Calling Each Other Prabhu

[King Dasharatha]“Please do not take it ill of me that I sent for you. I know that I received all happiness by the glory of your grace, O lord.” (Janaki Mangala, 173)

bilaga na mānaba mora jo boli paṭhāyaun |
prabhu prasāda jasu jāni sakala sukha pāyaun ||

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Such is the nature of fraternal organizations that the members address each other with notable terms. They are part of a unique club, so they honor each other’s preferred status by an identifiable form of address. “Brother” is the most commonly used term, and “sister” is the corresponding one for organizations of ladies. In devotional circles, one would be surprised to note that the English translation for the term of choice is “lord.” This is the word used in this verse from the Janaki Mangala, and it is offered by one king to another.

“Hello Prabhu; Prabhu, can I offer you any more prasadam; Prabhu, please accept my obeisances; Nice to see you again, Prabhu.” You can hear such statements quite often in devotional societies. If someone new to the scene doesn’t know what the word “Prabhu” means, they may think it refers to someone who is very dear. “They say Prabhu to every other guy, so it must be a nice way to address them. It also comes in handy if they don’t know the other person’s name. They can just say Prabhu and not get into trouble. It sounds like a nice word, so it must mean someone who is very dear.”

Indeed, if a word is always used in a specific context, others will start to identify that word with that particular context. But “prabhu” is a Sanskrit word that means “lord.” It is used quite often in Vedic literature, as it is synonymous with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Other corresponding terms are bhagavan, ishvara, and natha.

[Krishna's lotus feet]Those who are trying to serve the Supreme Lord with body, mind, and speech address each other as “prabhu” in order to remain humble. They won’t address their teachers in this way, for their acknowledged superior position earns them a distinct title. But all others are made to feel superior with the word that means “lord.” This helps to maintain the devotional attitude within the servant. “My objective is to think of everyone else as superior to me. Even if others are not practicing devotional service so much, I know that if they do take it up seriously, they will do a much better job at it than me. Plus, I have so much I can learn from them. I am only a pretender, for I harbor material ambitions on the inside. These are so difficult to renounce, and so I need to stay in the association of other prabhus. Also, I’ve noticed that if I spend some time chanting the holy names and reading important books, my ego gets puffed up. Then I start to think of myself as prabhu instead of dasa, which I really am. Therefore I look forward to any opportunity to address another as prabhu.”

From the behavior of King Janaka referenced above, we see one of the benefits to associating with someone whom we would address as “prabhu.” King Dasharatha is about to return home to Ayodhya. Janaka had originally called for him. Janaka was hosting a marriage ceremony for his daughter Sita, and Dasharatha’s son Rama was the chosen groom. Dasharatha was a powerful and respected king, so he was not under obligation to listen to anyone. Janaka kindly asked him to visit his town to consent to the marriage ceremony for Shri Rama and then take part in the festivities.

“Thereupon, after inviting my father-in-law, the elderly King Dasharatha, to Mithila and receiving his approval, my father gave me away to Rama, the knower of the self.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.52)

[Sita and Rama's marriage]Dasharatha was more than happy to accept, and he felt so much love for Janaka and his family. Therefore Janaka didn’t need to ask pardon for sending for Dasharatha. Here he does so anyway, and he explains why. He says that by Dasharatha’s mercy [prasada], all happiness came to him. Through the good king’s efforts, Rama was raised to be a righteous, courageous, and attentive prince. Through the king’s good will, Rama was allowed to marry Sita, which eased Janaka’s mind. The king of Mithila always worried about who would protect his beautiful daughter. He drew up a difficult contest precisely to find someone who would be strong enough to defend her against rogues and thieves. Rama was a godsend, and so through His victory in the contest, the honor got passed up the chain to the immediately preceding link, King Dasharatha.

This exchange between two kings reveals so many important truths. By doing good work, past generations are honored. By receiving the mercy of a pure soul, one gets all happiness in life. The disciple who kindly questions the spiritual master about the most important topics feels the same sort of happiness, for the guru gives them the ability to always worship. Janaka and Dasharatha were both kings, but Janaka genuinely felt himself inferior. From that position he was fit to offer all respects, and the King of Ayodhya was more than happy to receive such kind words. Based on their behavior it is no wonder that the Supreme Lord and His eternal consort appeared in their families. It is also not surprising that those kings are still remembered to this day, for they displayed exemplary behavior.

In Closing:

By their mercy to be blessed,

So as prabhu kindly addressed.


Humbled, in attitude inferior,

Giving all respects to superior.


Janaka to Dasharatha this treatment gave,

By prabhu’s prasada, his vow to save.


Spiritual master also such mercy gives,

Humble disciple in devotional ecstasy lives.

Categories: janaki mangala

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