“Some were excited, but the bow was immovable, like the word of a saint. Looking at the bow, their strength and intelligence were forcefully stolen, like with King Nahusha.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 11.2)
eka karahiṃ dāpa na cāpa sajjana bacana jimi ṭāreṃ ṭarai |
nṛpa nahuṣa jyoṃ saba keṃ bilokata buddhi bala barabasa harai ||
Goswami Tulsidas here makes a few references to Vedic history to describe what happened to the rival princes as they tried to lift the famous bow of Lord Shiva. The setting was a kingdom hosting an event with thousands in attendance. The main attraction, the final act on the bill if you will, was the lifting of the bow. Whoever could do it first would win. The fight would be declared over as soon as that bow went in a prince’s hand and was raised to the sky. As destiny’s will is impossible to subvert, on this day only one person was set to win, someone who has never lost anything in His life.
Do we know of anyone who has never lost? Famous political figures may have won the big election when they were on the ballot, but they definitely lost something prior to that. No one goes completely undefeated. Death is the greatest champion in this regard, as it defeats every single person, regardless of the effort they make to send it back from where it came.
To say that God is undefeated seems a bit obvious. “Oh sure, go the God route. You can just say that about anything. ‘I will never win this. Only God could do this. It is hopeless for me. No one but God could succeed in these trying circumstances.’” The Vedas give more than just an abstract or utopian idea of God. There are concrete details provided which are easy to remember, provided that one wants to remember them.
And why wouldn’t we want to remember someone who is undefeated? To aid in the remembrance we get God’s name of Achyuta. Just saying the name “Achyuta” over and over again brings God to the mind, allowing us to remember that He is undefeated. If that remembrance isn’t giving enough pleasure, go back to an incident that proved that He is the strongest person in the world. For such an incident to take place, the undefeated figure known as God must have a form that is visible to the eyes.
There are debates among transcendentalists as to whether God is with form or without, whether He is a personality or just an energy. On a higher level, the arguments are a waste of time because we only think in terms of form and formlessness because of our limited abilities. On a cloudy day we say that the sun is not out, but the sun hasn’t gone anywhere. We say that a person is gone after they die, but their soul still exists. They are still alive, though we can’t see them.
To make an entity distinct, we refer to them as a person. A person possesses features but a person is also flawed. Therefore we think God can’t be a person because that would mean He’s flawed. He must also be without form because we can’t see Him. Both of these are indeed not the case; His personality and form are different than how we know personalities and forms. He is the Supreme Person, and His attributes are divine. He can lift an extremely heavy bow while in the visible manifestation of a young prince.
Before that victory took place, other princes tried their hand. King Janaka hosted this contest to find a groom for the bride, his daughter Sita Devi. What better way to find a good protector than to hold a contest relating to strength? But this bow was originally Shiva’s, and Sita is eternally Rama’s. Rama is the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as a warrior prince. Rama appears before the eyes, but He is not an ordinary person. He possesses the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation to the fullest degree and at the same time.
Shiva is a great devotee of Rama, and Sita, as Rama’s wife for life, can only be with Rama and no one else. Janaka is also a famous devotee today, so we see that based on the players alone, the result of the contest was set. Of course no one knew this outwardly, as this is the fun the Supreme Lord likes to have. If all knew what was going to happen, why show up? And if everyone knew beforehand, why would we want to hear details of the event today? Why celebrate Achyuta’s marvelous feat of lifting the bow if everyone there already understood what was going to happen?
In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas continues his description of the kings who tried to win the contest. Prior to this, some just stared at the bow and walked away, making an excuse. They were like monkeys looking at a coconut, not trying to open it because they were too afraid of the shame of losing. The kings mentioned above were so excited that they actually tried to lift the bow. But it is said that the bow was immovable, like the word of a saint.
A saint in the Vedic tradition is known as a brahmana, which can be likened to a priest. A brahmana lives by austerity and penance, and through their good deeds they acquire tremendous spiritual merits. As a result, when they say something, it must come to be. For instance, if they curse someone, the results of the curse must manifest. If they are supplicated after the fact, they can proclaim something else which will also come to be, but they will never take back their word of the original curse. This is a power granted to brahmanas by the Supreme Lord, who holds His devotees in very high esteem.
It is also said that by looking at the bow, the strength and intelligence of the kings were forcefully stolen, like with what happened to King Nahusha. Nahusha was a famous king during ancient times, and through his pious deeds he ascended to the heavenly realm. The three worlds are the earth, the heavenly planets, and the hellish planets. As they are all part of the material world, residence is not permanent for the wandering soul. You go to heaven if you are good in this life, but you don’t stay there forever. Similarly, being condemned to hell doesn’t mean that you are stuck there without any hope.
King Nahusha was in heaven, but while there he had lusty desires towards the wife of King Indra. Indra is the king of heaven and he cursed Nahusha to fall from heaven and be born as a snake for his impious thoughts. Material life is thus very tenuous; there is no certainty for anyone. These kings were previously considered to be very powerful and intelligent, but since this bow was destined to be lifted by Rama, they seemingly lost all their strength just by looking at it.
Fortunately, there is one discipline that is above the material nature, that brings permanent results in a permanent realm. Devotional service, also known as bhakti-yoga, is the soul’s eternal occupation, and one of its primary methods of implementation is hearing. Just hearing about Rama’s eventual victory in the contest, and how all the other kings were bested by the bow He was to lift, brings the consciousness closer to the transcendental realm. While the curse of a saint cannot be reversed and accumulated merits can vanish with a single transgression, know that through loving God spiritual strength increases in a manner that is irreversible. The undefeated Shri Rama makes sure of it.
Through piety Nahusha to heaven went,
With lusty desires back to earth sent.
Once a curse upon you a saint does make,
Can’t go back, their word never to break.
Comparisons the bow contest help to describe,
Excited kings failed though with effort they tried.
Strength with one look stolen, move the bow would not,
Rama destined to win, beautiful Sita as wife He got.