“O night-ranger, just as you protect your own wives, you should protect the wives of others. Making yourself an example, enjoy with your own wives.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.7-8)
yathā tava tathānyeṣāṃ dārā rakṣyā niśācara ||
ātmānamupamāṃ kṛtvā sveṣu dāreṣu ramyatām |
“Oh it’s just sex. It’s not that big a deal. The opposition is trying to score political points. What happens between a man and a woman in the bedroom is no one else’s business. It doesn’t mean that the person involved is bad at leading the citizens. His affair doesn’t speak to his job performance. Look at how well the economy is going. Look at how happy the people are. Why should we give so much emphasis to this issue? It is only of interest to those who are bored. The salacious news may sell well on the supermarket shelves, but that doesn’t mean that such issues are important.”
Indeed, how one satisfies their lusty desires shouldn’t play a factor in how they are judged in their job performance. But others tend to follow the lead of a great man. There is no denying this fact. Lord Krishna Himself mentions this in the Bhagavad-gita as justification for taking action when you are in a position of prominence. The person leading may not like that others follow their every move, but there is nothing that can be done to change the situation. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” is how the saying goes. If you don’t want to be followed, then don’t lead. If you don’t want to be considered a leader, don’t accept a position that brings you attention.
The leader of citizens can get their position through various means. In the modern age, it is most often acquired through a popular vote, and in times past it was earned through a display of fighting prowess on the battlefield. That is how a famous king of Lanka earned his position. He took over the helm in Lanka through fighting abilities acquired as boons from celestials. Consider it like paying the piper, putting in the hours of training in order to get the desired result. The wise know that ability is not made of practice alone. The gifts of nature are a mystery to the eye that can’t see beyond the directly perceivable, but the wise know that the higher powers are involved in the results to all actions. Birth is the result of previous action, and not solely those of the biological parents. The spirit soul taking birth did prior work that landed it in the present situation.
The attributes of that situation are shaped by the higher authorities. This famous king of Lanka, as foolish as he was, still knew that he couldn’t acquire great ability on his own. At the behest of his mother, his guide early on in life, he did great austerities for pleasing the higher beings. In the Vedas these beings are known as devas, or gods. They are not the God, but they are godly. They grant material benedictions to those who please them. Ravana pleased them and received tremendous fighting prowess as a result. With his newly acquired abilities, he took over the kingdom of Lanka and then vanquished many rival kings around the world.
The attention given to the illicit sexual affairs of modern leaders is warranted for several reasons. The behavior of the leader is a reflection on their character. One who isn’t satisfied with his own wife is considered unfaithful. He essentially cheats on his wife with another woman. Such behavior is considered inappropriate because no one would want the same thing done to them. Though many think of and do eventually cheat, it doesn’t mean that they are fine with it happening to them.
If the leader is unfaithful to his own wife, the person he swore to honor, protect and love until death, why would he be faithful to the citizens? Indeed, it is seen that the leaders who do engage in these kinds of affairs often make it government policy to play favorites. Their campaign donors get benefits and special treatment from the government, while all others are attacked as being selfish and greedy. This is cheating also because the leader is supposed to look after every citizen equally. The leader of an army wouldn’t assign more importance to one soldier over another. To them, a single life lost in battle is regrettable. In the same way, a good leader of a nation holds every innocent life to be important and every person’s property to be worth protecting.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita Devi advises the king Ravana not to cheat. During this time period, kings often had multiple wives. Sexual relations with a wife is generally not frowned upon, though polygamy is. For kings in that era, to protect multiple women through marriage was considered highly chivalrous. Ravana had many beautiful wives, so why should he covet another one married to another man? Sita was happily living in the forest with her husband Rama when Ravana came in secret and snatched her away. That was as far as he could get with her, as she refused his offer to become his chief wife.
Here she tells him to enjoy with his own wives and thus set a good example for others. By enjoying with the women he was already married to, he would be faithful to them, and thus show that fidelity in a marriage is a good thing. Others wouldn’t be as tempted to steal wives as well. Fidelity also represents a kind of offering of protection, which for a leader is a boon. If I’m the leader of a sports team, I protect them from harm. I do what it takes to win, and if there are problems, I shoulder some of the blame. This way others are shielded from criticism.
If the husband protects multiple wives, enjoying with them exclusively, then he is considered a good husband. Ravana had every opportunity to increase his fame. The roadmap was provided by Sita and also later on by his younger brother Vibhishana. Instead, he followed only his sense impulses, which led him to infamy. Through harboring such lust for just one woman, the one neither he nor any other person except Rama can have, he lost everything. All his wives became widows as they watched him defeated by Sita’s husband on the battlefield. In one sense Ravana did set an example, namely of what not to do. Sita couldn’t be blamed for the calamity, as from this verse we see that she tried her best to set the fiend straight.
To a wife that is pious and chaste,
In marriage with her good to have faith.
When together to hold relationship,
King righteous in his leadership.
Enjoying with own wives gives example ideal,
But Ravana intent on another’s wife to steal.
Widows of his own he made,
Cheating God, ultimate price he paid.