“Those who sing of the auspicious occasion of the initiation and the wedding of Sita and Rama with excitement get countless auspicious blessings day after day, says Tulsi.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 24.2)
upabīta byāha uchāha jē siya rāma maṅgala gāvahīṁ |
tulasī sakala kalyāna tē nara nāri anudita pāvahīṁ ||
The upavita is the sacred thread, which is worn around the shoulder. It has special significance, though commonly today one receives it as part of a ceremonial function. Sort of like the bar mitzvah or confirmation, those sons born into high class families go through a ceremony where they receive the upavita. From this verse from the Janaki Mangala, we see that the sacred thread is more than just an ornament. It means something, and who better than God to explain that meaning.
The upavita goes to the twice-born. What does it mean to be born twice? The first birth is obvious; it occurs from the womb of the mother. Everyone has this birth. To be alive means to have taken the first birth. The second birth is actually more important; it signals entry into spiritual understanding. Think of it like being admitted to school, except the education is the highest there is. The instruction deals with the difference between matter and spirit, the true position of the soul, which is the identifying agent within all creatures.
rāja-vidyā rāja-guhyaṁpavitram idam uttamampratyakṣāvagamaṁ dharmyaṁsu-sukhaṁ kartum avyayam
“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)
The second birth comes from the guru, or spiritual master. Shri Ramachandra, the Supreme Personality of Godhead appearing on earth in a beautiful incarnation form many thousands of years ago, was of the royal order. Therefore His “second birth” related to learning the military arts. He was not expected to be a brahmana, which means one who knows Brahman, which is the non-differentiated spiritual energy. I am Brahman and so are you. In fact, so is the cat, the dog, the elephant, and the cow. Anything we consider to be life is Brahman, or spirit, in its true identity.
Goswami Tulsidas says that one who sings with excitement of the upavita of Shri Ramachandra gets all auspiciousness every day. The verse quoted above sums up what has been detailed in the work known as the Janaki Mangala. Interestingly, there is no previous mention of a sacred thread being given to Rama. There is no mention of an official ceremony where Rama, the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, gets a sacred thread from a guru.
Upavita is a compound Sanskrit word. Upa means “to bring closer” and vita can refer to “trained.” Combining the two, we get a definition of “bringing one closer in order to train them.” This is the more applicable meaning to the upavita mentioned here by Tulsidas. The great poet does describe how Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana received training in the military arts from the brahmana Vishvamitra.
So the sacred thread is more than just a decoration. It is more than just an indication of entry into instruction. The person getting the sacred thread must do something in order to earn it. As Rama is God, it makes sense that He was asked to do something extraordinary to earn His stripes. God does not require this training. He doesn’t need anyone to teach Him anything. Yet in order to give the proper lesson to future generations, He humbly served Vishvamitra and did whatever the sage asked.
And what was asked of Rama? The sages in the forest of Dandaka were being harassed by evil night-rangers. These were ogre-like creatures who had no morals and could change their shapes at will. Using black magic, they could appear in one second and then vanish the next. They didn’t fight fairly. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were asked to defend against such attackers.
Rama’s training was successful, and through Vishvamitra’s blessings He eventually went to Janakpur, where He wed Sita. One of her other names is Janaki, and so we get the main subject of the work of Tulsidas. The training required for ordinary souls, who are not God, is not as difficult. We do not need to slay wicked night-rangers all by ourselves. We wouldn’t be able to accomplish such a task anyway, as our abilities are paltry in comparison to Rama’s.
To earn the vital second birth, one simply needs love for Rama. With love for the Supreme Lord, there is love for the guru, who is the spiritual master representing Rama’s interests on earth. If one doesn’t yet have love for Rama, if they don’t know who He is or are not certain of His divinity, faith in the guru is enough. Following their instructions, inquiring submissively and humbly serving their interests, one can pass the tests necessary to enter the second and more important life.
The guru is most pleased by the disciple who always chants the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This chanting is identical with singing the glories of the upavita of Rama and His marriage to Sita. It is identical with love for God, which is the pinnacle achievement in life. This chanting pleases the bona fide spiritual master, and it opens the door to eternal spiritual life.
When sacred thread gaining,
Means from guru training.
Entry into the second birth,
Accepting knowledge of highest worth.
Rama the tests of guru passed,
By arrows from bow coursing fast.
Today from guru take holy names spoken,
And see doors to spiritual world open.