therefore the concerned residents first asked God to make Rama successful in His mission. He was sent to protect Vishvamitra, and they knew that if He could do this His fame would increase at the same time. They didn’t curse the sage for taking Him to the forest or even the Rakshasas for causing such disturbances. The evil elements of society will always be there. Appeasement, diplomacy, and psychological warfare can only do so much. In some instances, the last resort of danda, or force, is the only worthwhile option.
When it is time for stiff punishment, the deliverer of justice must not be meek. He cannot be merciful either. The warrior must come strong or not come at all. The night-rangers scouring the forests looking to destroy the fire sacrifices of the sages did not play by the rules of warfare. They would hide their hideous forms until the last minute, thus lulling the sages into a false sense of security. Shri Rama and Lakshmana would have to defend Vishvamitra from these demons, and they would have to let their arrows fly without concern for the well-being of the attackers.
The prayers offered by the residents were very sincere as well. They wanted nothing for themselves. This is the natural sentiment of the spirit soul, which exists in all living body types. Only in the human species, however, can that loving spirit be consciously directed towards a particular area. You’ll see that during awards ceremonies the winners spend most of the time thanking other people that helped them. It is seen that most people prefer praising others over talking themselves up. It is said that a true hero doesn’t speak much, which shows that the chivalrous and brave fight out of duty and not out of the desire to earn fame. Selflessness is a byproduct of a saintly demeanor, which is acquired through following the highest system of maintenance, known as bhagavata-dharma.
The residents of Ayodhya followed bhagavata-dharma, though they may not have known it. They did pray to God often, but not for their own benefit. They performed their regulative tasks as a matter of duty, not out of any desire for personal upliftment. What could someone who has the divine vision of Rama in front of them ever want anyway? If I am in the company of the most merciful, the person who is most beloved and kind in return, why should I worry about any other kind of reward?
“May Indra protect you on the East, may Yama protect you on the South and Varuna on the West and Kuvera on the North.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 16.24)
These kinds of prayers would be regularly directed towards Rama during His time on earth. Many years later, after Rama would return home, He would be summoned to the royal palace around the time that it was announced He would succeed His father on the throne. At the time, Rama had already proven His immeasurable strength and His ability to stay safe through danger. Nevertheless, right before He left home, Rama’s wife Sita prayed to the different presiding deities of the material creation to protect her husband.
Many thousands of years later, the same Rama would appear in Vrindavana as Lord Krishna, the delight of Maharaja Nanda and mother Yashoda. The evil element at the time was concentrated in the neighboring town of Mathura, where the leader Kamsa was intent on killing Krishna. He once sent a powerful witch to Vrindavana to try to find baby Krishna and kill Him. Like the night-rangers in the forest harassing Vishvamitra, Putana changed her form into a beautiful woman that wouldn’t look conspicuous in the holy land of Vrindavana.
Putana was able to sneak into Krishna’s room and place Him on her lap. She came in with poison smeared on her breasts, so she was ready to kill the Lord by breastfeeding Him. Krishna granted her wish to temporarily act as a mother by kindly sucking milk from her breast. The problem for her, however, was that Krishna sucked the very life out of her. As she struggled to remain alive in the last moments, her original, hideous form revealed itself. The witch was so gigantic that after she was killed, her tumbling to the ground created a loud thud.
Hearing this, the cowherd women of Vrindavana came upon the scene and saw baby Krishna innocently crawling on the witch’s corpse. They couldn’t believe the hideous scene so they quickly picked up the young child and smothered Him with affection. Mother Yashoda then offered so many prayers to the Supreme Lord to protect her young son Krishna. She did not know that the person she was addressing, Lord Vishnu, was the very same Krishna standing in front of her. This innocent and heartfelt prayer was thoroughly enjoyed by Krishna, for there was no personal motivation on Yashoda’s part.
Rama and Lakshmana would not be harmed during their time with Vishvamitra. Shri Rama’s company is always beneficial, even to those He punishes. He would do away with several powerful Rakshasas, and also liberate Ahalya, the wife of the sage Gautama. But best of all, Rama would return home with a beautiful new wife named Sita. Through Vishvamitra’s request for protection, Rama would coincidentally make His way to the town of Tirahuta, where a self-choice ceremony was taking place to determine the marriage arrangements for the daughter of King Janaka.
The contest in Janaka’s kingdom was simple, but difficult at the same time. There was an enormously heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva placed in the sacrificial arena. So many kings from around the world tried to lift it, but none of them could. Seeing Rama’s beautiful and enchanting appearance, the onlookers in Tirahuta prayed to God to have Rama win the contest. Again, the prayer was not needed since Rama is the most powerful. Yet, just as in the case of the residents of Ayodhya, the well-wishers in Janaka’s kingdom did not know that Rama was God. Through pure love they worried for His well-being and also Sita’s. With a sincerity of purpose, they would gain the fruit of their eyes by seeing Rama lift the bow and marry the goddess of fortune.
The prayers offered by the residents of Ayodhya would eventually be granted. Rama would have to leave their company once more, this time for fourteen years. That was a long time of separation, but eventually He would return home triumphant and then happily take the helm as their leader. That same sweetheart holding the bow in His hands and standing on guard to protect the innocent can stay with us at all times through the chanting of His names: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The saints pray to always have the opportunity to recite the holy names and to make sure that as many people in the world as possible can do the same. As the prayers are offered in pure love, the Supreme Lord answers them.
Shri Rama, Dasharatha’s son of beautiful charm,
Though off You go, may there be no harm.
May victory in Your efforts you gain,
So that upon return glorious will be Your fame.
May no harm come upon You in the forest,
You and Lakshmana by the sage be always blessed.
That You don’t suffer at all we pray,
While bathing let all of Your hair on head stay.
From the forest the Rakshasas do You chase,
For Your triumphant return we cannot wait.