“How can I ensure that the purpose of my task does not get destroyed? How shall I avoid mental disparity, and how do I ensure that my crossing of the ocean does not go for naught?” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.41)Download this episode (right click and save)
The Ramayana is an epic Sanskrit work of the Vedic tradition, but over the course of history its influence has spread to other traditions as well. To the adventurists, it is a great triumph against the odds. It is overcoming obstacles that life invariably throws your way. To the secularists, it is the embodiment of the struggle of good against evil. There are ideal characters of every persuasion, and they each play the role assigned to them perfectly. Before any superheroes were created, before any blockbuster movies were filmed, the Ramayana was there to give entertainment, education and inspiration.
To the wise the Ramayana is the detailed history of the life and pastimes of Shri Rama, the main character who is also an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lila-smaranam is enough to make life perfect. Just remember the pastimes of God. Since He has pastimes, He is a person; He is more than just an energy.
Since the Ramayana involves a main storyline, there are ups and downs. Not everything goes right for Rama and those around Him. One puzzling aspect is when Rama’s wife Sita Devi goes missing. This occurs while the couple is residing in the forest of Dandaka with Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. How can God’s wife ever leave His company? How can He not know where she is? Of course, there are many reasons to explain the dramatic shift in the storyline.
1. To stick to the script
The Ramayana is the Divine play of Shri Rama, after all. Part of the script is that no one knows for sure who Rama actually is. Otherwise, there would be little enjoyment for the Supreme Lord. If everyone knew He was the Divine Himself, there would be only awe and reverence from the devoted. The asuras would still fight against Him, trying to test just how great God is. Rama is not sympathetic to their desires. The asuras act this way regardless. The reason for birth in the material world is antagonism towards God.
The devotees take joy and pleasure through interacting with the Supreme in different moods. The incarnation of Rama allows this to occur. The script is laid out beforehand. Evidence is there in the fact that Maharishi Valmiki composed the Ramayana prior to Rama’s advent on earth. By not being able to find Sita after she went missing, Rama simply stuck to the script that He was a human being. He was still an extraordinary one at that; purushottama.
2. To allow time to work its magic
As we learn from the Bhagavad-gita, time, or kala, works at the direction of the Supreme Lord. It is the great devouring enemy. It is the agent of change, manipulating the manifestation of prakriti, which is the material nature. Time effects changes that are slated to occur because of karma, or fruitive activity. Karma is accumulated by the jivas, which are living entities combined with a material covering.
“The Blessed Lord said: Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people. With the exception of you [the Pandavas], all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain.” (Bhagavad-gita, 11.32)
For Rama, past, present and future are all the same. When Sita went missing, that was a situation particular to a time. Actually, they are always together. As assessed in consideration of the time continuum, soon Sita and Rama would be together again. The gap in time is what fools the reader into thinking that Rama could not find her. This time period allowed other events to take place, which was the intended effect.
3. To show the amazing devotion of Sita
As Rama is an incarnation of Narayana, or the source of men, Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi, who is the goddess of fortune. Lakshmi is well-known in the Vedic tradition. She is a devoted wife to Narayana, but those with a materialistic mindset think of her mostly in the role of granting benedictions. Since she is in charge of the fortune belonging to her husband, she can share that fortune with anyone who pleases her.
The incarnation of Sita shows that there is much more to Lakshmi. She has amazing devotion. How much? She refused to stay home for fourteen years when Rama was banished from the kingdom. As if that weren’t proof enough, when she went missing from Rama, she persevered through the harshest conditions. The fiendish king from Lanka, Ravana, took her against her will and tried to hide her from the rest of the world. He promised to make her the chief queen if she submitted to his advances. She refused. She would not accept anything from Ravana. She displayed tremendous strength, which is rooted in her devotion to her husband. All of this became vividly clear in the time that Rama spent searching for her.
4. To show how devotion to God can be found in any type of body
The Vedas handicap success for spiritual life by describing the different castes, which are nothing more than divisions based on the type of material qualities, gunas, assumed at the time of birth. The lower castes are generally more in maya, or illusion, while the higher castes are more pure. The idea is that there is a better chance to succeed in spiritual life if you are less distracted by things like wine, money, gambling, and illicit sex.
Nevertheless, devotional service, bhakti-yoga, is never bound by conditions. It is love; the real kind. Thus it can be found in any type of body. When Sita went missing, a large group of Vanaras went to work. They were ordered to find her by their leader, Sugriva. These were monkey-like creatures, obviously not known for their intelligence. Their lifestyle hardly resembled civilized culture. Yet they were so dear to Rama. Their devotion to Him, shown through enthusiastically scouring the world, was just as important to Him as Sita’s dedication.
5. To glorify Shri Hanuman
The best of the Vanaras is Hanuman. The lengthy Ramayana is divided into a handful of sections. Hanuman has an entire section dedicated to his journey to Lanka to find Sita. This would not have been possible if Rama simply told everyone where she was. Rama is the Supersoul, Paramatma. He is the all-pervading witness. This means that He sees what everyone is doing. He knows exactly where they are. He is intelligence, remembrance, and forgetfulness.
“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)
By not knowing where Sita was, Rama allowed Hanuman to shine. Hanuman’s journey is very important. He is perhaps the most famous and widely worshiped of the deities of the Vedic tradition today. This is all due to his amazing service to Rama, which was on full display in that long, difficult, and dangerous journey to Lanka to find Sita. It was a journey that ended in success.
As Supersoul resting in every heart,
So why not locate Sita from the start?
Why to send monkeys there,
When as Paramatma always aware?
That Maricha as golden deer tricking,
Part of larger play, to script sticking.
Rama allowing for Hanuman to shine,
Sundara-kanda way for devotion to define.