“O Janaka, just see His beautiful form, and know that it magically takes away all bad elements. This bow is like an ocean of energy belonging to the kings, and Rama is like Agastya who will drink it up.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 12.1)
saba mala bichohani jāni mūrati janaka kautuka dekhahū |
dhanu sindhu nṛpa bala jala baḍhayo raghubarahi kunbhaja lekhahū ||
As no one except God is all-powerful, each one of us has a weakness. That weakness takes full effect at the time of death, when there is nothing we can do to prevent the soul from exiting the body. There are smaller weaknesses too, as during times of strength we can be brought down to a subordinate position through the influence of only one or two elements. For the demon class in ancient times, a great source of weakness was the presence of a particular sage. Several times he brought them down from their position of power, and because of this the sage is often referenced when discussing the defeat of a formidable foe.
For the comic book hero Superman, the chief weakness is an element called kryptonite. It comes from a fictional planet called Krypton. Superman can fly through the air, hold large buildings in his hand, and see through walls. He is very powerful, but when in the presence of kryptonite, he immediately starts to weaken. His enemies exploit this weakness when they find out about it. Though Superman is fictional, his popularity has made the term “kryptonite” a synonym for that which weakens someone. It is also used to point to a singular weakness, one thing which weakens someone the most.
Kryptonite for the demon class is always the same: devotees of God. The most powerful devotee is the brahmana merged in an ocean of transcendental bliss through following bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The brahmana is like a priest, and so commensurate with their position is a life of austerity and penance. Just as you can improve your performance in sports by controlling your food intake and following exercise, in spiritual life you can make tremendous advancement by limiting sense interaction and controlling the mind.
Agastya Rishi is one of the famous brahmanas of the Vedic tradition. His powers from austerity are so great that he can defeat others who are apparently more powerful. It’s sort of like the David versus Goliath, where David is victorious because of using strengths not related to brute physical force. Agastya uses his mind, which is connected to God in a mood of love, to defeat enemies.
There are many stories pertaining to Agastya that are documented in the Vedas. One of them relates to the thwarting of a pair of demons who used to trick brahmanas. The demons were brothers, and their little game involved entering into food. One brother would enter food using mystical power, and when a sage would eat the food the other brother would call out to the brother who was now in the stomach of the sage. The sage would thus die from the demon piercing out of his stomach.
“The sage Agastya is of such a purified nature that in his hermitage a liar cannot live, nor a deceitful person, nor a wicked person, nor one that is committed to sinful activity.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 11.90)
The brothers tried this one time with Agastya Rishi, but the sage simply laughed at them when the moment of truth arrived. Agastya was not so weak spiritually. The brother in his stomach died immediately, and when the other brother went to attack Agastya, the sage burned him to death with a simple glance. Lord Rama, a famous prince of the Raghu dynasty, loved this story so much that He once related it to His younger brother Lakshmana while they were travelling through the forests.
In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, a poem that describes the marriage of the same Rama to the daughter of King Janaka, Vishvamitra Muni points to another famous incident relating to Agastya. One time the demon class took refuge in an ocean, insulating them from the attack of the pious demigods. Agastya then drank up the entire ocean, which left the demons vulnerable and eventually led to their demise.
In this instance, Rama is like Agastya and the bow, which represents the collective energy of the assembled kings, the ocean. King Janaka hosted a contest to determine the husband for his daughter Sita. Whoever could first lift an enormously heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva would win. Janaka was worried when he saw Rama because the Lord had very delicate features. In a youthful form, Rama didn’t look like He could lift a bow that no king up to this time had been able to even move.
Vishvamitra reassured Janaka, who wanted Rama to win the contest, by pointing to the famous incident with Agastya. Agastya was obviously much smaller in stature than a giant ocean. Yet he was spiritually powerful, which was more important. Similarly, if the bow represented the combined material strength of the competitors at the assembly, Rama represented the spiritually powerful Agastya. Rama is actually the source of all strength; as He is God. In the Bhagavad-gita, the same Rama in His original form of Krishna, confirms that He is the ability in man.
“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.8)
The reference to Agastya is also appropriate because Agastya is a great devotee of Rama. Agastya is part of a disciplic succession that passes on the story of Rama’s life and pastimes. Tulsidas, the author of the Janaki Mangala, is a link in that chain, and so he also has immense respect for Agastya. Vishvamitra’s analogy would prove correct, as Rama would lift the bow without a problem. The ocean of the energy of the kings was formidable, but its kryptonite was the Supreme Lord, whose presence is carried on today through the devotees who always chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
When demons into hiding in water sank,
Exposed by Agastya who entire ocean drank.
Though they thought they had strength not finite,
Powerful devotee of the Lord proved their kryptonite.
Like ocean of kings’ strength was bow that in arena lay,
Shri Rama like Agastya Rishi did Vishvamitra say.
Supreme Lord source of all, the ability in man,
Spiritual strength for one who chant holy name can.