“With her beautiful, lotus-like hands she is putting on the garland, like Kamadeva placing the moon in a noose of lotuses.” (Janaki Mangala, 109)
lasata lalita kara kamala māla pahirāvata |
kāma phanda janu candahiṃ banaja phansāvata ||
“What is the purpose to that chain around your neck? Is it an ornament? Does it symbolize something? Why do you wear it? Who gave it to you? If someone offered it to you, why did you accept it? It looks very nice, and you seem to be happy wearing it, so obviously it must mean something to you.”
In the Vedic tradition, it is customary to offer exalted guests a garland of flowers. Especially if the guest is a holy man who has come to speak on the glories of the Supreme Lord, the offering of the garland is almost compulsory. But what is the actual purpose? Why a garland of flowers and not something else? Why does the invited guest accept the offering? In this verse from the Janaki Mangala we see the purpose to not only the offering of the garland, but also the offering of any item in the proper mood. The garland in this case is compared to a noose, which means that the gifted party is bound in some way.
We don’t usually think of binding the Supreme Lord. He is supreme for a reason; He cannot be bound. We, on the other hand, are bound to the cycle of birth and death based on our karma. We do some work today, and we may not realize it, but that work has consequences both in the short term and the distant future. I enroll in a four-year college today, and while presently my work may involve completing assignments for the specific courses I’m taking, in the future this work will help me to perform my job functions. Thus there is both a short and long term effect.
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)
Our work influences our state of being when we quit our body. That state of being then determines where we will end up next. This fact is given to us by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita. The gross elements of earth, water, air, fire and ether make up our visible body, and the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego make up the portion that we can’t perceive. These subtle elements come with us to the next life, like the air carrying aromas.
As work influences consciousness, it would make sense to fix our work right now so that we could have the best consciousness at the time of death. This is easier said than done, however. In the same Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna, the recipient of Krishna’s instructions, compares subduing the mind to trying to control the wind. The mind is driven by the senses, which are like wild horses running in every which direction. The senses are influenced by the material energy, and so in this sense we are bound to the cycle of birth and death because of the material energy.
Krishna, or God, is the origin of matter and spirit. He has a transcendental body, so His features are not binding like ours are. He can even appear within the material energy and remain above its effects. Therefore when we say that we can bind God, it doesn’t seem to make sense. If the material energy, which controls us when we are conditioned, doesn’t control Him, how can we ever possibly do anything like bind Him?
In this verse from the Janaki Mangala the answer is given. Goswami Tulsidas compares the placing of the victory garland on Lord Rama to Kamadeva binding the moon with a noose of lotuses. A noose connotes a negative to the target. Who wants to be bound by a noose anyway? Here the noose is made of lotus flowers, so the experience isn’t bad. The lotus is not only externally beautiful, but it smells very nice as well. The moon is very beautiful, so it is an apt comparison for Rama.
Kamadeva is the god of love, and in this instance Sita is the one acting as the romantically interested party. This is still only a comparison made by a devoted poet. There is no way to accurately describe Sita’s love for Rama, so the comparison to the god of love helps us to understand her emotion a little. Since Sita here loves Rama, who is God, instead of kama, or material love, she feels prema, or divine love. While the conditioned souls are bound by kama, the Supreme Lord is bound by the prema of His devotees.
This should make sense if we think about it. Our children are in the inferior position. They have to listen to what we say. They are smaller in stature as well; a disposition that is very convenient for us. Imagine if our children were stronger than us. In the critical years where they need instruction, we wouldn’t be able to provide it. Due only to their yet to be developed bodies and minds can we compel them to hear some words of wisdom, whether they like it or not.
The children don’t always get pushed around, however. Sometimes we do things that they want. How is this possible if they are in the weaker position? The answer is love. From our love for them, we agree to their demands from time to time. Our love can be so strong in many cases that we allow them to do things that they shouldn’t. This is typically the case when the parents are looking to find friendship with their young children.
In the case of the Supreme Lord, any offering made with love and devotion is accepted by Him. In Sita’s case, the victory garland bound Him both in terms of social protocol and divine love. The garland was the symbolic trophy of the contest. Rama, who is the same Krishna but in a slightly different visible form, was in Janakpur while a contest to determine Sita’s husband was taking place. Her father, King Janaka, decided on the rules of the contest: whoever would first lift Lord Shiva’s heavy bow would win the hand of his daughter in marriage.
Rama did what no other king came close to doing: He lifted the bow and broke it while stringing it. This meant that Sita was now His wife. He was bound to her for life. The garland she placed on Him was an offering of love because she wanted Him to win and no one else. Rama was forced to accept that noose made of lotus flowers. Rama is the source of all light. In His transcendental abode there is no need for a sun or electricity.
“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.6)
Since He is the source of all light, His brilliance does not diminish when wrapped in a garland of lotus flowers. The moon’s brightness may be shielded by the clouds, but not Rama when in the presence of His devotees. The same type of garland is offered to the spiritual master and to respected Vaishnavas, devotees of the same Rama and Krishna. If made with love, the offering is accepted by the Vaishnava, who then agrees to talk about the Supreme Lord. They accept the offering and pass it up the chain of spiritual teachers, eventually reaching Shri Krishna.
Garland of lotuses in Sita’s hands found,
Neck of her new husband to place around.
Like God of love a noose taking,
And the bright moon bound in it making.
The Supreme Lord, whom Krishna we call,
Controlled by devotees, though controller of all.
Moon shielded by clouds, but with Rama not so,
So beautiful when garland around Him did go.