“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)Download this episode (right click and save)
sindūra bandana homa lāvā hona lāgīṃ bhānvarī |
sila pohanī kari mohanī manaharyo mūrati sānvarī ||
“These wedding ceremonies are interesting and all, but who actually follows the vows they make? They go through this giant production, following whatever the priest says, and then afterwards they get into so many fights. A squabble here and a squabble there - they are always fighting. In whatever tradition the wedding took place, the wife is generally asked to obey the husband. But come on? Are you kidding me? We all know that the wife runs the show. If she’s not happy, he’s not happy. He could be unhappy too, but that doesn’t matter. So why the attention on all the rituals then? Why so much attention to detail? Wouldn’t it be better to have a quick ceremony that changes the status of the people from single to married?”
Indeed, so many vows in life are broken, and the marriage vows are no different. To see an example of where they are upheld, however, look no further than the marriage of Sita and Rama. As this marriage is more about Sita than Rama, the poem to describe it written by Goswami Tulsidas is appropriately named the Janaki Mangala. In the verse above the author says that the ceremony took place exactly according to Vedic tradition, and in the process the dark-complexioned groom enchanted the mind.
As the husband to protect her, Rama applied sindura on Sita’s head, where the hair parts. Sindura is a vermillion powder or paste and by applying it to the wife’s head the husband promises to protect her. Both husband and wife sat through the fire sacrifice, the homa, in order to have the proper witness to their vows. All Vedic rites involve fire in some way, as the fire locks in whatever oaths are taken. Rice was offered at various times, and both husband and wife took the seven steps that are customary in a Vedic marriage ceremony. Sita also stepped on a stone to signify that her resolve in serving Rama would be as hard as stone. It would never break.
First there are the vows and then there are the actions that show whether or not the vows are followed. If the latter action supports the former, then both are forever linked. If I train very hard to run a marathon, the end result is not guaranteed. If I complete the marathon later on, then the training is tied to the accomplishment. It is part of the complete picture. If the marathon isn’t completed, then the training is considered almost useless. It’s an isolated event of little significance.
Sita and Rama showed how the marriage vows can be upheld. It’s easy to have adherence when there are no difficulties. Husband and wife live peacefully together in a luxurious home with a steady income. As they always have money, they have no reason to fight. The wife is satisfied with the gifts the husband buys for her, and the husband is satisfied having his wife around. There are some children as well, so there is always something to do. Both husband and wife are not bored.
The example of Sita and Rama is not like this. They had everything thrown at them, every possible disturbance to provide an easy excuse to renounce their vows. As described in the verse above, when Rama married Sita people were enchanted by His vision. It stole the mind, meaning the people who were watching couldn’t think of anything else. A murti is a statue that is worshipable when placed in a temple, and since Rama is an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, His spiritual form manifest before the eyes is rightly described as a murti. Since it is all-beautiful, it steals the mind of the pure-hearted soul who gazes upon it.
Rama was a prince, the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya. Thus Sita, who came from royalty herself, married into royalty. Seems pretty easy to serve your husband when you’re living the good life, no? It’s not easy, however, when the same prince is banished to the forest for fourteen years, where He must live like a homeless man. It’s not so easy when later on you’re taken to an enemy land against your will and told that you’ll never see your husband again. It’s not so easy when this fiend who kidnapped you is trying to bribe you with material enjoyments and a high status within a very opulent kingdom. It’s not easy when after reuniting with your husband later on, others think that you weren’t true to your vow, when indeed you were.
Sita stayed true to Rama through it all. She did so not merely as a wife, but as a lover of God. She cannot live in any other consciousness; only God consciousness for her. Sita serves through the covenant of marriage. She vows to serve Rama in an official ceremony, but actually the ceremony is there just to show others how to take a vow that mimics Sita’s eternal devotion. The stone is hard and seemingly unbreakable, but actually Sita’s vow of service to Rama is harder than the stone. It is an object that is impossible to break. Not even Rama can stop her from serving Him. After being banished to the forest for fourteen years, He told her to stay home and be safe. She refused. In the end, there was nothing He could do to stop her from serving Him in the manner she preferred.
“I shall go with you today to the forest. There is no doubt about it. I cannot be prevented, O greatly fortunate one. I am ready to go.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 27.15)
In the marriage ceremony, she stood tall on the stone to show that she would be faithful to Rama, and after the many trials and tribulations she endured later on, she still stood tall. As such, she is the best wife, the most worshipable devotee, and the dearest to Rama.
Enchanted by Rama’s vision the clearest,
During marriage ceremony to Sita His dearest.
One part for wife on stone to stand,
Her vow to new husband to understand.
Harder than stone, resolve not to break,
Never her beloved husband to forsake.
In conditions not so easy vow to test,
Stayed true, in Sita Rama has wife the best.