Sunday, March 17, 2013

As Delicate As Shirisha

Lord Rama's hand“You’re asking for the young prince to look at the bow, but can a piece of a shirisha flower pierce through hard steel?” (Janaki Mangala, 94)

so dhanu kahiya bilokana bhūpa kisorahi |
bheda ki sirisa sumana kana kulisa kaṭhorahiṃ ||

Let’s say that you’re out at a restaurant. The food dish you order requires a knife and fork to eat. You could also use your hands and take advantage of your teeth, but then that would make a mess. You’d rather use utensils to make the eating experience more pleasant. But there is a problem at this restaurant. They only have plastic utensils. You’re forced to use a plastic knife and a plastic fork to eat. This causes a problem because the plastic utensils aren’t strong enough to cut through the food you’ve ordered. Every time you go to make a cut, the knife gets duller and duller. Also, just by placing the fork into the food, the fork starts to melt. It cannot handle the temperature of the food, so you’re left with a deformed fork.

You’d rather have the steel utensils, which are strong enough to cut through the food. The firmer utensils are meant to cut through the less firm food. Now try to imagine it the other way around. What if you needed to cut through steel? You’d need something harder, no? Or perhaps you’d need an instrument that can reach a level of heat intense enough to break through the steel. A long time ago, a bow was compared to steel, and during a particular contest that bow need only be lifted. No one had to cut through anything. The king hosting the contest saw one prince in particular and was astonished that He would try to lift the bow. The king compared the prince to a piece of a soft flower, which has no chance of cutting through steel.

The shirisha flower is very soft. It is often invoked in Vedic literature to describe the softness of the skin of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Though there are many gods in the Vedic tradition, there is still only one Supreme Lord. He is known by such names as Hari, Vishnu, Krishna and Rama, and there are endless ways to describe His transcendental features. His skin is of a bluish hue, and His smile is intoxicating. Everything about Him is attractive, and so Krishna becomes the best name to use in addressing Him.

Lord RamaRama is also a great name, as it refers to the full pleasure that the Supreme Lord holds. Rama also describes His incarnation as a warrior prince who once roamed this earth many thousands of years ago. Lord Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha, also has extremely soft skin. He is very beautiful and not everyone knows that He is God. They don’t need to anyway, as having affection for Him is enough to attain the goal of life.

And wouldn’t you rather receive attention based on your qualities than your stature? You could say that your qualities make your stature, but it is better if someone appreciates your qualities first. The stature can bring respect even if you don’t possess all of the qualities, but through your qualities someone can respect you for who you really are, even if they never know of your stature. With Shri Rama, His stature is set in the Vedic texts, which describe His endless glories.

And the qualities described are evident to the people who connect with Rama in a mood of love. Sometimes those qualities appear to contradict one another, as they did in the kingdom of Janakpur a long time ago. King Janaka was hosting a contest to determine the future husband for his daughter Sita. The king decided to make the contest one based on strength; this way the winner would be best equipped to protect Sita for the rest of her life.

Many princes came to the contest, but they all failed to even move the bow, let alone lift it. Then the respected Vishvamitra Muni asked Janaka if Rama could try lifting the bow. Rama was not there specifically to participate in the contest. In youthful forms, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were defending Vishvamitra and other sages from the attacks of vile creatures in the forest. The brothers came upon the contest through following Vishvamitra.

From the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, which is a poem by Goswami Tulsidas that describes this sacred event, we see that Janaka obviously has appreciation for Rama. He compares the Lord to the shirisha flower, which is a very high compliment. To say that someone has skin as soft as a flower is to say something nice. Soft skin is a more attractive quality than hard skin.

Janaka then compares the bow to something very hard, like steel. As mentioned before, the harder object can easily cut through the softer object; hence the common use of silver utensils when eating. How then is the softer object going to do anything against the harder object? Janaka didn’t think it possible for a youth like Rama to lift the bow, and he was especially worried about embarrassing Him. Many other princes had tried but Janaka didn’t give them any warning. On this rare occasion, Janaka actually expressed doubts to a venerable brahmana, a member of the priestly class. Typically, the kings in those times listened to whatever advice the priests gave. Janaka’s hesitancy only further confirms his love for Rama, who is God.

And that love never goes in vain. Janaka’s affection for Rama shown through his doubt would be rewarded with Rama’s victory in the contest. Today Janaka is one of the twelve highest authorities on devotional service, which is the best occupation for man. Loving God is the soul’s constitutional occupation, and so it can be taken up at any time and at any place. The easiest method is the chanting of the holy names. Just as the soft-skinned Rama easily lifted the steel-like bow, know that the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” can melt the hardest of hearts, making a lover of God out of anyone.

In Closing:

How as a youth with skin so soft,

Going to hold heavy bow aloft?


Failed did many kings mighty and fierce,

How then was shirisha flower the steel to pierce?


Though Rama of features contradictory,

In contest certain was his victory.


From pious king’s concern,

God as son-in-law earned.