Text by Anil Chitrakar / Photo: Wallace Woon

Janaka was the title of the monarch who ruled the Videha Empire from Mithila. The seat of power of the Janakas of Mithila was the present day Janakpur. Today the ancient kingdom of Videha would have been spread over large areas of the Gangetic plains of north Bihar and Nepal’s southern terai. Janakpur is today the district headquarters of Dhanusha district. The most popular Janaka that we all talk of is the father of Sita who marries Ram of Ayodhaya. He was the 21st Janaka of Mithila according to historians. The dynasty was also called Videha Janaka. It is said that there were 57 kings in the dynasty of Videha Janaka.

In Valmiki’s Ramayana, the revered Hindu epic, Janaka Seerdhwaja proposed to test the real strength of the suitors vying for the hand of daughter Sita in marriage by asking each to string the great bow of Lord Shiva. Many failed the test and returned while Ram of Ayodhya picked it up and according to popular legend; the bow broke as he attempted to string it. The sacred spot where Sita, also referred to in popular stories and text as Janaki, wed Ram is called the Bibaha Mandapa and is a popular destination for pilgrims and tourists in Janakpur.

The real legacy of the Janakas of Mithila was that they were all great scholars and lead the humble and austere life of a sage. They were constantly engaged in religious conversations and debates with many sages as equals. The wisdom and life style of the great Janakas are depicted in a story where a monk is a guest at the palace and is shown a luxurious room for him after the ritual bathing and feeding is over. Just above the bed is a sword hanging from a string; and could fall and kill him even if a light breeze moved it. In the morning, the Janaka asked the holy man if he had slept well in such a luxurious setting. In response to the guest admitting that he had not slept at all, Janaka explains why they have all the luxury but choose to live like sages. Death hangs over every man and could strike at any moment.

The King of Thailand is a great admirer of the great Janakas of ancient Mithila and to mark the 76th birthday of the Thai king, his book – the Maha Janaka: the story of Janakas and ancient Mithila was widely distributed. It is said the Thai monarch was greatly impressed by the story of the great Janaka strolling into a mango orchard and seeing two large trees, one bearing fruit and the other bare. He picks a ripe mango and eats it. His attendants and guards eat one each too. Then the public move in for their share; and ultimately the fruit bearing tree is uprooted by the greedy crowd. In the meantime the mango tree with no mangoes is still standing tall. This story is narrated in the ancient Buddhist text of the Tripitaka. All around Janakpur we see the magnificent mango groves to this day. Even along the East West Highway we see the great mango trees referred to in the text.