“Hearing the words of the vipra, my father brought the bow forward. Bending the bow in the twinkling of an eye and applying string to it, the mighty prince Rama, who was full of valor, quickly drew the bow at full length.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.47-48)Download this episode (right click and save)
Concern was mounting. First, there was worry that the handsome youth accompanied by Vishvamitra Muni and an almost twin-like younger brother would fail. From one glance the people of the town decided they wanted Him to win.
The contest was drawn up by the king, Janaka of Mithila. Whichever prince from the gathered assembly could first lift the bow and string it would win the hand of the princess Sita. There was double interest in attending. The victor’s fame and strength would be broadcast throughout the world. They would also win the hand of the most beautiful and chaste woman.
For so many the task turned out to be something like a monkey holding a coconut. There was no idea how to even move the bow. Others lost nerve upon approaching it. The prospects of declaring a winner looked bleak. The end was drawing near, and so perhaps Sita would have to remain unmarried for life.
Then came Rama. He not only lifted the bow, but broke it while applying string to it. The feat was celebrated throughout the three worlds. He was the destiny that everyone was waiting for. For the sages this is not surprising, for they understand that He is time itself.
“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)
That special bow was passed down through the generations in the royal family. It originally belonged to Lord Shiva, the greatest Vaishnava, or devotee of the personal God. Supposed devotees of Shiva were at the contest, but they received no help. They failed embarrassingly. The object of Shiva’s worship won. There was no offense taken from the breaking of the bow. We know that the same victor can break other things, as well.
1. Protection provided through a grand kingdom, ten heads, and amazing fighting prowess
Ravana got his name from Lord Shiva. He was known as a devotee of Mahadeva, and not surprisingly he sought material benedictions only. Ravana was seemingly unbeatable. He had a majestic kingdom protected on all sides by water. He had gold everywhere, including in the construction of the palaces.
He had ten heads, twenty arms, and an amazing fighting prowess. That protection was formidable, more than the average person can imagine. It looked like everyone was under Ravana’s control.
Just as Shiva did not help Ravana in the bow contest, there was no extra protection when taking on Rama directly. Rama indeed won Sita’s hand in marriage, but Ravana tried to reverse destiny by stealing her later on. This triggered an unwelcome visit by Rama, who was accompanied by an army of monkeys and bears.
Just as with the bow broken previously, Ravana’s coat of armor was no match. The king of Lanka didn’t stand a chance and eventually came crashing to the ground. The same happens for any material benediction accepted in a life destined for death, but this was a special case involving a most ruthless character.
2. Attachment to material things
How to stay happy and peaceful? How to tolerate the ups and downs of life? How to deal with separation and loss? The struggles of life are enough to keep a person awake at night. Don’t get enough sleep and other health problems emerge, causing a chain-like effect.
There are different remedies for the many problems, but attachment is at the root. Know that simply being devoted to Shri Rama can remove that attachment. God in the personal form is all-attractive; hence one of His names is Krishna. He is Achyuta, or infallible. Not only does He never fall down, but He never fails to deliver for the souls surrendered to Him.
“For one who worships Me, giving up all his activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, who has fixed his mind upon Me, O son of Pritha, for him I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.6-7)
He came to the rescue of Sita, Janaka, and the wonderful people of the town by winning the contest. He came through for the sages in the forest of Dandaka, who had been harassed by Ravana’s men for so long. He came through for the monkey-king Sugriva. He delivered for the entire army, who wanted to defeat the Rakshasas of Lanka.
Attachment to Rama automatically brings detachment from material life. That detachment is otherwise not easily gained. It can take many lifetimes, even, for a person to realize the futility of the pursuit for gratification of the senses.
3. The cycle of birth and death
Freedom from attachments is part of the purification of consciousness. If that purification lasts through to the time of death, then no more rebirth. The wheel of suffering, the samsara-chakra, stops spinning. It continues for others, who have yet to taste the sweetest nectar that is bhakti-yoga, but at the individual level there is no more concern over having to accept another material body. The devotion continues into the next life, supported by the mighty arm of the lifter of Shiva’s bow.
For witnesses a precious gift,
Sight of Rama heavy bow to lift.
Winning contest as if a toy,
But other things too can destroy.
Like for Ravana protections strong,
And attachments to objects long.
Birth and death in cycle no more,
Consciousness to new heights to soar.