“At first, Draupadi had tried to hold on to her sari. But what could she do? After all, she was a woman, and the Kurus were trying to strip her naked. So she cried and prayed to Krishna, ‘Save my honor,’ but she also tried to save herself by holding on to her sari. Then she thought, ‘It is impossible to save my honor in this way,’ and she let go and simply raised her arms and prayed, ‘Krishna, if You like You can save me.’ Thus the Lord responded to her prayers.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 7 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
The classic mismatch. On paper, it looks like it won’t even be a contest. One side has too much strength. They are large in stature. They have so many victories from the past from which to draw confidence. They are not worried at all about the upcoming contest.
The other side is much smaller in comparison. On the surface, it looks like perhaps they are out of sorts, not thinking correctly. Why would they even agree to enter the conflict? Why not just flee? Why not give in to what the aggressor wants? Better that than suffer humiliating, painful, and quick defeat.
In the extended history described in Vedic literature, physical strength is not always victorious. The strength from devotion, bhakti, is amazing. It transcends the material world, and the source of that strength is the Supreme Lord Himself.
1. Prahlada and Hiranyakashipu
Just by chanting the holy names a person does not automatically eliminate the miseries of the material world. I may be thinking about God twenty-four hours a day, understanding that He is ultimately a person with all opulences, but this doesn’t mean that I won’t have to sleep. My sleeping will likely diminish. I may conquer over it like Arjuna, who was thus known as Gudakesha. But nevertheless, the effects of the body are still there.
Prahlada is a special person. He was able to defy the laws of nature due to exceptional devotion, unbroken dhyana on the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. His example shows that it is indeed possible to defeat material strength of the highest magnitude.
Prahlada was not a hostile combatant. He was not an eager participant in conflict. Rather, he wasn’t bothering anyone. He simply practiced bhakti-yoga, and at five years of age, he had little physical power to wield. His father turned out to be the greatest enemy. Hiranyakashipu couldn’t stand the boy’s devotion.
If there was a hint of hostility in Prahlada, it was in his stubbornness. He refused to give up worshiping Vishnu, which is one name for the Almighty. Hiranyakashipu wouldn’t budge from his position, either. The difference was that Prahlada could tolerate the atheism in his father. The father could not tolerate the devotion in the son.
“O lord, we know that when you simply move your eyebrows, all the commanders of the various planets are most afraid. Without the help of any assistant, you have conquered all the three worlds. Therefore, we do not find any reason for you to be morose and full of anxiety. As for Prahlada, he is nothing but a child and cannot be a cause of anxiety. After all, his bad or good qualities have no value.” (Advisors speaking to Hiranyakashipu, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.49)
Hiranyakashipu made so many attempts to kill his son. The king had everything at his disposal. But for some reason Prahlada wouldn’t die. The father even tried to get the boy’s mind right by having the teachers instruct him on materialistic ways. Nothing worked. At the end, the father thought the son maybe had some mystic power that was protecting him. Prahlada informed the father that the source of his strength was the same as in the father. The difference was that the source protected Prahlada’s devotion, while the material strength was set to expire for the father eventually.
2. The Vanaras and the Rakshasas
The Almighty descended to earth in the Treta Yuga as a handsome warrior prince named Rama. Playing the part of a human being, He went through trials and tribulations. The greatest struggle was rescuing His wife Sita, who had been kidnapped in secret by a Rakshasa named Ravana. A Rakshasa is a human-like creature who is prone to heinous behavior. They were man-eaters, ranging the night looking for prey. Their favorite kind of human flesh was priests engaged in worship.
Because of certain rules stipulated by the father, when going to rescue His wife Rama could not use the royal army. Instead, He was friends with Vanaras from the forest of Kishkindha. The literal meaning to this word is “forest dweller,” and from the descriptions provided in shastra we understand that they were monkey-like creatures.
Meanwhile, the Rakshasas could change their shapes at will. They were expert at black magic, which meant they could display illusions and disappear from sight in an instant. Yet this amazing strength, which included physical application through bows and arrows, was defeated by monkeys hurling trees and boulders. Ravana was just like Hiranyakashipu, so strong materially to the point of being almost invincible. But once again, the devotional strength triumphed.
3. Hanuman lifting Lakshmana
One incident from the final conflict is particularly wonderful in illustrating the concept. Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana was with Him. Lakshmana is like a twin to Rama; just the bodily complexion is different. Both brothers are excellent marksman. They can destroy anyone in conflict, despite how they look. One against thousands is no problem for them.
In the final battle with Ravana and the Rakshasas, Lakshmana at one point fell unconscious on the battlefield from a blow. Ravana then tried to lift him. The same person who had moved the great Mount Kailasa could not move Lakshmana lying unconscious. Rama’s younger brother is the origin of the guru, and so he is heavy in terms of others comprehending him. Ravana’s failure beautifully symbolized the inability of the atheist to understand God.
Hanuman, one of the leading Vanaras, later came in and picked up Lakshmana without a problem. This is because Hanuman has devotional strength. He understands that Rama is God, that God is a person, and that the representative is the way to understanding God.
4. Trying to disrobe Draupadi
The Pandava brothers faced many hardships. As five brothers, they were the rightful heirs to the throne in Hastinapura. Unfortunately, their cousins took it over, unjustly. The Kauravas were headed by Duryodhana, and like Hiranyakashipu and Ravana he could not stand to have devotees around. The Pandavas were those devotees, and they were essentially persecuted by Duryodhana.
One time Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five brothers, got roped into a dice game with the Kauravas. The Kauravas cheated, and one of the stipulations from their victory was that Draupadi became their property. Due to special circumstances, Draupadi is the wife shared by all five Pandava brothers.
Nevertheless, she is still the most chaste woman. Duryodhana’s group had her dragged into an assembly. She was about to be made naked in front of everyone. With no other hope, she prayed to the Supreme Lord Krishna to save her. Krishna is the well-wisher of the devotees, and especially the Pandavas.
Nobody could believe what happened next. No matter how much of Draupadi’s sari was pulled, she still was clothed. She could not be made naked. Krishna had taken the form of the cloth and made it inexhaustible, just like Himself. This defied the laws of the material world. The scales were heavily tilted on the side of the Kauravas, but a helpless woman earned victory through the favor of her well-wisher.
5. Agastya and the two Rakshasa brothers
There were two Rakshasas by the name of Vatapi and Ilvala. They were demons in the truest sense, bad guys who were against the priestly class. They had a scheme going whereby they killed brahmanas, who are essentially priests. One of the brothers would transform into a type of meat, and the other would invite brahmanas to come and eat. After consumption, the brother would burst out of the stomach, killing the brahmana. The brothers would then eat the resultant flesh.
They tried this one time on Agastya Rishi. Unbeknownst to them the scheme had reached its end. The brother who turned into flesh died after entering Agastya’s stomach. The other brother got killed simply by a glance from Agastya. This was all due to devotional strength.
The Supreme Lord’s mercy is very powerful. In each of these cases, the devotees had no desire to show off. Though they were so strong on the inside, they were humble at the same time. In this way we see that devotional service is the solution to the greatest problems. It grants protection, either through maintaining the present life or in bringing more auspicious circumstances in the subsequent life.
One a powerful foe,
Another of small stature so.
Defeat the likely outcome to see,
Since inferior in strength is he.
But for devotees not the case,
Like Agastya demons scheme to erase.
For Draupadi sari endlessly extending,
Monkeys trees and rocks to foes sending.