“The king worshiped the groom and offered an auspicious throne for sitting. They then gave the order to the sakhis to bring the bride.” (Janaki Mangala, 140)
barahi pūji nṛpa dīnha subhaga sinhāsana |
calīṃ dulahinihi lyāi pāi anusāsana ||
Download this episode (right click and save)
In modern times, where men and women freely intermingle and marriages are therefore often determined on mutual consent of the two parties, the groom-to-be naturally feels hesitant to approach the father of the bride. The father knows what young men have on their minds, and so they can predict how the prospective groom intends to enjoy with the daughter. Thus the boy naturally fears the contempt of the father, whose job it has been to protect his daughter throughout life. The groom-to-be treads lightly when in the company of the father of the girl, making sure that nothing is done to offend him.
Keeping this behavior in mind, it is strange to hear how in ancient times the groom would be worshiped by the father of the bride. This is exactly what is described in the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala. The father was King Janaka and the groom Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya. From the Vedas we learn that Rama is God, the Supreme Lord in an incarnation form. Therefore Janaka’s worship of Him shouldn’t be so strange. But actually such worship is customary in a Vedic marriage ceremony.
The daughter is given over to the groom. It is like a transfer of ownership, with the responsibility for providing protection shifted to the groom. It is a major gamble on the part of the father. Think of your most cherished possession. Think of that object or person that you treasure the most. Now imagine having to part with it. What will you do? Will you not be overprotective? Will you not go the extra mile to make sure that the new person assuming control is full of good attributes?
If you are virtuous, you follow the proper code of conduct without thinking about it; it is second nature to you. If you are lusty, then your mind goes the opposite way. Driven by your desires for eating, drinking, gambling, or sex life, you cast aside what you know to be right in order to get enjoyment in the short-term. Maybe if you want to harm yourself in this way it is fine, but I don’t want my loved one getting in the middle of it. If you can’t control your desires and thus can’t take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of my cherished object?
On the other hand, if you are virtuous I can trust that you will know what to do. I can put my faith in you because you have proven in the past to be trustworthy. Such was the case with Rama. Previously He set the right example by following the orders of His teachers in Ayodhya, where King Dasharatha took great enjoyment from having Rama as a son. Since Dasharatha belonged to the Raghu dynasty of kings, one of Rama’s names was Raghunandana, which means one who gives pleasure to the Raghu dynasty.
Rama retained His virtue when He was away from home as well. He protected the powerful sage Vishvamitra from attacking night-rangers. He never asked for anything in return. Sometimes we have to give remuneration to our kids for doing chores. They won’t want to work otherwise. Rama never asked for anything and neither did His younger brother Lakshmana. They were completely virtuous; they followed the right path for the sake of doing things properly. They had trust in their gurus, which consisted of their elders and teachers.
Janaka’s most cherished possession was his daughter Sita. She too was virtuous; a pure lotus flower in both vision and character, perfectly matched for Rama. Janaka didn’t choose Rama as the groom, however. Rama won a contest of strength. It so happened that Providence brought Rama into the family, and Janaka was very happy about this. It was protocol to worship the groom because such a gesture would convey the importance of the daughter. Janaka worshiped Rama as a matter of etiquette and also as a way to please Him. If Rama is pleased then He will do anything for you.
Worshiping Rama’s lotus feet just one time eliminates all past sinful reactions. From simply touching those feet the cursed wife of Gautama Rishi returned to his side. The boatman, Kevat, was afraid to touch those feet because of what had happened with Ahalya. He therefore washed those feet before allowing Rama onto his boat. Sita was also afraid to touch those feet for the same reason, for she would rather be by Rama’s side than leave Him for the heavenly realm.
Janaka worshiped those feet and retained eternal devotion to them. As an added bonus, Rama always protected Sita. Even when she was in danger later on, Rama did not let her go. He put up a massive fight, one that the evil king of Lanka never expected. Rama rounded up uncivilized forest dwellers to help Him. He did not care who or what came with Him; He was going to do whatever it took to rescue Sita. From the time of Janaka’s worship Rama vowed to protect Sita, and so that worship did not go in vain.
From this tradition of worshiping the groom by the father, we get another reminder of how in Vedic culture the emphasis is always on humility. When there is cause for celebration, charity is distributed. Rather than celebrate good news by buying something for yourself, make sure that others are benefitted first. When there is the occasion of the marriage, rather than instill fear in the groom, worship him so that your daughter will be protected for life. Better still it is to worship the Supreme Lord all the time. Through the occasion of the marriage of his daughter, Janaka got this opportunity, and he made the most of it.
Since birth with father she stayed,
Thus new groom of him to be afraid.
In marriage of Vedic culture not so,
Father to groom’s feet with worship to go.
Daughter given to his protection now,
Worship proper function to then allow.
As God, Rama’s feet are the best,
With devotion to them Janaka blessed.