Human Joke Machines

Sita Devi holding lotus flower“From both directions, taking the names of the grooms and brides the ladies kept offering different jokes while they were eating, and this flooded that night with beauty and joy.” (Janaki Mangala, 160)

dehi gāri bara nāri nāma lai duhu disi |
jenvata baḍhayoṃ ananda suhāvani so nisi ||

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In the early history of American television, there was one actor in particular who was famously known for his skill at making jokes. Affectionately known as the “human joke machine,” he could take any word, phrase or subject and immediately come up with a suitable joke. This talent was valuable in that time period, as many homes did not have television. Therefore get-togethers and dinner gatherings often featured live entertainment, where some of the guests would perform sketches, act out plays, and sing and dance. From this verse from the Janaki Mangala, we get an example of a similar practice, where the names of the brides and grooms in a marriage ceremony were taken and jokes made at their expense.

Morey AmsterdamWho likes to be made fun of while having their meal? Just hearing someone else speak with food in their mouth is annoying enough, so to be constantly jabbed at by others while trying to enjoy food seems like harassment. The scene referenced above can be likened to a meal outside at a restaurant with friends and family today. To lighten the mood, surely some jokes will be made. Not everyone will be serious on a night out, where the goal is to have fun.

In this scene, the newlyweds and their wedding party are being fed by the host of the reception, King Janaka of Mithila. The custom in these kinds of weddings is to offer delectable food dishes of different varieties. The dishes were of the variety that could be sucked, licked, chewed, and drunk. The food kept coming too, so there really was bhojana, or enjoyment, from this eating.

During this time, the ladies assembled started taking the names of the brides and grooms. There were four of each. Originally, there was only one couple to be joined. Janaka held a contest of the bow in Mithila to find a suitable husband for his daughter Sita. So pleased was he by the victor in the contest, Janaka arranged to have Sita’s husband’s three younger brothers get married at the same time.

There were four couples to choose from, and the people taking the names then used those names to make songs. These songs were in jest; they made fun of the people named. This is an art that requires skill. A joke of the wrong tone can offend. And who can make an appropriate curse of someone else using only their name? Those assembled that day most certainly could and from the descriptions of Goswami Tulsidas we see that the curses only increased the bliss of the moment. Everyone was quite pleased, especially those who were the target of such jokes.

Taking the names and making curses out of them is appropriate in an intimate setting. But in places where the divine natures of the targets are not known, the practice is to take the names and make informative discourses out of them. These lectures praise the spiritual attributes of the people in question. Along with lectures and discussions, there are melodious songs of praise as well.

Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati ThakuraA famous spiritual master of recent times, who was known as the lion-guru for his fearlessness in spreading and defending the timeless principles of divine love, was known as a kind of human verse machine. On a whim, without reaching for any book, he could quote an appropriate verse from the Vedas that served to support his argument. His arguments were always in favor of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, which means that he was always praising God in some way. Without any advance notice he could find a verse suitable to the discussion, a verse that would ultimately praise the Supreme Lord and His personal form.

From this verse from the Janaki Mangala we get another reminder of how powerful the name of God is. There can never be one name, as no one aspect known to our limited understanding could ever completely describe God. From famous texts like the Brahma-samhita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, we learn that Krishna is the most complete name for the Absolute, as it means all-attractive. Still, other names are used as well. Govinda, Gopala, Rama, Janaradana, Keshava, Achyuta, Damodara, and so many other names are also spoken by those who are favorable towards God. Though no name ever suffices to completely describe everything, one single authorized name uttered is enough to bring God’s presence.

Sita and Rama deitiesAccompanying the presence of God is His unlimited potency. Therefore from the name itself one can create a perfect discussion on some aspect of nature. From the name itself one can compose a beautiful song that reminds others of the divine sports of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who always enjoys with those who love Him without conditions. And from the name itself one can even make verbal jabs that increase the joy the guests feel at a famous wedding, one where the host arranged everything just right.

In Closing:

From just the name to take,

Ladies perfect jokes to make.


The joy of the guests to enhance,

When on this path to advance.


Since love for Rama they had,

Newlyweds nor others to get mad.


To bring His presence the holy name use,

So much potency, and from so many to choose.

Categories: janaki mangala

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