“Sita put the garland on Rama and then her friends took her away, like the kairava flower happily blooming from the bud at the sight of the moon.” (Janaki Mangala, 111)
prabhuhi bhāla pahirāi jānakihi lai calīn |
sakhīṃ manahum̐ bidhu udaya mudita kairava kalīn ||
“Who am I devoted to, you ask? You want to know who I offer my worship to? For me there is only Shri Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha. Automatically accompanying Him are Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman. I only begrudgingly say that I am devoted to them because to call myself a devotee is to imply that somehow there is a choice in the matter. It implies that I have chosen them out of a host of worshipable objects. The fact is that they are mine, and I am theirs. There is no separating us. No matter what happens I will always be with Shri Rama and His family in mind. I derive happiness only from their company. Any other activity is tasteless to me, though I sometimes try to pretend that it is not. This is just to get by in society, for I don’t want to draw attention to my relationship with Rama, whom I know to be God but never consciously think of in that way.”
The difficulties in describing something constitutional are many. That which is constitutional exists perpetually. It is not created nor is it destroyed. Yet in our journey through life everything is temporary, so even when we engage in something that is actually constitutional, we feel the need to explain it in terms of a choice. The wise poets know how to accurately describe the constitutional by pointing to objects which are interdependent. The motions are true by definition; they cannot be changed.
“O Rama, You should know that just as fish cannot survive when taken out of water, neither Sita nor I can live without You for even a moment.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 53.31)
One of the most common expressions used to explain constitutionality is: “like a fish out of water.” Interestingly enough, in an ancient Vedic text we find that this is used by Shri Lakshmana to explain devotional service. No one is keeping score, but Lakshmana’s use has the chance of being the first time the phrase was ever uttered. He said it to his elder brother, Lord Rama, as a way to explain how neither he nor Sita, Rama’s wife, could live without Him.
The poets have since used similar comparisons, but the fish taken out of water is still one of the more preferable ones. The fish cannot survive out of water. In this sense its love for the water is indescribable; it is part of the fish’s being. The fish cannot be without the water, so it cannot live without its love. The water, the loveable object, defines the fish’s existence.
The comparison is important to study because it helps explain the living entity’s relationship to God. One may wonder how we could be compared to fish out of water when we are alive right now and not necessarily God conscious. Even if we are a sterling example of devotional service to the Almighty today, there was a factual point in history where we weren’t. When we emerged from the womb, we didn’t even know how to walk or talk, so how did we know anything about God? We know that we didn’t consciously know about God back then and yet we remained alive. How, then, can the fish out of water comparison apply to any human being?
The comparison applies to the devotee, who is a living entity in the bhava stage. Bhava is devotional ecstasy and it is the constitutional state. We are eternally servants of the Supreme Lord. This is our original position as well, a fact kindly told to us by Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a preacher incarnation of the Supreme Lord who revived the bhakti-yoga tradition in the modern age. In the conditioned state, our bhava is covered up, like the sun shining bright but no one able to see it because of the thick cloud cover in the sky.
In the conditioned state we think in terms of “I” and “Mine.” “I am an American; I am an Indian; I am black; I am white.” “This is my house; this is my son; this is my God; this is my religion.” Because we descend into temporary possessiveness and flawed conceptions of our personality, we understand religion only in terms of explicit devotional practices. When we see others in the bhava state, we tend to think that they are purposefully practicing devotion, when in fact they are constitutionally tied to the Supreme Lord in a bond of love. Nothing can be done to change their situation.
In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas makes yet another comparison with the kairava flower to explain spontaneous devotion. Here the kairava flowers are blooming from buds at the sight of the moon. The flowers are Janaki, the daughter of King Janaka, and her sakhis, or friends. Janaki is Sita, the eternal consort of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His incarnation as a warrior prince. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the moon referenced here is Rama, one of whose many names is Ramachandra.
The kairava is the water-lily. It is white and has a unique behavior. While the common lotus flower opens up at the sight of the sun, the kairava opens up at the sight of the moon. Like the fish attached to its water, the opened kairava is attached to its moon. There is nothing that can be done to change this relationship. The kairava doesn’t open up to make the moon happy. It doesn’t open up on purpose to make a show of devotion to the moon. Rather, the relationship is automatic; it is part of the flower’s constitution. Nothing can be done to change this, and to outside observers the spontaneous devotion is a thing of beauty.
In a similar manner, the sakhis and their chief friend, Sita, are forever devoted to Rama. They sprout up in happiness from seeing Him. In this instance, Sita has placed the garland of victory around Rama’s neck. The garland is made of flowers and it is the first reward given to the victor of the contest. Rama was the first person to lift Lord Shiva’s bow in the assembly in King Janaka’s court. His victory earned Him Sita’s hand in marriage, a hand coveted by all the many princes assembled there that day.
Tulsidas here reminds us that Sita and her friends are spontaneously devoted to Rama. As flowers, they open up right away upon seeing Him. We living entities are actually the same way, though we don’t realize it now due to so many births spent in the material existence. Yet just from hearing of Sita’s devotion and the devotion of others associated with Rama, we can slowly work our way back to the bhava stage, where we love God so much that we don’t even realize that we’re serving Him. We always think of Him, and during times of inactivity we involuntarily recite His names, like those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
When moon rises in the night,
And gives off its rays bright,
Kairava opens up at first sight,
Spontaneous devotion to light.
To devotional service accurate way to compare,
Only in thoughts of God, in world no other care.
Sita and friends in this way did look,
When glance at Shri Rama they took.