Janaka (Nepali: जनक, Sanskrit: जनक, Khmer: Janak, Kannada ಜನಕ, Telugu: జనకుఁడు, Tamil: ஜனகன், Thai: ชนก (Chanok), Malay: Maharisi Kala) or Raja Janaka (राजा जनक, rājā janaka) is the name used to refer to the kings of Videha kingdom of ancient India. The Videha kingdom was located in Nepal in the east of the Gandaki river, west of the Koshi river, north of the Ganga river and south of the Himalaya. The region is now divided between present day India and Nepal. Maithili languages and cultures currently prevalent in the region is believed to have started and evolving during the rule of Janaka dynasty. Janakas ruled the Videha kingdom from their capital, Janakpura, which is currently a popular cultural site in Nepal. One of the 14 zones of Nepal is named after Janakpur. The most famous among the Janakas was Seeradhwaj, a Vaisya king.
Janaka in Ramayana
In Balakanda of Valmiki's Ramayana, Seeradhwaj Janaka (more popularly known merely as "Raja Janak" or "King Janak") proposed a test of strength in which suitors vying for his daughter's hand in marriage would have to string the great bow of Lord Shiva. Lord Rama passed this test of strength, and Janaka's daughter Sita (also referred to as Janaki) wed Rama and together they resided in Ayodhya.
Seeradhwaj Janaka was not only a brave king, but was also as well-versed in the shastras and Vedas as any rishi. He was the beloved pupil of Yaajnavalkya, whose exposition of Brahman to the king forms one chapter of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna cites Seeradhwaj Janaka as an illustrious example of the Karma yoga.
Seeradhwaj Janaka was also said to be a Rajarshi, having advanced spiritually and reached the state of a rishi, though he was a king administrating the kingdom of Mithila. He was also instructed by sage Ashtavakra upon the nature of the self or Atman; this exposition forms the content of the famous treatise Ashtavakra Gita.
According to the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Janakas were a race of kings who ruled Videha Kingdom from their capital Janakpur, which was an ancient state in the foothill of Himalayas before its unification into Nepal by Prithvi Narayan Shah. The father of Sita (the wife of Rama) was named Seeradwaja Janaka. These epics mention many other Janaka kings who were all great scholars and lead the life of a sage, though they were kings. They engaged in religious conversations with many sages.
- Dictionary of Hindu Lord and Legend (ISBN 0-500-51088-1) by Anna Dhallapiccola
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