As Fire As My Witness

Fire sacrifice“Going in front of the fire, King Janaka took kusha grass and water. According to ritual, he made the oath and gave away his daughter.” (Janaki Mangala, 144)

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agini thāpi mithilesa kusodaka līnheu |
kanyā dāna bidhāna sankalapa kīnheu ||

Everything at Sita’s wedding was done according to tradition and the Vedas. Nothing was overlooked. By following tradition and the Vedas to the letter, you hopefully mitigate any potential problems that may arise later on. Think of it like tightening all the screws when constructing something within the home. Think of it like following a recipe when making a food dish. It’s like dotting all your “i”s and crossing all your “t”s. Why leave any vulnerabilities, especially with something so important?

The burden here was on King Janaka. Though it was a marriage, it was Janaki’s mangala, or her auspiciousness. Janaki is the daughter of King Janaka. This name especially speaks of how dear she is to King Janaka. And Janaka is dear to the people of Mithila, which means that Janaki is dear to them. Imagine having to part with someone whom you love so much. You have to give them away in a ceremony, one which has rules and regulations. If you really love that person, you will take great attention and care.

Fire sacrificeHere Janaka went before a fire and took kusha grass and water. All three items are common to a Vedic sacrifice. The fire is the witness to the ceremony. Personified, the fire is Agni Deva. In the name of his wife, Svaha, he accepts oblations poured into him. Those items are then passed on for enjoyment by the heavenly figures. The fire consumes whatever is placed into it; so you visibly see that whatever you are giving is being taken somewhere else.

In Vedic culture, taking an oath in front of fire is as good as signing a contract. Holding sacred kusha grass and water, which is purifying, Janaka here takes the oath to give away his daughter. She is leaving him to live with her new husband, Shri Rama. Rama will protect her now. Rama will make sure that she is safe. Rama will create conditions suitable for her happiness. Such things are easy for Rama to do since He excels in every single category we can think of. Sita’s happiness was secure because every person is happiest when in God’s company. Rama is the personal form of Godhead especially dear to those who value righteousness.

Rama upholds the vows of the pious. In an ancient time, a priest takes an oath to live an austere life in the wilderness so that they can better worship God. They survive on bare essentials like fruits, roots and bulbs. They wear torn rags for clothing and live in a thatched hut. Obviously there is no air conditioning. The scorching hot days of summer must be tolerated. The same goes for the pouring rain of the monsoon season. The chilling winter has to be endured by the ascetic who has taken a vow for a life of penance.

Bhagavad-gita, 7.9“I am the original fragrance of the earth, and I am the heat in fire. I am the life of all that lives, and I am the penances of all ascetics.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.9)

Lord RamaAs God, Rama is the life of everything. Therefore He is the penance of the ascetic. Without some kind of austerity, the renunciate living in the forest is a pretender. Think of it like putting on the jersey of your favorite hockey player. It has their name and number on it. You can also put on the rest of the gear, like the shoulder pads, shorts and skates. But does this mean that you can skate on the ice in a real game for that team? Obviously not, for you don’t have the skill to play at the level of the athlete whose jersey you wear. You could even try wearing a jersey with no name, but still you are not a real hockey player.

At the time of Sita’s wedding, Rama had already shown how He protects vows. Vishvamitra Muni and other sages were living in the forest and being harassed by night rangers. These were wicked creatures who changed shapes to aid in their clandestine attacks against the innocent. Vishvamitra Muni was especially of strong vows, and now these night-rangers were hampering his ability to stay true to his nature. Rama was asked to come to the forest, and He did so along with Lakshmana. Though the boys were very young, they successfully defended against demons like Tataka and Subahu. Rama’s protecting Vishvamitra was a precursor to Him being led to Janakpur, where the self-choice ceremony for Sita’s marriage was taking place.

And now here was Rama ready to protect Janaka’s vow. The father was charged with protecting his daughter, and so if he found her an unsuitable husband he would be partially liable for any misfortune that came her way. Rama made sure that would never happen. If anything, through having Rama as a husband, Sita’s fame would only increase, thereby raising Janaka’s stature as well.

Sita and RamaIn the future Rama would uphold the vow of truth of His father King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Caught in a pickle, King Dasharatha either had to banish Rama to the forest for fourteen years or be validly labeled a liar by his youngest wife. Dasharatha didn’t have the heart to give Rama the order; the words could not come out of his mouth. Since he had a son like Rama, they didn’t have to. The protector of the vows of the devotees took it upon Himself to protect the good name of His father. He voluntarily left for the forest, despite the objections of His well-wishers. Sita, showing again how she was Janaka’s daughter, insisted on following Rama. She would help Him uphold His vow to uphold Dasharatha’s vow.

In giving Sita away Janaka did everything properly, but what actually held everything together was the nature of the husband. Since He was at the center of the rituals, there was success. Know also that in any activity you take up, if the Supreme Lord is the beneficiary, then everything will be considered done properly, even if there are a few innocent mistakes made along the way.

In Closing:

To give Sita away, time was now,

In front of fire king took his vow.


Some water and kusha grass holding,

Ritual of marriage perfectly unfolding.


For worry need there was none,

Rama protector of vows number one.


Munis protected, father’s word intact.

In Rama Janaka found match for Sita exact.

Categories: janaki mangala

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