Friday, May 17, 2013

A Spirited Debate

lotus flower“The well-wishers were happy and the enemies had crying faces. The poets describe the scene of the raising of the bow as being like a pond in the morning filled with so many chakava and chakora birds and kairava and kamala flowers.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 13.2)

hita mudita anahita rūdita mukha chabi kahata kabi dhanu jāga kī |
janu bhora cakka cakora kairava saghana kamala taḍāga kī ||


You’re at the local bar, watching the big game with a bunch of friends.  There are strangers there as well. The game is the biggest of the year; all eyes are on it. Each person watching has their own interest. There are the fans of the respective teams. There are the gamblers who have money riding on the outcome. There are also those who know one or several of the participants in some way. Some have a positive viewpoint in this regard, while others have a negative one. When the event is over, when the outcome is known, there will surely be some discussion. And the opinions are sure to vary. Some will be happy, while others will not. A long time ago, with the cracking of a bow that was heard around the world, the same variety in opinion was seen. The wise poet compared it to what is seen in a pond in the morning.

Goswami Tulsidas is the poet here, and he refers to a poet describing the event. Tulsidas is famous in India, where he is hailed as a saint by many and appreciated by countless others for his poetic ability. He himself was only interested in devotional service, the highest occupation for man. Worship of God is not monolithic, and it is not exclusive to any one region. There are many worshipers of the Supreme Lord in His personal incarnation of Shri Rama, but not all of them follow the same path. Some choose to meditate quietly on Rama’s form. Others like to remember His pastimes, while others enjoy describing His glories to others.

Goswami TulsidasTulsidas was so immersed in thoughts of Rama that he enjoyed writing wonderful devotional poetry about Him. As Rama’s many names were required in this endeavor, the poet was automatically a dependent on the sound vibration representation of the Supreme Lord. As these poems described Rama’s pastimes, Tulsidas also regularly remembered Rama’s activities. As the poet injected his own opinions, which are merely new expressions on the same truths that exist eternally, he also participated in glorifying Rama.

From this verse from the poet’s Janaki Mangala, we get a mental picture of what the scene was like when Rama lifted and broke Lord Shiva’s bow. Why would Rama do such a thing? Actually, everyone assembled in Janakpur that day was waiting for someone to lift Shiva’s bow. That darn thing was so heavy that no one could even move it. All any of the princes had to do was lift it and string it to win the contest.

The prize warranted the massive attendance. So many princes from around the world arrived so that they could have their chance to win the hand of Sita Devi, the beautiful daughter of King Janaka. The anticipation reached a crescendo when Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha, took His turn. Of all the princes there, Rama seemed the least likely to win. He was so beautiful, and young too. He was a teenager, while the bow was like a mountain. Granted, so many of the spectators, including Sita and Janaka, wanted Rama to win, but there was the quiet fear that it just wasn’t going to happen.

With God, one should always expect the unexpected. When the unexpected does arrive, however, the emotions are always stronger. Since we know that Rama is God based on the statements of the Vedas and their authority figures, the tendency is to think first of the positive reactions to Rama’s feat. He lifted the bow without a problem and broke it while trying to string it. This was the same bow that no one else could move. Obviously Sita was happy, as were the other well-wishers. The king, the queen and their attendants were thrilled. The people of Janakpur were happy as well. But there were enemies watching too. They weren’t pleased. They had crying faces.

Rama lifting the bowWe get this mental picture from the first line of the above referenced verse. To give us more clarity, poets often invoke analogies. Here Tulsidas says that a poet would liken the scene to a pond in the morning. This particular pond would be filled with chakka and chakora birds and kairava and kamala flowers. These birds and flowers are referenced quite often in Vedic literature, especially with respect to the Supreme Lord and His pastimes. The saints who composed these works also often lived in the forests, so they would witness so much in nature and tie what they saw to God. This is how one truly becomes one with the nature around them. Everything is God, but at the same time everything is separate from the Lord. The simultaneous oneness and difference is best understood when everything around us is used in glorifying God, an act which is part of serving Him, which is the soul’s constitutional engagement.

“Because the blue lotus flower blossoms with the rising of the sun, the sun is the friend of the blue lotus. The chakravaka birds also appear when the sun rises, and therefore the chakravakas and blue lotuses meet.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 18.98 Purport)

The birds and flowers mentioned are opposite in behavior. The chakkas, which are often referred to as chakravakas, are like geese. These birds particularly prefer the morning time, when the sun rises. This is the time period used in the analogy. The chakoras, on the other hand, prefer the moon. Shri Rama appeared in the solar dynasty, and in this instance the breaking of the bow was like the sun rising for Janaka and family. It was also the beginning of the marriage of Sita and Rama. Therefore the well-wishers are like the chakkas, while the enemies are like the chakoras, who were upset that the sun rose.

The kairava is a water-lily that opens up at the sight of the moon. The kamala is the lotus flower, and it behaves in the opposite way. The kamala opens up at the sight of the sun, so the well-wishers were also like the kamala flower. The enemies here are like the kairava; both their pride and their hopes closed up once Rama broke the bow. He was like the dreadful sun to them.

The kairava and chakora are often used in glorifying Shri Rama as well, but here the references were befitting the occasion. Whereas in the outcome to material events all the opinions are more or less equal to one another, here the side of the well-wishers was better situated. They had the right reaction, one that has since been passed on to generations of saintly people who never tire of hearing of God’s triumphs.

In Closing:

When in Rama’s hands bow did break,

Varying reactions in audience to make.

 

Enemies of faces crying,

Well-wishers in happiness flying.

 

Like pond of chakka and chakoras it seemed,

When morning sun rises with rays to beam.

 

On friend and foe alike shined Rama’s glory,

Enemies blinded, devotees rejoice in the story.

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