Friday, September 21, 2012

Sri Ramayana Part 4: Marvelous names and majestic characters of the young princes of Ayodhya





जय श्री राम !        ( Jai Sri Ram )

शुक्ल अम्बरा धरां विष्णुं,      ( Shuklambharadaram vishnum,
शशि वर्णं चतुर भुजं ।            Shashivarnam chaturbhujam |
प्रसन्ना वदनं ध्यायेत्,           prasannavadanam dhyayet,
सर्व विघ्न  उपाशन्तयेत्  ॥      sarva vigna upshantayet || )



नमस्ते अस्तु भगवन्  विश्वेश्वराय महादेवाय त्रियम्बकाय त्रिपुरान्तकाय त्रिकग्निकालाय ,
कालाग्निरुद्राय निलकन्ताय मृत्युञ्जयाय सर्वेश्वराय सदाशिवाय श्रीमन् महादेवाय नमः ।
( Namaste astu bhagawan Vishveshvaraya, Mahadevaya Triyamabakaya Tripurantakaya Trikaganikalaya,
Kalagnirudraya Nilakantaya Mrityunjayaya Sarveshvaraya Sadashivaya Sriman Mahadevaya namah | )



वनमाली  गदी शन्गी शङ्की चक्री च नन्दकी ,
श्रीमन् नारायणो विष्णु वसुदेवोभि रक्षतु ।

( Vanamali gadhisangi shanki chakri cha nandaki,
Sriman Narayano Vishnu Vasudevobhi rakshatu | )


सर्व चैतन्य रूपां ताम् आध्यं विद्यां च धीमहि
बुदिं यो नः प्रचोदयात्

( Sarva chaitanya rupaam tamadhyam vidyam cha dhimahi
budhim yo nah prachodayat )

सदाशिव समारम्भां व्यास शंकर मध्यमाम् ।
भारती थीर्थ पर्यन्तां वन्दे गुरु परम्परां ॥
 ( Sadhashiva samarambham vyasa shankara madyamam 
bharathi theertha paryantam vande guru paramparam )
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 Sri Ramayana(Bala Kaanda) Part 4:

Marvelous names and majestic characters of the young princes of Ayodhya






In the last episode, I narrated the story upto the birth of Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Shatrughna. Emperor Dasharatha begot four handsome babies after successfully completing the Ashvamedha Yagam and Putreshti. The populace of Ayodhya celebrated on that momentous day. Grand festivities continued throughout the Khosala kingdom. All the sections of the society were overjoyed. Eleven days passed in merry celebrations.

Eleven days after the birth of the four children, Vashishta Maharshi, who was the kulaguru(family teacher) of Raghu dynasty, was requested by Emperor Dasharatha to suitably name his four children. Vashishta Maharshi cheerfully accepted the request of the Emperor. The first child(born to mother Kaushalya) was named as Rama. The second one(born to mother Kaikeyi) was named Bharatha. And, lastly, the two children(born to mother Sumitra) were named Lakshmana and Shatrughna respectively.

Usually, the names of the people and their personalities dont necessarily have to match. A girl named Vidya(which means education/learning) may turn out to be a complete illiterate. Similarly, a boy named Sridhar(which means one who bears Sri or wealth) may grow up to be poor. Thus, there is no assurance that the personality of a child will match the name conferred on him in his childhood. The names given by Brahmarshi Vashishta to these four children were not such mundane.

Vahishta Maharshi chose the names cautiously with much foresight. Vashishta maharshi, himself, is no ordinary person. He is a Brahmarshi(one who has attained the highest spiritual conscious). He is the very embodiment of all the wisdom in the universe. He has understood by experience the meaning of the sublime Vedic truths like  तत् त्वम् असि (tat tvam asi),  अहं ब्रह्म अस्मि (aham brahma asmi), सत्यम् ज्ञानम् अनन्तम ब्रह्म (satyam gyanam anantam brahma),   ब्रह्म सत्यम् जगत् मित्या जीवो ब्रह्म एव न अपरः (brahma satyam jagat mitya jivo brahmeva na aparah) . He has merged his ego with the supreme being. He has realised that essentially he(Vashishta) is indistinguishable from the Para Brahman(God). He has understood that other beings are also essentially same as Para Brahman(God). The other beings, out of their misunderstanding, nurture thoughts of separateness from the supreme. He knows that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. God is not only omnipotent, but potency itself. The primary source of strength of every thing(living or non-living) is God. Nothing and no one has any strength independent of God. तेन विना तृणं  अपि न चलति (even a blade of grass is incapable of moving without Him). శివుడి అగ్య లేనిదే చీమా అయనా కుట్టదు (Without Lord's permission, even an ant cannot bite anyone). God is not merely omniscient, but knowledge (gyanam) itself. All the knowledge of the worlds is but an instance of God. Knowledge by which a tree grows(by making food directly from sun's energy); knowledge by which a flower blooms spreading its fragrance far and wide(attracting bees which carry pollen); knowledge by which a bee collects the honey from the flowers; knowledge by which we(humans) think; all these are but instances of the knowledge of God. A bee may not be able to do what a tree or a human does; while a human may not be able to do what a tree(making food from sun's energy) or a bee(collecting honey) can. They have diverse knowledges, but the knowledge itself, in all things, is God himself/itself. God is not just omnipresent, but eternal. God exists. God exists everywhere and for all time. There is no place or time, devoid of God. God exists in the seemingly lowliest to the apparently highest in the equipoise. God is simultaneously tinier than atom and bigger than the universe.  अनोरनियान  महतो महीयान (anoraniyan mahato mahiyan). God pervades everything and everyone. So, He is called  विष्णु (Vishnu) i.e. 'the all pervasive'. God existed in this manner in the past. God exists in this manner in the present. And God will exist in this manner in future. If one were to ask a question, "is there anything that cannot be accomplished by God?" The answer is, "Yes, there is one thing. God cannot cease to exist from any place(howsoever tiny) for even a fraction of time." If God is not present at some place, then the place itself will not exist. If God is not present at any moment in time, then that time itself will not exist. If God is not present in an object, then that object itself will not exist. But God exists independent of time, place and objects. But all things are dependent on God. Simultaneously, God exists at all places, at all times and in all objects. Thus, God permeates and empowers all things/objects(living and non-living) from the minutest to the magnificent for all times in all places. God is the common essence in all the places, times and objects. This diverse world(with infinite places, times and objects) has one commonality: God. God is the unity in the diversity. In fact, the diversity is an illusion that cloaks the unity. People look at the diversity but cannot notice the unity. They think the world (along with the various objects within the world) are different from God. This mistaken view that the world(including oneself) is independent(or different) from God is माया (maya).  Maharshi Vashishta has transcended this माया (maya). He has realised his and others' self is indistinct from विष्णु (Vishnu). He does not consider himself as separate from विष्णु (Vishnu). He views विष्णु (Vishnu) in everything and everywhere. Due to this realisation, he is self-content and happy within himself. He does not need any other object(living or non-living) to be happy. He is just happy and content. Thus, he has transcended desire and anger. He has not suppressed his desire and anger, rather he has gone beyond  desire and anger. How? Simple. If one views the all pervasive विष्णु (Vishnu) in all things, then what is there to be liked or disliked. If everything has the same quality(विष्णु), then how can one be desirable and another undesirable? Mind in association with senses gives rise to notions of pain and pleasure. Everything is permeated by one(same) विष्णु (Vishnu), so these notions of mind(that one is pleasurable, while another is painful) are simply illusions of mind. By shunning these false notions of difference and embracing the truth that everything is pervaded by one परम आत्मा (Supreme Being), Vashishta has merged his ego in that परम आत्मा (Supreme Being). Due to this Vashishta has become one with that all pervasive God(विष्णु). Vashishta has acquired the same status as विष्णु(all pervasive Supreme Being).Thus, he has discerned all the world as mere maya(illusion) and God as the truth.

Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada gives the same advice in 'Baja Govindam'. He says,
"त्वयि मयि च अन्यत्र एको विष्णुः    ( tvayi mayi cha anyatra eko vishnuh
व्यर्थं कुप्यसि मयि असहिष्णुः ।         
vyartham kupyasi mayi asahishnuh ।
भव समचित्तः सर्वत्र त्वं                        bhava samacittah sarvatra tvam
वाञ्चस्य अचिरात यदि विष्णुत्वं
"         vaanchasyaciraad yadi vishnutvam ) Baja Govindam 24


"शत्रौ मित्रे पुत्रे बन्धौ                            satrau mitre putre bandhou
मा कुरु यत्नं विग्रह सन्धौ                    
maa kuru yatnam vigraha sandhou

सर्व अस्मिन्न अपि पश्य आत्मानं       sarva asminn api pasya atmaanam
सर्वत्रो
उत्सृज भेद अज्ञानं ॥ "                 sarvatro utsruja bheda ajnaanam   )  Baja Govindam 25

Meaning of above two verses is:
In you, in me, there is but the one all-pervading Reality(विष्णु). Getting impatient, you are angry with me needlessly. Be equal-minded everywhere (under all circumstances) if you want to attain the status of the all-pervading Reality soon(विष्णुत्वं). Baja Govindam 24

 Do not strive, towards separation or alliance with enemies, friends, children or companions. In everything, everywhere, see the Self by lifting the sense of differentiation borne of ignorance. Baja Govindam 25

 Vashishta Maharshi is the illustration of the above teachings.He sees no distinction of friend or foe. He has reconciled the opposites like pain and pleasure, happiness and sorrow, luxury and misery, praise and criticism...etc. Thus, by practicing such equipoise, he has obtained merger with the all pervasive one(विष्णु). By knowing विष्णु (Vishnu), he knows everything that is filled with विष्णु (Vishnu) which is everything. In short, he has acquired विष्णुत्वं. Therefore, he can perceive the past, present and the future. He knows the inner most thoughts of every being in the world. In short, he has become omniscient just like God by being constantly associated with only God, just as an iron piece becomes magnet by constant association with magnet.

Then, a doubt may arise in our minds, "If Vashishta Maharshi was such an extraordinary person, who has transcended the maya(illusion) of the world and realises his self as Para Brahman, then why did such a great person agree to be the preceptor of Raghu Dynasty?" Being a preceptor to any royal dynasty is not an easy job. A preceptor has to always work towards the welfare of his disciples. A royal preceptor has to regularly conduct many religious rituals(yagams and homams) for the safety and prosperity of the royal family(and their subjects). A preceptor also has the responsibility of guiding his disciples by suitably advising them on various issues. So, a royal preceptor would have to provide advice on various issues which may includes the private lives of royalty, welfare of the people, governmental policies, and religious affairs. Evidently, being a preceptor of a royal dynasty involves a lot of worldly affairs. If Vashishta maharshi considered the world an illusion, then why did he undertake such added responsibilities? What was he expecting in return for playing the role of mentor of the Raghu Dynasty? Did he want gold? Was he after fame? Did lust of power lure him? Did he wish for praises? None of these!

Vashishta Maharashi could exert his taposhakti(power gained due to long periods of tapasya) and create more riches and luxuries than all the wealth in this universe. Vashishta maharshi, being a Brahmarshi, did not discriminate between praise and censure, pain and pleasure, wealth and poverty, desirable and undesirable. Since, he saw the world as a mere reflection of विष्णु (Vishnu), he had a uniformity of emotion towards all the things that the world offered. Then, the obvious question: what was Vashishta Maharshi's objective in being the kulaguru of Raghu Dynasty?

Firstly, Duty or Sva-Dharma. Generally, people use Vedanta to abjure one's duty. But unlike this, Vashishta Maharshi did not waver from his duty. People say, "If everything is illusionary, then why work? Why do good? Why live at all?"
The answer is,"If and when you have truly experienced the truthfulness of Gods and illusive nature of the world, then and only then you can do whatever you wish. But, until such time, one must perform one's own duty or sva-dharma always. There are two stages here: pre-liberation and post-liberation. Liberation means Moksha or Nirvana. Pre-liberation means before attaining Moksha. And Post-liberation means after attaining Moksha. If one has attained Moksha while he is still alive, then such a great person is called to be Jivan Mukta(that means one who is free in this life itself). People in pre-liberation state must not emulate people in post-liberation state. A simple analogy to drive home the point: people who have achieved their goal/target can rest(or work or can do whatever they want because they have achieved their goal). But, people who are yet to achieve their goal/target cannot behave like that, they have to diligently work towards achieving their goal. Similarly, people who are yet to attain Moksha should not emulate people who have already attained it."

Vashishta Maharshi is undoubtedly a Brahma-gyani and therefore can do as he wishes. Yet, to guide the world and do his duty, he continues to act in a way that can be emulated by others(specifically his disciples).

If such a great person is doing his duty, then the ordinary folks will also not waver from their duty by seeing his example.

In fact, this also the primary reason for the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal Vishnu to manifest as Rama. Vishnu established Dharma that every being must follow. He explained all the Dharmas in Vedas. But, ordinary folks find it difficult to do all that is asked of them. They look for a role model. They complaint, "Is it possible for any person to live according to all the Dharmas detailed in scriptures? Yes, great rishis like Vashishta are there. But, they are great. Can ordinary person do his sva-dharma especially if one has to suffer in the process?"

Rama avtar is an answer to that complaint. Yes, it is possible to live according to the injunctions of scriptures. To prove that an ordinary man can live without wavering from sva-dharma (duty) or satya (truth), the God(Vishnu) Himself, manifested as an ordinary human being devoid of any special powers. He performed all the Dharmas that a human being is expected to performed. He went through many sufferings while performing his Sva-Dharma. Lord Rama even cries like an ordinary mortal when overwhelmed by the circumstances(eg: at the time of Sita's abduction). But, never, did he waver an inch from Dharma for even a second. So, he behaved just as an ordinary human being but remained steadfast on the path of sva-dharma. Thus, Rama has provided a template for people to emulate

 Some people say, "I don't feel good reading stories like harishchandra and ramayana because of the sufferings of mr. honest and mrs. integrity respectively. It hurts why sita mata should suffer like that. why?"

The answer is:

Sri Rama's avatar had two primary aims:
a) To slay Ravana.
b) To live an ideal human life so that human beings have a role model.

To fulfill the (b), Sri Rama had to endure all the difficulties and showcase that even during all these difficulties one should not waver from one's sva-dharma.  Sita Amma's teaching is the same. Her sva-dharma is Paativratyam. Being a role model is one of the main objective of Rama and Sita. Rama is a role model for all men and Sita is the role model for all women. The essential message from Sri Rama and Sita Amma is: Bear your Karma with grace, dignity and courage without wavering from Sva-Dharma. Strictly speaking, Rama could have killed Ravana just like that. He did not have to endure all the suffering at all. He did not need to go to forests or bear separation from his beloved wife. Even, Sita could have easily punished Ravana, she did not have to suffer the imprisonment in Lanka. But if they had ended it like that, then it would not have given us an example to follow. By going through the sufferings in a Dharmic manner, Rama and Sita have provided an example for all times. Vishnu has taken several avataras. It is said that the number of avataras of Vishnu are more than the number of dust particles on earth. Yet, of all these avataras, Rama avatar is unique precisely for the reason that in this avatar the God Himself has lived like an ordinary mortal to provide an example for all mortals.  Just as a kind father shows his young son how to do a thing, by doing it himself; just as a merciful mother shows her beloved daughter how to perform a task, by pwerforming it herself. Similarly, Rama(Vishnu) and Sita(Lakshmi) have provided an example through their lives. Any avatara is an expression of God's compassion. But, this is particularly true for Rama and Sita. 

The true test of Dharmic conduct is during troubles. One may perform the Dharma as long as it is convenient. But, it takes great commitment to adher to one's own Dharma even in hostile conditions. But, even in hostile conditions, one must stick to Dharma because ultimately   यतो धर्मः ततो जयः (yatho dharmah thato jayah i.e. Victory is there where Dharma is) and  धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः (dharmo rakshati rakshitah i.e. Dharma protects those who adher to it). Rama and Sita provide this teaching by their consduct. 

Lets return to the question: what was Vashishta Maharshi's objective in being the kulaguru of Raghu Dynasty?
As already explained, the first point is that Vashishta Maharshi is performing his sva-dharma.

The second point is that Vashishta Maharshi wished to perform service to Lord. Vashishta Maharshi was a great seer and prognosticator. So, he knew long ago that Sri Maha Vishnu would take birth in Raghu Dynasty as a human to put an end to the Adharmic Ravana and to reveal the sumptousness of a human birth by living a life of an ideal human. And Vashishta Maharshi wished for the momentous opportunity to serve that avatar of Vishnu. One such service is naming that perfect human avatara. That magnificent moment for which Vashishta Maharshi had a prolonged wait had finally arrived today. Emperor Dasharatha humbly requested Vashishta Maharshi to bestow suitable names to his newborn babies who were dazzling with a celestial splendor.

In modern days, parents themselves select the names for their kids. But, according to the ancient indian custom, Guru(teacher), or Grandfather or some other learned person is to perform this task. The responsibility of choosing an appropriate name to the newborn has been entrusted to these people with an idea that these elders or learned persons would be able to determine the most appropriate name. Further, the name, bestowed by a learned person or an esteemed elder will, also act as an Ashirvaad(blessings) to the new born baby. These blessings will guard the new born from any harm and guide his/her life to a fulfilling life without troubling others.

Vashishta Maharshi, being the kulaguru of Raghu Dynasty, was requested by the emperor Dasharatha to kindly select the suitable names for his newborn children. The wise Vashishta Maharshi chose the names for the four resplendent children with much care and great insight. Vashishta maharshi's purpose of naming the kids was not just to give some nice sounding names. His intentions were much more magnanimous. The maharshi was anxious to name the Vishu's human avatar in such a manner that merely uttering that name should save the souls caught in the web of sansara(worldly affairs). Maharshi wanted a name which would have the power to relieve the innumerable souls drowning in this deep ocean of worldly affairs(sansar) and carry them to the abode of Vishnu. The name had to be simple and easily pronouncible for everyone, so that everyone could chant it and benefit from it. The names had to reflect the personalities of the newborn babies. Vashishta maharshi, put a lot of thought, in naming the four handsome princes, who were human incarnations of none other than Sri Maha Vishnu.

Vashishta Maharshi named the first born child as रामा (RAMA).
जय श्री राम!               ( Jai Sri Ram!
जय श्री राम!                 Jai Sri Ram!
जय जय श्री राम!!!        JAI JAI SRI RAM!!! )


The word 'रामा (RAMA)' means one who pleases all. रमायति  इति रामा (ramayati iti Rama). It is believed that anyone who merely sings or chants or writes the name रामा (RAMA) and anyone who reads or listens or preaches Ramayana, he/she will experience boundless happiness and abundant prosperity. Infact, रामा (RAMA) is considered a Mantram(powerful sound). Since it is considered a mantram, the name 'Rama' could be meditated(dhyana) upon.

There goes an anecdote that once upon a time in Kailasa, Parvati Devi(consort of Shiva) asks Lord Shiva thus," O Lord, what is the most easiest method in which intelligent people can obtain the fruit of reciting/reading Vishnu Sahasranamam?" Parvati devi is asking for a shortcut of obtaining the fruit of Vishnu Sahasranamam without actually reciting/reading it.

Then, Lord Shiva replied to Parvati Devi thus,

"श्री रामा रामा रामेति रमे रामे मनोरमे ।

सहस्रनाम तत् तुल्यं रामा नाम  वरानने ॥"

( Sri Rama Rama Ramethi rame rame manorame |
sahasra nama tat tulyamrama nama varanane || )


Lord Shiva explained to his beloved wife, Parvati devi, that uttering 'Rama, Rama, Rama' is equivalent to reciting or reading the entire Vishnu Sahasranama(thousand names of Vishnu). People can obtain the gains of reciting the vishnu sahasranama(thousand names of Vishnu) by merely chanting the holy name of Rama thrice. The name 'Rama', Lord Shiva says, has the power to fill the hearts of the people with joy and peace. Thus, the name 'Rama' is an infinitely powerful.

The names and forms of Gods should never be thought of as mundane. Mortal names and forms are also mortal and ordinary. But, names and forms of Gods are not such.

This also makes Sri Ramayana very powerful. Ramayana is considered an amrutha(a divine elixir which makes the gods immortal) which generates tranquility for the soul of the people who read or listen to it. Sri Ramayana is worshipped by many great many people believing that it has the capacity to relieve one from the most dire and ominous difficulties. Wise people believe Sri Ramayana to be no less than a sanjeevani(medicine that can revive the dead). Sri Ramayana, it is believed, can alleviate a mortal from the cycle of life and death. Sri Ramayana is considered to possess the power to reform a person's life, character and soul, thereby reorient his life towards success, glory, riches and peace by inculcating Dharma and removing the fickleness of heart and unsteadiness of sensory organs.

According to Hinduism(Santhana Dharma), every soul takes a birth, lives a life, and dies. Then after the death the soul again takes another birth, lives a life, and dies. This cycle of birth and death continues until the soul can attain Moksha( Nirvana ). Souls are born again and again. Sometimes as a human, sometimes as an animal, sometimes as an insect, sometimes as a plant, sometimes as a bird...etc. Every time a soul is born, it suffers pain and pleasure depending on its previously accumulated account of Papam(negative karma) and Punyam(positive karma). After a certain period, the soul's body dies, only so that the soul can take another birth with another body. This phenomenon is true for all beings of the universe, whether inert or animated: humans, birds, insects, animals, plants, or even Rakshasas(demons). When someone follows Dharma, they gain Punyam. When someone defies dharma then they are considered to have committed an Adharma. When someone has committed Adharma, they acquire Papam. Punyam(positive karma) has to be later enjoyed by a soul as a pleasure. Papam(negative karma) has to be later suffered by a soul as a pain. Body is the instrument through which a soul either suffers pain or enjoys a pleasure. Without body, a soul is incapable of enjoying any physical pleasure or pain. If we note carefully, then we realize that everytime someone enjoys a pleasure, he is spending his Punyam. Just like we buy an item by paying cash. Similarly, we enjoy pleasure by exhausting our Punyam. The same applies for papam. Whenever, someone suffers a pain, their account of Papam decreases.

But once a soul occupies a body, it again performs some deed which again results in either Punyam or Papam. To suffer the newly acquired Punyam or Papam, the soul needs another body which will perform more tasks entailing Punyam or Papam. Thus, the cycle of life and death is vicious and perplexing.

It is believed that a soul's life-death cycle can be divided into two phases: a soul's journey through this vicious life-death cycle before listening/reading Sri Ramayana and after listening/reading Sri Ramayana. Before listening/reading Sri Ramayana, the soul keeps wandering through life and death suffering miserably not knowing the purpose of life. The soul spends each life as if this is the first and last. It fawningly hankers after unsatisfiable desires. But after listening/reading Sri Ramayana, a soul's journey is reoriented towards the ultimate purpose of life bestowing eternal serenity to the soul. Such is the greatness of Sri Ramayana.

In such an extraordinary Sri Ramayana, Vashishta Maharshi has the unique distinction of being the one who has bestowed the holy name of 'Rama' to the world as a gift to mankind. A name that has captured the imagination of generations for centuries, nay, millenias. Generation after generation in India has revered the name 'Rama', sung its glory and benefitted from it. Not just India, Ramayana's influence had spread to so many countries around India. Indian civilization without Sri Ramayana is a body without soul. Sri Ramayana is the embodiment of ancient indian customs, traditions, values, beliefs, morals, literature, arts, tastes, and much much more.

There goes a story that once upon a time, Lord Shiva proclaimed that Moksha will be granted to anyone who expires in Kashi city situated on the bank of holy river Ganga. Some celestials were perplexed and asked how anyone can be granted the supreme state of Moksha just because their death occured in Kashi.

They reasoned thus,"Oh Shambo mahadeva! Any being which has taken a birth will have to die at some place or the other. Accidentally, someone may be present in Kashi city at his/her hour of death, but that is not adequate qualification for conferring Moksha, which is elusive for even the celestials like us. Oh lord! An individual is eligible for Moksha only if he has transcended the Maya(illusion) by Gyanam(wisdom), is it not?"

Then, Lord Triyambaka replied," What you have said is true. A being can attain the highest state of Moksha only with Gyanam and Bhakti. So, I will arrange such that any being who expires in Kashi city will become a Gyani in his/her hour of death. Just before the death claims them, they will realise all the Gyanam and be freed from all illusions."

Instead of clearing the doubts, the answer of the Lord only added to the confusion of the Celestials.

"O majestic lord!", said the confused Celestials humbly saluting to Lord Shiva," Is it possible for someone who has spent all their life in pursuit of abject desires to realise the subtle Gyanam(knowledge) in the fleeting moment of death? As the fierce death approaches, the searing pain in the body becomes intolerable. The body effuses various toxic effluvia through all the pores. All the sensory organs fail one after another. Memory and intellect wreck down. The very breathing becomes cumbersome and tedious causing enormous pain as the air passes through. The adjutants of Yama, with their grotesque forms, become visible to a dying man, terrorising him. The soul makes desperate attempts to escape the awful noose that those adjutants of Yama use to snarl their victims. The adjutants of Yama coercively fix the noose around the neck of their prey and mercilessly drag the soul out of his beloved body. The mind at that time, flashes random images from past. Some see their favourite food, some perceive their fawning children, some think of their beloved lover, and some see their precious possessions. Thus, a person on his deathbed becomes oblivious to his very sorroundings. Then how can, oh Shankara, Gyanam be realised in that state?"

Then, the God of Gods, Mahadeva replied with a beautiful smile," I will go myself and impart the sacred taraka mantra of 'Sri Rama' just before death claims a person in Kashi city. A person who has learnt the powerful taraka mantra 'Rama' with myself as the teacher, will realise all the Gyanam intuitively."

Such is the grandeur of the name 'Rama' which was gifted to the world by the benevolent Vashishta Maharshi. The exalted maharshi chose the name 'Rama' with great caution. Maharshi seeked a name that could alleviate the suffering of its utterer immediately.

Mantras are vocal lyrical hymns in praise of a certain deity. The mantras are supposed to posssess great powers. There are many mantras prescribed in shaastras, each mantra having its special utility. But the utilization of mantras is not a simple affair. There are several preconditions. Mantras are often tongue twisters for amateurs. Also each mantra is associate with a special tune(chandasu). A mantra has to be chanted in special tune(chandhasu) associated with it. Only experts with extensive training are able to pronounce the mantras properly in appropriate tune. Even a slight misspelling of a mantra can have adverse effects. Mantra is strictly based on the correct spelling or pronounciation. Therefore, even though mantras are very powerful, not many people can exploit them to their advantage. So, many magnificent mantras are beneficial to a limited set of people.

Knowing this state of affairs, the magnanimous Vashishta maharshi bestowed a remarkable name 'Rama' which is also a mantram. An uncomplicated mantram that is easy to spell and simple to remember, yet extremely powerful to its utterer. This is the peculiarity of the mantram 'Rama'. A person of any background, regardless of his education and knowledge of sanskrit, is able to pronounce the name 'Rama'. There are no preconditions in the use of this mantram. Any person of any class, caste, education, sect and background is welcome to partake the benefits of the name 'Rama'. Vashishta Maharshi wanted the name to be accessible to all the mankind. The benevolent maharshi was eager that everyone avail of the infinite power manifested in the name 'Rama' like a father would be anxious for his children's welfare.

Speech is considered an exceptional boon in Sanatana Dharma(Hinduism). Of the many living beings in the world, man is the only creature that has the gift of the gab. This gift can lead to an individual's progress or degeneration, depending on its utilization. Without doubt, speech plays a very important role in determining a man's condition in life. A man can befriend others by his words or turn them into bitter foes. An eloquent man can sway the people to his line of thought. A man can earn many a promotions in life with skillful employment of words. A talented speaker can gain power to rule the men. Or conversely, a man can even land in jail due to his speech. And even invite death due to speech. An oncoming bloodthirsty enemy with a raised sword, can be befriended by a fluent speaker. This is said to be Dharmaraja's(Yuddishter's) feature. He, with his skillful words, could befriend even a bloodthirsty enemy. Conversely, Duryodhana, with his rude talk and pompous behaviour earned many curses from those who came to advise him. Therefore, skillful use of exclusive gift of gab is greatly stressed in Santana Dharma. Undoubtedly, the influence of words on human heart cannot be over-emphasized.

The compassionate Vashishta Maharshi has showed the entire mankind the most easiest way of using the exclusive gift of speech to escape the clutches of grinding cycle of life and death: by chanting the holy name of 'Rama'. People can harness the energy within the word 'Rama' by uttering or singing or chanting it and be saved by its power. The name 'Rama' possesses such eminence because Vashishta Maharshi has packed a lot of power into this wonderful two sylabble name. 'Rama' is called a taraka nama(a name that can ferry a soul across the deep ocean of worldly affairs or sansar and bestow the supreme bliss). The name 'Rama' derives its power from its composition. The name 'Rama' is made up of two bheeja aksharas(alphabetical seeds/syllables): Agni bheeja(Ra) and Amrutha bheeja(Ma). Agni bheeja energises the soul, mind and body. Amrutha bheeja reinvigorates the prana shakti(life force) in all the body. As a result, just uttering the holy name 'Rama' or listening to it or writing it or reading it or meditating on it, generates a great power that rejuvenates the body and mind, while energizing the soul.

Such is the glory of the name 'Rama' that was conferred upon the eldest son of Emperor Dasharatha by Brahmarshi Vashishta Maharshi. The next child(born to mother Kaikeyi) was named Bharata by Vashishta Maharshi. 'Bharata' means one who bears the responsibility. In Sri Ramayana, Bharata endured the responsibility of the Khoshala kingdom, when Rama was exiled to the forest by his father Dasharatha. The peculiarity in Bharata's manner of managing the Kingdom is that he endured the responsibility, along with the powers and perks that accompany it, without becoming vain, arrogant or attached to that position. He bore the responsibility, keeping firmly in mind, that the Kingdom was the property of Rama and he was merely an agent of Rama.

We usually notice that people who are appointed to high offices grow pompous with time. They become addicted to the powers and perks that the position accrues. They do not like to separate from that position of power and devise various means, even immoral, to perpetuate their power and influence. Even if these people are simply appointed as incharges or elected as temporary representatives, they still develop an affection for the privileges that the position accrues and do not want to part from those luxuries, powers, and respect that this high position grants them. For instance, if someone were to be promoted to as the General Manager of a business venture and then after a year he is demoted, then it would be very hard for him to work under someone else, especially if that someone has previously worked under him. We notice, around the world, that the politicians try to hang on to their elected and temporary posts and some even resort to malpractises to save their seats of power. This is general the way of the world.

But, Bharata was unique in this aspect. He bore the responsibility of the vast kingdom of Khosala for fourteen long years without any opposition. Yet, he was never pompous. He never assumed the empire to be his own. He did not develop any affection towards the royal privileges or perks of power. And as soon as Rama returned from the exile, Bharata returned the kingdom without even slightest remorse. This is no ordinary feat. But just because he did not consider the kingdom as his own, does not mean he neglected the administration duties. He ruled the kingdom of Khosala exceedingly well. Throughout the fourteen years that he ruled as an incharge of Rama, he always considered himself as merely a devoted servant of his elder brother, Sri Rama. And these fourteen years, he took great care of all the needs of the people and kingdom with great devotion. Bharatha endured the responsibility of Kingdom in such a fine manner. So, the omnipotent Vashishta Maharshi named him as Bharatha(one who bore or bears the great responsibility).

The next child(born to mother Sumitra) was named Lakshmana by Vashishta Maharshi. 'Lakshmana' means one who enjoys the grace of Goddess Lakshmi. Goddess Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity. She is also the consort of Sri Maha Vishnu. This name, therefore, is very interesting. If 'Lakshmana' means one who has the grace of goddess of wealth and prosperity, then we will generally expect that one with that name would have enjoyed great luxuries in his life. But, we notice in Sri Ramayana that Lakshmana consciously chooses to forego luxuries for the sake of his brothers, particularly his elder brother Sri Rama.

Lakshmana was offered the position of Yuvaraja(prince) by Rama after Sri Rama became the Monarch, but Lakshmana declined it and asked Rama to bestow the Yuvraja's position to Bharata.

Before that, it was only Rama who was asked to go on an exile into the forest by Emperor Dasharatha. Sitadevi, being the wife ,followed Sri Rama into forest. Lakshmana was neither asked nor did anybody expected him to follow Rama into the dense forests. Lakshmana could have easily stayed back in Ayodhya and enjoyed all the exuberant luxuries that royalty affords. Instead Lakshmana accompanied Rama into forest. Rama attempted in various ways to dissuade Lakshmana from following him to the grisly forests, but Lakshmana insisted. And finally, he followed Rama and spent fourteen years in gruesome forests. A devoted wife following her beloved husband is quite understandable, but how many brothers would like to relinquish the luxuries of royalty and subsist in forest for fourteen years just for the brotherly love? Only a Lakshmana would do that! He even left behind his wife and tolerated the separation from her for fourteen long years. Then, how can he be called Lakshmana(one who has the grace of Goddess Lakshmi)?

The explanation is that there are two kinds of bhakti(devotion). Bharata represents one form of it and Lakshmana represents the other. Bharata represents a devotee who can live away(physically) from Sri Rama(god) and still perform the duties entrusted to him by Rama(god). Bharata was given the padukas(foot wear) and was told to rule the Kingdom using these padukas as the symbol of Rama, he did it exceedingly well. This represents mental-devotion(manasa bhakti). Even if the devotee is immersed in some other worldly activity, they mentally always remember the god and are devoted to him. They consider all their worldly responsibilities, possessions and powers as bestowed by God and strive to fulfill them sincerely. They do not grow vain nor do they get attached to these worldly affairs.

Lakshmana represents another kind of bhakti(devotion). Lakshamana does not like to remain apart from Sri Rama(god) for any reason. He himself declares at a certain point in Ramayana that he cannot bear the separation from Sri Rama. Lakshmana represents a devotee who likes to serve the lord directly(physically). Merely mental devotion does not satisfy such a devotee(represented by Lakshamana). The devotee wants to be in direct physical presence of the Lord, serving him, observing him, and revering him. Lakshamana wishes to serve the lord at all costs. Even when he had to reliquish the royal comforts, luxuries and powers for Lord's service, he did not mind. Even when he had to subsist in terrible forests leaving behind his dear wife, Lakshmana did not waver. This unwavering determination to serve Lord(Sri Rama) is considered the real grace of Goddess Lakshmi. The firm resolve to serve the Lord is the real wealth. That wealth is far more valuable than the material wealth. This attitude of Lakshamana is the true grace of Goddess Lakshmi. Thus, he is named Lakshmana(one who has the grace of Goddess Lakshmi).

The next child(born to mother Sumitra) was named Shatrughna by Vashishta Maharshi. 'Shatru' means 'enemy' and 'Shatrughna' means one who has conquered his enemies. We notice that in Sri Ramayana, there is hardly any mention of battles fought by Shatrughana. Then, why the name Shatrughana?

Here, the 'shatru'(enemy) is not an external foe but an internal one. Winning an outside enemy for someone as mighty and courageous as Shatrughana is not a big deal. Kshatriyas fight many battles and defeat foes, it is very common. The real achievement is that he has overcome those wily internal enemies that are so hard to be repressed by even the most strongest warriors. It is said that Kama(desire), Krodha(anger) and Lobha(greed) are the three gateways to hell. These are the internal enemies. Sensory organs like eye(sight), ear(sound), tongue(taste/speech), nose(smell),and skin(touch) are fickle in nature and drive a human towards great sins.

A human body is generally compared to a chariot in the indian spirituality. The fickle sensory organs are compared to wild horses dragging the chariot. Buddhi(intellect) is compared to the chrioteer. And the soul is compared to the traveller in the chariot. The traveller(soul) can journey safely in chariot(body) only if the charioteer(buddhi or intellect) controls the horses(senses) and guides them properly. Otherwise, if the horses(senses) are uncontrolled, then the accidents will occur. Or if the misguided charioteer(buddhi or intellect) drives the chariot(body) in wrong direction(sinful path), the travellor(soul) will not reach his destination(bliss of Moksha).

Similarly, the fickle sensory organs must be controlled through the intellect(buddhi), otherwise accidents will occur in life. Also the intellect(buddhi) must be strained in the right direction(Sath buddhi) otherwise the soul will not reach its destination of moksha. The only way to conquer the five internal enemies namely Kama ( Desire ), Krodha ( Anger), Lobha ( Greed ), Madha ( Vanity ), Matsarya ( malice ) is by restraining the fickle sensory organs( Eyes, Ears, Nose, Tongue and Skin ) through intellect(buddhi/intellect) trained by Dharma shaastras(scriptures) and religious rituals. The consistent and regular adherence to religius ritual along with the knowledge of Dharma shaastras leads to wisdom. Wisdom carries a human being, beyond the narrow bias of like and dislike(raga and dwesha). Transcending both love(raga) and hatred(dvesha) are the keys to peace of mind. Finally, the soul transcends both the worldly pain and pleasure. One who learns to renconcile both pain and pleasure would finally be able to pierce the illusion( Maya ) of the world and achieve Moksha.

Shatrughna has conquered such vicious internal foes. He has achieved this feat by plunging himself in the devotion of the Lord(Rama) and in the service of Lord's devotees(Bharata). Thus, he was named Shatrughna(One who has conquered the foes).

All the names bestowed by Vashishta Maharshi proved to be prophetic. All the four kids grew up to be bright, splendid, strong, handsome, energetic, tall, intelligent and obedient. Rama charmed all the beings, not just humans, with his polite and virtuous behaviour. Every being was filled with joy at the mere sight of Rama. Dasharatha, the doting father, was ecstatic with Rama's conduct. All the four young princes were sent to Vashishta maharshi for schooling, as he was the kulaguru of Raghava dynasty. All the four kids learnt the lessons taught at school exceedingly well. All of them learnt, to the same degree, the essence of Vedas and other associated sciences. All of them impressed their guru(Vashishta) with their Shraddha(interest/passion) in the education. Shraddhavaan labhate gyanam(the one with shraddha gains the knowledge) ringed true with those four princes. All the four princes were well disposed towards all the beings of the world. They wished for and worked towards the welfare of every being. They always wished for the prosperity, peace and happiness of all beings.

This attitude of being sympathetic towards all the beings, is emphasized a lot in Indian scriptures like Sri Ramayana, Mahabharata and other hindu literatures. Any talent, ability or skill that a person may possess, naturally or through acquired through practice, must be employed in the welfare of society and other individuals. A person may possess abundant might, extraordinary beauty, extensive knowledge, keen intellect, vast wealth or great power, but that is not enough. These possessions do not determine whether the person is good or bad. The bottomline is how these talents or skills are utilized by that person. If these abilities are used by that person to manipulate others,..to destroy others,...to corrupt others; then that person is evil. All those skills only multiply that person's ability to cause harm to others. In contrast, if a person uses these abilities to achieve his own self-interests without hurting others, then he is a normal person. If a person employs his skills and talents for the protection and welfare of others, then he is a virtuous person.

Another aspect in this is that an individual must not grow vain or pompous with regard to his knowledge, skills, talents or abilities. Vanity, invariably, drives one to commit deeds that cause harm to oneself and others. There is a story of Bhasmasura in Puranas. Bhasmasura was a mighty rakshasa(demon) who desired to be most powerful being in all the three worlds. He came to the conclusion that to attain his objective, he should take recourse to Lord Shiva and seek his blessings. Thus, having resolved, he travelled to the icy mountains of himalayas and began a very severe tapasya(meditative penance). That demon passed many years in the rigorous tapasya, Lord Shiva pleased with his firm devotion, appeared before the rakshasa. Lord Shiva asked Bhasmasura the reason for such rigorous tapasya. Bhasmasura seeked a boon such that his palms should have a special power such that when his palms are placed on anyone's head, then that person should immediately be consumed by fire and turn into ashes. Bhasmasura wanted this power to have no exception, that means ANYONE on whose head, he places his palms will have to burn down. The omniscient Lord Shiva knew what would be the end result of this boon. The Lord smiled benevolently and said, "As you wish..." Now, Bhasmasura had acquired the power that he wished for. His palms had the power to turn any being into ashes. But a notion passed through the mind of the wicked Bhasmasura. He said to Lord Shiva," I am unable to believe that you have indeed made me so powerful. I need to test this boon on someone, very powerful, to confirm that the boon is indeed working. So, I will place my palm over your head and if you turn into ashes, then I will believe that I am powerful." Saying thus, he attempted to place his palms over the head of Lord himself. Lord Triyambaka vanished from the spot. Bhasmasura sneered," Even Lord Shiva has fled for he could not face my power." Meanwhile, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a beautiful divine maiden and appeared before Bhasmasura. The beauty of the maiden enticed Bhasmasura. The vain Bhasmasura approached the maiden and declared his lover for her. Sri Maha Vishnu in the disguise of maiden pretended to blush and replied," I am a dancer and I will love you, if you can perform all the dance postures that I can perform." Bhasmasura maddened by the beauty of the maiden agreed to her condition. Then, Bhasmasura emulated each dance posture that the maiden performed. She performed various dance postures and he emulated all of them successfully. Then, she executed a dance posture which involved placing her palms over her own head. Bhasmasura who had become oblivious to everything but the maiden and her beauty, emulated the dance posture. Without thinking he placed his own palms on his own head. Immediately, a violent fire consumed him and turned him into ashes. This story is very interesting. God gave Bhasmasura a great gift. Instead of being grateful to the God for it, Bhasmasura grew vain and pompous. He challenged the God himself. So, the Lord crafted a situation such that the very power, of which Bhasmasura was vain, consumed him. This applies to all the humans. Every human is endowed with some gift: strength, beauty, wealth, learning, fame, influence, power, intellect,or youth...etc. And if a person grows proud of his abilities and defies the God or Dharma, then that very ability will lead him to his ruin. Thus, the real purpose of education or acquisition of skills is welfare of Society and to teach the people to be humble of their abilities.

Back to story: Rama, Bharatha, Lakshmana and Shatrughna were kindly predisposed towards all and therefore their education, intellect, skill, knowledge, strength, power and beauty would not be used to harm the world or any being in it. But instead the princes employ their skills to protect everyone. Their strength would be used to protect the meek and weak from the wicked. Their warfare skills would be utilized to guarantee peace for the virtuous and to punish the unrigteous. Rama was extremely beautiful but he vowed to marry once and only once. Rama was greatly skilled and vastly intelligent. But he vowed that he would always speak truth and nothing but the truth.

Thus, the skills acquired by the four princes were not utilized by them to hurt others, but to guard the world. They always strived to give all beings peace and happiness. All the virtuous qualities shined brightly in those four princes. The qualities will shine only when they are followed up with appropriate practice, regularly and consistently. For instance, Rama was taught that when someone asks for a refuge, a kshatriya is obliged to give the refuge. Rama did not just confine this lesson taught to him in school to a mere theory. He diligently practiced it in his life. Vibhishana (younger brother of Ravana) himself, came to Rama seeking refuge in suspecting circumstances. Not many in Rama's camp trusted this request for a refuge due to the timing. But Rama declared," A kshatriya is obliged to give the refuge and I will not avoid my obligation. If Ravana himself apologises and seeks refuge, I will grant him that. So, I will grant refuge to Vibhishina." That is the commitment of Sri Rama. Thats the reason all the qualities taught to him by his teachers shined in him.

All the four princes, specially Rama, perfectly learnt the art of fighting on the back of horses and elephants. All the four princes, particularly Rama, enraptured their father(Emperor Dasharatha) with their righteous conduct and obedience. Those kids were about the age of 12-16yrs now.

Those four brothers were very affectionate with each other and shared great brotherly affection. Lakshmana, in particular, loved and served his elder brother Rama dearly. Rama also, in return, loved his brother Lakshmana dotingly. Sometimes, we come across some people who follow others very fawningly. But those whom they follow, do not care about them. They view them with contempt. But, in case of Rama and Lakshmana, the brothers' affection was mutual. Lakshmana served Rama dearly. And Rama...what exactly did Rama feel about his younger brother, Lakshmana?

Maharshi Valmiki says that Rama could not sleep if Lakshmana was not present in the vicinity. Maharshi has says that Rama could not sleep, what does that mean? Sleep is something that people do not have much control over. A person, usually, cannot have a good sleep if his heart is not peaceful. Whenever a person's heart is restless, troubled or excited, he will not be able to slip into a sleep even if he wants to. All the external comforts and luxuries may be furnished. A beautiful, clean and comfy bed, a warm bedsheet, nice envirnoment, and cool breeze or any number of other comforts...may be provided to a person, but that does not guarantee that he will have a good sleep. If his heart is agitated, then he cannot sleep inspite of all these luxuries. Thus, Rama cannot sleep if Lakshmana is not in the vicinity because Rama's heart would not be peaceful if Lakshmana is not present with him.

Various kinds of delicious food dishes did not interest Rama, if Lakshmana was not present by his side. Such was the fondness of Rama towards Lakshmana. Lakshmana on his part was also totally devoted to his elder brother. Maharshi calls Lakshmana as the bahirpranam(external life) of Rama. It means that if something untoward were to happen to Lakshmana, then Rama would not be alive. Thats why, when the time had come for ending the Rama avatar, firstly the devas(gods) took away Lakshmana. Then Rama also entered into the Sarayu river as he could not bear living without his dear brother. This incident is narrated in the Uttara Khanda of Sri Ramayana. Thus, Rama and Lakshmana have become the epitome of brotherly love and affection over the ages. Thats the reason when the order of the four princes is described, Rama's name is usually followed by the name of Lakshmana and not Bharatha, even though Bharatha was born next, after Rama. And Lakshmana was born after Bharatha. It is interesting to note that Rama and Lakshmana are not born to the same mother...Rama and Lakshmana are step-brothers!!! Sri Ramayana teaches us such broad-minded and beautiful family values...

All the four princes shined with a divine lustre. They had many virtuous qualities that increased with their age. The princes were growing up beautifully. Maharshi Valmiki says that the four princes were so righteous, that even if a wrong or improper notion passed in their minds, they would be ashamed of it. This is a quality of virtuous people. All the four princes had good fame. They acquired vast knowledge in all fields. And they were farsighted.

Emperor Dasharatha was delighted with his children and their righteous conduct.

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जय श्री राम !    ( Jai Sri Ram )

गंगा भवानि गायत्री काली लक्ष्मी सरस्वती ।

राजराजेश्वरी बाला श्यामला ललिता दशा ॥
( Ganga Bhavani Gayatri Kali Lakshmi Saraswati |
Rajarajeshwari Bala Shyamala Lalita Dasha || )



कर चरण कृतंवा कर्मा वाक् कायजंवा,
श्रवणा नयनाजं वा मानसंवा आपराधं,
विहितम अविहितं वा सर्वं एतत् शमत्स्व,
शिव शिव करुणाब्धे श्री महादेव शंबो ।

 ( Kara charana kritamva karma vak kayamjam va,
shravana nayanajam va manasamva aparadham,
vihitama avihitam va sarvam etat shamatsva,
shiva shiva karunabdhe sri mahadeva shambo | )

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