Janaka, king of Mithila, was an ideal ruler. He was a much revered friend of Dasaratha who, when he planned his yaga for progeny, sent not mere messengers but ministers to Mithila to invite King Janaka.
Janaka was not only a brave king but was as well-versed in the Sastras and Vedas as any rishi and was the beloved pupil of Yajnavalkya whose exposition of Brahmana to him is the substance of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna cites Janaka as an illustrious example of the Karma yogin. Janaka was thus worthy to be the father of Sita who was to be the wife of Vishnu come down on Earth in human form.
Desirous of performing a yaga, Janaka at one time ploughed the chosen site. As usual, this was done by his own hand.
As the field was being cleared and leveled, Janaka saw among shrubs a baby divinely beautiful. Janaka was childless and accepted the infant as the goddess Earth's gift to him.
Taking the child in his arms he went to his beloved wife and said: "Here is treasure for us. I found this child on the yaga site and we shall make it our own." And she joyfully consented.
The beauty of the goddess Earth mortal eyes cannot see in its fulness, but we get glimpses of it as we gaze with grateful hearts on the emerald green or golden ripeness of spring time or autumn fields, or with awe and adoration on the glories of mountain and valley, rivers and ocean.
This loveliness was Sita in its entirety. Kamban would have it that Sita's beauty threw into the shade Lakshmi herself who came up with Nectar as the Ocean of Milk was being churned. This child of divine beauty was brought up by King Janaka and his dear queen.
When Sita reached the age of marriage Janaka was sad that he would have to part with her. Though he tried hard, he was for long unable to choose a prince worthy of Sita. Many kings came to Mithila, seeking Sita's hand, but in Janaka's view none of them was good enough. The King anxiously thought over the matter and came to a decision. Long ago, pleased with a yaga performed by Janaka, Varuna, presented to him Rudra's bow and two quivers. That was an ancient heavenly bow, which no ordinary man could even move.
This was kept by him as an honored heirloom. Since only a very exceptional man could be considered worthy of Sita, Janaka issued this proclamation: "Sita, my daughter, will be given in marriage to the prince who can lift, bend and string the bow of Siva which Varuna gave me and to none other."
Many princes who had heard of Sita's beauty, went to Mithila only to return disappointed. None could fulfil the condition.
Led by Viswamitra, the rishis from Siddhashrama were proceeding to Mithila, with bullock-carts transporting their luggage. The animals and the birds in the ashrama set out to follow Viswamitra, but he gently bade them stay behind.
It was evening when they reached the river Sona. There they rested for the night, Viswamitra recounting to Rama and Lakshmana the history of the place.
Getting up in the morning, they continued their journey and crossed another river, not very deep, and by noon they were at the Ganga.
They bathed in the holy river and the rishis made lustrations to their forbears. They improvised an ashrama there, performed their pujas and cooked their food. Meal over, they sat round Viswamitra who, at the request of the two princes, told the story of the Ganga. Himavan, king of mountains and his spouse, Menaka, had two daughters of whom Ganga was the elder. Himavan sent her to the land of the Devas in response to their request and she dwelt with them. Uma, the younger, won the favor of Siva and became his spouse.
Sagara, a former King of Ayodhya, had no son for a long time. With his two wives, Kesini and Sumati, he went to Himalaya and performed tapas. Sage Bhrigu, pleased with the king, blessed him and said: "You will get a number of children and will acquire undying fame. One of your wives will give birth to an only son, and through him your lineage will be continued. The other queen will bear sixty thousand strong-armed sons."
Sagara's wives bowed low before the sage and asked which one of them would get an only son and which the sixty thousand children. Sage Bhrigu asked each of them their own desire.
Kesini said she would be satisfied with one son who would continue the line; Sumati chose the other alternative. "Be it so," said the sage.
Satisfied, the king and his wives took leave of the sage and returned to Ayodhya. In course of time, Asamanjas was born to Kesini; Sumati gave birth to a fissiparous mass which divided out into sixty thousand babies. This army of children was wen taken care of by nurses.
Years rolled by; and while the sixty thousand grew into strong, handsome princes, Asamanjas turned out to be a cruel lunatic. He indulged in the pastime of throwing little children into the river and laughed merrily as they struggled and died.
Naturally people hated this maniac and banished him from the country. To the great relief of all, Asamanjas' son, Amsuman, was the opposite of his father and was a brave, virtuous and amiable prince.
King Sagara launched a great horse- sacrifice and prince Amsuman was in charge of the sacrificial horse, but Indra, in the guise of a Rakshasa, managed to carry off the animal. The Devas regarded yagas by mortals as a challenge to their superiority, and lost no opportunity of throwing obstacles in their way. If, however, all obstruction was overcome and the yaga was completed, they accepted offerings made to them. And then he who performed the yaga got due reward.
The king was greatly upset when he heard that the sacrificial horse was stolen. He sent out the sixty thousand sons of Sumati to go in search of the animal all over the earth and to spare no pains to retrieve it.
"The loss of the horse," he impressed on them, "not only means obstruction to the yaga; it casts sin and ignominy on an concerned. You should, therefore, recover the horse, wherever it may be kept hidden."
Eagerly the sons of Sagara proceeded to search the entire earth, but the horse was nowhere to be found. They even started digging the earth as for buried treasure, and in their anxiety respected neither place nor person and only succeeded in earning the hatred of all they met. The horse was not to be found; and when they reported their failure to the King, he bade them ransack the nether world also. The princes did as they were told and in Patala they saw the horse grazing in a corner of an ashrama, not far from the place where Sage Kapila who was Vishnu sat in meditation.
The princes at once jumped to the conclusion that they had not only found the stolen horse but the thief also, and they rushed on Kapila shouting, "Here is the thief pretending to be a yogi." Kapila thus disturbed opened his eyes and the sixty thousand princes were reduced to a heap of ashes. Indra, the real thief, had artfully left the horse here with this very intent.