“Hearing this, Janaka became confused and started to think. Rama offered prayers to the guru’s feet and then went, with neither happiness nor sadness in His heart. The good omens portended auspicious things to come.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 12.2)
suni sakuci socahiṃ janaka gura pada bandi raghunandana cale |
nahiṃ haraṣa hṛdaya biṣāda kachu bhae saguna subha mangala bhale ||
Feet tread upon the ground. They therefore come in contact with all kinds of dirty elements. The ground is also hard; it contains rocks and other substances that can damage the soles of the feet. Therefore one often wears shoes or other kinds of protection to save the feet from damage. From this when we hear of worshiping someone’s feet, paying honor to them by touching them before important moments, the practice seems a little strange. Though it may seem odd, the practice is most beneficial when the honored feet belong to an authority figure. This fact was validated by none other than the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself one time.
Feet have a tendency to smell, especially if they are trapped inside of shoes for a long period of time. In houses of worship, footwear is often kept in an isolated area, away from the people gathered to worship. If the area housing the footwear is too close to the people, the foul smell of feet will permeate the air. This smell then taints the mood of worshipers, who try to keep a pure mind fixed in devotional thoughts.
Yet in Vedic culture the feet are an object of worship for those deemed inferior. For instance, when greeting parents and elder relatives, the younger parties touch the feet of the elders. The same goes for when departing. This practice has been going on since time immemorial, as it is enjoined in the shastras that the original objects of worship for the newborn child are the parents, followed by the spiritual master later on in life.
There is a benefit to the practice of honoring the gurus, or authority figures, in this way. Touching the feet is a show of humility. Humility when in the company of one who holds important information only makes them more affectionate towards you. If I worship my parents, they will be pleased. If they are pleased, they will protect me. They will be more enthusiastic to protect me as well. If I honor the spiritual master by touching their feet, they will share some of their wisdom with me. That wisdom is the source of their spiritual strength, and so by showing humility, their strength is shared with me. In any endeavor requiring force, it is better to have multiple sources of energy. Two heads are better than one, as the saying goes.
A long time ago, the exhibition of strength related to the lifting of an extremely heavy bow. The guru in this case knew that only one person in a gathered assembly could lift the bow. There were many prospective candidates, and they were all contestants vying for the hand of the daughter of King Janaka. The king had vowed to give away his daughter Sita to whoever would first lift the bow.
The guru Vishvamitra recommended Rama to Janaka. Other princes there had tried and failed in lifting the bow. Some were too afraid to even try. Janaka was very respectful to his own gurus. As a king, he relied on the advice and consent of the priestly class when making important decisions. It was not like him to question the advice of a wise sage. Yet this time Janaka was hesitant to accept Vishvamitra’s counsel. Janaka was worried that Rama would lose like the other princes. Rama was delicate like a flower and the bow hard like steel. How was a flower petal going to pierce through steel?
Vishvamitra told Janaka not to worry and in the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala we see what happened after the advice was given. Shri Rama, being neither excited nor dejected, touched the guru’s feet and then went towards the bow. Rama is God. God is a singular entity, the same person worshiped by all the various traditions that have been in existence since as far back as history documents. Rama is the personal form of God; the detail behind the abstract conception. His features are specific to the time and circumstance of the Treta Yuga in which the demon class headed by a Rakshasa named Ravana was prominent. Rama is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord Vishnu, who is an expansion of the original personality, Shri Krishna.
Rama was going to lift the bow without a problem based solely on His identity. God never loses if He wants to win; hence one of His names is Ajita. Yet Rama still touched the guru’s feet prior to approaching the bow, as if to say that Vishvamitra was giving Him the necessary strength. This was a very nice thing that Rama did, and it illustrates to one and all the respect the bona fide spiritual master deserves. The guru’s words were used to alleviate the worries in Janaka, and his feet were symbolically used to lift the bow and bring to Janaka the desired outcome of Rama marrying Sita.
For the spirit souls wandering through the cycle of birth and death that seemingly has no termination, the guru’s feet bring the strength and wisdom necessary to achieve the supreme abode in the afterlife. The wisest guru teaches bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, which is the eternal occupational duty of the soul. By respecting the guru, we gain strength in the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” and we please God in the process. The guru gets their strength from their devotion to God and the disciple from devotion to the guru. The servant thus achieves everything desired based on their respect for the proper authority figures.
Planets of the universe He does carry,
So to lift single bow no need to worry.
Rama touched guru’s feet nevertheless,
Showing victory by Vishvamitra was blessed.
To spiritual master go for strength,
Honor his instructions at any length.
This system God Himself gave,
For from material ocean to be saved.