Monday, April 22, 2013

The Lion’s Den

Rama breaking the bow“Examining her love, Rama broke the bow, like a young lion routing a great elephant.” (Janaki Mangala, 104)

prema parakhi raghubīra sarāsana bhanjeu |
janu mṛgarāja kisora mahāgaja bhanjeu ||


“Though this youth is very innocent in appearance, don’t underestimate Him. He has already proven His fighting ability in the forest against the wickedest creatures. Maricha was very proud of the boon he received from Lord Brahma. Therefore when he attacked the sacrifice of Vishvamitra at the last moment, he thought that the destruction was a done deal. Unfortunately for him, he forgot about Rama. Though a young boy at the time, Rama, without hesitation, strung His bow and drove away Maricha. The demon’s friends weren’t so lucky. They did not leave the area alive. Now the same Shri Rama is here in Janakpur to lift the enormously heavy bow of Lord Shiva. Though He is still a youth with delicate features, He can roar like a lion when necessary.”

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas invokes a reference that is commonly used in Vedic literature to describe the Supreme Lord’s activities. These acts described are heroic, and so the comparison to the lion is fitting. Mentioning the defeat of an elephant is also appropriate, as since the elephant is much larger than the lion, it is believed that it should have no problem in a conflict. Yet the lion can scare with just its roar, and thus it is the king of the jungle. Similarly, the Supreme Lord is the king of all kings, so no one can defeat Him. Moreover, He roars like the lion to protect His devotees like Sita, who love Him unconditionally.

God is compared to a lion several times in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, considered the crown jewel of the Vedas, which are the ancient scriptures of India. God is a person, but a supreme one. As a person, He has features. The abilities tied to these features are inestimable, so to give us a slight idea of what that means, God descends to the earthly plane every now and then to enact pastimes.

Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.43.14“Lord Hari then climbed onto the elephant with the ease of a mighty lion, pulled out a tusk, and with it killed the beast and his keepers.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.43.14)

One of His many names given in the Vedas is Hari. This word has several meanings. It can mean one who takes away. Hari is the remover of the fears in His devotees. Hari can also mean a monkey or a lion. When Shri Krishna, the original form of the Personality of Godhead, battled an enemy elephant named Kuvalayapida, He was addressed as Lord Hari in the verses in the Bhagavatam. This use was intentional, as Krishna attacked the elephant like a powerful lion.

image“Hiranyakashipu murmured to himself, ‘Lord Vishnu, who possesses great mystic power, has made this plan to kill me, but what is the use of such an attempt? Who can fight with me?’ Thinking like this and taking up his club, Hiranyakashipu attacked the Lord like an elephant.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.8.23)

Narasimhadeva against HiranyakashipuOne of Krishna’s most famous descents to earth was as His avatara named Narasimha, which means half-man/half-lion. Narasimhadeva is also known as Lord Narahari, which means the same thing. In this descent, God stayed on earth for a very short period of time, there only to rid the world of an evil king named Hiranyakashipu. This king was harassing his five-year old son named Prahlada. God’s unique form kept the boons previously granted to Hiranyakashipu safe, while at the same time allowing for the demon to be killed. During the short battle that took place after Narahari arrived, it is described in the Bhagavatam that Hiranyakashipu attacked like an elephant. This means that he was eventually defeated by the lion, which is what happens often in the jungle with conflicts between elephants and lions.

“I am faithfully engaged in the service of Rama, who is a lion among men [nrisimham], has a broad chest and powerful arms, who treads the earth like a lion and who is like a lion in prowess.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.35)

The Ramayana is another Vedic work, and it describes the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, one of Krishna’s most famous avataras. In that work, Rama is compared to a lion by His wife Sita. She makes this comparison when speaking to the evil King Ravana after he kidnapped her. Ravana thought that he was very powerful, but Sita wanted him to know that her husband was a lion among men. This meant that Rama wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything, and that He had the might necessary to fight anyone.

With these references and more found in many places in the Vedic literature, it is not surprising that Goswami Tulsidas would make the same comparison to a lion in the above quoted verse from the Janaki Mangala. Here the same Shri Rama is in Janakpur ready to win Sita’s hand in marriage. This took place before Sita and Rama were officially wed. Though Rama was only a youth at the time, He still acted like a lion. The strength and courage of a lion were necessary to win the contest.

Rama lifting the bowThe bow of Lord Shiva lay in the middle of the sacrificial arena. Many princes from around the world came to try their hand at lifting the bow, but none of them could even move it. The first person to lift the bow would marry Sita, the eldest daughter of King Janaka, who was the host of the ceremony and the person who came up with the idea of a contest.

As Rama is the Supreme Lord, He has many names. In this verse He is addressed as Raghubira, which in Sanskrit would be spelled as Raghuvira, which means the hero of the Raghu dynasty. Rama was a king’s son, and not just of any ordinary king. King Dasharatha of Ayodhya was a famous ruler appearing in the ancestry of King Raghu, who himself was part of the ancestral line dating back to King Ikshvaku, one of the first kings on earth. Rama was the hero of this dynasty because He was the best fighter. He was the most capable of protecting the citizens, and so He was naturally the greatest hero. He was also the jewel of that line.

Tulsidas purposefully uses the name Raghubira here because Rama’s act of lifting and breaking Shiva’s bow was heroic. Rama didn’t do it just to show His strength. Rama is God, so He is above the need for cheap adoration. He broke the bow to ease Sita’s fears. She was watching the contest and was very anxious. Though she only saw Rama for a few brief moments, she wanted Him to win. Her desire was so strong that she could think of nothing else. Rama knew her worries, and so by breaking the bow, He shattered her fears, which is what any good hero would do.

The bow was like a great elephant and Rama like a young lion. The contest looked like a mismatch, but with God anything is possible. Know that this present age of Kali brings cause for much fear, but if there is reliance on the same Raghubira, who can be called out through the holy names in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” then the immediate vicinity turns into Shri Hari’s den, with all unwanted elements shattered in the same manner as the wonderful bow in Janaka’s kingdom.

In Closing:

In general elephant for lion no match,

Its tusks with ferocity to snatch.

 

In Vedas many such mentions made,

To describe God and His pastimes’ parade.

 

Hiranyakashipu like roaring elephant cried,

To defeat God as Narahari he tried.

 

Bow also God as Shri Rama pitted against,

Like chased elephant away in defeat went.

 

Like the princess Sita’s fears ran away,

For protection with lion Rama always stay.

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