“Never in the past was there, nor in the future will there be, a man like Janaka, who had Sita as a daughter, full of all auspiciousness.” (Janaki Mangala, Svayamvara Ki Taiyari, 7)
bhayehu na hoihi hai na janaka sama naravai |
sīya sutā bhai jāsu sakala mangalai ||
When writing a song describing the marriage of the sweetest woman in the world to the man most dedicated to protecting the innocent, a host of potential titles can come to mind. Yet Goswami Tulsidas specifically chose to use the name “Janaki” in the title of his song describing the daughter of Janaka’s marriage to the prince of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama. A person with good qualities shows that their guardians had a role in their upbringing, that they were taught discipline at a young age and instilled values that would be beneficial to both them and the people with which they interacted. Sita was endowed with all good qualities, and though they were remarkable, they weren’t that surprising considering who her father was. Already a king famous around the world for his chivalry, the day he found Sita was the day that would bring him the most auspiciousness.
Limited by time is the human being. There is only so much that can be accomplished in a given day, for there are so many responsibilities to take care of. During the week there is the grind of the forty hours of work during the daytime coupled with the responsibilities pertaining to home and family at night. Then on the weekend one can tend to all the chores they skipped during the busy week. In this way there is not much that can be done to introduce new activities into the routine of the average adult. Therefore the activities that one does take up become even more important. The more inclusive they are in scope, the more they take care of multiple needs, the better the benefit derived will be.
In spiritual life the task becomes even more difficult. The initial plunge into a discipline aimed at finding real happiness indicates that the life already followed is not cutting it. The individual contemplating acceptance of a spiritual discipline wants more out of their activities; they want to see tangible, lasting benefits from their work. The problem, however, is again related to time and what can be accomplished with the efforts that one does put forth. The more time you put in, the greater the rewards that are expected. At the same time, the more serious the engagement, the higher the benefit should be as well.
If I start out in spiritual life with just simple meditation, I gain the initial benefit of avoiding the hectic life I am accustomed to. At the very least, I get to sit quietly and avoid thinking of all the pressures, what I have to do tomorrow and what went wrong with the just completed day. Depending on the tradition I’m following and who my teacher is, I may also focus on God directly, realizing His transcendental features and basking in His sweet vision. These features are known through disciplic succession, with people being around during the Lord’s advents, noting down their observations, and then passing that information on to successive generations. Tapping into this information is like hopping on a train that is passing through your city. Once on it, you can not only learn about God, but you can even create your own line off of it to bring the glorious news from the spiritual world to many other people.
In the Vedic tradition, the most inclusive type of meditation involves focus on the transcendental form of the Personality of Godhead, who is known as Krishna because of His sweetness. He is so attractive that one who has removed the influence of the senses can’t help but remain devoted to Him. Indeed, it is only the influence of the material nature that causes any living entity to become forgetful of their constitutional position of lover of God. When afflicted by the material disease, the same loving spirit is present, but it gets directed towards areas that don’t merit the attention. Moreover, the love is then qualified, almost a type of lust. The “love” only lasts for as long as there is a benefit received. As soon as that stops, the loving spirit gets directed elsewhere.
For one who is following meditation on Krishna’s lotus feet, their progression is aided by reciting the holy names, like those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. From constant recitation of this mantra in meditational trance, one can gradually learn more about the transcendental features of the Supreme Lord and how remaining in His company is so beneficial. The more one chants in a pure mood, the more they become attached to the process; so much so that even the most elevated transcendentalists keep the chanting routine as part of their baseline practices.
It’s ironic to think that something that was first viewed as novel and separate from the activities we perform on a routine basis soon becomes so routine that it gets pushed to the backburner, though still not neglected. Why would it get secondary status? From the revival of Krishna consciousness comes the fervent desire to continually connect with the Supreme Lord, even during times outside of explicit meditation. In one sense the meditation never breaks, as the desire to stay with God is still there, but as the human being can follow a variety of engagements, the contemplative individual finds their way into other endeavors, new outlets for service.
Again, the constraints of time creep up. The devotee immersed in Krishna consciousness wants to glorify not only God, but also those exalted figures intimately associated with Him. Krishna is complete with His entourage both in the spiritual and material worlds. In this land they are roaming about playing different roles to show others what it means to be connected in yoga, and in the spiritual land they are by the Lord’s side giving Him pleasure through a variety of transcendental mellows, or rasas.
Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the constitutional engagement of the vibrant spirit because it directly addresses the root of all creation. Once the root is watered, the branches and leaves are fed at the same time. In this sense one only has to glorify Krishna to take care of their obligations. Nevertheless, devotees like Tulsidas try to glorify other important characters as well, people they love because of their relationship to the Supreme Lord. For the poet who authored the verse quoted above, his worshipable figure of choice is Lord Rama, who is considered an incarnation of Krishna, or Vishnu. In the Vedic tradition there is a divide between personalists and impersonalists. We can think of an impersonalist as someone who doesn’t yet know about God’s position as a personality, whereas a personalist is fully aware of it. Among the personalists, the worshipable figure is not uniform, though He always represents the same original Lord. Rama is the same Krishna but with a different manifestation and different activities enacted during His time on earth.
If Tulsidas worshiped Rama exclusively through bhakti, why would he author a poem called the Janaki Mangala. Once we find out that Janaki is Rama’s wife and that the mangala refers to the auspiciousness of her marriage ceremony to Rama, the purpose behind the composition becomes self-evident. If you love God, you’re going to love His wife. Just as Rama is non-different from Krishna and Vishnu, Sita is non-different from Shrimati Radharani and Lakshmi Devi. The Vedas describe God as the energetic and His immediate pleasure potency expansion as His energy. The two are the perfect match. We are also part of God’s energy, meant to give Him pleasure, but in a conditioned state we have to first take to a yoga discipline to be able to realize that position. From realization comes action.
Shri Rama has many different names that reference His attributes, features, and position in the universe. Along the same lines, Sita also has many different names, of which Janaki is one. We can speculate as to why Tulsidas chose to use Janaki instead of Sita in the title for his poem, but we know for sure from the above referenced verse that one of the reasons was his love for King Janaka, Sita’s father. Janaki as a word reveals that the person being addressed has a father named Janaka. In ancient times, that King Janaka was famous around the world. There was no other king like him in the past and there will never be one like him in the future.
What is so special about Janaka? For starters, he was wholly dedicated to piety, which isn’t so commonplace among kings. A king lives by administering justice and levying taxes on the citizens. Without proper adherence to religious principles, the king will be degraded and so will his citizens. Janaka was also an elevated transcendentalist, to the point that he was above happiness and sadness. Nothing could faze his stoic demeanor.
Or so it was thought. When he found a baby girl in the ground one day while ploughing a field, his life would change forever. The same king that was already famous for his dedication to religious principles would gain supreme auspiciousness in accepting this girl as his daughter. Since she came out of the ground he named her Sita, and through her he would gain Shri Rama as a son-in-law. In this way Janaka proved himself ever worthy of God’s favor, for the Supreme Lord’s wife chose him as a father during her time on earth.
Through addressing Sita as Janaki, the great king is automatically praised. Shri Hanuman, Rama’s most faithful servant, would often refer to Sita as Janaka-atmaja, or the daughter of Janaka, when thinking about her. Hanuman had to think about Sita a lot because it was his duty to find her after she went missing. Sita would be married to Rama in a grand ceremony held in Janaka’s kingdom. This ceremony was the main subject matter of the Janaki Mangala. After being married for twelve years, Sita and Rama would sojourn through the forests. One day Sita would be taken away from Rama’s side behind His back, and to try to find her, the Lord enlisted the help of a band of Vanaras living in Kishkindha. Hanuman was their most capable warrior and also the one most dedicated to Rama. He had to travel to the city of Lanka by himself and try to find Sita there. Therefore he often thought of Sita’s qualities, remembering King Janaka’s pious nature and family ancestry at the same time.
From the title of his poem and the verse referenced above we see that Tulsidas was able to offer high praise to Janaka while writing about Sita and Rama. The task for the devotional writer is quite difficult, as there are so many saints deserving praise, so many noble characters who are intimately tied to the Supreme Lord and His pastimes. Janaka is so exalted that he is listed as one of the twelve mahajanas, or authorities on devotional service. Though he deserves many books dedicated to his activities and character, just by saying the name Janaki once, so much praise and honor are given to him. By appearing in his family, Sita ensured that the king would be famous forever. Receiving his beloved daughter and showing her unmatched love, Janaka found the highest auspiciousness. The pleasure increased to unimaginable heights when she received Shri Rama as a husband, making Janaka arguably the most fortunate king to have ever graced this earth.
Travel back in time and all kings do you study,
Review their characteristics and natures carefully.
Keep on searching but none like Janaka will you find,
Who always kept the welfare of Sita in mind.
Obvious that he was king that Tulsidas did prefer,
With poet’s sentiment we wholeheartedly concur.
With task of praising so many saints writer does fight,
Yet mahajana king honored when Janaki name you recite.
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