“In that city lives the leader of all men, Maharaja Janaka. He has every good quality, and during that time there was no other king like him.” (Janaki Mangala, Svayamvara Ki Taiyari, 6)
janaka nāma tehiṃ nagara basai naranāyaka|
saba guna avadhi na dūsara paṭatara lāyaka ||
Just as the people who came from far and wide were benefitted by visiting his kingdom for the most famous marriage in history, he who is sincerely interested in finding transcendental happiness and living in a place full of good qualities will find auspiciousness by mentally travelling to that wonderful place set in a specific time in history. Written word artistically presented to the author’s preferred style serves as an escape for the reader looking for one. Just as the perfect travel destination is one which matches the desires for activity and engagement of the traveller, the ideal mental home for the person looking to escape from their present surroundings full of constant ups and downs, which seemingly have no purpose, is a place full of good qualities meant to meet the soul’s innermost desires. The kingdom of Janakpur was that place for a famous Vaishnava poet around four hundred years ago and it remains a mental haven for those looking for transcendental pleasure today.
Why this town specifically? Moreover, in what time period are we situating the mind? In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas gives us a few reasons why the place in question is so attractive. During ancient times, the Treta Yuga to be more precise, there was a famous self-choice ceremony, or svayamvara, held for the princess of Videha, Sita Devi. Since she was the daughter of King Janaka, she was also known as Janaki. People from around the world travelled to Janaka’s capital city that day, hoping to witness history and see who would actually win the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world.
“My dear beautiful wife, what you have said is befitting the occasion and also indicative of the greatness of your family heritage. You are dearer to Me than My life, for you are My companion in the performance of religious duties [sadharma-charini].” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.21)
Why such attention given to a wedding? Beautiful people get married all the time, so why was this event such a big deal? When married under sacred Vedic principles, the wife becomes the goddess of fortune to the husband, giving him the support he needs to carry out his religious duties. Ironically enough, the lady getting married at this self-choice ceremony would one day be described as a sadharma-charini by her husband. One who follows the principles of dharma is considered on the right path towards rekindling their constitutional position. The wife’s duty is to help the husband in that quest, for his success equates to hers as well. Therefore a good wife is a heavenly blessing, a person who reinforces dedication to dharma instead of breaking it.
In the verse previous to this one, Tulsidas remarked that Janakpur was sacred because the goddess of fortune herself had appeared there. Her appearance took place many years prior to the svayamvara, when the king of the land found a young baby girl in the ground. Rather than just leave her there, he took her in as his own daughter. He did not know that she was Lakshmi Devi, the wife of Lord Narayana in the spiritual sky. She had appeared on earth to act as Rama’s support system. Shri Rama is the very same Narayana, except in the guise of a warrior prince. Narayana is the source of all men; hence He is God.
All living creatures have an original source. Depending on the spiritual tradition followed, that source is given a specific name or referred to as an impersonal force. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide as much detail into this matter as can possibly be absorbed by the human brain. Imagine trying to explain traffic signals and the rules of the road to a young child. It’s not possible to convey the ins and outs about insurance rates, driving tendencies, and the need for regulation in a hectic environment to someone who is immature. You can only explain to them as much information as their maturity level will allow them to accept.
Man’s thinking is constrained by the concepts of time and space. We have no idea what eternal, or sanatana, means. Just try to sit down and contemplate what having no beginning and no end actually entails. Moreover, try to picture what it’s like to keep travelling in space and never reach an end. These are brain teasers that cannot be solved. Well aware of this limitation, the sacred texts that emanate from the original person, who is sanatana both in the duration of His existence and the scope and breadth of His pervasiveness, provide as much detail as man can handle. Since we are fallible human beings that have a source, the name Narayana automatically becomes one way to address God.
To show others what Narayana looks like, what His qualities actually are, and how one can interact with Him, the Supreme Lord descends to earth every now and then. His closest associates come as well, for God is never bereft of His energies. His wife is the best wife in the world; which automatically means that Narayana is the most fortunate. Naturally, only the most fortunate person would always be graced with the presence of the goddess of fortune.
Based on her qualities, Sita’s appearance turned the kingdom of Tirahuta, now commonly known as the areas of Janakpur and its neighboring towns, into a sacred land, a place of pilgrimage. Yet her divinity wasn’t known to the world at the time. Nevertheless, throngs of people came to Tirahuta for her svayamvara. What was the reason for this? Janaka himself was a famed leader of men. When discussing ancient historical events, the Vedas refer to the kings by names which describe them to be the ruler of all men, the lord of men, the protector of earth, and so on. This shows that the kings during those times had large responsibilities that extended far beyond their local community. They had to be respected throughout the world to be considered good kings.
From the above referenced verse, we see that not only was Janaka the holder of every good quality, but there was actually no other king like him during his time. For starters, he had Sita as a daughter. The goddess of fortune chose him as a father during her time on earth. Obviously he must have been someone special. Janaka was also deferent to dharma, so much so that no one could find a flaw in him.
Though Janaka was the ocean of good qualities, he never rested on his laurels. He never thought that he had already accumulated enough pious credits. Rather, he was always worried about inviting scorn and ridicule from others, for that would tarnish the good standing of the kingdom. When it came time for Sita’s marriage, the king faced the most difficult decision of his life. For starters, since she was the goddess of fortune in her qualities, Janaka did not want to give Sita away and lose her. Secondly, nothing was known about Sita’s time of birth, which meant that her qualities determined by astrological signs could not be compared to any prospective matrimonial candidate’s; there was no horoscope to look at. The ancient system of Vedic astrology was so perfect that simply from matching the horoscopes of the boy and girl a perfect match in marriage could be found.
“Even if a father be like Indra himself on this earth, he obtains ill treatment from the people in general, both subordinates and superiors, if he keeps his daughter unmarried.” (Maharaja Janaka, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.35)
Janaka had legitimate reasons supporting the option of keeping Sita unmarried. Nevertheless, that wouldn’t stop others from criticizing him, for a father who does not protect his daughter after he leaves the earth has failed in his obligations. The daughter is a younger dependent, so the good father finds a suitable husband to protect her in life. Ever the pious king, Janaka left the matter up to Lord Shiva, who would determine Sita’s husband through the proxy of his bow. Having a famous bow that was so heavy that no one could lift it, Janaka decided to hold a contest to decide Sita’s marriage. Whoever could lift Shiva’s bow would win Sita as a wife.
Janaka was also famous for his mastery over mystic yoga. He had so much transcended the effects of the senses that he was known as Videha, or one who is without a body. The body is our vehicle for action, and as is true of any vehicle, the body carries some limitations. An automobile must be carefully constructed and then regularly maintained to operate properly. The car cannot just drive forever either; it needs to be filled up with gasoline every now and then. Similarly, the human body needs food, rest, clothing and shelter. With these needs come other influences that aren’t so kind. The tendencies towards illicit sex, meat eating, gambling and intoxication are rooted in attachment to a body which does not represent one’s true identity.
Though the soul is immune to the effects of the body, actually mitigating the negative influence of the senses is very difficult. It requires expert practice of yoga, the bona fide kind which is meant to connect the soul with the Supreme Soul, or God’s expansion residing within the heart. From connection with the divine consciousness comes freedom from the effects of the senses. Janaka was above passion, and yet was totally deferent to his duties as a king. The two seem diametrically opposed to one another, as the appeal to being a king is having the ability to get whatever you want whenever you want it. Janaka did not want anything, and yet he was the perfect king, one so glorious that there was no other like him on earth.
Transcendental pleasure has nothing to do with the body, and this was proven by Janaka and his behavior. He was bodiless but he still felt delighted to have Sita as his daughter. In fact, his control over the senses made him all the more eligible to appreciate Sita’s qualities and those of her soon-to-be husband. If consciousness is always in the gutter, how can it appreciate something sweet and sublime? Only when the senses are purified can the individual fully appreciate talks and discussions about Narayana and His many adventures on earth. For the mind looking for a pleasant escape, the sacred land ruled over by King Janaka is never a bad place to go. On that fateful day many thousands of years ago, the leader with so many good qualities would be rewarded for his piety by getting Narayana Himself as a son-in-law. The sequence of events too was a thing of beauty, something so wonderful that the mind can repeatedly go back to that day and continually derive renewed pleasure. Let the mind of him who is searching for God never forget King Janaka and his wonderful daughter, Sita Devi, the goddess of fortune and eternal consort of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
From anger, vice, attachment and greed,
Was the famous King Janaka totally free.
From practicing yoga his detachment had grown,
Yet had love for Sita when he found her all alone.
So famous was the leader of men during his time,
That for daughter’s marriage people arrived in a line.
To see her wed the man to lift Lord Shiva’s bow,
They came from far and wide, thus anticipation did grow.
Send the mind back to that famous time and place,
Remember King Janaka and daughter of pleasing face.
To follow material or spiritual life we have the choice,
Just think of God and His devotees for heart to rejoice.
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