“My husband, who is capable of conquering the enemy, will soon take me back from you, just as Lord Vishnu took away the brilliant prosperity of the demons by using three steps.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.28-29)
apaneṣyati māṃ bhartā tvattaḥ śīghramarindamaḥ ||
asurebhyaḥ śriyaṃ dīptāṃ viṣṇustribhiriva kramaiḥ |
In the Vedic texts the personal form of the Supreme Lord, which is the original, is addressed in many different ways. He is a singular entity, but the multifarious names allow for people with different perspectives and worldviews to get a better chance to know Him. Why should anyone be shut out from knowing the person to whom they are intimately connected since time immemorial? Indeed, only the Supreme Lord would be this generous, as there is no envy in Him. He wants all to return to His shelter, which is flawless in every respect.
One of the ways to address Him is Shripati, which means the husband of Shri, who is the goddess of fortune. The name has the literal meaning of the husband of a personality. Breaking down the terms further, we see that a husband is a controller, someone who protects. Bharta is another Sanskrit word for husband, and it means one who maintains. The Supreme Lord is the bharta of Shri, who as a personality is known as the goddess of fortune. She incarnates in the form of opulences, such as wealth, beauty, good parentage, and intelligence. Sovereignty over a kingdom is also a kind of opulence.
Here Sita Devi, who is Shri personified, non-different from the beloved wife of Shripati, points out to a demoniac king that her husband will soon rescue her. As this king is of asura tendencies, she mentions a famous incident from the past when the same beloved husband of hers took away opulence from the asuras. He did so while in the form of a dwarf and using only three steps. That dwarf was an incarnation of Vishnu, as was Sita’s husband. Thus the same capability was there.
The reference to the dwarf is very suitable here because to Ravana, the fiendish king, Rama was like a dwarf in ability. Ravana lived in grand opulence. He had real wealth; not just a high bank balance. He didn’t rely on a retirement fund that is prone to tanking overnight based on the monetary policy of a centralized banking system. He had real wealth in the form of gold and jewels. His buildings were made of gold. There were crystals in the floors and along the walls. He had beautiful women everywhere, and he had the ability to protect everything with his own fighting prowess.
Rama, on the other hand, was living in the forest as a recluse. He went there at the order of His step-mother, Kaikeyi, who had control over Rama’s father, King Dasharatha. For starters, an outside observer would think that Dasharatha was weak for being controlled by a beautiful woman. Then Rama looked weak for obeying such an order. Ravana would never think of doing such a thing. No one told him what to do. If anyone ordered him to leave, he would fight with them to the death.
Ravana thought that Rama was a pauper, someone who wasn’t worthy of having the beautiful Sita for a wife. Though Rama wasn’t bothering anyone in the forest of Dandaka, Ravana sent 14,000 of his fighters to try to conquer the Lord. Rama defeated all of them singlehandedly. Still Ravana considered Rama to be a weak man. Not taking any chances, Ravana devised a plot to steal Sita away in secret. Ravana lived far away on an island, so he never thought that the apparently dwarf-like Rama would reach his kingdom and take Sita back.
Here Sita tells Ravana that he thinks wrong. If he doesn’t want to take her word for it, he can look back to the incident of Vamanadeva with Bali Maharaja. Bali Maharaja was the king of the asuras, who are the demons. More than just a race, an asura is known by their qualities, namely their disbelief in God. If you don’t believe in God, naturally you will think that you can become God through enough accumulation of wealth and strength. When the asuras get too puffed up, the original God, the only Supreme Lord, comes to the scene to restore order.
“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)
Lord Vishnu, who is the Supreme Lord in His four-armed form, descended to earth as a dwarf-brahmana. It is etiquette for kings to grant whatever a brahmana desires, for the brahmana is generally poor and doesn’t ask for much. They are priests by occupation, so what would they do with a lot of money and land anyway? Vamanadeva, the dwarf-incarnation of the Supreme Lord, asked for land that would cover three steps. Going against his spiritual master’s warning, Bali Maharaja granted the wish. Then Vamanadeva expanded Himself into a giant form and covered the earth and outer space. For the third stride, Bali offered his head, which Vamanadeva then kindly stepped on. Thus order was restored; the grand opulence of the asuras was taken away by Vishnu Himself.
Ravana had tremendous opulence as well, and it would be taken away just as quickly. Though Rama assumed the ascetic’s garb due to the rules stipulated by Kaikeyi, He was not lacking any opulence. He is Shripati after all, so opulence is always with Him. Using bows and arrows and the help of monkeys fighting with trees and boulders, He would fulfill Sita’s prophecy and restore order to the world.
Gold, jewels and adoring throngs,
Ravana thought to him this all belonged.
But controller over opulence is He,
Who is the husband of goddess of fortune Shri.
Demon-race from their prominence shook,
When as Vamanadeva Lord three steps took.
Sita’s husband to act in way the same,
By His arrows order the world to regain.
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