Sita, the epitome of chastity | Sunday Observer

Sita, the epitome of chastity

Rama and Sita
Rama and Sita

Rama, Sita and Ravana are three great personalities fondly remembered by millions of people in India and Sri Lanka. Even Valmiki who wrote Ramayana would not have imagined that his characters would live forever in the collective memory of the people. Many books have been written on them. Their story has been recreated in films and teledramas. There seems to be an undiminished interest in Ramayana and its major characters even in the 21st century.

Sita had a miraculous birth. According to legend, King Janaka of Mithila had a daughter who had risen from the Earth when he was ploughing it at a ceremony. The king adopted her as his own daughter and named her ‘Sita.’ Valmiki had showered her with all the virtues a woman could have. She was extremely beautiful, tender of heart, compassionate, loyal, wise, courageous and endowed with unlimited powers of endurance. He made her the epitome of the ideal woman and chastity. In short, Sita was a unique creation.

Coronation

When Sita grew up to be a beautiful princess, the king wished to find a suitable prince for her. As was the custom, the king announced that he would give his daughter in marriage to any prince who could lift and bend Lord Siva’s bow lying in his court. Except Prince Rama, no other prince could lift or bend Lord Siva’s bow. Rama not only lifted the bow but also broke it with little effort. By doing so, he won Sita’s hand.

When the time came for Rama’s coronation, his stepmother objected saying that her son should be crowned instead of Rama. When she remained adamant, Rama exiled himself to the Dandakaranya forest. When Rama broached the information to Sita, she insisted that she should join him. Rama tried to prevent her, but all his efforts proved futile.

She said she would be equally happy in Ayodhya as well as in the forest. For her Rama was more than a kingdom. She defied her husband’s command not to accompany him simply because the sanctity of marriage was more important than anything else.

She told Rama, “A woman is given by her father into the hands of the bridegroom with the firm belief that they cannot be separated in this world or the other. I am not going to leave you even after death. When I am bound to you in this fashion, tell me the reason why you cannot take me with you.”

When Rama remained silent, she told him, “I am a woman of Kshatriya class (warrior class). I am also married to a prince of the Kshatriya class. Therefore I know no fear.”

Great lineage

Sita was a trustworthy, brave princess of great lineage. She had very high qualities of sentiments, and was ready to shed all royal pomp and pageantry. When she decided to follow her husband into the forest, she wanted to travel light leaving her royal clothes and jewellery. She promised Rama that she would not cause any anxiety to him. Instead she would be of some service to him to lead a life he desired.

Here we come across some glimpses of Sita’s character. While remaining an obedient wife, she asserts her rights when the situation demands.

When Rama left Ayodhya to lead an ascetic life in the faraway forest, Sita accompanied him without any hesitation. Sita knew the difficulties she would have to undergo, but she remained adamant in her resolve.

Sacrifice

According to Nagalingam Kumarakuruparan, a senior journalist and Indologist based in Hyderabad, India, there are many episodes in Ramayana that brings out Sita’s sterling qualities. Even Ravana who ruled Lanka knew that Sita was a woman of courage who was faithful to her husband.

On that count, Ravana had immense respect for her. Although Ravana abducted Sita, he kept her in a hermitage in Lanka where she was quite safe. While in captivity, Sita led a Spartan life.

Hers was a life of sacrifice. Sita’s greatness was that she did not mind sacrificing anything to preserve the sanctity of marriage and Dharma (righteousness). These were the last words of Sita in Ramayana: “As I have never let my thoughts wander from Rama, so let my Mother Earth give me an opening so that I will go back to where I came from.” Then she heard her Mother Earth’s words distinctly: “My daughter, come back to me.”

Sita is a household name in the Indian Sub Continent and South East Asia. Ramayana, the ancient epic, remains relevant and meaningful even in modern times. The epic is a powerful metaphor, but its message is loud and clear: “Dharma triumphs.”

The Ramayana story has been transmitted by Buddhists and Hindus. In addition, the main female character Sita takes centre stage in the Khmer (Cambodian) dance tradition. Even the civil war in Cambodia could not dampen the spirit of Cambodian women to celebrate the virtues of Sita.

Incarnation of Lakshmi

Sita is worshipped as the incarnation of Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu. Though critical of Rama at times, even in the earliest versions of the Ramayana and in some of the later versions of the story, she departs from the idealized chaste image of the earlier text. She is frequently depicted in Indian miniature paintings of the Ramayana and in South Indian bronzes. They usually form a group, with images of Rama, his brother Lakshmana, and his devotee the monkey Hanuman. The iconographic texts tell the artist to show Sita looking at her husband with supreme happiness.

The great Hindu epic Ramayana tells of the conquest of Lanka in 3000 B.C. by Rama who fought valiantly with Ravana to rescue his wife Sita. Today Sri Lanka offers the opportunity to visit many sites believed to have been part of the ‘Ramayan’. Some of them are: Ravana Fort, the Sita Amman temple where Sita was held and the Ritigala medicinal forest.

In fact, there are more than 50 Ramayana sites beginning from the place of Sita’s captivity to the battlefields where vast armies clashed, and to the groves of exotic herbs believed to have been dropped by the monkey god Hanuman. All these places will perpetuate the memory of Sita, a woman of chastity.

[email protected]

Comments