“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 I was younger, my mom used to pick out all my clothes. I’m not ashamed to admit that. I didn’t know any better. Whatever she gave me to wear each day is what I put on. Sometimes this would lead to problems, as when you’re in high school an easy way to make fun of another student is to say, ‘Hey, what did your mom dress you today or something? Your mommy picks out your clothes for you?’ This didn’t sit well with me, but what choice did I have?
“In college I started picking some of my own clothes. The problem was that I had no idea what I was doing. I chose what looked good to me, but that didn’t always mean that others shared my opinion. They would ask questions like, ‘Why are you wearing that sweater? It makes you look like an old man. Why are you wearing those shoes with those pants? You’re not supposed to wear sneakers with those pants. Also, you should wear a belt or at least un-tuck your shirt. You have no idea how to dress, do you?’
“In the real world, when I started working, I got to create my whole wardrobe for the first time. Not just a few shirts here and there that I picked out, I could choose whatever I wanted to wear every single day to the office. First, I just continued with what I wore in college, but again, I wanted to look good. I wanted to feel attractive, because with that feeling I would be confident. Of course I wanted to be comfortable too. Who wants to sit at a desk all day and be choked by a dress shirt and tie?
“Ironically enough, several years after starting work I switched to the shirt and tie wardrobe. The problem with that was that I didn’t have any shirts or ties. I had to buy them all new. This was fun for a while. I’d collect dress shirts that I thought were nice. I had trouble getting the right size, but eventually I found a fit. Each week, I would buy a new shirt until pretty soon I had a month’s worth. Then there were the ties. I amassed a collection of over fifty pretty soon, wearing a new tie each day seemingly. People would compliment me on the ties they liked, so that always made me feel good.
“Ah, but the effect of this too wore off eventually. Pretty soon I started wearing only the shirts I really liked, and the ties were seldom put on; they were just too uncomfortable to wear for upwards of eight hours a day. Another problem was that I needed something to wear on the weekends. I still didn’t know much about fashion, so the problems from college resurfaced. Now, in my old age, I don’t really care. Whatever is comfortable will work. I guess that’s why you see old people wearing such strange outfits. They love to raise their dress shorts all the way up to their belly button and wear socks with sandals. I guess they just don’t care what they look like to other people.”
This review shows us that the clothes on the body, which are more or less ornaments, don’t stay the same throughout life. It’s also difficult to find a single item which is always beautifying. One occasion calls for this type of ornament, and another for a different type. For a woman, the situation is a little different, as they typically understand better than men what looks good and what doesn’t. Therefore when they travel somewhere, their luggage is a lot heavier. They have their hair care products and their many pairs of shoes to match their different outfits. From all the ornaments that a woman can have, Shri Hanuman accurately identified that the husband is the best one. Naturally, if you have the best husband, you will have the best ornament, and thus also have the best way to increase your external appearance.
Hanuman thought this while looking at Sita Devi from afar in the Ashoka grove in Lanka. He wasn’t a peeping criminal or anything. He was sent to find her after she had gone missing in the Dandaka forest, when she was with her beautiful husband Rama. Rama is the Supreme Lord in an incarnation as a warrior prince; at least that is the claim of the Vedas, which are the books of authority for so many since time immemorial.
Rama is a personal form of God, which means that the entity we call out to in times of trouble has features like us. He has eyes, ears, a nose, legs, arms, and a beautiful smile. These features are transcendental, however, which means that they aren’t limited in their abilities. They are also unlimited in their glories. Rama’s smile is the definition of “killer”, as it can remove the pride of the proudest individual.
“Dear Krishna, You are the killer of all the fears of the inhabitants of Vrindavana. You are the supremely powerful hero, and we know that You can kill the unnecessary pride of Your devotee as well as the pride of women like us simply by Your beautiful smile.” (Songs of the gopis, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 31)
As a person, Rama, who is also known as Krishna in His original form, is all-attractive. Therefore Sita had the best husband, whom she married in a religious ceremony in her hometown of Janakpur. It was Sita’s duty to honor and serve Rama, but she gladly accepted that duty without hesitation. She served Rama because she loved Him. And herein lies the reason why the husband, especially in Sita’s case, is the best ornament for the woman.
Despite the attempts we may make at beautification, what we wear does not ultimately make us beautiful. This especially holds true with God, for whom it is said that the ornaments He wears become more beautiful as a result of contact with Him, rather than the other way around. We may wear a fancy tuxedo to a wedding, but the next day we’ll go back to being normal. We may look good in the short term, but there is actually a way to look nicer all the time.
For the devoted wife like Sita, the best way to look nice is to serve the husband. Since her husband was God, the best ornament for her was something, or in this case someone, who allowed her to serve in what is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Hanuman noticed so many marks of beauty on Sita, but in the above referenced verse from the Ramayana he says that Sita, who is deserving of decoration, doesn’t look perfectly beautiful at the moment because Rama is not with her.
We can think of it like the mother with the newborn child. The mother may look disheveled from a long night spent in labor, but when she holds her new child for the first time, she is positively glowing. This is because the love she offers to the child is amazing. It may seem difficult to believe, but we’re actually all constitutionally made to give even more love to someone besides friends and family. That someone is God.
Shri Hanuman is still worshiped to this day, and he is extremely beautiful. He is in a monkey form, and he doesn’t necessarily wear the costliest ornaments. Yet he looks so beautiful because he wears the ornament of devotional love; he always acts to please Sita and Rama. If you tear open Hanuman’s chest, you will find Sita and Rama in his heart. Sita has the same attitude, and so the devotees think she looks the most beautiful when she is by the side of her all-attractive husband. We can follow Hanuman and always remain in their company by regularly reciting the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
This shirt and that I’ve tried,
On my own tastes I relied.
Dealt with changes and clothes improperly sized,
Of my tastes others made fun and criticized.
Clothes to real beauty are immaterial,
Matters not whether splendor sartorial.
Something missing in her, not looking right,
Sita without husband, an imperfect sight.
That husband best for a woman Hanuman deduced,
Without Rama, Sita’s outward beauty somewhat reduced.
When Supreme Lord’s service we have found,
Know that we’ll give off radiant beauty abound.