“Upon arriving at the residence, they performed all the auspicious rituals with all due honor. They gave away clothes, gold, jewels and cows to the brahmanas.” (Janaki Mangala, 189)
bhavana āni sanamāni sakala maṅgala ki'ē |
basana kanaka mani dhēnu dāna bipranha di'ē ||
Humility is required for donating generously. One must realize that what they earn is not totally of their own making. They are not solely responsible for their good fortune. This knowledge makes it easier to part with possessions for the sake of another. Humility is also required to accept charity. Who wants to be dependent on others? Who wants to be labeled a parasite, someone feeding off others? In this verse from the Janaki Mangala, we get an example of each: giving in charity and accepting it. There is humility on both sides, and the offerings are done in the proper way.
Who is actually rich? Who has real wealth? Consider one person who has plenty of food to eat. They don’t own a giant estate. They may not even have air conditioning to keep them cool in the hot summer months. They get exercise by walking on the local fields. They are generally at peace. They don’t worry so much.
Now consider another person. They are very wealthy. Their high-rise apartment would fetch top dollar on the open market. They hob nob with the elite in society. When they fly anywhere, it’s in first class. And yet their health is not so good. To maintain the lavish lifestyle, they have to work long hours. In the fever of earning money, they forget to eat. They have plenty of food available, but they don’t eat on time. Since they are constantly stressed, they’ve developed a bad habit of relying on drugs to get them through the day. They need a pill to deal with anxiety, a pill to keep them awake during the day, and a pill to help them sleep at night.
From these two scenarios, we see that money alone doesn’t make a person rich with assets. Generally, if a person can eat, sleep, mate and defend without issue, they are not poor. Especially in the category of eating, if everything is done sufficiently, poverty is absent. From this rule we see that the gifts mentioned in the verse quoted above allowed the recipients to live just fine. The recipients didn’t otherwise work for a living. They relied on charity to maintain their livelihood.
The charity they received was clothes, gold, cows and jewels. The cows would have been enough. If you have a small plot of land and maintain a few cows, you don’t have to worry about eating. You have a solution to the food problem. And actually, for one who owns such land, receiving more cows increases their wealth. They don’t need a huge retirement fund. They don’t need a lavish apartment that is difficult to maintain. More cows equals more food, which equals less poverty.
Fortunately, the recipients were not too proud to accept this charity. They weren’t beggars in the ordinary sense. They were not lazy. They were more than capable of earning a living in the traditional way, but they sacrificed that for focusing on spiritual life. And not only for themselves, their efforts would help the rest of society as well. In a sense, they were owed the charity they received, even though they would never think like that.
The donations came as a way to celebrate an auspicious occasion. Four princesses were entering their new home, newly married to the four sons of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. The queens of the court happily escorted them into the residence, paying them all honor with performing auspicious rites. Part of the ceremony was distributing gifts to the vipras, the priests who were very wise. In the name of the four daughters-in-law, charity was given to worthy recipients.
If the vipras were too proud to accept charity, how would the royal family have celebrated properly? They were not attached to their possessions. They didn’t want to throw them away, though. What sense would that make? They didn’t want to give them to people who were not deserving of them.
And if the royal family were too proud to give away gifts, how would the vipras survive? Who would teach the society about the difference between matter and spirit? Who would sing the glories of the Supreme Lord and His eternal consort? Who would inform others of the divine natures of Shri Rama and Sita Devi, the beloved couple who resided in Ayodhya, God and His energy appearing in apparently human form? Who would provide wise counsel to the royal order? Who would act as the brains of society?
From this verse we see the importance of maintaining the genuine priestly order. We see that in Vedic culture, auspicious occasions are celebrated not with enjoyment of wine and women, but rather with giving generously in charity to the valuable intelligentsia of society. Shri Rama is God Himself, and so it makes sense that those celebrating Him on earth would behave properly. It makes sense that they would help to maintain those who are so dear to Rama, the legitimate brahmanas of the community. And in accepting those gifts, the vipras maintained their devotion to Rama, whose limitless glories fill the pages of Vedic literature.
Cows, gold and gifts to receive,
In quantities couldn’t conceive.
Humility from both sides required,
Proud not over possessions acquired.
Wise counsel the brahmanas give,
From others’ charity able to live.
For Sita and Rama everything done proper,
No surprise, celebration opportunity to offer.