“It is the good day of the svayamvara, which gives auspiciousness. By hearing of this Sita and Rama stay in the heart.” (Janaki Mangala, Svayamvara Ki Taiyari, 3)
subha dina racyau svayaṃbara mangaladāyaka |
sunata śravana hiya basahiṃ sīya raghunāyaka ||
Goswami Tulsidas herein creates the setting for his poem called the Janaki Mangala, or the auspiciousness relating to Janaki, the daughter of King Janaka. She is also known as Sita Devi, for the good king found her one day while ploughing a field. She came out of the ground and then became his adopted daughter. The day of the svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony, was when Janaka would give her away to a suitable husband. Little did he know that the match would be Shri Hari Himself, the Supreme Lord roaming the earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama. From the opening stanza, Tulsidas also reveals the purpose for his composition.
Does there need to be a reason? Does the poet need to provide an excuse before writing? If we abstract every activity to the highest level, we’ll see that the desire for pleasure is what motivates each and every one of us. Even doing something as painful as dieting or intense physical exercise is meant to provide a pleasurable benefit at some point in the future. With this particular poem, the story it was meant to describe was already well known at the time of composition. Sita and Rama are worshipable figures of the Vedic tradition, taken to be God’s energy coupled with God. Depending on the exact tradition followed, Sita and Rama are the original set of God and His eternal consort or they are incarnations of the same, which means they are just as good as the original.
Because of their extraordinarily brilliant qualities, Sita and Rama’s wedding story was well known in the land that Tulsidas lived in some four hundred years ago. Moreover, even during Sita and Rama’s time, the Treta Yuga, which was many thousands of years ago, the sequence of events relating to their marriage was famous throughout the land. The short version of the story is that Janaka held a self-choice ceremony, but it wasn’t as though Sita directly picked her husband. These ceremonies were called svayamvaras, or self-choice, because the groom wasn’t determined beforehand. Many times the princess would get to choose her husband, but in Sita’s case it was a little different. The ceremony still qualified as a svayamvara because the groom would be selected from a host of men vying for the beloved princess’ hand in marriage.
Instead of having Sita choose directly, Janaka decided that whoever could lift an extremely heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva handed down in his family would be Sita’s husband. In this way the occasion of Sita’s marriage was quite auspicious; the svayamvara itself brought auspiciousness that day to the participants and onlookers, and the winner would gain the goddess of fortune’s hand in marriage.
But what does it mean exactly to be the goddess of fortune? Is this not some mythological status assigned to Sita? The wise person knows that the gifts they receive in life are not due entirely to personal effort. We can try as hard as we want to in a certain endeavor, but if someone else shows up who is better, we’ll have no chance at succeeding or being the best. Moreover, so many impeding forces have to avoid us if we are to get to where we want to go. Even something as simple as driving to work in the morning requires outside intervention. Though the external forces seemingly operate randomly, we know deep down that every person has their own desires which they act upon, which means that there is consciousness behind actions.
“Another name for Lakshmi is Chanchala. She does not stay in one place for a long time. Therefore, we see that a rich man’s family sometimes becomes poor after a few generations, and sometimes we see that a poor man’s family becomes very rich. Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, is Chanchala in this material world, whereas in the Vaikuntha planets she eternally lives at the lotus feet of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 34)
The good fortune that one receives comes from Lakshmi, who is the same Sita. Since Sita is always with Rama, it means that God is the most fortunate person. The goddess of fortune is known as chanchala because she doesn’t stay in one place for too long, but when she is in God’s company, she behaves in just the opposite way. Even if during Sita’s time people didn’t know her real identity, just getting her as a wife was considered a terrific blessing. Aside from being very beautiful, she was Janaka’s daughter. As a king, there was no one more pious or more respected. He had mastery over mystic yoga and was therefore considered to be beyond personal desire. Strikingly enough, he had full affection for Sita, which started on the day he found her. This meant that his attachment to his daughter was not materially motivated; it didn’t break his status as Videha, or bodiless.
“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 speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.30)
As those things personally relating to God are absolute, the auspiciousness from the day of Sita’s svayamvara carries over to those who hear of the event. Even Anasuya, a famous female sage, asked to hear about what happened that day many years after the fact from Sita herself. While Sita and Rama were travelling through the forests on a fourteen year trip, they stopped at Anasuya’s home, where she lived with her husband Atri Rishi. After exchanging some pleasant words, Anasuya asked Sita to describe her marriage ceremony. Anasuya had already heard what happened; the news had spread across the world. Nevertheless, she didn’t tire of hearing about it. Taking advantage of having the main character from that famous day staying at her home, Anasuya wanted to hear the story again.
The same desire to hear was there in Tulsidas when he composed the Janaki Mangala. In the above referenced verse, he reveals that from hearing of what happened that day, Sita and Rama remain in the heart. In the beginning stages of practicing the highest form of religion, bhakti-yoga, there may be some requirement to follow rules and regulations that are passed on by the instructing or initiating spiritual master. Perhaps one forces themselves to chant mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstain from sinful activities like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. This is all done to train the devotee on how to forge the proper consciousness, to be able to relish a higher taste in the future.
Once immersed in God consciousness, the devotee feels intense loneliness when not able to think about God and His activities. Therefore refuge is sought in outlets like hearing and reading books, for they help to alleviate the pain of separation. In even more extreme cases, the person will try to recount the Lord’s most notable pastimes within their mind. Expressing these thoughts down on paper is a great way to recreate the actual events, to bring to life the characters and their qualities. By mentally going back to that day of the auspicious svayamvara, Tulsidas wanted to bring Sita and Rama to his vision and keep them in his heart, a place where they would feel right at home.
With this motive, how could the poet fail in his endeavor? The beloved couple’s marriage would be described wonderfully, with the underlying purpose being satisfied with each successive verse composed. The transcendental effect continues well past the time of composition, as the point of writing something down is to record sound vibrations that can be reproduced. This means that when we read sacred texts, we are actually hearing the sound vibrations, essentially giving audience to a great sage who practiced bhakti. Just by adopting the proper mindset and hearing of the svayamvara and what happened that day, we can keep Sita and Rama in the heart. God is already there as the Supersoul, or Paramatma, but with practice in bhakti that presence can be realized. As hearing is the most effective tool for the aspiring transcendentalist, setting aside some time for reading or listening to how Rama lifted that amazing bow and won Sita’s hand in marriage proves to be auspicious in every way.
It should be noted that during Rama’s time on earth, the Lord enacted many wonderful pastimes. The original accounts of these activities are given in the Ramayana of Valmiki. With so many important events in Rama’s life, why would Tulsidas choose to dedicate a specific song to the Lord’s wedding ceremony? For starters, who doesn’t enjoy a good love story? The plotline has been played out in movies and dramas since time immemorial, and with Sita and Rama we got the original love story, one which showed how transcendental love operates. As part of a play perfectly performed on the stage of real life, the setting was such that it looked like no one was going to win Sita’s hand in marriage. Many kings came to the scene, but none of them could even move the bow, let alone lift it.
When Rama stepped up, He lifted and strung the bow without a problem, breaking it in the process. Thus there could be no doubt as to who was worthy of Sita’s hand in marriage. Their match was made in heaven, and it was there for everyone to see on that wonderful occasion. To this day, in the Vedic culture if a boy and a girl prove to be a perfect match in marriage, people will remember Sita and Rama. The whole aim of Rama-lila, or the divine pastimes, is to instill this type of consciousness in everyone. As nuptials are an important aspect of life that get a lot of attention, who wouldn’t love to bask in the sound vibrations that describe how Sita married Rama?
The attention paid to this aspect of Rama’s life was well worth it from the poet’s perspective. It gave countless generations of sincere souls the chance to further discuss that day and sing about the glories of its main participants. As man is given to glorifying someone, why not direct that attention to the people most deserving of it? As Sita is the goddess of fortune, those who hear of her self-choice ceremony in the proper mood will gain the greatest fortune in life: Sita and Rama residing within their heart.
The poet to embark on writing marriage story,
Of Sita and Rama, endowed with every glory.
The self-choice ceremony held on a good day,
Auspiciousness with listener to stay.
Man to love stories given to hearing,
Which in mind creates visions worth seeing.
Apply same technique but to the Supreme Lord,
Reservoir for divine service in heart is stored.
Story of wedding where Rama did win Sita’s hand,
Was so known to everyone across the land.
Yet still Anasuya to hear it again wanted,
Love for divine couple in her heart implanted.
To have Janaki and Rama in his vision,
To write song Tulsidas made the decision.
Svayamvara is where the story does start,
Hearing of which Sita and Rama stay in the heart.
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