“Unable to get the desired result, some made an excuse and stayed where they were, while others went to see the bow. Like a monkey examining a coconut, they each sat back down with their heads hanging down.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 11.1)
nahiṃ saguna pāyau rahe misu kari eka dhanu dekhana gae |
ṭakaṭori kapi jyoṃ nāriyalu sirū nāi saba baiṭhata bhae ||
This bow was so intimidating that some were afraid to even try to lift it. The bow was the reason they were there in the first place. The princes came to try to win the hand of the most beautiful princess in the world. And to do that required lifting a bow in front of so many other people. But some were intimidated by the bow to the point that they wouldn’t try to lift it. Their behavior set the table nicely for the ultimate triumph of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The famous fable relating to the fox and the grapes gave rise to the popular expression, “sour grapes.” The fox tries to reach for grapes that are up high on a vine. After a failed attempt, the fox changes his tune, saying that the grapes are probably sour anyway. The fox doesn’t know that for sure, but in order to massage its ego, to feel better about the failure, it dismisses the grapes as being poor in taste and thereby not worth attaining.
Some of the princes assembled in Janakpur took a similar attitude, except they didn’t necessarily speak ill of the item in question. This bow originally belonged to Lord Shiva, a famous figure of the Vedic tradition. If the name Shiva is unknown to you, at least know that during this time period everyone knew who Shiva was. He was highly respected, even by those who didn’t worship him specifically. This bow originally came from him, and since it was the centerpiece of the event in Janakpur, people knew that it wasn’t ordinary.
King Janaka didn’t call people to his kingdom to lift a grain of rice. Why would people even come for that? If they did, then they’d fight with each other to be the first in line. The lifting of the rice would be a given, as even an infant can pick up something as light as rice. This bow was not ordinary, and people knew that it wouldn’t be easy to lift. Many princes came to Janaka’s city because the winner would be a true gem, a tower of strength to be known throughout the world.
Some were too afraid to try to lift the bow, though, knowing its strength and wanting to avoid public shame. If you fail on the grand stage, it is sometimes worse than not trying at all. If in sports you consistently lose in the final round of a big tournament, it’s worse than actually losing in the first round. No one remembers who played in the earlier rounds, but the finals are viewed by a larger audience. A perennial failure in the important moments then gets labeled a choker, which is worse than being known as incapable.
“People will always speak of your infamy, and for one who has been honored, dishonor is worse than death.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.34)
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that for a celebrated warrior, dishonor is worse than death. This is because they were previously honored. They were known for some reason or another. Through dishonor, they tarnish their reputation. The eager journalists pay close attention to scandal for this very reason. If they can take down a celebrated figure through reporting their flaws, their story will be very popular. The dishonor will draw much attention because it is focused on someone who was previously honored. Dishonor to someone who was never honored isn’t as important.
From the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we see that some of the princes made an excuse and stayed where they were. Think of it like the football player refusing to go into the game by faking an injury. “Oh my knee hurts. I don’t think I can play, coach.” Others got up and examined the bow, but they sat back down with their heads hanging low. Their behavior is compared to monkeys looking at coconuts. The inside of the coconut is what matters. It takes some effort to open the coconut too; it’s not an easy business, even for human beings. Unless you make the effort, however, you will never taste the fruit that is inside, namely the water and the coconut meat.
Comparing these princes to monkeys is humorous and also harsh in a sense, but it is done to paint the right picture. This event is talked about to this day because Shri Rama would eventually lift the bow. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in an apparently human form. He performs superhuman acts witnessed by the parrot-like saints, who then document what they see and repeat the information to others, passing on the descriptions of the pastimes to future generations.
Whether they tried or not, these princes did not have the ability to lift the bow. The bow was like a coconut that no monkey could crack. It was destined to be lifted by Rama, who is Sita’s husband for life. Janaka’s daughter, the beloved Sita Devi, was fit for the most powerful prince in the world, and since no one is more powerful than God, only He is worthy of Sita.
At a coconut monkey has a look,
By its presence alone confidence shook.
To open it won’t even try,
Sour grapes, tell itself a lie.
Many princes also not wanting to attempt,
Looking at bow, back to their seats they went.
Bow only for Rama’s hand meant,
Lifted it without any effort spent.