“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)
Okay, so you’ve been working on something for a while now. This something can be anything, but for this example, we can pretend that it is some type of structure. It is complex in nature, so you had to be really careful while you were building it. The pieces had to be inserted in just the right sequence and spacing in order for the structure to remain sturdy and safe. There is one final piece, one last obstacle towards completion. Just as you are about to lay the last “brick” so to speak, an enemy comes to the scene and ruins everything. They knock down your building and take great delight in it, laughing in your face. They could have attacked at the beginning, but it is more demoralizing to the victim to wait until the very end. Something similar was a regular occurrence in the quiet forests of Dandaka many thousands of years ago, that is until the eldest son of King Dasharatha came to the scene.
The sage Vishvamitra knew of Rama’s divine nature. That is why he specifically asked for Him from the King of Ayodhya. Maharaja Dasharatha was reluctant to part with Rama, who was his most cherished son. But the pious kings of those times never refused the requests of the priestly class, and so Rama, though young at the time, went off to the forest with Vishvamitra. Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana came along as well, and in this way the sage had two great protectors with him.
It didn’t seem that way to outside observers. It looked like the elder sage was walking around with young students who were full of exuberance. It is said in the Janaki Mangala that Rama would chase after deer in fun and pluck flowers to make garlands. His excitement would temper when He would remember the presence of the sage, who was to be treated like a father.
Though they were young, the brothers would nevertheless be called upon to provide protection that was not available anywhere else in the world. The first test was the female Rakshasa named Tataka. She had been harassing the sages in the forests for a long time, but since she was a woman Rama was reluctant to take up arms against her. He finally gave up His reluctance at the insistence of Vishvamitra. In tandem with Lakshmana, Rama killed the female demon in a fair fight. As a reward the brothers received powerful weapons as boons. These weapons were special arrows that had potent effects when used properly.
Killing Tataka earned Rama more than enough fame, but His stature would increase after the next episode. In Vedic culture, there are so many styles of religion and sacrifice, all depending on what your aim is. The ultimate aim is to have love and devotion to God, but as this is a difficult platform to reach, one requiring millions of births just to become aware of, there are other processes recommended for gradual advancement. The yajna, or sacrifice, is a central practice that helps one purify their consciousness. The sages during this ancient time would regularly perform these sacrifices in the quiet wilderness.
The issue was that the yajnas required a certain amount of time for maturation, sort of like planting a tree and waiting for the fruit to grow. Just because you plant a seed doesn’t mean that the desired outcome will manifest immediately. You have to see the entire process through in order to taste the fruit. In a similar manner, in a formal Vedic ritual you have to recite the mantras properly and wait for the proper amount of time in order to get the desired benefit.
On one occasion Vishvamitra initiated himself for a sacrifice. He required concentration for six days and nights; no disturbances. Rama and Lakshmana were there to ensure that there were no interruptions. Sure enough, everything went smoothly until almost the very end, when two wicked creatures were ready to mount an attack from the sky. Vishvamitra could not break away from the sacrifice; otherwise the entire effort would have been for naught.
“Then I, resembling a cloud and having molten-golden earrings, made my way into Vishvamitra's ashrama, for I was very proud of my strength due to the boon given to me by Lord Brahma. As soon as I entered, Rama quickly noticed me and raised His weapon. Though He saw me, Rama strung His bow without any fear.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.16-17)
Without blinking an eye, Rama strung His bow and fired a powerful weapon at the demon Maricha. The force of the blow sent the night-ranger flying one hundred yojanas away into an ocean. Rama next took up another weapon and shot it at Subahu, Maricha’s partner in crime. Subahu wasn’t as fortunate, as this weapon killed him. Rama then killed the rest of the night-rangers that were part of the pack, allowing Vishvamitra to successfully complete his sacrifice. The sage was very pleased with Rama, telling the Lord that He had upheld the faith of Dasharatha and himself, both of whom believed in Rama’s fighting ability.
This incident was related to the mother of Sita Devi during a time of grave doubt. Later on Vishvamitra would lead Rama and Lakshmana to the kingdom of Janakpur, where a contest was being held to determine Sita’s husband. Whoever would lift the enormously heavy bow in the assembly of gathered princes would immediately be proclaimed the victor and win the hand of the beautiful princess, the daughter of King Janaka.
So many princes came and tried, but none of them could even move the bow. Then Sita’s mother saw Rama and she immediately thought that He should marry her daughter. She worried over the outcome of the contest, however, as Rama appeared to be very youthful, possessing delicate features. How was He going to lift such a heavy bow? “He might even get hurt while trying,” is what the mother thought.
The sakhis, the friends of the queen, reminded her of Vishvamitra’s knowledge of past, present and future, and also of Rama’s glory of slaying Subahu. The contest of the bow was also a kind of sacrifice, and Rama’s presence was required for its successful completion. He would once again uphold the honor of the sage Vishvamitra by lifting the bow, thereby ensuring that Janaka’s effort in preparing the sacrifice did not go to waste. The successful outcome arrived again, due to the grace of Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
To erect large building effort taking,
Put in days and nights painstaking.
What if suddenly an enemy to come,
To knock down your building, all work undone?
This certainly would be very bad,
That on precipice of success to make you sad.
For yajnas in forest sages on time did count,
Threatened by attacks that night-rangers did mount.
But Rama there to string His bow fast,
Sent away Subahu and Maricha with a blast.
The same Rama to protect Janaka’s vow,
To go for naught He would not allow.