Janaka (Nepali: जनक, Sanskrit: जनक[note 1]) is the name used to refer to the kings of Videha.[note 2] The Janaka Dynasty ruled the Videha kingdom from their capital, Mithila, identified with modern Janakpur in Nepal. A certain King Janaka, who probably reigned during the 7th century BCE, is mentioned in the late Vedic literature as a great philosopher-king. A King Janaka is also mentioned in the Ramayana epic.
Janaka in Vedic literature
Late Vedic literature such as the Shatapatha Brahmana and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad mention a certain King Janaka (c. 7th century BCE) as a great philosopher-king of Videha, renowned for his patronage of Vedic culture and philosophy, and whose court was an intellectual center for Brahmin sages such as Yajnavalkya. Under his reign, Videha became a dominant political and cultural center of South Asia.
Janaka in Ramayana
The most famous among the Janakas was Seeradhwaj, a Vaisya king.
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, present day Janakpur in Nepal. 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 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.
- In other languages, Khmer: Janak, Kannada ಜನಕ, Telugu: జనకుఁడు, Tamil: ஜனகன், Thai: ชนก (Chanok), Malay: Maharisi Kala. Also known as Raja Janaka (राजा जनक, rājā janaka)
- The Videha (or Mithila) kingdom was located in South Asia, 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 Nepal and the Indian state of Bihar.
- Dictionary of Hindu Lord and Legend (ISBN 0-500-51088-1) by Anna Dhallapiccola