Rama Avatar, part 5

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Sita had been kidnapped.  Searching for her, Rama and Lakshmana came across a great strong monkey, who introduced himself as Hanuman.

Who is Hanuman?

Many stories are told about the great ones!  So it is with Hanuman.  One story tells that Hanuman was the incarnation of Lord Shiva, coming to help Lord Vishnu in his Rama avatar.

Hanuman is also called the son of Vayu, the Wind God.  This is what gave him the ability to fly and to take on different forms.  Hanuman was born to Anjana and Kesari.  Anjana had prayed diligently to Lord Shiva, asking him to take birth as her son.  Thus the great and mighty Hanuman came into being.

The mischievous Hanuman, when he was young, swallowed the sun, which he released only after the Devas had prayed to him.  Hanuman began using his supernatural powers in a mischievous way.  One day he pranked a meditating sage.  In a fury, the sage cursed Hanuman to forget his powers temporarily.  Later, when he became an adult, the curse lifted and Hanuman remembered all of his godlike powers.

When Rama found him, Hanuman was living near Mount Rishyamukha with Sugreeva.  Sugreeva was hiding from his brother Vali, the king of the vanaras (monkeys).  Seeing Rama & Lakshmana, Sugreeva misunderstood them to be allies of his brother, coming to harm him.  Sugreeva sent Hanuman, his friend and minister to go find out about them.

Hanuman introduced himself to Rama and Lakshmana who shared their devastating story with Hanuman.  Hearing this, Hanuman’s heart was filled with love, respect and devotion towards Rama.  After he listened to the story of the kidnapping, Hanuman told about Sugreeva, who was in a similar predicament, being in exile in the forest.

Vali and Sugreeva were very close and loving brothers.  Vali was king of Kishkindha, the vanara kingdom; Tara was his wife.  A demon named Maayaavi came to Kishkindha, challenging Vali for a fight.  Vali accepted, but Maayaavi ran into the jungle and inside his deep cave so he could have the upper hand.  The brothers followed him through the jungle.  Though Sugreeva tried to stop Vali, Vali entered the cave, telling Sugreeva to wait outside.  Many days went by but Vali didn’t return.  Sugreeva didn’t leave his post.

Suddenly one day Sugreeva heard Maayaavi’s roar.  Then a stream of blood gushed out of the cave, followed by another roar.  Sugreeva thought it was Maayaavi’s cry of triumph and that Vali had been killed.  Sugreeva thought for a while and decided to block the entrance of the cave with a huge boulder, in order to stop Maayaavi from coming out and attacking Kishkindha.  He returned home with a heavy heart, not talking to anyone for days.

However, inside the cave, Vali had killed Maayaavi.  Eagerly coming out to see Sugreeva, Vali found the entrance blocked by a boulder.  He thought that Sugreeva betrayed him for the throne.  There was no way out of the cave but Vali continued trying to push the boulder aside.

Back in the kingdom, Sugreeva continued to be silent.  Hanuman was one of the nobles at the court as well as a dear friend.  He approached Sugreeva, insisting that the throne must not remain vacant.  As Vali’s brother, Sugreeva should take Vali’s place.  With great hesitation, and after a lot of thought, Sugreeva agreed.  He ascended the throne for the sake of his people.  Hanuman served him well as his minister.

Time passed.  One day, Vali succeeded in pushing the boulder a little so he could scrape through a small opening.  He arrived at the palace a few days later.  While Sugreeva was delighted to see his beloved brother alive, Vali was not in a mood for loving reunions.  He furiously accused his brother of being a hypocrite who trapped him in the cave.  He was not willing to listen to Sugreeva or anyone.

Vali banished Sugreeva from Kishkindha.  When Sugreeva’s wife, Ruma, attempted to go with him, Vali claimed her to be his property and would not let her go.  Hanuman somehow managed to join Sugreeva and both of them left Kishkindha.  They reached the Rishyamukha Mountains, where Sugreeva was safe, since Vali could not go there due to a curse from Rishi Matanga.

Hanuman finished Sugreeva’s story.  He thought Rama and Lakshmana would be able to help Sugreeva free his wife, so he invited them to meet Sugreeva.  They accepted the invitation, so Hanuman took his gargantuan form, picked up Rama and Lakshmana and flew through the woods to Sugreeva’s hiding place.  There, Rama promised to help Sugreeva to retrieve his wife, Ruma.  In return, Sugreeva promised to help Rama find Sita and help him in every way.

In a duel, Vali gained half his opponent’s strength, thus no one was able to beat Vali in direct combat.  Knowing his brother’s strength, Sugreeva doubted that Rama could win.  After a few tests, which Rama passed with ease, Sugreeva started to believe in Rama.  Hanuman became an ardent admirer of Rama, very loyal to him, not letting Rama out of his sight.

They decided it was time to free Ruma.  The plan was for Sugreeva to challenge Vali, then Rama was to kill Vali while he and Sugreeva were in combat.  Sugreeva went to Kishkindha, followed by Rama.  As planned, Sugreeva challenged his brother.  The duel was fierce.  Rama was unable to get a clear shot at Vali because both brothers looked very much the same.

Unable to defeat Vali, Sugreeva retreated to Rishyamukha Mountains.  They decided that Sugreeva would wear a garland so that Rama could identify Vali.  Through some spies, Vali’s wife Tara found out that Sugreeva had the support of a prince from the North.  She tried to stop Vali from going to the duel when Sugreeva challenged him again.  Vali disregarded his wife and went to the fight.  This time, though Vali had the upper hand, Rama was able to distinguish Vali from Sugreeva, and kill him with his arrow, shot from behind a tree.

With his last few breaths, Vali asked Rama to defend his action of killing someone who was not in combat with him.  Rama explained that it is the duty of a king to uphold justice, and that Vali should have listened to his brother without prior judgment and treated him as his son.  Rama also pointed out his worst mistake of keeping Ruma, Sugreeva’s wife with him.  Because Vali had wronged Sugreeva, Rama had done justice.

Vali was full of remorse when he heard Rama’s words, and requested Sugreeva and Rama both to pardon his actions.  He also requested them not to vest his sins on his wife and his son Angada, but to look after them.  With a heavy heart, Sugreeva told his brother that all he had wanted from him was his love and nothing more.  Vali blessed Sugreeva and died.

After doing the last rites for his brother, Sugreeva ascended the throne.  He crowned Vali’s son Angada as the crown prince.  However, Sugreeva soon forgot his promise to Rama, spending his time in enjoying his regained status.  The clever former ape queen Tara and Hanuman calmly intervened to prevent an enraged Lakshmana from destroying the ape citadel.  They made Sugreeva understand his duty and honor his pledge.

Sugreeva then sent search parties in all four directions, but they returned without success from the north, east and west.  Under the leadership of Angada and Hanuman, the southern search party reached the southern tip of the great land and sat on the south shore, depressed.  Angada said, “We have tried our best, but we have failed miserably.  I, as the leader of the party, am not prepared to go back to Kishkindha empty handed.  In fact I would like to kill myself here and equal myself to Jatayu the king of eagles who had sacrificed his life in service to Rama.”

Everyone in the search party was talking about the failed end of their search, when someone called to them from behind, “Friends!”  Everyone turned to see an eagle slowly walking towards them.  The eagle said, “Friends, I heard my brother Jatayu’s name come up in your conversation.  May I know how you came to know of my Jatayu?”  Angada told the eagle about Sita’s kidnapping.

The bird continued, “My name is Sampaathi.  We eagles are bestowed with very keen eyesight.  We are capable of pinpointing things at great distance.  I have seen Sita in a grove in Lankapuri.”  Uttering these words, Sampaathi, flew away.

Hearing this, Hanuman without wasting a second, took on his gargantuan form and made a colossal leap across the sea to Lankapuri.

More to come…

Rama Avatar, part 4

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Rama left the forest of Chitrakoot, visiting other ashrams, meeting many sages and getting their blessings.  He also helped them by killing the rakshasas harassing them, as this was a time when demonic forces were strongly affecting the earth and her residents.  Agastya was one of the great sages Rama visited, who gave the great gift of Vishnu’s bow and arrows.

Agastya suggested that Panchavati would be an ideal place for Rama’s further stay in the Dandakaranya forest.  Thus, Rama settled in Panchavati.  On the way there, Rama met Jatayu, the king of birds.  Jatayu was so happy to meet Rama!  Jatayu promised to guard all three of them from the sky.

A rakshasi named Shurpanaka occupied Dandakaranya forest along with her brothers Khara and Dushana.  One day, Shurpanaka happened upon Rama’s hermitage.  Seeing this handsome man, she wanted to get married to him.  She changed herself into a beautiful young woman and made an advance towards Rama.  Rama refused her, saying he was married, and sent her to check with Lakshmana (for some amusement).  “Not a bad replacement,” she thought and approached Lakshmana.  Short-tempered as always, he stared at her and told her to keep away from him.

Knowing Lakshmana was not going to work out, Shurpanaka decided to harm Sita, as she was the cause for Rama’s refusal.  Shurpanaka charged towards Sita.  Lakshmana, with one swing of his sword, cut off Shurpanaka’s nose.  Shurpanaka ran to her two brothers for help; they came to Rama’s hermitage to fight him.  Rama and Lakshmana killed both the brothers with ease.  Seeing this, Shurpanaka went screaming to her beloved brother Ravana in Lankapuri (Shree Lanka).

Who is Ravana?  Ravana was the son of the great sage Vishrava (or Vesamuni), whose father was the sage Pulastya, one of the great sages of all time, son of Brahma.  Ravana’s mother was and Kaikeshi, whose father was Sumali (or Sumalaya), king of the Asuras.  Kaikesi’s brothers, Maaricha and Subahu, were Ravana’s uncles.  Ravana had six brothers:  Kubera, Kumbhakarna, Vibhishana and Ahiravan, as well as Khara and Dushan, whom Rama had just killed.  His older sister was Kumbhini; his younger sister was Shurpanaka.

Ravana and his brother Kumbhakarna are the second incarnations of Jaya and Vijaya, the gatekeepers of Lord Vishnu.  Ravana married Mandodari, the daughter of Mayasura, and they had seven sons, Meghnaada (the most powerful one, also known as Indrajit), Atikaya, Akshayakumara, Devantaka, Narantaka, Trishira and Prahastha.

Ravana was a great scholar, having learned all four Vedas.  He was also a great musician, playing the veena (a stringed instrument), as well as a great singer from which he got the name Ravana, which means “of the terrifying roar.”  He had ten heads and twenty arms.  Above all, Ravana was known as the greatest devotee of Lord Shiva.   Ravana composed the hymn known as the Shiva Tandava Stotra.

Ravana had performed intense penance to Brahma for several years.  When Brahma appeared before him, Ravana requested immortality.  Brahma refused.  Then Ravana asked for invulnerability from gods, heavenly spirits, other asuras, serpents and wild beasts.  Thinking he was stronger than any mortal human being, he didn’t ask protection from humans.  Brahma granted his wish.

Being a great devotee of Lord Shiva, Ravana then went to see Lord Shiva at Mt.  Kailasa.  Nandi refused to let Ravana in, since Lord Shiva had asked not to be disturbed.  To show Nandi his love for Shiva, Ravana attempted to uproot and move Mt.  Kailasa.

Lord Shiva, to get rid of Ravana’s arrogance, pressed his little toe on Kailasa, pinning Ravana under the mountain.  Realizing he had made Lord Shiva angry, Ravana plucked off one of his heads, one of his hands and some of his nerves to create a makeshift veena, playing it to pacify him.  After listening to Ravana’s music for a long time, Lord Shiva released him from bondage.  Pleased with his resilience and devotion, Shiva gave him a divine sword called Chandrahas, warning if Ravana used it for any unjust deeds, it would return to Lord Shiva and Ravana’s days will be numbered.

Let’s return to the story.  Shurpanaka fled to Ravana, screaming that Lakshmana had cut off her nose and that she wants revenge.  Seeing his younger sister in distress, Ravana roared, ready for war.  His sister stopped him, saying she had learned that Rama and Lakshmana were very powerful; she recommended they get revenge in a different way.  She went on to talk about Sita, emphasizing her beauty and how she should be married to Ravana, as well as suggesting that he kidnap her.  Shurpanaka’s devastation, her persuasion towards revenge and the beauty of Sita excited Ravana’s lust and poisoned his mind.  Thus the plot was proposed and planned.

Ravana’s uncle Maaricha had the ability to change his form.  Becoming a beautiful, golden deer, he roamed near Rama’s hermitage to catch Sita’s attention.  Captivated by the beauty of the deer, wanting to pet it, Sita requested that Rama catch it for her.  Rama went to catch the deer but it led Rama far away.  A bit annoyed by the deer’s evasive techniques, sensing something was not right; Rama shot an arrow at the deer.  The arrow hit Maaricha, but before dying, he shouted out, in Rama’s voice, “Oh Lakshmana! Lakshmana!”

Sita heard this scream.  Worried about Rama’s safety, even afraid for his life, Sita requested Lakshmana to aid his brother.  Lakshmana did not believe the cry was Rama’s, so he refused to go, as Rama’s order had been to stay and guard Sita.  After Sita’s forceful persuasion and insisting behavior, Lakshmana agreed to go search of Rama.  Before leaving, he drew a circle around the hermitage to guard it with mantra, casting a spell that prevented anyone from entering that boundary.

Ravana saw that the coast was clear.  Making use of this opportunity, he disguised himself as an ascetic and came to the hermitage asking for food.  As a good housewife never refuses to give food to an ascetic, the unsuspecting Sita stepped out of Lakshmana’s circle to offer the food, since the ascetic was unable to come into the circle.

At that moment, Ravana turned into himself.  He took Sita along with the earth she was standing on, as he was unable to get close to her due to her chastity and her devotion to Rama.  He put the dug-up earth with Sita on it into his flying chariot, “Pushpaka Vimana,” and flew towards Lankapuri.  As she was being carried away, Sita cried for help and began dropping her jewelry pieces, one-by-one.

Hearing Sita’s cry, Jatayu, the king of birds, confronted Ravana.  Though Jatayu did his best, he was no match for the mighty Ravana.  Ravana cut off one of Jatayu’s wings; mortally wounded Jatayu fell to the ground.  Ravana continued south to reach Lankapuri, and imprisoned Sita in his garden, Ashokavana, guarded by rakshasas.

Meanwhile, Lakshmana found Rama with the dead deer.  Figuring there was some conspiracy in what happened, the brothers rushed back to the hermitage.  They found only strewn rice and the other food Sita had been offering to the ascetic.  Sita was missing.

They began a vigorous search, going about the forest to find her.  They came across ornaments she had dropped one-by-one.  They continued in the direction the ornaments were found.  They found Jatayu.  He’d been saving his last breath to inform Rama that Sita had been abducted in a flying chariot going south.  Rama put Jatayu on his lap with great sorrow; Jatayu died in Rama’s hands.  Rama performed the last rites for Jatayu and continued south.  Rama forged onward, with a broken heart and tears in his eyes shouting, calling “Sita, Sita, Sita…” asking anyone they encountered if they had seen Sita.

Goddess Parvati was sitting next to Lord Shiva on Mt.  Kailasa.  She asked, “My Lord Shiva, has Lord Vishnu forgotten who he is?  Why is he searching for Sita like this?”  Lord Shiva replied, “Why don’t you find out?”  So Goddess Parvati changed herself into an elderly woman and came before Rama.  Rama saw the old woman, and immediately said, “Devi Parvati, please accept my pranams.  How is Lord Shiva?”  Astonished, Goddess Parvati greeted Rama and returned to Kailasa.

Lord Shiva explained, “You are who you are, but when you take the form of a human being, you will have to abide by the rules of human nature, which means you forget your own divine nature.”  Lord Shiva continued, “I have not helped Lord Vishnu in his past incarnations.  I need to help him in this one.”  Goddess Parvati agreed.

After meeting Goddess Parvati, Rama continued his search as though nothing had happened.  During the search, Rama came across a demon named Kabandha who tried to swallow both the brothers.  They fought and killed him.  With his last breath, he thanked them, saying that he had been waiting for them to release him from a curse that made him demoniacal.  He advised the brothers to visit Shabari, an old ascetic living in the nearby forest.

Delighted by their visit, Shabari greeted them with respect and served them food.  Especially she served Rama, offering rare fruits that could be very sweet but were sometimes sour.  To be sure she offered only the best, she first tasted each one to insure that it was ripe and tasty.  Rama was pleased by her intention and loving care, so he whole-heartedly accepted each of the fruits.

She directed them to go to Mount Mathanga.  After blessing her with liberation, Rama traveled to Mount Mathanga, searching for Sita.  Near Mount Mathanga, they come across a great strong monkey, who introduced himself as Hanuman.

More to come…

Following a Path

By Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

In 1969 Swami Satchidananda opened the Woodstock Music Festival, ending with teaching everyone to chant Hari OM.  A modern-day Guru and cultural icon, he was famously quoted as saying, “All paths lead to the same goal.”  This is not the whole quote.  Unfortunately, this partial quote is often used to justify spiritual dabbling.  What he said was, “All paths lead to the same goal, but you have to pick one and follow it to the end.”

Just like a mountain with many paths, you must pick one in order to get to the mountain peak.  If you keep switching trails, you will wander around the mountain forever.  You will certainly have wonderful experiences but you’ll never make it to the top.

In yoga, the goal is the experience of your own Self, the Ultimate Reality within.  Even more, it is about living in that Reality all the time, “Self-Realization.”

You may be motivated by a simpler goal: you do yoga so you will feel better.  This is a great reason to do yoga.  In Svaroopa® yoga you get what you want because this practice excels at healing what ails you.  Pain and stress melt away as you lengthen your tail.  Illness and injury heal more quickly.  Yoga even improves conditions that modern medicine doesn’t know how to treat.

Many different styles of yoga poses are available in the West.  They all provide dramatic physical benefits as well as stress reduction.  However research shows that exercise also provides the same benefits, sometimes even more effectively.  If exercise gives you the same results as yoga, then what’s so special about yoga?

Swami Nirmalananda describes, “When I returned from my Guru’s Ashram, I discovered that yoga was changing in America.  A teacher of another style told me proudly, ‘We’re taking the mysticism out of yoga.’   I was shocked!  I’d given years of my life to learn the mysticism of yoga.  They were doing everything they could to make it merely physical.  It’s no wonder I had to create a new yoga style.”

This means is that it matters what “brand” of yoga you do.  While one will give you beauty and gracefulness, does it free you from anxiety?  Other styles make you sweat or jump in and out of poses, but you may still have back pain.  You can do yoga poses on a trapeze but still get upset when life brings you back down to earth.

Svaroopa® yoga is a mystical science, not merely an athletic endeavor.  This means it gives you mystical experiences, fulfilling the promise made by the ancient sages of India.  Svaroopa® yoga is spiritual yoga.


By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

When you are touched by the raw power of a lightning storm, the quietude of a forest glen or the softness of a deer’s eyes, you are using something in nature to effect an internal change.  It’s like a switch is flicked inside.  You are suddenly stilled.  You are deeply still and profoundly aware.

Yoga says you don’t need an external trigger to experience this deep inner beingness-awareness-bliss — it is your own Self.  Every time you have an experience of the Divine Within, you are irrevocably changed.  It’s not just a change; it’s upliftment.  One Sanskrit text describes it this way,

Tajjah samskaaro’nya-samskaara-prati-bandhee. — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.50

After an experience of The Self, your mind bears an impression of consciousness within it, which prevents other impressions from taking hold.

You must imprint your mind with more experiences of consciousness!  It already has too many imprints that lead you in other directions.  Your mind has the accumulated imprints of all the things you’ve experienced in this life as well as powerful impressions from your previous lifetimes, all impelling you toward repeating the same things again.  To get off the karmic merry-go-round, you must actively intervene in the process or it becomes a “Willy Wonka” tunnel with no escape:

There’s no earthly way of knowing

Which direction we are going

There’s no knowing where we’re rowing

Or which way the river’s flowing…[1]

Upliftment is the key.  Yoga is the science of upliftment.  But you are not being lifted up into another realm; you become more present in this realm, on this earth, in your own body, in your own life.  You become radiant with your own Divine Essence.  The way upward is inward.

This is a different direction than most systems, even most religions, teach you.  There are even meditation systems that say you must transcend this earthly plane, you must be lifted up into the light and that you will only arrive once you leave your body.  Years ago I flew into my then-home in San Diego, arriving to the news that 31 people had killed themselves so they could ascend to a higher level.  This is not yoga.

The yoga poses come from the Tantric Sages who practiced in the Himalayan caves, far away from the mainstream spirituality of the time, partly because mainstream spirituality said you had to reject the body in order to find God.  The tantrics said, “Your own teachings say that Shiva has brought forth all that exists out of His own Divine Beingness.  Thus, everything is holy, even my own body.”

Their spiritual endeavors began with Grace, through a transmission of energy from the Guru, which awakened the yogi’s inner power of upliftment, Kundalini.  As this sacred energy unfurled from tail to top, different yogis had different experiences depending on their personal readiness and individualistic nature.

Those who were more kinesthetic, rather than visual or auditory, experienced physical movements.  Others copied their spontaneous movements, which are today’s yoga poses.  Some yogis believe the forest sages made up the poses, having their disciples stand like a tree or move like a cobra, but the origin of these sacred body movements is in the sacred — not in the mind.

Doing the poses invokes the experience that those initiates were having, the inner experience of your own Divinity.  Svaroopa® yoga excels at this because it is the yoga of Grace.  I have devoted my life to the force of Grace, as did my Guru and his Guru before him.  We focus on core opening so that your spine becomes open and breathing and your spinal energy moves freely.  In other words, while you get the physical benefits that Svaroopa® yoga promises, you are getting more.

Yoga guarantees the upliftment of your own consciousness while you live in your body, a body that is being purified and made sacred through your breathing and your poses.  These changes in your body makes you able to see and to be the Divine Reality.  You also see, and even revel in, a Divine World made of out one thing:  Shiva.

Originally published July 2012

[1] Excerpt from “Wondrous Boat Ride,” song from the 2005 movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

Upliftment is More than Personal Growth

By Swami Nirmalananda

Life makes sure you continue to grow and change whether you want to or not.  Life pushes you through so many lessons you try to avoid.  It’s a karmic truth.  But yogis do it differently.  Yogis are proactive about change, a specific type of change called upliftment.

Many people actively seek out self-improvement through the arts, travel, continuing their education, therapy or introspection, or an ever-expanding circle of people and experiences.  As wonderful as these growth experiences are, they are not the same as upliftment.  The upliftment of your own consciousness is yoga’s promise, even when you are simply doing a few poses to improve your physical condition.  Yoga sneaks up on you.

The physical changes provided by Svaroopa® yoga’s core opening have a profound effect on your body, but also on your mind and psyche.

  • While increased flexibility protects you from injury, even making your tissues healthier and younger, it also makes your mind more flexible, more adaptable and resilient.
  • As your muscles lengthen and become less dense, your mind and heart are becoming more open.
  • Your breathing capacity expands as your core opens up. This physical change makes you feel less contracted as a person, more expansive, even generous and compassionate.
  • As your spine lifts and lengthens, you stand taller in the world, more willing to be authentically you, as well as to speak up for yourself and others.
  • As your rib cage opens, your heart opens. You become more understanding of others and more compassionate, even to those who have hurt you in the past, whether you are in communication with them or not.
  • As your tailbone lengthens, you become free from fear. Anxiety cannot take over your mind anymore, so you have lots of extra energy and enthusiasm for life.  What is there that you cannot do?

When I meet someone new, which often happens on an airplane, they usually ask what I do.  I give them an easy answer, “I teach yoga.”  Thirty years ago they answered me, “Yogurt?”  Now they say, “I should do that.”  They all know they should be doing yoga.  They all know that yoga would be good for their body.  They even know that yoga offers something more, which they prove to me by saying, “Yoga is good for stress, right?  I need to learn how to relax.”

What they don’t know is that yoga is doing more to you, with every yoga-breath and every yoga pose.  It’s a sneaky system:  it will make you spiritual even if you didn’t want to be.  It’s deeply fulfilling.  It makes life worthwhile.

Your religion may be important to you, so you don’t need the spirituality that yoga provides.  How fortunate you are!  Yet yoga will still offer you spiritual benefits, deepening what you get from your church or temple.  Many yogis find their religious background to be unsatisfying, yet they still have the innate human hunger for the experience of the Divine.  Our modern world reinforces nature as a place to go to be touched by God.  Maybe music does it, or maybe for you it’s art that does it, or you get it through visiting ancient sites or monuments.  Yoga does it too.  Yoga specializes in Divinity — yours.  Yoga opens your inner experience of your own Divine Essence, called svaroopa, your own Self.

First published July 2012

The Yoga of Grace

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Birth is an extraordinary moment of creation — a new life beginning.  Death is an ending. Everything in-between is called “maintenance,” taking care of yourself, your life, your loved ones and your possessions.  These are three of the five cosmic powers, functioning in your life, even flowing through your own actions.

The fourth of Shiva’s cosmic powers is concealment, hiding your Divine Essence from you.  Revelation is the fifth of these powers, also called Grace.  You may have thought that “grace” meant something graceful, beautiful, flowing and elegant.

More expansively, you may know that you want Divine Grace to make your life easier: finding a new job, a new spouse or a better situation.  Yoga says, as important as these all are, they fall within the third power of God, maintenance — not Grace.  As important as these things are, they are not what Grace is about. Grace is the fifth cosmic power:  the revelation of your own Divinity.

Knowing your own Divinity does, of course, make all the maintenance easier!  That happens because you are coming from a deeper place within.  Being based in your own innermost essence, you are not as reactive.  You are not as superficial. You are not as needy.  You are more compassionate.  You are more able to go with the flow.  Life gets easier, even when it is hard.

Einstein understood revelation.  He would sit in a chair, set a spoon across his knee and stare at it until it fell.  In the time between it leaving his knee and landing on the floor, he saw the structure of the universe.  Yoga calls this pratibha, inner visions or insights.  Consider the length of time between the spoon leaving his knee and landing on the floor.  In that instant, he saw the structure of creation.

His problem was that he didn’t know how to meditate.  He needed a spoon!  In the time between his knee and the floor, he got insights about how the universe worked, then he would write mathematical formulas to try to explain it.  He wasn’t figuring out a formula that would get him to an unknown result. He knew what was there because he had seen it, so he was trying to use mathematics to explain it.  He got it from the same place the ancient sages got it from, in-sight.  Revelation.

His insights were profound and have had a significant effect on our world, but yoga says this is a limited use of your inner vision.  There is so much more to discover inside:  the Divinity of your own Being.  How do you get there?  By quieting your mind, only you don’t need a spoon.

Tadaa dra.s.tu.h svaruupe’vasthaanam — Patanjali Yoga Sutras 1.3

In the moment that your mind becomes still, you are established in your own Divine Self.

This is why Svaroopa® yogis love Shavasana.  Just as Einstein discovered, that the instant your mind settles, your own Divinity is revealed to you.  Even a moment of that experience heals all the wounds, dissolves the memories and frees you from old patterns that keep you limited.  It takes only an instant to have an experience of your own Self.

It’s like lighting a match.  How do you light a match slowly?  You can’t.  It flares in an instant.  Svaroopa® yoga is not stair-step yoga.  Svaroopa® yoga is the yoga of Grace; it is the yoga of revelation.  Grace gives you your own Self.  To receive this Grace, do more Svaroopa® yoga.

You may have thought that “grace” meant something graceful, beautiful, flowing and elegant.  More expansively, you may know that you want Divine Grace to make your life easier: finding a new job, a new spouse or a better situation.  Yoga says, as important as these all are, they fall within the third power of God, maintenance — not Grace.  Let’s look at it again.

Rama Avatar, part 3

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Rama and his new wife, Sita, along with the other newlyweds, traveled to their capital city of Ayodhya.  On their return, the whole kingdom joyfully welcomed Rama and his three brothers, all with their new wives, with great devotion and respect.  Ayodhya was flourishing more than ever, after the arrival of the princes with their consorts.

A few years passed, and there was a message from Ashwapati, Kaikeyi’s father.  He wanted his grandson Bharata to stay with him in the Kekeya kingdom for some time, as his health was not good.  Dasharatha and Kaikeyi immediately sent Bharata and his wife Mandavi there to help.  Ashwapati was very happy to have his grandson with him in his last days.  Though Bharata was Dasaratha’s eldest son, thus the heir to the throne, he extended his stay in his grandfather’s Kekeya kingdom.

After a few more years passed, the aging King Dasaratha wanted to name the Crown Prince.  He decided to crown his son Rama at the Pattabishekham ceremony at the earliest possibility.  He assembled his ministers and all the elders to announce his decision.  All of them liked and agreed to Rama as Crown Prince.  Dasaratha felt that his time was running out, so he planned the Pattabishekham for the following day, especially since the next auspicious day was a few months away.

Manthara, a close personal maid of the Queen Kaikeyi, was secretly listening to this conversation and was not happy.  She remembered that Rama, as a young boy, accidentally struck her with a mud ball; she was still angry about it.  She ran to Kaikeyi with the news of Rama’s Pattabishekham on the next day.  Kaikeyi leapt out of her chair with great joy and gave Manthara the gold necklace she was wearing as a gift for bearing the happy news.

Manthara threw the necklace to the ground, asking Kaikeyi why she was so happy, “Is it because your own son, Bharatha, is not getting the crown?”  Kaikeyi replied, “No.  Rama is like a son to me; my son Rama is going to ascend the throne!”  Manthara sat with Kaikeyi and told her negative things that might happen if Rama was crowned, slowly poisoning her mind.  Manthara warned that Queen Kaushalya would be the Queen Mother, while Kaikeyi herself would be under her.  Sita, as Janaka’s daughter, might influence Rama to conquer the Kekeya kingdom, especially because Janaka and Ashwapati were not in good terms.

By the end, Kaikeyi had been convinced that her son Bharata should be the next king of Ayodhya.  But she didn’t know how to stop Rama’s Pattabishekham.  She knew her husband would not change his mind as he loved Rama so much.  Manthara slowly reminded Kaikeyi about the two boons that Dasaratha had granted her, urging her to finally use them: the first one for the Pattabishekham to be done to Bharata, the second one to send Rama into exile for fourteen years, because Bharata would not be able to serve as their real king due to the people’s great love for Rama.  Manthara also plotted with Kaikeyi about how to act when Dasaratha came to give her the news.

While Manthara was poisoning Kaikeyi’s mind, the news of Rama’s Pattabishekham spread like wildfire.  The whole of Ayodhya was singing and dancing in joy.  The people were decorating the whole kingdom in preparation for the Pattabishekham.

The king brought the news to Kaushalya and her son Rama.  Though Rama agreed to become Crown Prince, he was unhappy that Bharata was absent, so he asked for the Pattabishekham to be postponed.  Dasaratha refused, saying it needed to happen the next day.

Then Dasaratha came to Kaikeyi, thinking Kaikeyi would be the happiest of all since she was the closest to Rama.  Dasaratha was in a very happy and joyful mode when he entered Kaikeyi’s palace, but found Kaikeyi lying on the floor.  Her jewelry was thrown all around, her hair undone and she was miserably clothed like a poor person.  Manthara had been a great tutor.   Shocked, Dasaratha sat next to where Kaikeyi was lying and asked what had happened.  Was she ill; should he call for a doctor?  Liftin her head slowly, Kaikeyi said she was not ill and there was no need for a doctor.

Dasaratha helped her to a nearby chair and asked why she had such a dreadful look in her eyes.  Kaikeyi said she wanted her son, Bharata, to become the next king, and that Rama should be sent into exile for fourteen years.  This was the greatest shock of his life for Dasaratha.  He fell to his knees, asking Kaikeyi to reconsider her requests, remembering that Dasaratha had a special place in his heart for Kaikeyi.

Kaikeyi’s mind had been poisoned by Manthara so much that she said these are not simply requests.  These are the boons that she had postponed from earlier, so Dasaratha had no choice but to give them to her.  Dasaratha fell to the floor with a very heavy heart.  He spent the whole night trying to pursue Kaikeyi to change her mind, but she didn’t budge an inch.  As nothing could be done, Dasaratha agreed to her request and fainted on the floor.  While this was going on in Kaikeyi’s palace, the rest of Ayodhya was getting ready for Rama’s Pattabishekham the next day.

The next morning, the ministers came to fetch Dasaratha, but Kaikeyi refused to allow them to enter.  She asked them to send Rama to her palace so his father could speak to him.  She was thinking that Rama would throw a tantrum when he heard the new decisions, so Kaikeyi prepared herself to be strong.  Rama came at once, obedient as always.

With a stern voice, Kaikeyi told Rama that, on her request, his father had ordered him into exile for fourteen years, and that Bharata would be installed in the Pattabishekham ceremony right away.  To Kaikeyi’s astonishment, without the least change smile, Rama told Kaikeyi “Oh, dear Mother!  I will go to the forest immediately.  You could have sent me a message to go to the forest and I would have done it wholeheartedly, simply because it is my dear loving mother’s wish.  I thank you for giving me this opportunity to be with the sages who are rooted in dharma.  Please inform my father that I am taking leave.”

He returned to his residence to prepare for the exile.  Upon telling Sita that he must go, and that she should stay in the palace until he returns, she outright refused.  She started getting ready to join him, saying, “Where Rama is, is the Ayodhya for me!”  Lakshmana found out what had happened.  Always short tempered, he was enraged, so Rama had help him bring his temper down.  Lakshmana would never part from Rama, so he joined Rama as his brother and personal attendant.  Rama, Sita and Lakshmana said their goodbyes to their mothers and started their journey by foot to the forest.

The news of Rama’s exile spread like wildfire.  The people of Ayodhya were following Rama to the forest, saying they had no reason to remain in the kingdom without Rama.  No matter how much convincing Rama tried to do, it didn’t work, so he let them follow him to the forest.

When everyone fell asleep that night, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana sneaked deeper into the forest.  He asked the Chief Minister Sumantra to take everyone back to Ayodhya.  The next morning, with Rama missing, they returned to Ayodhya with a heavy heart, as commanded by Sumantra.

Meanwhile in Ayodhya, Dasaratha came to his senses after fainting the previous night, but found Rama gone.  He told Kaikeyi that she got her boons at the price of her husband’s life, and will live as a widow for the rest of her life.  He went into unbearable grief, suffering from the separation from Rama.  Not able to bear his son’s departure, remembering the curse from his early years, Dasaratha died with the same fate as that of Shravan’s blind parents.

Immediately Bharata was sent for.  Learning what led to such a catastrophe in the family, due to his own mother’s greed, Bharata looked at his mother severely, uttering very harsh words, “O!  Enemy of mine, in the guise of my mother!  You should enter the cremation fire or disappear into the Dandaka forest.  No other fate befits you.  I am no longer your son; neither are you my mother!  I can’t imagine, of all people, that you who loved Rama the most, can exile my dearest loving brother to the forest.  I will go to him, beg his forgiveness and bring him back with me to Ayodhya.  Or else I will join him in his path.  Do not ever come in my presence again, my demon-personified mother!”  Hearing these words, Kaikeyi realized the atrocity she had caused by her actions.

Bharata performed the funeral rites of his father.  As always, followed by his brother Shatrugna, Bharata gathered a large company of soldiers, preceptors, elders and the leaders of Ayodhya.  They went to the forest to search for Rama.

Meanwhile, in the forest, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana walked to the banks of the holy river Ganga.  There, Rama met Guha, the leader of the boatmen, who cordially served them well.  Rama, Sita and Lakshmana stayed one night with Guha, then got his help to reach the other bank of Ganga.  Extremely pleased with Guha, Rama declared he had gained a brother, so there are now five brothers in total.  Guha was overjoyed by Rama’s words, yet he had to goodbye.  Rama, Sita and Lakshmana walked slowly through the jungle, enjoying its splendor, to reach Sage Bharadwaja’s hermitage near Chitrakoot.  Invited by Sage Bharadwaja, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana decided to stay in Chitrakoot for a while.  Lakshmana made a beautiful hut for them; they started their life in exile.

After a long and hard search, and with the help of Guha, Bharata and his entourage came to Sage Bharadwaja’s hermitage.  Bharadwaja first advised Bharata not to get emotional, telling him that what happened was not caused by a single human being, but was fulfilling a Divine Purpose.

Sage Bharadwaja then helped Bharata to find Rama.  Bharata rushed towards Rama’s hermitage.  The short tempered Lakshmana thought Bharata was there to fight Rama, and leapt up with his bow and arrow, ready to fight.  Lakshmana had to be pacified by Rama once again.

Bharata reached Rama and fell at his feet, not able to speak a word due to sobbing uncontrollably.  Bharata was wearing the same ascetic’s rags as Rama had adopted.  At once, Rama helped Bharata to rise/  Embracing Bharata, Rama asked why he was in such attire, since he was the King of Ayodhya.  Rama went on asking about their father and their mothers.

In the midst of sobs, Bharata broke the news that their father was gone.  At this, Rama lost his steadiness, then slowly regained his composure after a few minutes.  Then Bharata pled his case, begging for forgiveness for what his mother had done, and begging Rama to return to Ayodhya in order to rule the kingdom.  Rama replied that he had given his word and could only return only after fourteen years.

After a lot of hesitation and pushback, Bharata agreed to be the guardian of the kingdom, as the representative of Rama, until Rama’s return.  He set the condition that, if Rama is even a day late at the end of the fourteenth year, Bharata would take his own life.

He requested Rama’s sandals, so he could place them on the throne so that he doesn’t deviate from dharma.  Agreeing, Rama gave his sandals to Bharata.  Bharata carried them on his head all the way back to Ayodhya.  He ruled the kingdom as a guardian and representative, but not living in the palace.  He lived and ruled from a place called Nandigram, located in the outskirts of the city of Ayodhya.  More to come…

The Power of Revelation

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

There are so many wonderful things about Shavasana, especially when you have the props that make it possible for your spine to relax.  But the real reason you love it is because you dive in deeper.  What is deeper?  Deeper is the experience of your own Self.

Shavasana is not a nap.  If your head stays in the middle, you’re not sleeping.  You’re experiencing your own Self, your Divine Essence.  If your head turns to one side, even slightly, you do fall asleep; you are not experiencing the Self.  Check it out.  In a Shavasana, turn your head toward one side a little bit and remain in the pose for the same amount of time.  You can tell that it’s not the same. The nap makes you feel a little tired as you are getting up.  Instead, with your head in the middle during your Shavasana, you experience a profound deep immersion into Self.

The physical improvements you get from Svaroopa® yoga are amazingly easy.  It works from the inside-out; we call it core opening.  This spinal decompression provides physical benefits, plus it creates a deeper opening, into your Self.  It becomes easy to explore who you are at the innermost level.

Deeper than your body, deeper than your mind and heart — who and what are you?  You find your answer by finding your Self, “svaroopa,” which is your Divine Essence.  Knowing your own Self is the real purpose of Svaroopa® yoga, the mystical secret hidden in the seemingly simple physical processes.

Your body is a living body because the energy of enlivenment flows through your spine.  Named “chi” in Chinese, Sanskrit calls this energy “prana.”  As your core opening increases, your pranic flow opens up, making you progressively healthier, more alive and even younger.

Once you get enough opening at your tailbone, the Grace of Svaroopa® yoga ignites a more powerful current: the enlivening and enlightening power named “Kundalini.” This is your own inner force of upliftment, working within you to reveal your own Self to you.  This is Shaktipat, the specialty of Svaroopa® yoga.  This is why Svaroopa® yoga is the yoga of Grace.

Grace is a technical term in yoga, classified as the fifth of Shiva’s Divine Powers, clearly described in the Pratyabhij~nah.rdayam:

Aabhaasana-rakti-vimar”sana-biijaa-vasthaapana-vilaapana-tastaani.  — Sutra 11

Shiva performs the five processes on the cosmic level [as well as on the individual level]:  manifesting, sustaining, ending, concealing and revealing.

Shiva is the name we use for Ultimate Reality, the “who” that brings these powers into being and uses them to create the world and to become you.  As an individual, you use all five of these powers, though in a more limited way because you don’t yet know you are Shiva.   These five powers are:

  • Manifesting: Shiva creates the universe and all that is in it, including you. As an individual, you create a family, music, a beautiful meal, a garden, etc.
  • Sustaining: Shiva maintains the universe, keeping it going, including continuing to be you. As an individual, you maintain your relationships, your home, your car, your job, and more.
  • Ending: Shiva is the destroyer as well, bringing about endings every day. A tree falls in the forest.  A beloved person or pet dies.  Everything that was created reaches an ending point.  As an individual, you destroy things:  even relationships, jobs, or a place where you live (when you move).  Sometimes endings are thrust upon you; sometimes you choose them.
  • Concealment: Shiva conceals His own Presence within each being, each object and each atom of the universe, including you. As an individual, you hide your feelings, you hide parts of your life from others, and you hide your mistakes or your ability to do things well.  The power of concealment means a hidden dimension is there in everything, including the Divinity hidden within you.
  • Revelation (Grace): Shiva reveals His own Presence within all that exists. Grace is the power of revelation. The ultimate revelation is your own Divinity — Shiva is revealed as your own Self.  As an individual, you also reveal things.  You show someone an easy way to do something, you say something that sheds light on the situation, or you do something uplifting for others or for yourself.

Svaroopa® yoga is the yoga of Grace, meaning it is the yoga of revelation.

swami-hands-cropped-65OM svaroopa svasvabhavah namo namah

To your Inherent Divinity, again and again I bow.

excerpt from article published June 2013

Rama Avatar, part 2

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

We return to Lord Ram’s story, seeing he and his three brothers growing quickly.  Rama and Lakshmana were inseparable, as were Bharata and Shatrugna.  The pairs did everything together: eating, playing and studying together.  They were well-educated, both in the Vedic lore as well as a king’s martial arts.  Sage Vasishtha, Dasharatha’s kula (clan) Guru taught them everything they needed in life and to rule the kingdom well, when their time would come, after their father.  Soon they grew into young men.

It was time for them to be married.  Dasharatha had begun talking with Sage Vasishtha about their readiness to marry when Sage Vishvamitra visited.  The king respectfully welcomed Vishvamitra with all formalities, asking what grace brought him to the palace.  Sage Vishvamitra explained that his sacred yaj~nas (fire ceremonies), performed for the happiness and prosperity of the world, were frequently disturbed by rakshasas (forest spirits).  He asked Dasharatha’s to send Rama to protect Vishvamitra’s forest ashram.

Feeling protective towards his children, especially Rama, Dasharatha begged Sage Vishvamitra to let Rama be.  Instead Dasharatha himself would come to protect the ashram.  But Sage Vishvamitra knew who Rama really was, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  The sage refused Dasharatha’s offer, even saying he doubted Dasharatha’s promise to protect the sages in his kingdom.  Sage Vasishtha convinced Dasharatha to send Rama.  As always, a package deal, Lakshmana joined Rama on the adventure.   On the way to the forest, Vishvamitra taught Rama and Lakshmana several mantras of warfare, including incantations and astras (energetic weapons).

On reaching the hermitage, Vishvamitra instructed the princes to safeguard the yaj~na from rakshasas trying to disturb the proceedings.  A rakshasi named Tataka was the first to try.  In the fierce battle between Tataka and Rama, following the advice of Vishvamitra, Rama killed her, though it was against kshatriya (warrior) principles to kill a woman.  Next Subahu was killed by Rama.  The third was Maaricha, whom Rama dropped in the sea near Sri Lanka by using an astra arrow.  Vishvamitra successfully completed his yaj~na, very happy that Rama and Lakshmana helped him in this effort for the world’s benefit.

Vishvamitra then took the boys to a few places, describing the importance and history of each.  During their walk through the forest, Rama stopped and placed his foot on a small rock, to everyone’s astonishment, the rock turned into a beautiful woman.  She bowed to Rama and introduced herself as Ahalya, thanking him for lifting the curse placed upon her by her husband, Rishi Gautama.  A daughter of Lord Brahma, Ahalya was cursed due to an unfortunate incident involving Indra’s (the King of Devas) lust for Ahalya.  Ahalya, now freed from the curse, became even more purified by the touch of Rama’s foot, and returned to the heavens.

Continuing onward, Sage Vishvamitra, Rama and Lakshmana arrived in the kingdom of Mithila.  They found out that a big event was happening soon, a svayamvara — a contest to win the princess Sita’s hand in marriage.  She was the daughter of King Janaka, of the Videha dynasty, a great philosopher-king.  His capital city, Janakpuri, was a dominant political and cultural center as well as a hub for the sages, including Janaka’s Guru, Yaj~navalkya.

Who is Sita?  King Janaka, like Dasharatha, didn’t have any children.  He constantly prayed to Lord Shiva for a child.  One day, as he was getting the ground plowed and prepared for a yaj~na, he unearthed a golden casket.  In the casket he found a beautiful baby girl.  He took the baby as a gift from the Gods, naming her Sita, meaning “from the furrow.”  Sita is therefore known as the child of Bhoomi Devi (Mother Earth’s child).  She was an incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi, coming to assist Lord Rama with his task on earth.

Sita was brought up as the adopted daughter of Janaka and his wife Sunaina, raised as a princess of Mithila.  Sita is also called “Janaki” (beloved by her adopted father), “Vaidehi” (a princess of the Videha dynasty) and “Maithili” (a princess of the Mithila Kingdom).

Sage Vishvamitra took the boys to watch the svayamvara.  Walking by the palace, Rama looked up and saw a beautiful girl in one of the balconies.  She too saw him.  Their eyes met; dare we call it “love at first sight?”  Yet they must proceed to the svayamvara.

Whomever could lift Pinaka (Lord Shiva’s bow), string it and shoot an arrow from it, would win Sita’s hand in marriage.  Many princes of great strength and valor were present at the svayamvara.  One by one, each tried but failed miserably.  Not one was able even to lift the bow, let alone launch an arrow.  Then, in the midst of high protests, some of them got together to try lifting it, but couldn’t budge the bow even an inch.  All the princes told Janaka that his challenge was too hard and that his daughter would die unmarried.  Though heartbroken, Janaka couldn’t change the rules of the svayamvara once they were established.

When all the others gave up, Sage Vishvamitra winked at Rama to go to the stage and launch the arrow.  Rama went near Shiva’s bow, bowed to it and worshiped it, praying to Lord Shiva for his blessings.  To everyone’s astonishment, Rama then lifted the bow with just one hand, strung it and shot an arrow from it.  It made the bow break in half with a thundering sound, heard by everyone in all the corners of the earth!

Sita came out with a garland and placed it on Rama’s neck.  Rama was delighted to find the girl he had seen on the balcony, now garlanding him.  On her part, Sita was pleased to be garlanding the handsome man she had seen from her balcony.

King Janaka sent a messenger to inform King Dasharatha about the svayamvara and, with due respects, to propose the marriage of Sita to Rama.  It was also decided that the three brothers of Rama would marry the sister and cousins of Sita:  Sita’s cousin Mandavi to marry Bharatha, Sita’s younger sister Urmila to marry Lakshmana, and Sita’s other cousin Shrutakirti to marry Satruguna.  The weddings were performed in Janakapuri with great gaiety and splendor, befitting the kings of both kingdoms.  The four brothers with their wives started back to Ayodhya with their parents.

The thundering sound from the breaking of Shiva’s bow, Pinaka, had reached all the corners of the earth.  It also reached the ears of Parashurama, another incarnation of Vishnu, who was meditating atop the Mahendra Mountains.  He knew what that sound was; he had given Pinaka to King Janaka!  Parashurama was enraged.  He called a challenge out to Rama.  Everyone was terrified, as they knew who Parashurama was.

Rama proved to be equal to Parashurama in all the weapons.  Parashurama got suspicious, so he asked Rama to string Sharanga (Lord Vishnu’s bow).  Rama did it in the blink of an eye.  The warrior-sage Parashurama realized he was looking at his own subsequent reincarnation.  He gave Sharanga Rama and blessed Sita, then retired for his meditations on Mount Mahendra.

The wedding party continued to Ayodhya.  On their return, the whole kingdom joyfully welcomed the new couples with great devotion and respect.  Ayodhya was flourishing more than ever, after the arrival of the princes with their consorts.  More to come…

Rama Avatar

By Nirooshitha Sethuram &
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Lord Ram, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is well known because his incredible story was passed through the generations of oral tradition and written down by the Sage Valmiki.  One of the oldest, largest and most ancient epics in world literature, The Ramayana (RAWM-AAW-yuh-NAW), it has been adapted or translated into approximately 300 other languages.  It is presented in ballets in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Philippines.  I grew up with Ramavataram, by Kavi Kambar, in the Tamil language.  The compelling details of Lord Ram’s story is presented in seven kandas or parts.  Let us begin!

One day in Vaikuntha, Lord Vishnu was in his “Anatha Sayana,” blissful sleep on Adishesha, his five-headed cobra which personifies the energy that becomes the universe.  Feeling someone holding both of his legs very tight, he woke to see Goddess Lakshmi, his consort.  He asked why she was holding his legs so tightly.  She replied that it is to keep him from leaving Vaikuntha, as it has become a ritual of him leaving so often to take different incarnations to save the universe, always leaving her alone in Vaikuntha.

With his usual smile, Lord Vishnu said it is his duty to go on such journeys to protect Brahma’s creation.  He continued, “My next incarnation is to show how a man should live in the world.  If you want, I will take you with me.”  In joy, Shree Lakshmi says, “I will show the universe how a woman should live!”

Adishesha hissed, saying, “O Lord, when you were going on these journeys, the only satisfaction I had was in keeping my Goddess safe.  But now you both are leaving me here alone.  What have I done to deserve this type of punishment?”  As Lord Vishnu began to reply, “Okay, I…” he was interrupted.  Panchajanya, the conch in his left hand, and Sudarshana Chakra, the spinning disk-like weapon in his right hand, softly said, “What about us, then?”  Smiling again, the Lord said, “Alright, I will take all three of you with me to be my brothers.”  All were happy.

Lord Vishnu added, “I need to give the opportunity for my dear gate keepers, Jaya and Vijaya, to return to me as well.  This will be their second, out of the three births they need to take because of the curse by the four sons of Lord Brahma.”

Dasharatha was the crown prince of beautiful capital city Ayodhya of the kingdom of Kosala. He was the son of King Aja, of the Kosala kingdom.  Married to Princess Indumati of Vidarbha, they named their son Nemi, but he was widely known as Dasharatha, the one with a chariot that moves in all ten (das) directions, as the name describes.

Dasharatha was a supreme archer, able to hit his target by merely hearing the sound of movement.  On a dark rainy evening, hunting near the banks of the Saryu river, he heard the sound of a deer drinking water.  Without hesitation, he shot his arrow in the direction of the sound.  The arrow found its target, but Dasharatha was shocked to hear a human cry.  Devastated, he ran to find a young boy lying on the river bank with an arrow in his chest.

The boy, in unbearable pain, said that he was Shravan Kumara, who lived in a nearby hut, taking care of his blind parents.  He had been collecting water from the river in a pitcher, which created a sound like a deer drinking water.  He asked the prince to take the water to his parents and tell them what had happened.  Then he asked Dasharatha to pull the arrow out of his chest, to liberate him from the miserable pain and to let him die.  With great regret, Dasharatha pulled the arrow from Shravan’s heart.  Shravan died.

Dasharatha, with a very heavy heart, took the water pitcher to Shravan’s blind parents.  The old couple, eagerly waiting for their son, learned what had happened and that their son is no more.  The devastated couple cursed Dasharatha, “Just as we are dying due to the unbearable separation from our dear son, you will also have the same fate!”  This made Dasharatha miserable for a long time but, as time passed, he lost that painful memory.

In time, succeeding his father Aja, Dasharatha ascended the throne of Ayodhya.  He was such a great warrior such that he even helped Indra, the King of Devas (Gods), to fight Asuras (Demons).  A mighty king, he was considerate to all his citizens, ruling the country justly, leaving no room for criticism.

Dasharatha married Kausalya, a princess of Kosala.  Though they were happily married, Kaushalya was unable to bear any children for the Ikshvaku dynasty.  Dasharatha then married Kaikeyi, from the Kekeya kingdom, promising her father Ashwapati that his grandson will be the heir to the throne.  Again with no luck having children, he then married Sumitra from the Magadha kingdom.

Out of the three wives, Dasharatha was very fond of Kaikeyi; it is said that he loved her the most.  This may have been due to the support she gave him during wars.  Kaikeyi accompanied her husband in most of his battles.  She had the heart of a warrior and performed better in battle than most men could.  On one occasion, Dasharatha was injured badly in a war in the Dandaka forest.  Kaikeyi saved him by driving his chariot away from the war, then mending his wounds and taking care of him until he regained his strength.  Praising her devotion and strength, Dasharatha promised to fulfill two wishes for her.  As Kaikeyi didn’t have anything to request, she said that she will use the boons when she needed them.

Time passed, but they had no children.  Dasharatha was anxious to produce an heir to the throne, so he performed the Putra-Kameshti Yaj~na (a fire ceremony for the purpose of having a son).  Lord Agni, God of fire, was delighted by the sacrifice.  He appeared from the fire and gave Dasaratha a pot of “payasam” (rice porridge), to be consumed by his wives so that they would bear children.

The righteous King Dasharatha first gave the payasam to his eldest queen, Kausalya; she ate half of it.  Then he passed it to Sumitra, who ate a quarter of it.  Then he gave the rest to Kaikeyi, but she ate only half of the remainder and gave the rest to Sumitra, who finished it.  As promised by Lord Agni, all three of them were blessed with children — four boys: Rama to Kausalya, Bharata to Kaikeyi, and the twins Lakshmana and Shatrugna to Sumitra as she ate from the payasam twice.  Dasharatha was in eternal joy.  Rama is the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Bharata the Sudarshana Chakra, Lakshmana is the incarnation of Adishesha and Shatrugna the Panchajanya conch.

The four children grew day by day.  Kaikeyi was so fond of Rama, sometimes she would take care of Rama’s needs before taking care of herself or her own son Bharata.  Everyone saw Kaikeyi with Rama even more than with his own mother, Kausalya.  Dasharatha was very happy about this, as he was worried about the promise he made to Kaikeyi’s father when he married her.

Rama and Lakshmana were inseparable, as were Bharata and Shatrugna.  The pairs did everything together:  eating, playing and studying together.   They were well educated, both in the Vedic lore as well as a king’s martial arts.  Sage Vasishtha, Dasharatha’s kula (clan) Guru taught them everything they needed in life and to rule the kingdom well, when their time would come, after their father.  Soon they grew into young men.

To be continued…