“Indeed, for a woman, the supreme ornament, above all others, is the husband. Therefore, this lady, though worthy of decoration, does not look beautiful, as she is bereft of her husband.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.26)
bhartā nāma param nāryā bhūṣaṇam bhūṣaṇād api |
eṣā hi rahitā tena śobhana arhā na śobhate ||
When does a person look their best? Is there a correct answer that can apply to all? Actually, there is, but it takes a discerning eye to notice a pattern first. Once you see it, you’ll realize that it is also the core ingredient to any beautiful interaction between two people. Shri Hanuman noticed it right away many thousands of years ago, and in the above referenced verse he presents it to us through the description of a wife and a husband and their relationship.
A mother holding her child. A cow feeding its calf. A child hugging its sibling. Brothers joining together to overcome obstacles. Neighbors helping their fellow neighbors dig out of the wreckage left by a hurricane. A person donating blood so that a stranger can continue to live. Paramours together in a romantic setting, tending to each other’s needs, arguing over who is more affectionate.
In all of the above scenarios there is beauty. The third party observer notices the beauty, and yet we haven’t made mention of any ornaments. The mother here may or may not be elegantly dressed. Perhaps she is wearing an evening gown, but she could even be in her pajamas. The garment of choice is not the issue; it is the relationship to her dependent. The same goes for the cow and the calf. The cow isn’t particularly beautiful on its own; it is just an animal after all. It doesn’t wear clothes. We put on clothes in the morning so that we don’t walk around naked. We obviously like to put on clothing that will make us look nice, for we know the body itself isn’t all that beautiful.
Shri Hanuman tells us that the supreme ornament for a woman is her husband. This is a significant declaration because women, more so than men, are known for wearing ornaments. Walk into a bachelor’s apartment and you’ll likely not find much furniture. The refrigerator is probably stocked with only beer and soda, and the rooms are more or less empty. What do they need so much stuff for anyway? If there are any hints of decoration, they are probably there to attract females, to catch their eye.
Women, on the other hand, are known for shopping. This is the stereotype, but it is rooted in truth. Prior to getting married a man may feel comfortable walking around the house in ragged clothing, but after he gets married suddenly he wears designer shirts. The change is due to the influence of the wife, who has a keener fashion sense. She takes the effort to look good herself and she wants her husband to also look good.
Hanuman says that the best ornament for a woman is a husband. If you make this declaration in public today you will surely be labeled a sexist, but discrimination between sexes is not the intent here. The husband is not merely a decoration, but rather it is the relationship to the husband that acts as the beautifying ornament. In the Vedic tradition especially, the relationship between the husband and the wife has real and lasting significance. The wife is to serve the husband, and the husband is to accept that service and offer protection. In return, they both share in the spiritual merits accumulated by the husband in his practice of dharma, or religiosity.
If the traditional wife, especially one from the time period in question, has a husband for an ornament, it means that she has someone to love. She looks most beautiful when she is offering her love to another person. This holds true for all of us actually. There is nothing more beautiful than pure love shared between two parties. The ideal husband-wife relationship is one indication of that, and since Hanuman was looking at a woman who was bereft of the company of her husband, he realized that she wasn’t as beautiful.
Hanuman says that Sita, the princess he found in the Ashoka grove in Lanka, was worthy of decoration. Her chastity alone made her worthy of all good things. She had never done anything wrong in her life. She accepted a husband from a contest of strength drawn up by her father, and she never had any reservations. She had three mothers-in-law in Ayodhya, and she treated all of them as if they were her own mother. Even when her husband was unkindly banished from His kingdom for fourteen years, Sita felt that the punishment extended to her as well. She accompanied her husband Rama into the forest, though she was neither asked nor expected to.
From this verse we can also understand that Hanuman saw Sita as she really is. She was in this predicament because a fiendish character had forcibly taken her away from Rama’s side when He wasn’t around. This fiend, the king of Lanka named Ravana, thought that Sita was beautiful enough to have as a wife, though she was already religiously wedded to someone else. Sita refused to give in to him, and so Ravana kept her in this secluded garden in his kingdom.
Hanuman hadn’t met Sita before, but he recognized her based on her auspicious features. The ornaments she was wearing matched those which previously fell in Kishkindha, where Hanuman was from. She also showed signs of intense grief, which meant that she was suffering from something. All of this combined to tell Hanuman that the woman in the grove was Sita. Though she was beautiful, she wasn’t as beautiful as she should have been, and this was all due to the husband being missing from the picture.
Hanuman’s eyes weren’t tainted by lust, which is what afflicted Ravana. Hanuman wanted to see Sita and Rama together, where they could act as husband and wife and enjoy each other’s company. Sita’s husband is also the best ornament because He is the most beautiful. In His original form He is known as Krishna, which as a word means “all-attractive.” Rama is the Supreme Lord, the God that we all turn to in times of trouble. He is the detail behind the abstract conception, and Sita is the definition of His pleasure potency, the energy which always acts to please Him.
Just as the best ornament for a woman is her husband, a person to whom she can offer love, for all living entities the best item of beautification is the all-attractive God. He is so benevolent that He allows us to interact with Him in different transcendental mellows, or rasas. In Sita’s case the mellow is madhurya, or sweetness in conjugal relations. For Hanuman it is dasya, or acting as a servant. Whatever the preferred interaction, if we’re not established in the relationship, we aren’t looking as beautiful as we should.
The price for the ornament known as Rama’s association is sincerity. This can be paid by any person, regardless of their situation in life. We saw sincerity in both Sita and Hanuman, and so they would quickly reunite with Rama. Wherever they are, they keep Him in mind, and so the relationship never breaks. The easiest way to offer our sincerity is to chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” taking ourselves to be humbler than the grass, knowing that these names are non-different from the Lord Himself.
In external beauty to reside,
When husband by her side.
With woman deserving beautification,
There is no better ornamentation.
Can serve another in that state,
Chance to be with soul-mate.
For us all to serve God is the best,
Inferior are ornaments all the rest.
To be with Rama Sita Devi was meant,
In loving devotion to her Hanuman went.