Thursday, January 24, 2013

Uneven Scales

Sita Devi“If one had to compare sovereignty over the planetary systems and Sita, the daughter of Janaka, sovereignty over the three worlds would not even reach a fraction of Sita.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.14)

rājyam vā triṣu lokeṣu sītā vā janaka ātmajā |
trailokya rājyam sakalam sītāyā na āpnuyāt kalām ||


Here Shri Hanuman provides another way to describe the glories of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. In this particular scene, he’s looking at her directly, and through him we are afforded the same vision. Though our eyes don’t directly see what he sees, based on the comparisons he makes we get an idea of how valuable her association is. And interestingly enough, through his words, we also get an idea of just how valuable Shri Hanuman is.

The comparison Hanuman makes here is to sovereignty over the three worlds. In the modern age, we usually think of power in terms of having control over a particular country. Even then the leader doesn’t have much power. For instance, in the United States the President garners much attention. Wherever he goes the band plays Hail to the Chief. He has a standing invitation to appear on any television talk show. He can appear on any show at any time and in essence make it a de facto campaign appearance, one that he doesn’t have to pay for. The show is benefitted by having a prestigious guest, and the President is benefitted by the exposure to the audience.

Yet in terms of governing, the President has little control. He is more or less a final vote. The Congress passes bills and the President can sign or veto them. He also decides where the military goes and who fills positions in the cabinet and judiciary, but again Congress has oversight. They control the purse strings, so the President can’t spend a dime without someone else’s approval first.

The control Hanuman mentions here has a much larger scope. If you are the real sovereign of an area, you can get whatever you want, whenever you want it. People respect you based on your position, and they are automatically nice to you. You can get whatever available beautiful woman you want as well, as who wouldn’t be attracted to awesome power? And Hanuman mentions sovereignty over the three worlds, which are the heavenly, earthly, and hellish planets. In the Vedas, the ancient scriptural tradition of India, there is mention of both heaven and hell, but more detail is provided about them than in other traditions. Residence in either area is not permanent, and once your term expires, you return to the earthly realm, which is situated in the middle.

Hanuman’s reference is to control over heaven, hell and the earth. Thus it represents the height of sovereign control. He says that even if a person had this power, its value would not compare to even a part of Sita. What does he mean by this? Why would it be more valuable to have Sita, the daughter of King Janaka?

When referencing sovereignty, it is understood that the scope of interest relates to material life. The summit of material existence is sex life, and so the more you can improve the quality of it the better situated you’ll be; at least that is the thought. The best way to increase the pleasure from sex life is to find a partner who is the most attractive. Thus for this comparison Sita is considered the most beautiful externally. Also, for a husband nothing compares to the feeling of knowing that your wife is devoted to you. Strength is an attractive feature in males and chastity in females. Sita is the most chaste woman, inheriting the dedication to piety found in her father. Thus her husband would have both the most beautiful woman and the most dedicated.

We don’t need to rely solely on a theoretical understanding to test Hanuman’s assertion. During this particular time period, the Treta Yuga, a fiendish character had sovereignty over a large portion of the world. Though officially he was just the king of Lanka, an island situated far away from any mainland, he was known throughout the three worlds. The celestials in heaven were afraid of him, and on earth no one wanted to fight him. From performing rigid austerities, he got the benediction of tremendous fighting prowess. As a result of his acquired strengths, he defeated many kings and then took their wives. Therefore he had so many beautiful princesses in his kingdom, and he enjoyed with them every night.

Despite his opulence in sovereignty, upon just hearing about Sita, he had to have her. He wasn’t satisfied until she became his wife. Unfortunately for him, that desire would continue to burn in him, eventually causing his entire kingdom to go up in flames. He took Sita away in secret and tried to make her his wife, but she refused to even look at him. He then kept her in a grove of Ashoka trees, threatening to kill her if she didn’t eventually capitulate. Female Rakshasas were ordered to harass her day and night, and she didn’t know if her husband Rama would ever come to rescue her.

Shri HanumanThis brings us to Hanuman. He was in Lanka to look for Sita, acting as Rama’s messenger. He noticed Sita from afar and immediately realized why Rama had worked so hard to try to find her. Hanuman also realized that his lengthy and difficult journey thus far had been worth it. As valuable as Sita is, she only belongs to Rama. She cannot be with any other man. This automatically makes Rama the most fortunate, or Bhagavan. The scriptures already reveal that Rama is the Supreme Lord as an incarnation, and from Hanuman’s comparison that fact is confirmed.

Though the valuable Sita belongs to Rama, Hanuman still got to see her. Unlike Ravana, he wasn’t interested in enjoying her as a wife. He looked at Sita as Rama’s wife, the person who gives the Supreme Lord the most pleasure. Hanuman was a devotee, and so he was able to derive the right kind of enjoyment from Sita’s company, which is the most valuable. What Hanuman doesn’t reveal in this section is that his company is equally as valuable. No amount of material opulence can compare to the words of praise Hanuman offers to Sita and Rama. No stock of gold can compare to the verses of the Ramayana that describe Hanuman’s heroic acts. And by the same token no amount of money can sway the devotees from pleasing Hanuman by regularly chanting the glories of his favorite two people, Sita and Rama.

In Closing:

If you took in one hand sovereignty,

Of the worlds numbering three,

 

Not to even a fraction would compare,

To Sita, Rama’s beloved wife so fair.

 

President is the ruler of the land,

But total power not in his hand.

 

Ravana too thought that he was strong,

But endlessly for Sita he would long.

 

Real value of Rama’s wife Hanuman knows,

Thus keeps her association wherever he goes.

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