“Staring again and again at their four sons and their wives, the mothers waved the arati lamps.” (Janaki Mangala, 185)
badhuna sahita suta cāri'u mātu nihārahiṁ |
bārahiṁ bāra āratī mudita utārahiṁ ||
We all know of the “mother-in-law” problem. They are our mother, but not really. We are not biologically related to them. In adulthood, or close to it, we get a brand new authority figure enter our lives. They have motherly affection for our spouse. They’ve shown this affection for a long time. They know that after the marriage of the son or daughter they should let go a little, but can any single event ever stop us from loving our offspring? This means that the mother-in-law is sure to give us trouble, for she wants to ensure that her child is still okay, even after moving in with their spouse. This presents somewhat of a problem for us, for we can’t push back fully, for otherwise our spouse will get upset. This scene from the Janaki Mangala gives us a mother-in-law’s perspective. She too has a lot to worry over, but here she is more than pleased with the new member of the family.
Indeed, in this situation there are multiple mothers and multiple daughters-in-law. Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna were the four sons of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. There were three mothers to these four brothers. Kausalya gave birth to Rama, Kaikeyi to Bharata, and Sumitra to Lakshmana and Shatrughna. But there was no rivalry amongst either the brothers or the mothers. No one thought that this mother is not my birth mother and this mother is. No one thought that this child is really my son and this child isn’t.
That’s a nice situation to be in, having three loving mothers. It means the family extends, and with a large family you have a large support system. In the Vedic tradition, the marriages are arranged, which means that when the wives come home after marriage, it is their first time in that area. Here the mothers are meeting the wives of the four brothers for the first time. The brothers got married away from home, in Janakpur. The mothers were in Ayodhya, and from the verse above we get their initial reaction.
They kept looking at the daughters-in-law. The new wives were very beautiful, and perfect in behavior. Imagine moving in with your husband and seeing that he has three mothers around to protect him. This would be a daunting situation for anyone, but Sita and her relatives acted as if they were coming home again. It was Sita’s marriage to Rama that set everything in motion. From there, Sita’s father arranged to have Rama’s three brothers get married at the same time.
Just as each mother in Ayodhya considered Rama to be their son, they considered Sita to be their daughter. “In-law” had no significance here. Sita’s nature is such that anyone with a sober mind will have affection for her. She has no bad qualities. She is virtuous in every way. It would make sense that she is a perfect match for Rama, of whom even enemies have difficulty speaking ill.
“I have not seen any person in this world, be they an enemy or one punished for heinous sins, speak ill of Rama, even in His absence.” (Lakshmana speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.5)
If you love God, you get the perfect son, if you so desire. This was the case for the wives of Dasharatha. Rama is the Supreme Lord in a special incarnation appearing in the Treta Yuga, or second time period of creation. His three younger brothers are partial incarnations of God, so all the elders in Ayodhya were uniquely blessed.
If you love God, you get the perfect daughter-in-law, if you so desire. Your “cup runneth over” with love. Though you previously thought you couldn’t love anyone any more than you did God, you make more room for His wife. In bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, you make even more room for those dear to Rama, like Hanuman. Then you make further room for those who are dear to Hanuman, like Goswami Tulsidas.
Then you increase your love for those who support the devotees of Hanuman, who facilitate the spreading of the glories of Shri Rama and those who work for His interest. In this way the love always increases in devotional service; the opposite of how it is in material affairs. If I love my wife, I may not love another’s wife. If I love my husband, I have less affection to give someone else. And love in devotional service never breaks; the mothers in Ayodhya kept their love for their daughters-in-law. In the not too distant future, they would have to live without Sita, but they maintained a strong affection for the blameless wife of the prince of Ayodhya. Anyone who does so gets supremely benefitted.
So much affection for child to feel,
Difficult then after marriage to deal.
For new spouse caretaker another,
To clash with the in-law a mother.
Sita coming home to new mothers three,
But from her character of problems free.
Love for God then expanding to His wife too,
Seeing new daughters, love in mothers only grew.