“Hearing of the muni’s greatness, patience came to the queen. Then her friends told her of Rama’s feat of slaying Subahu.” (Janaki Mangala, 78)
A justifiable fear for a person starting out in devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is that through surrendering, or sharanagati, other aspects of life will go unattended. To worship without attachment for material gain is the highest form of sacrifice, and to sacrifice something means to give it up, all for a purpose. Therefore if one is to give up something, are they not going to lose it? What if they don’t want to lose it? More importantly, what if the sacrifice isn’t successful? What if it gets destroyed at the last moment, leaving the worshiper with nothing? The incident of the slaying of the demon Subahu shows how the Supreme Lord is not only the enjoyer of sacrifice, but also its protector.
“All living bodies subsist on food grains, which are produced from rain. Rains are produced by performance of yajna [sacrifice], and yajna is born of prescribed duties.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.14)
In the Bhagavad-gita it is said that at the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures instituted the process of sacrifice and said to man to be happy through its implementation. “All good things will come to you if you sacrifice,” which implies that the opposite behavior leads to all bad things. This should make sense. If you are completely selfish all the time, after a while people aren’t going to be so nice to you. You have to compromise a little in order to get along with others.
In the higher scheme, the elements we receive for our personal use were not created by us, so to completely ignore the power of the higher authorities is not very wise. We use the sun’s light and heat, but to say that we created them is silly. It is even sillier to say that a few chemicals just collided to make the sun, for if that were the case then why not repeat the same process today? Just create a tiny sun, one that stays in your closet. It doesn’t have to heat that large of an area, just the few feet inside of your room. Ah, but this is impossible to create, as every source of light and heat that we generate requires some sort of energy. That source will never burn in perpetuity without requiring some outside help. Yet the sun has been autonomous since the beginning of time and it will continue to burn well into the foreseeable future.
Sacrifice helps to curb the ego, which falsely tells us that we are everything and that everything is in our control. The exact implementation of sacrifice varies based on time and circumstance. In some traditions, the sacrifice is to give up eating meat for a certain period of time. In others it is to stay awake for a certain number of hours on a specific day. In the Treta Yuga, the sacrifices of the sages required completion in order to deliver the desired benefit. These sages took refuge in the forest because there were less distractions there. No one to bother them, and so hopefully nothing to interrupt their concentration once they initiated themselves for the yajna.
But there was a problem during a particular period of time. Night-rangers, creatures who could also change their shapes at will, would pounce on these sacrifices just as they were about to finish. This meant that all the effort went to waste. Who would do such a thing on purpose? What harm were the sages causing? Ah, but to one who thinks that there is no God, that man is meant to enjoy fully on this earth without consequence, the resources are finite. Therefore it’s every person for himself, sort of like in The Hunger Games book but to the largest scale. These sages were pious and renounced, and therefore they didn’t possess much. Through their sacrifices, however, the celestials, the demigods in charge of distributing life’s essentials, were fed. The demigods were the enemies of the night-rangers, so the best way for the enemies to attack would be to go after the source, i.e. disrupt the sacrifices.
Vishvamitra was a different kind of sage. He would perform these sacrifices in the forest, but his primary aim was devotion to God. Thus it was not surprising that the Supreme Lord would arrive on the scene to personally protect his yajnas. In His incarnation as Lord Ramachandra, God once protected Vishvamitra’s yajna as two notorious night-rangers prepared to attack at the last minute. Maricha and Subahu and their associates appeared just when the sacrifice was about to finish. They started raining down blood on the scene. Rama, though a youth at the time, prepared His bow and arrow for combat. His younger brother Lakshmana was with Him, and as if to predict what He was going to do, Rama explained His tactics to Lakshmana prior to enacting them.
Maricha was struck with an arrow from Rama that thrust him hundreds of miles away into the ocean. Subahu was then slain by Rama’s arrows, as were the other night-rangers who attacked. In this way Vishvamitra’s confidence in Rama was affirmed, as it was his idea to go to Ayodhya and ask the king for Rama’s protection. This incident also proved that the devotees need not worry over losing out on other things when there is full dedication to sacrifice. If there is a desire for a personal reward, the yajna may not always complete successfully. This is the way of karma, as so many past results go into influencing future outcomes. The desire for personal enjoyment makes the sacrifice impure to a degree as well, and with impurity there is the chance of failure.
In pure bhakti, the only desire is to be able to continue to serve God. That service can take place in practically any situation, and the Supreme Lord makes sure that the tools and conditions necessary for that worship are provided to the devotee. In this present age of Kali, which is marked by quarrel and hypocrisy, the prescribed sacrifice is the sankirtana-yajna, or the chanting of the holy names. Anyone can chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as a sacrifice to God and be assured of all good things. Shri Rama is always standing by with His bow upraised to protect the devotee from foreign attack.
If devotional service I take up with care,
That other obligations missed I’m scared.
And what if after taking my seat,
The sacrifice doesn’t complete?
Will it all be in vain?
What will have been my gain?
Look at when muni’s sacrifice Shri Rama did guard,
Hurled attacking Maricha away many hundred a yard.
By Rama’s presence fears went away,
In this age with confidence holy names say.