“Again and again he requested the barata party to stay a few more days. Janaka continued to offer hospitality of so many kinds.” (Janaki Mangala, 161)
kari kari binaya kachuka dina rākhi barātinha |
janaka kīnha pahunāī aganita bhāntinha ||
“Oh, they’re coming to stay with us for a week? That is going to be so great. I’m very excited right now. I’ll help you prepare their room, dear. We can go to this place on the first day they are here. We can go to that place on the second day. We have to eat at this restaurant, as since they moved away they haven’t been able to get their favorite dish. How great will it be to have them back in our home?”
…a week into their stay
“Man, they’re still here? I feel very bad for saying this, but I can’t wait until they leave. I haven’t been able to do anything. It’s like I’m trapped in my own home. I have to entertain constantly. I don’t get any alone time. My routine is entirely thrown off. Their visit gives me pause to reflect on how my life is in general. I guess I don’t really like idleness at all. I’m always doing something, and I prefer it that way. It’s been great seeing these guests, but now I’m through with sitting around. I want to be doing things on my own terms again.”
In the famous Poor Richard’s Almanack, a publication which was released yearly for a while in colonial America in the 18th century, there is a particular saying from the author that has relevance to hosting and dealing with guests. It says that guests and fish both start to stink after three days. Fish is a kind of flesh, and so naturally it starts to rot if not eaten very quickly. There were no freezers during that time, so it wasn’t like the food could be preserved for very long.
The guests don’t literally stink; but their presence starts to become a nuisance after three days. This is not a knock on the guests or the host; it is just the general situation. If the guest stays longer, they are more permanent residents, which means that everyone else has to adjust to having new people living in the house. From this sagacious advice from Poor Richard, we see how to both plan trips to the homes of our friends and family and how to deal with hosting them ourselves.
If anyone could buck the trend, it would have to be the Supreme Lord. Indeed, in the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we see that when He visits some place, He never wears out His welcome. Indeed, what starts to happen is the host gets nervous at the Lord’s impending departure. He begs and begs for the preferred guest to stay a few more days.
The beseeching host in this instance is King Janaka. The guest party consists of Shri Rama, His three younger brothers, His father, and the accompanying royal entourage that travelled to Janakpur. They were there to witness the marriage ceremony of Sita to Rama. Sita was Janaka’s beloved daughter. So in this case Sita was now a guest as well; she was ready to depart back to Ayodhya where Rama lived.
In Vedic culture, it is the etiquette to always ask the guest to stay longer. “You can’t leave right now. I will make some food to eat. Why do you have to leave tonight? Spend the night here and leave in the morning, when you won’t be as tired.” There is religious merit earned from being a good host. It is a shared value also, as the same practice is present in other cultures as well.
Here Janaka went beyond the etiquette of asking Rama to stay longer. He kept providing hospitality in different ways. The ways were uncountable, as Goswami Tulsidas notes. If I entice you to stay at my house for a day longer by promising to take you to a Broadway show, that might work for only a day. But what am I going to do after that? I will have to come up with another way to keep you interested in staying. In Janaka’s case, there was full variety. He made the guests so happy that they didn’t want to leave.
Alas, Rama and His family would eventually have to return. It is not possible for them to overstay their welcome, and so one never tires of hosting them. For this reason in the homes of the devoted souls are found deities of God and His family that are worshiped daily. This way the Supreme Lord becomes the permanent and most exalted guest in the home, someone who never has to leave. He is not expected to lift a finger either, just stay there in His sweetness, which is immeasurable. And just as there is spiritual merit from serving guests, by loving and honoring the permanent resident of the Supreme Lord and those closest to Him the worthy householder ascends to the supreme destination in the afterlife, all the while enjoying the company of the most beloved during their time on earth.
Though at first very excited to see,
Like fish, guests to stink after days three.
When from the home will they leave,
So that again privacy to receive?
Never was this the case,
With Dasharatha’s son of pleasing face.
Janaka gave hospitality in many a way,
Compelling them longer in kingdom to stay.
Eventually Rama with party home to go back,
Worship deity for His presence never to lack.