“That best among men would not go to sleep without Him, nor would he eat without Him, even if the food brought was very palatable.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Bala Kand, 18.30)Download this episode (right click and save)
na ca tena vinā nidrām labhate puruṣottamaḥ ||
mṛṣṭam annam upānītam aśnāti na hi tam vinā |
Dasharatha wanted a son. Just one. Nothing more was needed in life. The pious king had faithfully observed the Satyanarayana Vrata in a previous life. His reward was birth in the famous Raghu dynasty. This wasn’t just being born into wealth and enjoying the regal life. He was expected to follow the exemplary behavior of his predecessors.
Dasharatha lived up to the role and more. He earned his name from his amazing fighting ability. During that ancient time declared conflict took place using bows and arrows shot from warriors riding on chariots. Dasharatha could fight against chariots coming in the ten directions simultaneously. The demigods, the rulers of the heavenly realm, called on him many a time to help in their struggles with the asuras, the bad guys of the world.
Advanced in years, the king did not yet have a successor to the throne. At the advice of a sage, he performed a yajna, or sacrifice, and the three queens partook of the remnants. The result was four beautiful sons. They were Divine in nature. The eldest Rama was the Supreme Lord Himself. Dasharatha was the most attached to Him. That attachment would pass the ultimate test later on.
Rama’s three younger brothers were partial expansions of the Supreme Lord. The four divided up into pairs as far as association went. Shatrughna and Bharata were close, and Rama was always with Lakshmana. There was no infighting. All three brothers loved Rama so much, viewing Him as their life and soul. There is nothing that can compare to having a brother, and in Lakshmana the Supreme Lord gets the most devoted follower, caretaker, protector, and advisor. The Ramayana gives us many examples of that devotion, acts which are endearing.
1. Not eating until Rama ate
You’re hungry. Mother has prepared dinner. You are seated, ready to partake. You dig in, no? What is the issue? The food was made for you to enjoy, after all. With Lakshmana there was difficulty. He would not eat until Rama was with him. The verse describing this in the Ramayana uses the word Purushottama. This can refer to either Rama or Lakshmana, but the meaning is the same taken either way.
Lakshmana was known to impose such vows on himself. He was not trying to win a contest. He was not trying to show everyone that he was the best brother. Rather, on his own he thought it disrespectful to enjoy anything in life before his brother. One of Lakshmana’s many names is Ramanuja, which means “younger brother of Rama.” Breaking down the terms further, Lakshmana is the devoted follower of the elder Rama.
2. Offering to stage a coup
Rama reciprocated, of course. The Supreme Lord never forgets a single act of kindness done in His favor. What then to speak of an entire life dedicated to pleasing Him. After consulting with the royal advisors, one day Dasharatha decided that the time was right for Rama to ascend the throne, to pass the torch to the next generation. When Rama heard the news, He went to Lakshmana and told him to share the honor. Rama did not want to make Lakshmana feel bad, that he was somehow being left out of the glory.
“O Lakshmana, do you rule this earth with Me. You are like My second self, so this glorious opportunity has been presented to you as well. O Saumitra, do you enjoy all the pleasures you desire and the fruits of the regal life. My life and this kingdom I covet for your sake alone.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, 4.43-44)
Everything was set for the transfer, except at the last moment the youngest queen, Kaikeyi, came in and caused a change in plans. She used to her advantage promises that Dasharatha had previously made. Not only was Rama now not going to be made king, but He had to leave the kingdom for fourteen years.
This did not sit well with Lakshmana. The devoted younger brother was furious. He thought that Rama had lost His mind in accepting such a decision. Lakshmana asked Rama for permission to stage a coup. As Rama was previously ready to share the honor with Lakshmana, the younger brother was now ready to install the elder on the throne by force. Lakshmana was ready to fight against the entire family if necessary. At the end of his presentation, Lakshmana even posed the classic leading question commonly associated with the expert attorney. He asked Rama who should be killed first. Rama politely declined, though He appreciated the sentiment.
3. Keeping vigil in the forest
Lakshmana’s etiquette was not exclusive to eating. It extended to sleeping as well. As a youth, he would not go to sleep unless Rama was with him. After the exile order, Lakshmana insisted on accompanying Rama, as did Rama’s wife Sita. When the couple would sleep at night, Lakshmana would stay awake, standing guard. He sacrificed sleep in order to serve his brother, who was so dear to him.
4. Response to Rama’s request to build a hut
During their travels in the forest, the group stopped in an area called Panchavati. Rama politely asked Lakshmana to find a good spot for building a hut. Lakshmana responded that for as long as Rama was with him, he would remain a dedicated servant. Even if it were for one hundred years, the relationship would never change. The devoted younger brother perfectly defined pure bhakti-yoga in a single response.
“O Rama, for as long as You shall stand before me, even if it be for one hundred years, I will always remain Your servant. Therefore You should be the one to choose a beautiful and appropriate place for the cottage. After You have selected a spot, please then command me to start building.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 15.7)
5. Invoking Rama’s name prior to dealing the death blow to Indrajit
As an incarnation of God, Rama has full strength. He is not missing any opulence, actually, but some are more pronounced than others. As a member of the warrior caste, the kshatriya, Rama was expert in shooting arrows from a bow. Lakshmana was essentially Rama’s equal in that area. Combined they were like fire and wind. Rama was the fire, and Lakshmana was the wind that increased the potency and reach of the flames.
“Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, has reddish eyes and a voice that resounds like a kettledrum. His strength matches that of Rama’s, and his face shines like a full moon. Just as wind gives aid to a raging fire, Lakshmana has joined forces with his brother. It is that best of kings, Shriman Rama, who has brought down the Rakshasas fighting in Janasthana.” (Akampana speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.16-17)
Lakshmana once had a great battle with a foe named Indrajit. He was the son of the king of Lanka, Ravana, and he earned his name by defeating the king of heaven, Indra. Lakshmana was fully capable in the battle. He didn’t need outside help to gain victory. Still, when setting the last arrow to his bow, the one to gain victory once and for all, Lakshmana invoked Rama’s name. He used the strength of his brother to gain victory. This is the proper way to behave for every person. Success is never guaranteed, but carrying out devotional service on the strength of the holy name ensures auspiciousness. Not surprisingly, the arrow released from Lakshmana’s bow did its job.
Without Rama not to eat or sleep,
In forest night vigil to keep.
Always with beloved brother to stay,
In devotional service showing the way.
Most endearing when arrow to bow fitting,
Invoked Rama’s name, act most befitting.
Intended target Indrajit reaching,
Successful flight, to everyone teaching.