“Janaka did all the rituals and made all the preparations for the departure. Then Rama with His brothers went to the king’s palace.” (Janaki Mangala, 164)
sakala calana ke sāja janaka sājata bhae |
bhāinha sahita rāma taba bhūpa bhavana gae ||
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Dev was a little tired, but the fatigue wasn’t enough to overcome his excitement. Having just arrived back home from travelling across the country, he was set to leave on another journey shortly. Youthful exuberance was still with him, so the fatigue from the cross-country travel wasn’t about to stop him from visiting his aunt, whom he hadn’t seen for several years.
She had been recently diagnosed by one doctor with a serious illness. Dev’s father was a doctor himself, so the son was going to accompany the father to see how the aunt was doing. “I haven’t seen her in so long,” Dev reflected. “I hope she is okay. She is my favorite aunt for sure, though I should never admit that to anyone else. She was there for me when I was a young child, and I always appreciated her gentleness, kindness, and the compassion she showed for everyone in our family.”
Dev’s just concluded trip was a solo one. He went to see a special, one night-only concert performed by his favorite band. He hadn’t seen that band in a while either, as they had almost broken up due to infighting. This concert was their reemergence, and Dev had a great time welcoming them back into the spotlight.
Though the distance of that trip was lengthy, Dev did not have to pack much for it. “A few shirts, a few pants, and my computer. What else do I need?” Dev told his brother on the phone just prior to leaving. Indeed, he didn’t require even that much. He liked to travel light, and so that trip was no problem for him. He anticipated the same for this trip to his aunt’s house.
As had happened many times previously, his plan got foiled by his mother. Moments before leaving for the airport, she stopped him. “Just one second son, don’t leave yet,” said Dev’s mom as she ran up the stairs to her room. “Mom! You ALWAYS do this. Stop already,” Dev responded in frustration. His mom returned shortly with a few items in her hands and some important instructions:
“Okay, give this shirt to your uncle. This shirt is for your cousin, and this other one is for his younger brother. If there is a problem with the size, they can switch them up. These bangles are for your auntie.”
“Mom, I don’t have room for this. I don’t want to carry so much stuff.”
“Oh, and take these sweets too. They can offer them on the altar and then everyone can eat it as prasadam.”
Not happy at all, Dev went upstairs to his room to grab a larger suitcase. With it he was able to fit the new items to be given as gifts. Since there wasn’t any time to argue, Dev didn’t give voice to his objections, but he was steamed throughout the journey. “I don’t understand this tradition at all. I’m sure they have plenty of shirts. They know how to make food, too. They don’t need any of this. What the heck?” he thought to himself.
Upon reaching his aunt’s house, he and his father received a hearty welcome. The whole weekend went very nicely, as Dev got to spend time with his aunt, uncle and cousins who were so dear to him. On the first day there, he sheepishly took out the gifts his mom had given him. “Uncle, this shirt is for you. And these shirts are for you guys,” he said to his cousins. “And auntie, my mom told me to give you these bangles.” Dev didn’t offer these gifts with any type of presentation at all; he was almost annoyed by the whole thing.
“Oh your mom always knows what to give us. She knows that I like these bangles. She is a special lady,” Dev’s aunt said upon receiving the gifts. Indeed, everyone was happy. “That little inconvenience really wasn’t so bad after all,” Dev thought afterwards.
The entire episode came to his mind again many years later when reading the Janaki Mangala of Goswami Tulsidas. There is one scene in that work where the host, King Janaka, prepares so many gifts to be packed and sent along with the guests who are about to return home. Janaka’s daughter Sita had just gotten married to Rama, the guest from Ayodhya. Rama’s father and a host of other important people from Ayodhya also visited Janaka to witness the marriage ceremony.
By no means did Rama’s family need any of these gifts. They lived comfortably in their opulent kingdom of Ayodhya. Janaka followed protocol, however. He knew of the tradition of gift-giving, especially to newlyweds. Rama’s three younger brothers were also married in the same ceremony, so Janaka was packing gifts for four new families. The offering was well received by everyone involved.
“So THIS is where the tradition comes from,” Dev realized when reading this pastime in Tulsidas’ beautiful work. “This is the origin of the tradition followed by my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother, and so on.” At the time of reading this pastime, unfortunately that favorite aunt of Dev’s was no longer on this earth; she did not survive the illness. But hearing of Janaka’s generosity reminded Dev of that trip from many years back. It reminded him of his mother’s insistence, and how the slight discomfort of carrying extra luggage was outweighed by the joy the gesture brought to others.
Dev reflected further: “As Shri Rama is the Supreme Lord, giving to Him is always worthwhile. As our friends and family appreciate the little gifts we give them, so too do the Supreme Lord and His entourage. I’m very proud to follow some of the traditions that date back to the great King Janaka, and I hope I can please the Supreme Lord in the same way that he did.”
“Why so many gifts to give?
With such things they already live.
Whilst travelling prefer to pack light,
These bags barely to fit on flight.”
Despite objections gifts gave still,
So much joy in their hearts to fill.
King Janaka for all the way did pave,
When gifts to Sita and Rama he gave.
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