Sharanagata Vatsala

Rama hugging Hanuman“It is known that He is a knower of religious principles and very much affectionate towards the surrendered souls. Thus you should make a friendship with Him, if you desire to continue living.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.20-21)

viditaḥ sa hi dharmajñaḥ śaraṇāgatavatsalaḥ ||
tena maitrī bhavatu te yadi jīvitumiccasi |

In spite of the best attempts made, no one can be entirely objective when giving opinions. They have some worldview that they hold, and that worldview then creates the lens through which they see life. As such, their opinions will be slanted. If one of our friends gives a recommendation in favor of one of their other friends, obviously the friendship between the two will factor into the judgment. This doesn’t mean that the recommendation is bogus or that the person being praised is unworthy. It just means that the person assessing the recommendation will automatically keep in mind the source of the recommendation.

The wife recommending the husband would have to be viewed most skeptically. She is very close to him after all. She sees him all the time, knows his good and bad traits, and obviously has an interest to serve. If she loves her husband, she will not do anything to jeopardize his reputation in the world. For a princess a long time ago, being taken completely seriously when discussing her husband was a little difficult on the surface. For starters, she was known as the most devoted wife. Therefore why would she ever say anything bad about her husband? Also, her husband was without flaws. This meant that she could only speak good things about Him. If we hear someone only say good things about someone else, it’s natural to be skeptical. In this case, the princess was wise enough to point to the fact that the qualities in her husband were known throughout the world.

What were some of those qualities?

fireHe was a knower of religious principles, dharmajnah. In the way dharma is used most commonly it means religiosity. In its root meaning, however, dharma is an essential characteristic. Both definitions still apply, as religiosity means that set of principles which allow the essential characteristic within all of us to remain vibrant. Think of it like having a fire that you need to keep lit. The lit fire is the essential characteristic. The policies you put in place to allow that fire to remain lit constitute the religiosity of the situation. Thus dharma here refers to both the fire being lit and the guidelines that others must follow in order to meet that condition.

Someone who knows the religious principles is superior to someone who doesn’t. This only makes sense. It’s better to know the right way of doing something. It’s better if I know how to drive a car than if I don’t. It’s better if I know how to speak the language in a foreign country than if I don’t. Knowing religiosity means you know how to keep active the essential characteristic within. Since this is the best thing to know, you naturally have the greatest gift to offer others. Therefore simply by being a knower of dharma you are a valuable person in society.

The princess also said that her husband was very affectionate towards the surrendered souls, sharanagatah vatsalah. This feature applied especially to the situation at hand. The princess was being held captive against her will by a fiendish king. The princess asked to be returned to her husband. She wasn’t lying to get what she wanted. Her husband is indeed the most affectionate towards those who surrender to Him. And that affection is without conditions, provided the surrender is legitimate. Though this king had committed the most heinous crime, he would be forgiven by the husband of the princess because that is His nature.

Since the king was desirous of living, it was in his interest to make friendship with Rama. The princess made this point in case the other two points didn’t appeal to the king. “Even if you don’t care that my husband knows dharma and that He is kind to His devotees, at least you should care about your own wellbeing. If you want to keep living, you should become friends with Him. Though He is very forgiving, my husband will hand you a punishment like you’ve never seen before. This is because you took away His wife in secret, without putting up a fight. You deserve punishment for sure, but it can be avoided if you make friends with my husband.”

Sita and RamaThis was a special case, as her husband is generally neutral towards all conditioned souls. The princess is named Sita and her husband Rama. Together, they are the Supreme Lord and His energy. Rama doesn’t specifically punish those who ignore Him, but since the king, Ravana, had offended Rama’s wife, he was due punishment from Rama Himself. Even with such a horrible offense, Ravana had the offer to get affection from Rama. That same Rama was affectionate to Sugriva, the distressed Vanara king in Kishkindha. He was affectionate to Shabari, the female ascetic in the forest. He was affectionate to Vishvamitra, the powerful sage who was being harassed by wicked creatures of Ravana’s ilk.

If there is surrender, there are no preconditions to Rama’s affection, as every individual has made some offenses in the past; “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Surrender to Rama is the best because He is the knower of dharma. Those souls surrendered to Him thus also receive the best knowledge. They get Rama’s protection and they maintain their position in safety through serving Rama. He is the best friend to have, as He doesn’t ask anything in return. Yet He still gives back so much, something the poor fellow in Lanka could not see, though the rest of the world knew it to be true.

In Closing:

In surrender life to change in a minute,

To His devotees Rama always affectionate.


This Ravana easily could become,

Instead by his sins to be undone.


Friendship with Rama the only way,

For him to prevent Lanka’s doomsday.


Of your previous life Rama not to care,

Only that enmity towards Him to forswear.

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