“With the four types of food, of so many different varieties, the King of Ayodhya and the barata party took their meal.” (Janaki Mangala, 159)
cahu prakāra jevanāra bhaī bahu bhāntinha |
bhojana karata avadhapati sahita barātinha ||
There is no doubt that one of the top sensual enjoyments in life is eating. For those living in industrialized nations, where food is easy to find and so much of it is around, where and what to eat often make for the most pressing questions of the day. “Where will I get lunch today? I had pizza the last two days. I had Mexican food for dinner last night. I could pick up something quick, like a bagel, but then that is only one item. I’ve noticed that eating full meals is better. I especially like to pick at different things, alternating between the items. I am actually able to control my eating better this way. I don’t have to eat as much when there is variety.” For a host a long time ago, there was great satisfaction in feeding the guests. He gave them every kind of food dish imaginable, and in large quantities. Though the guests took part in the meal, the bhojana, and thus enjoyed themselves, the real pleasure was for the host.
If you are a host, you feel good when your guests eat to their satisfaction. You feel this way based simply on your own experiences. That one time you visited someone’s home when you were hungry and they offered you a nice meal made you feel so good that you won’t forget it. You weren’t expecting it, and since the food was offered as part of the most genuine welcome, it made the eating process that much more special. When we were younger, perhaps many times we didn’t think the occasion called for food. And yet that time when our mother showed up with a sandwich and a drink after we had just completed an important exam is something we’ll never forget.
Indeed, one of the principal ways for an affectionate mother to offer her protection is to hassle the children about food. One of the most famous mothers in history, Yashoda, used to constantly worry about her son’s nutrition. He was a precocious young child who loved to play in the field all day with His friends, who were of or around the same age. The boys had the basic task of tending to the young calves of the farm community. As is common with young children, something that an adult would take to be work is viewed as good fun. Since Yashoda’s son was with them, everyone was happy. The mother was blissful as well, but in a different way. She always worried that Krishna had not eaten enough. Therefore she would feed Him very well when He would come home. She would offer Him the best food in the world, of many different varieties, and then take Him to a comfortable place to rest.
Here King Janaka has similar sentiments, including affection in a friendly way. He has just welcomed four new sons into his family, for they have married his daughters and those of his brother. Janaka hosted the ceremony initially only to get his daughter Sita married. So pleased was he in her choice of Shri Rama that he decided to get Rama’s three younger brothers married as well.
A Vedic ceremony is not complete until there is the taking of prasadam. The Sanskrit word means “the Lord’s mercy,” and in this special occasion the food was offered directly to God. The mercy was in the chance to feed Him and take great pleasure. Rama is the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as a warrior prince. He is the same Krishna loved without motivation and without interruption by mother Yashoda. He is the same Vishnu who is always served by the goddess of fortune Lakshmi. He is the same impersonal Brahman which the spiritualists in the mode of goodness try to understand. He is the same Supersoul residing within the heart whom the meditational yogis wish to see.
Janaka’s connection was superior since He got to see God and serve Him. There were four kinds of food offered, chatur-vidha. There was food that could be licked, food that could be sucked, food that could be chewed, and food that could be drunk. Goswami Tulsidas says that there were so many kinds in each category. The variety helps in both enjoyment and the ability to consume more. If you are at a restaurant and told to eat so many pancakes in one sitting, it will be quite difficult. You can put as much maple syrup and butter on it as you want, but you will still have a hard time. If you throw in some other items, however, like toast, potatoes, cereal, and the like, you will have an easier time consuming everything.
So the four kinds of food allowed Janaka to offer as much as he could to his beloved guests. Their bhojana was very enjoyable, and through their eating Janaka was spiritually satisfied. The Vaishnava is unique in their attitude to always seek God’s pleasure first. Rather than ask for this thing or that - fame, money, wealth, women, wine - they want only that God be satisfied. If He is pleased, then they are pleased. Based on Janaka’s supreme happiness, we can understand that his offerings were wholeheartedly accepted by Rama’s father, the king of Ayodhya, and his party.
For a full meal to eat more,
Helps with foods of kinds four.
This offering to Dasharatha made,
When king and family in Videha stayed.
Janaka of this occasion the host,
In seeing bhojana his joy the most.
Vaishnava desires God’s pleasure to see,
Happy when pleased by their work is He.