“The Puranas (such as the Brahma-vaivarta Purana, Naradiya Purana, Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana) are especially meant for Vaishnavas and are also Vedic literature. As such, whatever is stated within the Puranas, Mahabharata and Ramayana is self-evident.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 6.137 Purport)
Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya, died of the pain he felt due to separation from His eldest and most beloved son Rama, who was an incarnation of Krishna, or God. After the king had quit his body, many great sages assembled in the kingdom. They advised the royal priest Vashishta to decide on a successor to the throne. In the following statement, the sages stressed the importance of having a king or qualified ruler.
“In a kingless country, disputants cannot decide their point; nor are persons given to hearing Puranic recitations pleased by those delighting in the practice.” (Assembled brahmanas speaking to Vashishta, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 67)
Dashratha had four sons: Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna. Rama was in line to be the successor but due to unfortunate circumstances, He was banished to the forest for fourteen years. Lakshmana accompanied Him. Prior to his death Dashratha chose Bharata as the successor, but both Bharata and Shatrugha were out of town visiting Bharata’s maternal grandfather. For this reason the sages took it upon themselves to stress the urgency of the need to have a leader on the throne. They gave various descriptions of the problems that would result from a country being kingless. The first part of their statement illustrates a fact that is quite obvious. The primary duty of any government leader is to provide protection to their citizens and to administer justice fairly and equally. In the United States, the executive branch, headed by the President, is given this task. They are in charge of the military, thus the President is often referred to as the Commander In Chief of the armed forces. There is a separate judiciary branch, headed by the Supreme Court, but it is still the duty of the executive branch to administer justice. There is a Justice Department in the Executive Branch, headed by the Attorney General. They decide which criminals to chase after and who to prosecute on a federal level. If there was no leader of the country, then obviously there would be no law and order. Thus people could do whatever they wanted, acting lawlessly without any consequences. Anarchy would ensue. For this reason it was important for Vashishta to choose a successor very quickly.
The second part of the sages’ statement is even more intriguing. Puranic reciters are those who recite the Puranas, which are the ancient stories of the Vedas. The original scripture for all of mankind is the Veda, passed down from God Himself. After the world was created, as time went on, people’s mental capacity for spiritual understanding diminished. Thus it was required that the original Veda be divided into four so as to make spiritual knowledge easier to understand. The great sage and literary incarnation of Krishna, Vyasadeva, took care of this task. He also wrote about the same Vedic teachings in story form, and these stories make up the Puranas. There are eighteen major Puranas, six for each of the three modes of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. These stories are actual historical events that took place in the past. In addition, the Puranas describe events that will take place in the future and even events that take place on other planets in the universe.
Vyasadeva put the Puranas into book form, but prior to that most in society were well acquainted with the stories they contained. Instead of watching television, the nighttime entertainment consisted of Puranic recitations. People would gather round and hear stories about God and His various incarnations. Even Lord Rama was a great reciter Himself. While travelling in the forest with His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana, the Lord would discuss the Puranas in the nighttime while the group was taking rest. Since the Puranas also detail the lives of great ascetics and devotees of the Lord, Rama was more than happy to share these stories with His family members. Once while walking in the forest, Rama very nicely described stories relating to Agastya Muni and his great powers. This is God’s nature. He is very happy to glorify His devotees.
Spiritual knowledge can be explained in two ways. The Bhagavad-gita and Vedanta-sutras contain many great aphorisms and philosophical points that can be discussed and studied by great scholars. In fact, one can spend an entire lifetime simply studying the verses of the Bhagavad-gita and still not fully grasp their meaning. However, there are those who either don’t have the time or don’t have the desire to study such great philosophy. For them, the stories of the Puranas, Mahabharata, and Ramayana are more pleasing. The same Vedic teachings are presented in those books, but in story form. Most people prefer entertainment to studying, so storytelling is a great way to make learning fun. We see even today that people love to go to the movies, rent DVDs, or watch television shows. The recitation of the Puranas was as good as watching television, but even more effective since it involved the hearing process. Even as recently as one hundred years ago in India, the villagers would gather nightly to hear recitations of these great Vedic texts. They would spend time discussing the verses and then think about all the characters and personalities as they went to sleep. Even the most uneducated villager in the most remote part of India could very quickly describe the events and characters of the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Sadly, in today’s society, almost no one is interested in hearing about these great texts. They would rather watch sports, play video games, or go out to night clubs where they can drink and gamble. People work hard during the daytime so they want to relax at night and on the weekends. That is quite natural since the body and mind need some relaxation time. It is unfortunate that so many have taken to watching debauchery on television and the internet. Video websites are very popular these days, with people performing mindless acts on camera so that they can put their videos online and receive millions of views.
People have fallen victim to such forms of entertainment because of the lack of leadership in their government. Most world leaders today are concerned primarily with bodily comforts, thinking of ways to take money from select groups of people for the purpose of redistribution of wealth. The leaders themselves are unaware of the real purpose of human life which is to become God conscious.
Based on the statements of the great sages, it is accurate to conclude that today’s society is a kingless one. Though we may have presidents and prime ministers, since these leaders aren’t acquainted with the teachings of the Vedas, the resulting symptoms tell us that there is essentially a non-existent government. Nevertheless, the problem can be solved fairly easily. We need only elect leaders who are Krishna conscious. If pious men set a good example, the rest of society will follow and be happy. This was how the great leaders of the past such as Lord Rama, Yudhishthira, Parikshit, etc. used to govern. Luckily for us, the Puranas, Mahabharata, and Ramayana are still available to us. Anyone can take advantage of this great literature and be forever benefitted. If we commit ourselves to becoming first class devotees by regularly chanting God’s name, offering Him prayers, and thinking of Him constantly, then gradually others will also be more receptive to hearing about God and His message.