“She, who has been given away as wife by her father to one, with due rites of gift peculiar to each class, touching holy water, shall be his, even in her afterlife.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 29)
According to the original definition, a marriage is a bond between a man and a woman which lasts forever, regardless of circumstances. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, state that it is the duty of a father to give away his daughter to a suitable husband when she reaches an appropriate age. The marriage ceremony involves many rites and rituals respectful to each particular class: the brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras. The Vedic system of varnashrama dharma divides society into four classes based on the inherent qualities of an individual. Accordingly, there are separate rules assigned to each group. The husband and wife are married by a member of the priestly class, a brahmana, witnessed by a fire sacrifice. The two parties tie the “knot” of marriage, which takes effect for the duration of their current life and their afterlife. Even if the husband leaves the wife and takes to the renounced order known as sannyasa, the couple is still viewed as being married.
The modern day definition of marriage stands in stark contrast to the Vedic system. Today it has evolved into nothing more than a piece of paper issued by governing authorities. Men and women freely intermingle and associate as boyfriend and girlfriend, and when they feel the time is right, they decide to get married. If they become unhappy in their married life, they have no qualms about dissolving the relationship through the divorce process. For Western style wedding ceremonies, the customary vows consist of phrases such as “til death do us part, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer”, yet these become null and void at the time of divorce. The vows end up being meaningless phrases, with the marriage amounting to nothing more than a legal classification between two people involved in amorous love.
From studying Vedic literature, we can understand the true purpose behind marriage, as it was originally intended by God. This material world was created by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as a way for the spirit souls to have a sense of enjoyment and proprietorship. In essence, we spirit souls wanted to pretend to be God, so He more than willingly obliged our request. In the material world, we involve ourselves in fruitive activity, known as karma, and we are forced to live by its rules. Karma states that every action has a reaction, good or bad, and that at the time of death, our desires are noted, and we are duly given a body suitable to fulfill those desires in our next life. Naturally if we are engaged in sinful activity, we suffer for those sins in the afterlife, and then upon exhaustion of our demerits, we are given new bodies commensurate with our previous karma. On the flip side, pious behavior leads to ascension to the heavenly planets after death, and upon exhaustion of those merits, we fall back down to the material world into a higher form of life respective to our past karma. In either case, we see that the cycle of birth, death, old age, and disease is continuously repeated.
God has given us a way out though. If we learn to love Him and realize that He is the only source of pleasure, then we won’t have to come back to this world after death. Krishna declares this in the Bhagavad-gita:
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Bg. 8.5)
So how can we make sure to think of God at the time of death? The answer lies in religion. Religion, better known as sanatana-dharma, the eternal occupation of man, is the system put into place by God to allow us to gradually immunize ourselves from sense gratification and instead turn our attention towards pleasing the Supreme. The cornerstone of religion lies in the principle of tapasya. Tapasya means austerities which are voluntarily taken up with the aim of making spiritual advancement. Sometimes we look at various restrictions given to us by religious leaders and we think they are a waste of time. To those unacquainted with scriptural injunctions, recommendations such as abstention from meat eating, going to church on a regular basis, and fasting are seen as nuisances with no real purpose. However, these are all forms of tapasya that are meant to purify one’s consciousness.
The greatest material attachment that we spirit souls have is to sex life. Sex desire is the cornerstone of material life. It is due to our desire to satisfy the genitals that we take to seeking out a boyfriend or girlfriend. This chase involves dressing ourselves up very nicely and spending lavishly on activities involving meat eating, gambling, and intoxication. In fact, the entire family structure of working hard day and night to maintain husbands, wives, and children, is all rooted in sex life. According to the Vedas, sex desire is the most difficult to control and represents the greatest impediment to spiritual life. As long as one is attached to the four principles of animal life, namely eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, then he or she is forced to repeatedly take birth in the material world. The key to making spiritual advancement lies in controlling sex desire.
It is for this very reason that God invented the institution of marriage. In Vedic times, young boys would attend school at the home of their gurus. The students were required to live a strictly celibate life. For this reason, this stage of life is known as the brahmacharya ashrama. More than anything else, brahmacharya means celibacy. At the completion of their studies, after being taught on all matters relating to God and the soul, those wanting to enter the grihastha ashrama would be married off by the parents. The idea behind such a system is that as soon as there is an inkling for sex desire, one should be married off so that sex life can be regulated. According to Vedic injunctions, one should only have sex with one’s wife, and then only for the purposes of creating Krishna conscious children. Having unlimited amounts of sex with one’s wife doesn’t help one make progress on the spiritual path. Unregulated sex life leads to unwanted children, who in turn end up not being properly educated on spiritual matters, which then leads to the degradation of society. This human form of life is the greatest opportunity for the soul to free itself from the cycle of birth and death. One should not become a father, mother, or a spiritual master, unless they can deliver their dependents from this cycle.
The modern day practice of a man sowing his oats prior to getting married is not found in the Vedas. A boy marries a girl, and then it becomes their duty is to serve God together. This is the lesson taught by Sita Devi’s statement. She was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. Lord Krishna had descended in human form as Lord Rama. Playing the role of a pious prince of the kshatriya order, Lord Rama was married to Sita, who was the daughter of Maharaja Janaka of Mithila. The two were enjoying peaceful married life in the kingdom of Maharja Dashratha, Rama’s father, when suddenly circumstances drastically changed. Dashratha had initially intended on investing Rama with the crown as his successor, yet as fate would have it, he instead ordered the Lord to be exiled in the forest for fourteen years. Lord Rama went to tell Sita the news, and she insisted on accompanying Him in the forest. Lord Rama tried his best to dissuade her, out of concern for her welfare. Sita, however, put forth a series of impeccable arguments in her favor, and the above referenced statement was part of her speech.
According to the Vedic marriage system, a wife shares the fate of her husband. Men and women don’t have equality in marriage duties per se, since the man is required to provide protection to the wife, and the wife in turn serves the husband and worships him as her deity. There is equality however in terms of their fates in the afterlife. If the husband is pious and devoted to Krishna, then the wife shares in all his merits after death. In the same way, if the husband goes to hell, the wife goes with Him.
Sita Devi’s point was that she was given away by her father to Rama. She was basically saying, “Our marriage was conducted in the most proper manner, by the greatest of sages. Accordingly, I now belong to You, not only in this life, but in the afterlife. Since I belong to You, it is my duty to stand by Your side and serve You, no matter where You go, and no matter what it means for me. Whether You live the luxurious life of a great king, or the meager life of a recluse, my duty is to always be at Your side and serve You.”
Sita’s arguments were infallible and Rama was eventually forced to back down and allow her to accompany Him. In this age of Kali, the Vedic system of marriage will be very hard to reinstitute. Regardless of our position, we should all follow Sita’s lead and give ourselves to Lord Rama, who is God Himself. If we surrender everything unto Him, and lovingly chant His glorious names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” we will surely be His in this life and the next.
Categories: glories of sita devi