“O Sugriva, you are a fifth brother to us four, for a friend is born of affection, while maleficence is the symptom of an enemy.” (Bharata, Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 127.45)
tvamasmākaṃ caturṇāṃ vaibhrātā sugrīva pañcamaḥ ||
sauhārdājjāyate mitramapakāro’rilakṣaṇam |
Diwali is an ancient Hindu tradition whose origin is in a blessed event from a long time ago. The first Diwali, or festival of lights, marked a triumph of an unlikely group of individuals who were previously cast into strange and unexpected circumstances. The celebration involved both the victorious and those who were joyous of their victory. In honor of their return to their home, an arrival which included many guests never before seen, the residents of the town of Ayodhya lit many lamps, filling the city with welcoming light. The leader of the city for the period preceding the arrival was likely the happiest person there, and his goodwill extended to the friends of the arriving party.
As a quick background, King Dasharatha was the ruler of the kingdom of Ayodhya. His family history dated back to the beginning of the creation, when King Ikshvaku ruled over the same area. Ikshvaku was a king of the utmost character. He did not have any sin in him, and for this he was worthy of the post of ruler of the earth. Several generations down the line Dasharatha took over. He proved his fighting ability on the battlefield, and so under his leadership the citizens felt safe from enemy attack.
In the fourth stage of his life Dasharatha finally had sons, four of them in fact. The eldest Rama was the most beloved of all. He was to succeed the father, but on the day slated for His coronation, events took a dramatic turn in the opposite direction. Due to the influence of the youngest wife Kaikeyi, Dasharatha’s commitment to the truth was used against him. He was forced to pass over Rama and give the throne to Kaikeyi’s son Bharata. Rama was okay with this, as He held tremendous affection for His three younger brothers. But then Kaikeyi also demanded that Rama be banished from the kingdom for fourteen years. Again, Rama took this in stride, but the rest of the town did not. They were sad to see Him leave, and so through the subsequent fourteen years they waited with great anticipation for His return.
Just imagine living in royal opulence one day and complete squalor the next. And mind you, the squalor is not for just a day or two. It is to last for fourteen years. Rama was accompanied by His beautiful wife Sita in the forest. The younger brother Lakshmana also came. Rama didn’t ask them to come along; they insisted. So the forest wasn’t so bad for the trio, as they had each other. Sita’s company is the most preferable for Rama, and who wouldn’t want a powerful and dedicated brother like Lakshmana around?
This stay in the forest was not to be without hiccups, however. Hardship came when Sita was kidnapped by the Rakshasa fiend Ravana, the king of the island of Lanka. Though without His royal army to support Him, Rama still fought ahead to find His missing wife. He aligned with Vanaras in the Kishkindha forest through the help of a minister named Hanuman. Vanaras are similar to monkeys except they have human-like features as well. These events took place in the Treta Yuga, which is the second time period of creation. During that time even the forest dwellers with tails had some semblance of civilized behavior in them.
Hanuman worked for Sugriva, who was the leader of the monkeys stationed on Mount Rishyamukha. Sugriva had his own issues, separated from his family due to a feud with his more powerful brother Vali. Since Sugriva was now a friend, and since Hanuman was trusted as an ally upon initial meeting, Rama agreed to help Sugriva regain his kingdom. Later on Sugriva repaid the favor, first sending Hanuman to look for Sita and then joining the Vanara army in the march to Lanka to rescue her. They would emerge victorious, as the Vanaras had devotion to Rama, which was all that was required. The opponents fought with jaw-dropping illusion and mighty weapons, but with their trees and rocks Sugriva’s army countered them. Rama and Lakshmana took care of the rest.
The trio of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita were set to triumphantly return home to Ayodhya, taking an aerial car originally belonging to the treasurer of the demigods, Kuvera. Of course Rama was not going to return home without His friends who had helped Him. Sugriva, Hanuman and the leading Vanaras from the army were invited on to the aerial car to return to Ayodhya. Sita also made sure that the wives of these Vanaras were picked up along the way so that they could enjoy the celebration as well.
Meanwhile, on the other side of things the younger brother Bharata eagerly awaited the return of Rama. He felt terrible for what his mother had done, and so he ruled the kingdom in Rama’s absence through a life of asceticism. Rama’s sandals were symbolically ruling over the kingdom, and Bharata worshiped those sandals day and night. Before finally arriving home, Hanuman was sent to meet with Bharata, to see what his mindset was. Perhaps he wouldn’t want to give the kingdom back to Rama.
Hanuman learned that Bharata had no intention of keeping the kingdom he never wanted. The devoted brother was delighted to see Rama return. He paid his respects to Rama, and then offered respect to Sita and Lakshmana. Bharata then embraced Sugriva and the Vanaras. He kindly told Sugriva that he considered him to be like a fifth brother in their family of four brothers. He said that friends are made through affection and enemies through ill will. Sugriva had affection for Rama, and so he was automatically a friend to Bharata.
This was the same principle adopted by the residents of Ayodhya, as they were thrilled to see Rama’s new friends. They loved Rama so much, so they naturally loved anyone who was dear to Him. The Vanaras are forever dear to Rama, who is the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as a warrior prince. It is certainly beneficial to harbor affection for God, but to meet and honor the devotee is considered more beneficial. Through honoring the devotee the Supreme Lord is pleased even more. Bharata didn’t require this instruction; he immediately felt affection for Rama’s newest devotees, who were headed by Sugriva. Sugriva risked his life and wellbeing for Rama’s sake, and his efforts helped the group successfully return to Ayodhya. On Diwali we remember the Supreme Lord and His closest friends and how they joyfully celebrated in the wonderful homecoming.
“We are brothers numbering four,
Shri Rama all of us adore.
You, Sugriva, hold the same affection too,
Thus as a fifth brother we consider you.
Through affection a friend is born,
And enemies through ill will and scorn.”
When the triumphant to Ayodhya returned,
Sight of Rama’s new friends residents earned.
Diwali celebration our spirits to uplift,
Meeting with devotee most precious gift.