“O king, please now proceed to give away cows on behalf of the marriages of Rama and Lakshmana, and performing their ancestral rites, complete the marriage ceremony…On the third day, when the Pahlguna will be on the north, please perform the marriage ceremony my dear king. In the meantime, please proceed in distributing gifts for invoking blessings upon Rama and Lakshmana.”
(Janaka speaking to Dashrata prior to the marriage of Lord Rama to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana Bala-Kanda, Sec 71)
When God incarnated as Lord Rama, His marriage was arranged to Sita Devi, the daughter of Maharaja Janaka. A very pious man known for being an expert transcendentalist, Janaka hosted the wedding ceremony and invited Lord Rama’s father, Maharaja Dashrata, and members of his kingdom. Janaka was so happy to get Lord Rama as a son in law that he also arranged for Rama’s three younger brothers (Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna) to be married to other members of his royal family. Thus the marriages of all four brothers took place simultaneously.
In the above referenced statement, we see that Janaka is requesting Dashrata to give away cows in charity in order to mark the joyous occasion. All important occasions in Vedic culture are celebrated by giving away cows in charity. When we were children growing up, we always looked forward to our birthdays for we were assured of getting lots of presents. In America, even the Christmas holiday is celebrated this way. People go out and feverishly shop for the perfect gift to give to their loved ones. Children especially love these occasions since they can never have enough toys. In the Vedic tradition, instead of receiving gifts, special occasions are times when we give generously to those in need. This is not just ordinary charity either, for gifts should be given to those who are worthy of them. We may meet a homeless person on the street in need of money, but if they spend the money we give them on drugs and alcohol, then we really haven’t done anything for that person. We maybe make ourselves feel better with this type of kindness, but the Vedas tell us that charity should serve a higher purpose than this. According to the Vedas, charity should only be given to brahmanas, or those dedicated to serving Lord Krishna.
When celebrating festive occasions, generally one gives away cows to the brahmanas. Cows are considered to be equal to one’s own mother since they freely provide milk to us. Brahmanas generally don’t earn a living, so they live off the charity of others. As the priestly class of men, brahmanas dedicate their lives to studying the Vedas and performing sacrifices. Their days are spent preaching the glories of the Lord and counseling the other three varnas or divisions of society (kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras). A cow is considered a great sign of wealth since it can supply ample amounts of food simply from the milk it provides. The economic problem can be solved simply by maintaining a few cows on one’s land.
Weddings in modern society have turned into very stressful affairs. Planning a wedding means deciding on a guest list and making sure it is not too large or too small. Weddings are held in expensive banquet halls so the price per guest is usually very expensive. Halls typically charge the host per head or per person attending, with a minimum number of guests required by the hall. Inviting too many guests means the cost will go up, while too few guests means the hall won’t agree to take the wedding. As far as wedding gifts go, the bride and groom-to-be usually register at various retail stores so that guests can pick out items to give as gifts. This ensures that the married couple won’t receive the same gifts from multiple people. It is now customary for most guests to give cash gifts at a wedding. According to the standard etiquette as it has evolved, the amount of the gift should be equal to or greater than the cost incurred by the host to allow that guest to come to the wedding. If an invitee can’t attend the wedding, then they are obliged to give a gift anyway. Feeling a sense of apprehension, many guests go so far as to bring a blank check with them to the wedding, which they later fill in with an amount they feel is commensurate with the type of service they are provided. This way they feel safe knowing that they won’t spend too much on a wedding gift. Due to the influence of Kali Yuga, this type of behavior is all too common and it has shifted the entire focus of a wedding from a mood of celebration, to a mood of miserliness. A wedding should be a joyous occasion, a time to share feelings of love and happiness with friends and family. Instead, people have become preoccupied with taking head counts, filling up seats, and tallying the gifts that come in.
From the example of Kings Janaka and Dashratha, we can learn the proper way to celebrate a wedding. A marriage is a joyous occasion, and it should be celebrated as such. In modern society, when a new child is a born, the father typically hands out cigars to friends and family as a way to celebrate. The Vedic example is very similar, except it is done on a larger scale and for every celebratory occasion. The marriage of Sita and Rama involved giving on a grand scale. Brahmanas were given charity and fed sumptuously. Entire villages were invited to the wedding by Janaka with nothing expected in return. Sita was Janaka’s pride and joy, so he wanted everyone to share in this most wonderful of occasions. He was getting God Himself as a son-in-law, so of course he would go to great lengths to celebrate their nuptials.
The Vedas represent perfect knowledge, originally passed down from God Himself. They give us the proper guidance we need to manage our daily affairs. Being a good host means following the proper standards of religion set forth in the Vedas. By liberally distributing gifts to the brahmanas, Dashratha secured their blessings upon his sons. We should follow his example by aiming to please the devotees of Krishna. Devotees are very dear to the Lord, so by pleasing them, we can make our lives perfect.