Sumantra advises king Dasharath
King Dasharath was enthusiastic in conducting the Putra Kameshthi Yajna (पुत्र कामेष्ठि यज्ञ) so as to be able to bear a son. His good friend and chief minister Sumantra advised him to appoint the sage Rishya Shringi, who was currently serving his father, an illustrious sage named Vibhandaka, in the forest. Sage Shringi had attended siddhi in performing this form of Yajna and he could summon the presiding deity to come and hand-over sweet rice to the queens so that they could consume the dish and become blessed with divine children. Such was the capability of sage Shringi.
Ashvamedha Yajna is planned
Sage Shringi was trained to be an austere sage by his father and he never knew anything about bodily comforts or sense-enjoyments. Sumantra recounts that there was a certain king who had the problem of famine in his country of Anga desham (अंग देशम) and was told that unless sage Shringi stepped into his land, there were to be no possibility of rain there. Finally sage Rishya Shringi stepped into the land of Anga and invited the rains. The king then handed over his daughter Shanta Devi in marriage to the sage. Sumantra requested king Dasharath to engage with the King of Anga so that he requests his son-in-law sage Rishya Shringi to come to Ayodhyaji and then perform the Yajna. The King of Anga was known as Romapada and his daughter was Shanta who was married to sage Rishya Shringi. King Dasharath approached the King of Anga and got him to convince his son-in-law, Rishya Shringi to go to Ayodhyaji. The day for the Yajna was decided by sage Vashishtha and the other illustrious sages of the court. First, the sacrifice known as Ashvamedha Yajna (अश्वमेध-यज्ञ) was planned to be conducted.
Invoking blessings of the kings
During the course of preparations for the Ashvamedha Yajna, the sacrificial horse is allowed to roam freely around the various kingdoms. It was also considered as a mode of inviting the various kings around the globe, to attend the Yajna in Ayodhyaji. The intention of King Dasharath was that, the strength of all the kings need be invoked in the form of their blessings, and a son is to be attained not merely on the strength of Karma and Yajna.
Two aspects of Karma
There are two aspects to Karma or activities on the material plane. One aspect of Karma is that which helps one to get rid of all sins as part of our daily Nitya-Naimittika Anushtanam (नित्य-नैमित्तिक-अनुष्ठान), or daily set of rituals. This covers the dos and don’ts in terms of rituals that are delineated by the Shastra for a person under the Varna-Ashram System. The second aspect of Karma is known as Bhagavatha Dharma that is carried out by the individual to work out his own Moksha or liberation. Service to Lord or Bhakti comes under this aspect of Karma and it qualifies as Bhakti Yoga towards the Supreme Being. Hence one set of Karmas are directed to weed out sin and the other is directed towards our growth in the spiritual dimension. The Nitya-Naimittika Dharma is like fencing the plant and removing weeds, while performing Bhakti is like offering manure, sunshine and water to the plant so that the plant grows well. These two aspects of Karma is to be understood as the expectation of the Lord, for one to qualify for higher life.
The Lord mounts on Garuda to appear on Earth
Continuing the story, King Dasharath saw many kings enter Ayodhyaji to grace the Yajna event. The king and his three principle queens were present in front of the sacrificial altar. The sacrificial altar was set at the northern bank of the Sharayu River. The king was getting ready to begin the sacrifice, dressed for the occasion. Meanwhile, in another dimension of the universe, the Devatas, celestial beings, unable to tolerate the atrocities of the demon king Ravana, approached Sri Brahma for a solution. Sri Brahma led the host of Devatas to the banks of the causal ocean where Lord Vishnu in His magnanimous form lay peacefully resting in Yoga Nidra, reclining on his colossal serpent bed known as Sheshanag. Sri Brahma broadcasted the problems of the celestials to Lord Vishnu and expressed their distress on account of Ravana, to the Supreme Lord. Lord Vishnu smiled at Sri Brahma, as if to say that Ravana grew in power, taking strength from the blessings given to him and Kumbhakarna by none other than Sri Brahma himself. Lord Vishnu’s lower garments were of silk yellow and his body shimmered as if it were an exquisite mountain of blue sapphire, sparkling like an open treasure chest. The Lord prepared to mount His vehicle, the eternal Eagle king, Sri Garuda. When he mounted the bird, it was like the sapphire mountain studded with the sun and the moon, the broad, lotus like eyes of the Supreme Being. The Lord is compared to a dark cloud which is lit by lightning; lightning is the presence of Sridevi (श्रीदेवी). Mother Laxmi is ever present with Him, say the Shastra. Sri Brahma and the celestials requested the Lord to appear on earth so as to put an end to Ravana who was a terror to Bhudevi (भूदेवी), the presiding deity of earth. The Lord conveyed His confirmation to the request of the celestials. The Lord had last incarnated only in Satyuga and the earth was close to the end of Treta Yuga. It is the Lord’s promise that He shall appear on earth in every Yuga.
Celestials appear as Vanaras
The Lord decided to split Himself into four, in order to appear on earth so that He could take four beautiful forms of Sri Rama, Bharata, Laxmana and Shatrughna. Rama was to be the son of King Dasharath and Queen Kausalya. Normally, humans do not have the choice of selecting their parents. They are forced into birth by the brute force of their past Karma alone. Here, as Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord has the choice of selecting His parents on the earthly plane. Ravana had discounted the Vanaras (वानर sub-humans) and the human-beings from the list of his possible slayers when he asked for his boon to Sri Brahma. The demon king was so sure of himself that he could not even dream of being slain by Vanaras or humans. Such was his pride and over-confidence. As the Lord decided to descend to the earthly platform, Sri Brahma decided to manifest himself as Jambavan, the aged and wise bear. Hanumanji Maharaj descended as the son of the wind-god. Indra descended as Vali, Surya came down as Sugriva. Most of the celestials appeared as the Vanaras thus.