“But Hanuman did not see Sita, who had the highest family lineage, took birth in a royal family always situated in the virtuous path, resembled a fully blossoming and well brought up creeper, and had a form seemingly sprung from the mind of the creator.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 5.23)
na tveva sītām paramābhijātām |
pathi sthite rājakule prajātām |
latām praphullāmiva sādhu jātām |
dadarśa tanvīm manasābhijātām ||
Shri Hanuman, the faithful Vanara warrior, the eternal servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord Rama, the most arduous surveyor making his way through the insides of the majestic city of Lanka, herein remembers the person he was sent to look for. Though the area he was observing had tremendous opulence and was filled with beautiful women, the person he was sent to find, the princess of Videha, the wife of the prince of the Raghu dynasty, could not be found. Despite the grandeur, opulence, and beauty Hanuman did see in Lanka, his mind was never taken off the mission.
Why was Hanuman looking for this princess? Who is Hanuman? When did these events take place? The immortal tale of India, the Ramayana, documents historical events taking place in the Treta Yuga of each creation. The Vedas, the original scriptural tradition of India, note that just as the spirit spark within each life form exists perpetually, so does the inferior energy of the Supreme Lord. God is the fountainhead of all energies, but when there is not a full understanding of Him, distinctions are made that separate the energies into different categories. The superior energy is that which directly relates to the Lord, whose original and most blissful form is known as Krishna. This isn’t to say that God is limited to one form; but in His complete and original spiritual body He is ever blissful, eternal and knowledgeable.
Anything directly relating to Krishna is part of the spiritual energy, which is thus considered superior. There is also an inferior energy, which earns its tag from the effect it has on the superior energy’s separated expansions. While Krishna is not prone to bewilderment, illusion, birth, death, old age, disease, death, loss of rationale and so many other defects, His separated expansions don’t have the same potency. As spiritual sparks, they retain the same qualities as Krishna, but the reservoir of these attributes is not the same. Unlike Krishna, the expansions have the ability to become deluded; they do this by thinking that they can enjoy without the Supreme Lord.
To grant their request for separation, Krishna uses His inferior energy, material nature, to create a temporary playing field. This realm, known as the material world, constantly goes through cycles of creation and destruction. Even the inferior energy is eternal, but its manifestations are not. In fact, for as long as the spirit souls remain bewildered by this energy and consider it to be separate from Krishna, the manifestations continually appear and dissipate.
Within each creation, the duration of time for its manifestation is divided into four periods, with the second known as Treta. This age is marked by the frequency of sacrificial offerings. Think of a giant assembly of priests and worshipers pouring oblations into a large, central fire while reciting hymns and mantras. In the Treta Yuga this type of sacrifice, which is known as a yajna, is especially prominent, as it is the recommended religious practice for the time.
The other nice thing about the Treta Yuga is that Shri Krishna, in a spiritual body, one that is a direct internal expansion of His original self, appears on earth. Known as Lord Rama, this incarnation of Godhead is fully featured with the opulences of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom. Yet God is not alone; He has friends, associates, well-wishers, and dear servants. The incarnations essentially act out a dramatic play, one which enchants the pious souls looking for a way out of the misery created by their attachment to matter.
This real-life play doesn’t always follow the same script, but the cast of characters is always the same. Shri Hanuman has a prominent role in this production, as he is Rama’s dear servant in the form of a forest-dweller, or Vanara. Hanuman is also described by Sanskrit words like hari and kapi, which both can mean “monkey”. We still shouldn’t confuse Hanuman with an ordinary monkey or some imaginary figure belonging to a mythological tradition. The Treta Yuga takes place early on in each creation, so the human beings and other species are quite advanced. The Vanaras residing in the Kishkindha forest during this time are very intelligent monkeys, as they have many human-like characteristics.
Why would Rama associate with monkeys? In any good play, conflict must be inserted, some issue that needs resolution. Without a central issue introduced, there is no reason to pay attention to the story. Since Krishna is the cause of all causes, when He introduces an issue into His real-life dramatic performances, it simultaneously takes care of many other problems as well. The central resolving point of the Ramayana, the Sanskrit poem which describes the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, is the rescue of Rama’s wife, Sita Devi. From reading the Ramayana it is revealed that while residing in the forest for fourteen years, serving out an exile punishment handed down to Rama by His father Maharaja Dasharatha [the king of Ayodhya], Sita was kidnapped by a powerful Rakshasa demon named Ravana. It was for the destruction of this very villainous character that the demigods, the celestials in the sky, petitioned the Supreme Lord to descend to earth in a human form. By Ravana’s taking Sita away through a backhanded plot, Rama gained the excuse He needed to take out Ravana.
Rama had to first find Sita. For this He joined forces with the monkeys living in Kishkindha, who were headed by Sugriva. Sugriva’s most trusted warrior was Hanuman, who also happened to be deeply devoted to Rama. Taking the prince’s instructions as his life and soul, Hanuman eventually braved his way across a massive ocean and reached the shores of Lanka, the island where Ravana lived and where Sita was being held. Initially, a large monkey party had been sent to search for Sita, but when it was finally learned where she was, only Hanuman was capable of reaching her. Hence he was in Lanka all by himself.
Hanuman doesn’t need anything more than his deep love and affection for Rama to find happiness. He had not even met Sita up until that point, but he knew who she was. He also knew that she was Rama’s wife; hence she was the most important person in the world to him at the time. Ravana’s city was filled with opulence and populated with members of the Rakshasa race, a species similar to human beings but especially prone to sinful activities such as eating human flesh and drinking wine. Assuming a diminutive form, Hanuman roamed the city. While searching from dwelling to dwelling he saw many things typically found in a royal city. He saw so many beautiful women getting ready to enjoy a night with their husbands. In fact, he pretty much saw every type of beautiful woman one could imagine.
Through it all, however, Hanuman didn’t find the person he was looking for. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita’s wonderful qualities are listed to juxtapose her divine nature to the character of the women Hanuman had seen thus far. It is said that Sita was of the highest lineage. These queens in Lanka were all beautiful and obviously fit to be married to powerful fighters, but Sita’s lineage was supreme, the highest you could possibly find. She was the daughter of King Janaka of Mithila. There were actually many Janakas following in that line, but this particular Janaka, who was also known as Shiradhvaja, was very famous for his piety and mastery over mystic yoga. Janaka was Rama’s father-in-law after all, so it was not possible for him to not have divine qualities in high order.
Sita always abided by righteousness, or dharma, for that was the standard set by her family. The queens that Hanuman saw in Lanka were dedicated to their husbands, but since they were married to evil figures, ghoulish creatures who were accessories to the horrible crime of taking another man’s wife and holding her captive, even they had to share in some of their husband’s demerits. In the Vedic tradition, which is the oldest system of societal maintenance known in the world, the institution of marriage is meant to serve as a tool to help a person eventually reach God consciousness. Marriage is not about attraction, finding a soul-mate, or enjoying to your heart’s content. Rather, it is intended to allow for a peaceful coexistence between the genders, a solid basis for family life, and a way to perform your religious duties through a partnership. It is much easier to take up a difficult task and see it to its completion if you have someone there to support you, to help you through the tough times. The wife is meant exactly for this purpose, as the husband’s duty is to remain on the path of righteousness, wherein he develops a pure and unadulterated love for the Supreme Lord by keeping a steady link to Him in consciousness.
As a reward for keeping her husband dedicated to piety, the wife shares in his merits. Yet, at the same time, if the husband is sinful, the wife must share in his punishment. Karma is only fair after all, so the results of any fruitive activity must come to bear at some point in the future. Sita Devi, as the wife of Lord Rama, was the most virtuous woman in the world. Hanuman was well aware of this, so this is why he wasn’t so impressed by the character of the queens he had seen in Lanka. He knew that these queens had nothing on Sita as far as dedication to piety and adherence to the duties of a wife went. The queens were enjoying opulence in a royal kingdom, while Sita had renounced safety in Ayodhya to remain alongside her husband and support Him. She was not ordered to leave the town, but when she heard that Rama was forced out, she refused to allow Him to suffer alone.
It is also said that Sita’s form was sprung from the mind of the creator. Every person’s qualities at birth are derived from their parents. Hence there is an inherent limitation to the attributes that one can possess. But if you are born from the creator, Lord Brahma, the highly exalted demigod in charge of populating the different worlds, your good qualities can have no limit. Lord Brahma can create anything that he wants to, as he is born from the stem that grows out of the lotus-like navel of Lord Vishnu, who is a non-different form of Krishna residing in the spiritual sky. This reference to Lord Brahma is often cited when trying to describe the beauty of the Supreme Lord, His incarnations, or His close associates. Goswami Tulsidas used many similar comparisons in his poetry when describing Sita, Rama and Lakshmana, the Lord’s younger brother. Saying that Sita must have been made by the mind of the creator is similar to saying, “she was one of a kind”, or, “they broke the mold when they made her.”
“Since he was childless, and due to affection for me, he placed me on his lap and said, ‘This is my child.’ Thus he developed feelings of love and affection for me.” (Sita describing how Janaka felt when he found her, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.30)
Though Sita Devi belonged to a famous royal family, she actually did not take birth. Janaka found her one day while ploughing a field. Even though he was videha, or immune to the effects of his body, Janaka still felt tremendous attachment to the young child, so much so that he brought her home and raised her as his own daughter. This presented some difficulties later on for Janaka because he did not know who Sita’s parents were. When the father arranges the marriage of his daughter he looks for an ideal match based on the qualities of the children determined by astrological signs at the time of birth. Since Sita was found in the ground, her astrological signs couldn’t be determined. She was of such a high character that Janaka decided that only the man who could lift the famous bow of Lord Shiva given to him previously would earn Sita’s hand in marriage.
Though it is said here that Sita must have been born from the mind of Lord Brahma, she is actually an eternally existing personality in the spiritual sky. She is Lakshmi Devi, the devoted wife of Lord Vishnu. So, even when she comes to earth, she always remains with Vishnu. Rama was thus destined to break Lord Shiva’s bow and marry Sita in a grand ceremony in Mithila, Janaka’s home.
In beauty, Sita was like a fully blossomed creeper, a flower that had reached its full potential. The beauty of the residents of Lanka couldn’t even compare to Rama’s beloved wife. Hanuman knew this, and his remembrance of Sita showed just how focused he was on the mission. Though he had seen practically everything in the city, nothing was going to excite him, lift up his spirits, or give him hope except seeing Sita. From this steady determination, he would indeed succeed and perfectly play out his role in the wonderful drama scripted by the origin of life, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Hanuman searched through Lanka during the nighttime when the moon was shining bright, but not until Sita was found would the divine servant’s eyes be fully illuminated.
Categories: searching for sita