“Applying the sindura, performing the homa, offering rice, circumambulating the fire, touching the stone - in doing all of this the enchanting murti of the dark-skinned groom stole the mind.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 18.2)
sindūra bandana homa lāvā hona lāgīṃ bhānvarī |
sila pohanī kari mohanī manaharyo mūrati sānvarī ||
The Ramayana is filled with characters who are true to their word. Lest they be accused of miserliness or failing to repay good deeds done for them, so many figures make sure that their behavior is beyond reproach. They take the necessary steps to ensure that others, be they friend or foe, cannot find anything to criticize. The easiest way to dismantle your reputation is to be dishonest. If you fail to do what you say, especially if you give an oath, then why should you be trusted in other matters? Why would anyone believe what you say? King Janaka is one of the characters from the Ramayana with dedication to truthfulness, and in the scene referenced above his daughter lives up to his good name.
“Okay, I’m down for lunch tomorrow. I can’t wait to go there. It’s been a long time since all of us have been out together. This restaurant just opened too, filling the void that was created when our previous favorite restaurant closed down. I know that you don’t have one of these where you live, so let’s make the most out of your visit. Fortuitous it is that you stopped by here for work matters. Now we can all hang out like old times. It’s going to be great.”
…a little later on
“Sorry man, something came up. The wife wanted to go to the beach. Plus, I wasn’t really hungry anyway. We ate so much last night. I couldn’t stomach the food at that place. And yeah, I couldn’t really read my phone when we were at the beach. That’s why I didn’t respond to your texts. When you called earlier I was still sleeping. Oh well.”
In this situation, the person has broken a promise, though a subtle one. The intention was that the group of friends would go to eat at a restaurant on a specific day. The one friend decided not to go; he changed his plans at the last minute. He came up with excuses for sure, but then those excuses weren’t put on the table at the beginning. He didn’t say, “Maybe we’ll go tomorrow. Let’s see what happens.” A de facto promise was made, and it was later broken. Hence the word of such a person loses its value a bit.
Now skipping a planned lunch isn’t really going to cause the world to end. The word in this case was compromised, but since the person who made the promise didn’t think it was so important, it’s not the best way to judge their truthfulness. With King Janaka, one time his vow related to the most important person in his life, his precious daughter Sita. This vow was with respect to her marriage, meaning it was a word given about which person would assume the duty of protecting her for the rest of her life.
You can consider this to be the most important issue in Janaka’s life, and despite so much worry, he remained true to his word. He vowed that whoever would first lift a heavy bow at a contest in his kingdom would marry Sita. The initial concern was that no one would lift the bow, and then there was worry that one prince in particular would fail. Janaka wanted this prince to win so badly that the thought of cancelling the contest crept into his mind. Since he gave his vow in front of so many, he wasn’t now going to go back on his word.
As Janaka’s eldest daughter, Sita followed the example of her father. Shri Rama of Ayodhya won the contest. It turned out that the prince that Janaka preferred did indeed get to marry Sita. In the Vedic marriage ceremony, the bride steps on a stone and makes a vow to always serve her husband. The stone is symbolic of the resolve required by the bride. So many obstacles will come along the way. Marriage is not easy in the least. You always have to worry about someone else. They may or may not be nice to you. They may or may not want what you want. Still, you have to make the relationship work, especially if your marriage is in dharma, or duty. The marriage lacking dharma is driven by kama, or sense desire. As even animals are driven by sense desire, without dharma there is no purpose to the marriage. The casual relationship suffices when the sole desire is sense gratification.
Janaka’s vow was attacked from within by fear over the uncertain future. With Sita, never for a minute did she want to go back on her vow. Her issues came from outside attack; others who wanted to prevent her from serving her husband. The outside attack is considered an adhibhautika misery, while fear and nervousness is adhyatmika. Along with adhidaivika, these are the threefold miseries of life. They attack everyone, irrespective of their desires. Whether you are religious or not, these miseries will come after you.
The difference with the divine associates of the Supreme Lord is that these miseries don’t have an effect; it’s like being attacked by snakes who have no fangs. The fear from within could not break Janaka’s vow, and the fiendish Ravana and his cohorts could not stop Sita from serving Rama. In the worst case, where there is no ability to exercise any kind of outward devotion, one can at least think of Rama, who is non-different from God. One can say the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” as an offering, a way to serve.
The stone is the best representation to gain a slight understanding of Sita’s resolve in serving Rama. We don’t know anything that is completely unbreakable, so in this world there is nothing that accurately compares to Sita’s resolve. She always loves Rama; no matter what. Her father is just as fixed in devotional service. He is a king, so his vows relate to ruling over a kingdom and managing a family. Sita is Rama’s beloved eternal consort, so her vows relate to serving Him in that capacity. Each individual has their svarupa, or eternal form, which follows some type of service to God. In regaining that svarupa through practicing bhakti-yoga, the resolve in serving God becomes unbreakable.
Showing respect for truth like no other,
Not surprising trait shown also in daughter.
When keeping promises made you live,
To others glimpse of your nature you give.
Not so important when small is your lie,
More scrutiny in circumstances that try.
Every hardship to Sita that mind could conceive,
Stayed true to word, perfect for Rama indeed.