“Being prayed for by the demigods, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Absolute Truth Himself, directly appeared with His expansion and expansions of the expansion. Their holy names were Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna. These celebrated incarnations thus appeared in four forms as the sons of Maharaja Dasharatha.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 9.10.2)
From birth to death and everything in between. Taken collectively the events are known as a lifetime. Each living being travels as such, while the exact duration varies. For a human being a lifetime may be upwards of eighty years, while for a tree it is thousands. For the creator, Lord Brahma, the lifetime is so long that the days and years are measured differently.
“By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together is the duration of Brahma’s one day. And such also is the duration of his night.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.17)
Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, descends to earth every now and then, as He sees it. For Him the vast space of time, infinite in both directions, is but a blip on a chart. For Him janma is not exactly a birth; it is an appearance. In the case of Shri Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, the janma has many wonderful associated images that can be contemplated by the aspiring transcendentalist.
1. Dasharatha’s yajna
The external cause is the desire of a very pious king. He helped so much in defending the suras [the good guys] against the asuras [the evil ones] that he earned the name Dasharatha. This refers to a fighter who can combat enemies attacking from the ten directions simultaneously.
The king was sinless, had done everything right, but was still missing something very important: an heir to the throne. At the advice of a brahmana [priestly man], Dasharatha performed a yajna. This is a kind of religious sacrifice, intended for the benefit of God the person, who is known as Yajneshvara, which means “enjoyer of sacrifice.”
The remnants of Dasharatha’s yajna were shared with the three queens, who soon became pregnant. Thus everything related to Rama’s appearance was auspicious, in accordance with dharma, or religiosity.
2. Four children to three queens
Fast forward a little and get the image of four infants being adored by three loving mothers. Rama is the eldest, born to Queen Kausalya. Rama is God directly. He is the same Vishnu worshiped in every yajna. He is the equivalent of God the person. This is the special benediction for King Dasharatha; he was worthy of having God as a son.
Bharata is the next child, born to Queen Kaikeyi. Lakshmana and Shatrughna are twins, born to Queen Sumitra. The three younger brothers are partial expansions of Vishnu, known as amshas in Sanskrit. They are essentially the same as God, but assuming different roles.
3. Rama and Lakshmana eating
Lakshmana takes the role of number one servant. One of his many other names is Ramanuja. This means “younger brother of Rama,” and anuja also implies a follower. Lakshmana tags along with Rama wherever the eldest brother goes. This is not annoying in the least, but rather very endearing. Lakshmana does not eat or sleep before Rama does. This is a great sign of respect and love.
All four brothers are well taken care of by the loving mothers. They are adorned with beautiful clothes and provided food fit for a king. They are to one day follow in the footsteps of the father, though the journey won’t be without difficulties. From the mothers, the loving affection represents a bond to last forever, even when physical association is not available.
4. Rama swallowing Kakabhushundi
Kakabhushundi took birth in a crow’s body, but retained his knowledge of spiritual matters. He knows that God is a person. He knows that Bhagavan sometimes descends to this world and displays His amazingly beautiful transcendental form. He knows that the lila is just sport, that even within the child’s body Bhagavan retains full potency.
But due to the illusory energy of maya, sometimes there is forgetfulness. In the case of the devotees the illusion is of the auspicious kind, yogamaya. Under the sway of that energy, for a second Kakabhushundi thought that maybe Rama wasn’t God. After all, Dasharatha’s eldest son was playing like an ordinary child, being tricked here and there.
At that moment Rama decided to chase after Kakabhushundi. He caught the crow and swallowed him. Kakabhushundi then saw a version of the universal form inside of Rama. That amazing vision immediately removed the illusion. The Supreme Lord is affectionate with His devotees in this way.
Always from maya protection,
Rama to crow affection.
By swallowing from inside seeing,
Universal form, ignorance freeing.
From Dasharatha’s yajna they came,
Four brothers, to Vishnu the same.
Staying together, to Rama most dear,
Lakshmana seated close to Him near.
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