“O Vanara, those words spoken by you, that Rama is not having any other thoughts and that He is completely overwhelmed by grief, are like nectar mixed with poison.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 37.2)
amṛtam viṣa saṃsṛṣṭam tvayā vānara bhāṣitam |
yac ca na anya manā rāmo yac ca śoka parāyaṇaḥ ||
What to do? How to feel? There is the side of things going bad. The person you care deeply about is in trouble. They are feeling grief. It is at a level that the emotions have taken over. The grief is overwhelming them. You don’t want them to feel this way. Moreover, the cause is your very absence.
On the other side you want to know that you mean something to that person. A simple way to gauge someone’s opinion of you is to compare the treatment. That is to say how do they treat you in comparison to their treatment of others? Better or worse? Different or the same? Even if they are nice to everyone else, it feels good to know that they consider you to be extra special.
This is especially the case in a marriage. The husband and wife are supposed to be on the same team. Others are surely important, but the basis of the family is the close relationship to the spouse. Sita Devi heard words from Shri Hanuman about her husband, and she describes the resulting feeling as nectar mixed with poison.
The nectar comes from knowing that Rama is thinking of her. They were separated through no fault of their own. The wicked Ravana came between them. The ruler of Lanka already had innumerable beautiful wives. There were so many queens, and they were devoted to him. Why did he have to go and steal another man’s wife?
She wanted nothing to do with him, either. Boasting of his many accomplishments did not help. Even if he were bent towards piety instead of sin, Sita had already given heart and soul over to her husband, who is none other than the Supreme Lord. The goddess of fortune gravitates towards the king of swans, while Ravana is like the worst of the crows.
“How can that female swan who is accustomed to sporting with the king of swans amidst lotus flowers ever cast her eyes on a water-crow that stays amidst bunches of grass?” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.20)
The poison comes from knowing that her husband is in distress. Who wants their loved ones to be in pain? The devoted wife in Vedic culture sees to it that her husband’s distresses are minimized. That is the reason for the different recommendations like not eating before the husband and not calling him by his name. In modern times these rules seem antiquated, but there is an underlying purpose. If the husband is happy he can better proceed in the mission of life. The wife then shares in whatever merits are earned.
Ravana, meanwhile, was accumulating sinful reaction after sinful reaction. He reached the point of turning into a special case that required Rama Himself to arrive to deliver justice. The Lord’s grief was for showing the love for the devoted Sita, but it was not enough to prevent righteousness from winning over.
In the same way, despite whatever grief arrives through the miserable journey of life, the soul devoted to Sita and Rama tries their best to continue forward. Chanting the holy names, they head straight for liberation at the time of death: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Someone previously near,
To heart remaining dear.
News of their welfare to hear,
Worst not happening the fear.
Like nectar with poison mixed,
Since Rama on her plight fixed.
But Supreme in this way thoughtful,
Of devotee’s welfare mindful.