Friday, August 24, 2012

Twameva mata ca pita twameva Twameva bandhush ca sakha twameva Twameva vidya dravinam twameva Twameva sarvam mama deva deva Thou art my mother and thou art my father. Thou art my brother and Thou art my friend. Thou art my knowledge and thou art my wealth. Thou art my all in all, O God of Gods. Om Namo Narayanaya The Devotion of Bharata to Sri Rama Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz had Ruby slippers, which when tapped together took her home. Hermes or Mercury the Roman/Greek Messenger of the gods had winged slippers that allowed him to fly to his required destinations. Cinderella had glass slippers that proclaimed her as the love of the prince and thus the future princess changing her life from rags to riches. All of these are fantastic stories but there were a pair of wooden sandals that, although simple, ruled over a grand kingdom. On the Throne of Ayodhya, following the death of King Dasaratha, Sri Rama’s wooden sandals were set upon the throne to remind the people of what the kingdom stood for, the ideals that were to be remembered and as a reminder of the true ruler of the kingdom. In the Arthurian tales, the round table of Camelot represented the ideals of the kingdom, so to did the wooden sandals of Sri Rama rule Ayodhya. Goswami Tulsidasji describes the wooden sandals of Sri Rama as follows. “The Sandals of the all merciful Lord were like two watchmen entrusted with the duty of guarding the people’s life or they might be compared to a pair of caskets to enshrine the jewel of Bharata’s love or to the two syllables constituting the word Rama intended for the spiritual practice of the human soul. Or they may be likened to a pair of doors to guard the race of the Raghu, or a pair of hands to assist in the performance of good deeds or again to a pair of eyes to show the noble path of service.” So we have established that Sri Rama’s sandals ruled over the kingdom, keeping it in trust until Sri Rama returned. But there must be more to the tale. A story is not a story without the plots and sub-plots, the twists and turns and of course, the one question that perhaps everyone wants answered is why, oh why, was the kingdom left under the rule of a pair of sandals? Were the no kings, princes or at least a distant cousin to rule the kingdom? Let us start at the beginning. Not the beginning of the story of the Ramayana but a different story a story of a pair of wooden sandals. Sandals that achieved acclaim and respect because it adorned the feet of Sri Rama. Once there was a great Kingdom Ayodhya. There ruled king Dasaratha with his three wives and fours sons. All was well and love pervaded the kingdom. Then the Eldest and beloved Son Sri Rama was exiled from the Kingdom and with him went his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana. The King dies out of shear heartache at exiling his beloved son. The second born, Bharata returns to discover the horrors that have occurred at the hands of his mother Keikeyi, and more troubling is the fact that it was all done in his name, for his benefit. He just returned home and discovered that besides all the tragedies he is to be King. Well isn’t that convenient. The King is dead, the rightful heir exiled and the throne is his and he had to do nothing to get it. His hands were totally clean. The usual reaction would probably be one of utter joy and gratitude for one’s good fortune. Bharata however was distraught and refused the throne. He chastised his mother for her actions and then set out to find Sri Rama. How does one explain the actions of Bharata? He was getting everything, served on a platter, as to say. Power, wealth and no opposition yet he chose to deny these offerings. Today if one was given a higher position in their profession, with the promise of ever-increasing pay cheques and every luxury desired it would be close to impossible to refuse such an offer. Bharata did not even think of the option to him it was final that he shall accept nothing but the well-being and return of his brother Sri Rama. Would we be so quick to deny such pleasures for God? In the Sri Ramacharitmanasa Mother Kausalya says: “By the grace of God and through your blessing my sons and daughters-in-law are all pure as the water of the celestial stream (Ganga). Although I have never sworn by Rama, I now swear by him and tell you in good faith, my friend, that in extolling Bharata’s amiability, goodness, modesty, loftiness of character, brotherly affection, devotion, faith and nobility the wit of even Sharada. (The goddess of speech) falters. Can the ocean be ladled out by means of an oyster-shell? I have always known Bharata to be the glory of his house and the king repeatedly told me so. Gold is tested by rubbing on the touchstone and a precious stone on reaching the hands of an expert jeweler; while men are tested in times of emergency by their innate disposition”. Bharata left Ayodhya to find Sri Rama. With him were the Three Queens, and a whole retinue from the kingdom. Sri Rama in the meantime passed through the forest dressed in simple attire. Upon his feet, he wore wooden sandals or Karrow. I can tell you that these are by no means comfortable trust me I have worn wooden sandals of this particular ancient style. Sri Rama, Mother Sita and Lakshmana none the less wore these sandals and travelled through the forest and wherever Sri Rama went he blessed those he passed including the very land he tread. At first when people saw Bharata in the forest, they suspected his motive was to kill Sri Rama once and for all. On meeting Bharata however they discovered the Great love he carried for his brother and all negative assumptions were dispelled. They thus assisted him in reaching Sri Rama. On finding Sri Rama there was much joy shared amongst the brothers and the other members of both parties. Bharata offered several options to Sri Rama including the Return of Sri Rama and Mother Sita to the throne of Ayodhya. Bharata however realized that his request was selfish in that he sought his own happiness in the options given to Sri Rama. To see Sri Rama comfortable and upon the throne or to be by Sri Rama’s side would have given Bharat immense joy. Bharata realised that all of the suggestions were against the dharmic character of Sri Rama. Bharata thus installed Sri Rama’s sandals on the throne while he himself went into exile in wait of Sri Rama’s return. And that brothers and sisters, is why a pair of wooden sandals ruled over Avodhya. There is a lesson, a truth revealed to us, in this story, if we were to follow the actions of Bharata. He prostrated at the feet of Sri Rama, removed the Sandals of Sri Rama’s feet and set it upon the throne. We, every man and woman must renounce the material pleasures of the world and prostrate at the feet of the lord knowing that there is only one power that rules supreme above all else the power of Sri Rama. God is the absolute King of kings the ruler of all. What makes Bharata’s story so unique. The Ramayana is full of stories about brothers. This is true. Sugriva and Vali were brothers but where Sri Rama and Bharata had a relationship based on love Sugriva and Vali were enemies who fought over kingdom and pleasures until one killed the other. There were the brothers Jatayu and Sampati who loved each other but saw each other rarely. Then there are the many brothers of Ravana and the relationship they had was also one of love but there was also a sense of duty and fear of Ravana's strength. Bharata’s love for Sri Rama was pure, there was no fear that drove him to cower at Sri Rama’s feet subserviently, there was clearly no animosity towards his brother and so great was his love for Sri Rama that separation from his brother and seeing his brother having to, “rough it out”, was unbearable for him. One may argue that this is against the teaching of Hinduism. That which states that one should not be attached to other people, be it your parents, brother, sister, spouse or children. A valid teaching but let us acknowledge the fact that this was no ordinary love. This was the love for God. The love that we should all try to cultivate for the LORD. Sri Rama himself said in the Sri Ramacharitmanas, “… the Earth may abandon its natural forbearance and Mount Meru be blown away by a puff of wind discharged from the mouth of a mosquito; but Bharata will never be intoxicated by kingly power, o brother. Lakshamana, I swear on you as well as by our father that there is no brother so good and innocent as Bharata. God, dear brother creates the world by mixing the milk of goodness with the water of evil; while Bharata is a swan, born in the lake of the solar race that has sifted the goodness from the evil. Choosing the milk of goodness and discarding the water of evil he has illumined the world by his glory.” It is indeed difficult to describe the brotherly affection that the brothers of the Ramayana shared. The reason for this is that there is no modern example that is available for fair comparison. I thought about this point, how do I describe the relationship the brothers had. Unfortunately we live in a world that is Hollywood pervaded and dictated and in this world there seems little place for the stories of the Ramayana. The basics of the tale may be known but the subtle messages that exist are like fossils hidden from many. It occurred to me that a fairly recent (when compared to the Ramayana) piece of literature was released by JRR Tolkein and one of the central themes of the story offers a glimpse into the kind of relationship that Sri Rama and his brothers had. I am not na├»ve enough to believe that everyone has read, “The Lord of the Rings”, but I am positive that a large majority of us present has watched Peter Jackson’s screen adaptation by the same name. In the story we are introduced to four friends, Frodo, Sam, Pipin and Merry. All these characters have their own role in the great story. If we were to reflect on the relationship that occurred between Frodo and Sam it was very much like that of Sri Rama and Bharata. A relationship of mutual love and respect. There are other parallels between our great epic the Ramayana and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings but that is another story all on its own. The purpose behind introducing this parallel is so that those familiar with the story of Frodo and Sam can bring it to memory. Now multiply that a hundred fold and you have a glimpse of the love that Bharata held for Sri Rama. What makes Bharata such a great character? He was not a King, he was not a fierce warrior, and he was not a great seer or sage. Considering this why is he so highly recognized and remembered from the multitude of characters within the Ramayan. The answer is that he was able to be any of the above; he was as pure as Sri Rama himself and in many ways was the mirror of Sri Rama, yet in his life his only purpose and aim was to serve his Brother, his Master and his king - Sri Rama. This is why Bharata is such a bright light in the archives of Hindu history and literature. Despite all the material benefits, and all the name and fame that he could have acquired his mind had one purpose, serving his beloved Sri Rama. Swami Vivekanada said: “Wealth goes, beauty vanishes, life flies, powers fly – but the Lord abideth forever, love abideth forever…Stick to God. Who cares what comes, in the body or anywhere? Through the terrors of evil, say, ‘My God, My Love!’ through the pangs of death, say ‘My God, My Love!’ Do not go for glass beads, leaving the mine of diamonds. This life is a great chance. What? Seekest thou the pleasures of this world? He is a fountain of all bliss. Seek the highest, aim for the highest, and you shall reach the highest.” Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

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