Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rama doubts Sita?

There are only a handful of instances in the Ramayana where one might question Rama's actions. One such is the incident that happens after Rama wins the war with Ravana, and brings Sita back from Lanka.

On usual incognito rounds of His kingdom, he hears people talking about Sita. They doubt that any woman, even if it were Sita, would not have succumbed to a man, especially after she was under his control for months together.

(image courtest nirmukta.com)
What happens next is Sita undergoes an agni pariksha. If she walks through fire unscathed, she is considered to have been pure and chaste. If there was an iota of impurity in thoughts or actions, she would be burned. She does come out of the fire unscathed, and convinces her citizens.

A lot of issues at hand here, some political:

Firstly, I don't think that Sita should be viewed as the sort of helpless woman she is portrayed as normally. "She crossed the lakshman rekha herself", "she wanted a deer that attracted her", etc. 

Focusing on the agni pariksha incident itself, I don't know if Valmiki goes into details on the Rama-Sita conversation after Rama learns about his citizens' doubts. I have a strong feeling that Sita herself suggested to Rama that the best course for him as the king, and her as queen, is to subject herself to agni pariksha. While the husband may have no doubts on his wife, one holding public office does need to take his citizens' views into account. 

(image courtesy awara32.blogspot.com)
And, I hate that Sita is sometimes depicted as crying on hearing about the agni pariksha (remember Ramayan from the late 80s-early 90s?), whether hurt by Rama's decision or for any other reason. That women are the crying type is a stereotype that's not very accurate. I think the sorrow was felt most on the part of the citizens, to see their beloved queen subjected to a test only because some among them had doubts. (If I might mix a bit of theology in, Rama and Sita being the Lord and His consort herself cannot have experienced any sorrow anyway, they were merely playing their role.) 

That said, I can't understand why Sita had to leave Rama. Having stayed with him through hardships a princess would not be accustomed to, being abducted, and so on, why did she have to leave him after the agni pariksha? Somehow a perfect marriage and couple seem slightly imperfect. She didn't seem to question any of his actions until then - not why he came late to reclaim her, not why they had to go to the forest in the first place. Why question his decision all of a sudden?

Curiously, I don't know that Janaka (the father of Sita) expressed any opinions on his daughter's situation - to Rama or in general. Not sure if Valmiki goes into the details, but I'd be interested in learning more. In today's world, any of what Sita had to undergo would be what the father-in-law might use as grounds to push for a divorce. Was Janaka silent because he knew that his son-in-law could do no wrong? Surely, seeing one's daughter undergo an agni pariksha in public to prove her chastity must have been unbearable? (Was he already dead by that time?)

Finally, Sita does not go back to Janakapuri (which by the way is in present day Nepal). Sita goes to Valmiki's ashrama instead, and ultimately raises her two sons there. Had she gone back to her father, that would have indicated that their marriage had failed which it hadn't. Anyway, overall Sita leaving Rama and moving to Valmiki's ashrama seems to me to have served no major purpose, other than punishing Ayodhya's citizens and depriving them of the presence of their queen and of their twin princes. 


  1. Excellent story dude, keep writing...love to read more of this

  2. in the world/ era of Ram ... everyone is bound to run by rules i.e., Dharma ... so Janaka maharaj is not supposed to oppose Ram and ask him qns or ask his daughter to get back home and live with him .... Janaka maharaj was just doing his duty/ what is rightful...

    Rama rajyam is supposed to be a democratic country so ram has to abide to the decision of the citizens ( Ram and Sita are avataras of Lord Mahavishnu and Mahalakshmi .... who play this whole scene .... how would they fail the act and not know what should happen ... would you say, mahavishnu does not know what is the credibilty of mahalaxmi)and hence the reason for agni pariksha and even though she come out of agni pariksha unscathed she happens to go to Valmiki ashram ....

    Sita leaving Rama was just to prove democracy works and welfare and decision of citizens stands above the king in the decision making process ...

    ppl of ayodhya were not deprived of twin princes on the whole ... the princes were returned by Sita to Rama once they completed their studies at valmiki ashram ... Sita returned to Valmiki ashram after that.... reason why Sita returns the kids to Rama is that as per Dharma, kids belong only to father and not mother ... mother's role is to nurture the kids and not decision making process of their life....

    (courtesy, lectures of Venkat garu, owner/ main priest of Ranganatha swamy temple pomona. http://www.ranganatha.org/)

  3. Manojna: Mostly agree with you.

    Sure, Dharma is what they were following. No doubts there.
    However, why did Sita successfully complete the agni pariksha, yet still leave Rama? According to Dharma, she didn't have to. That's perplexing.

    In case it is not apparent, I only listed some of my questions/observations as a layperson would, not necessarily my own doubts!

  4. Guru - Those were some of my questions before hearing the lecture ... so just wanted to share for someone like me who might stumble on ur blog ... thx for providing a platform to share :) :)

  5. Manojna: Great! Keep them coming.

    I have loads of questions too - ones that even if I had heard an answer/explanation from someone else I wouldnt feel too comfortable with. Even reading Wikipedia articles on these stories sometimes opens up new angles.

    Btw, I've been to the Pomona temple twice. Probably the only temple in NA that comes closest to resembling (in all respects) a temple in south India. Nice madappalli downstairs, etc..

  6. Guru - agree about the temple .... get them to come over to ur place to perform kalyanam if you get a chance .... you will enjoy the experience a lot for sure .... thats the best thing that happened in new england for me

  7. I don't comment on Uttarakanda because it was still debated if Valmiki actually written that or not. But I had great privilege of listening to narration on first Six Kandas of "Valmiki Ramayana" Why I am stressing on the term Valmiki Ramayana" is there are lot of Ramayana in our culture with lot of added stories, but what written by Valmiki in Sanskrit, after taking boon from "Sri Chaturmukha Brahma" is real Ramayana. And hence I have clarifiaction on some of the doubts you expressed in you blog. 1)Rama never directly asked Sita to undergo Agni Pariksha... After killing Ravana, Rama immediately made Vibhishana the King of Lanka. Then he asked him to call Sita. Rama refused Sita saying that he can't take her as his wife after spending 9 months in Ashoka Vana which is owned by Ravana. She had not just cried but "debated" with Rama (which you never see in movies). It was a huge humiliation to her and felt she can't live without Rama. Then she asks Lakshmana to arrange for fire and wanted to die. Lakshmana looked at Rama and Rama told Lakshmana that you can obey her. With broken heart Lakshmana arranged for fire and Sita jumped into fire and came out unhurt. Then all Gods including "Sri Chaturmukha Brahma" & " Lord Siva" came and proved every one that Sita is 100 % pure and great Pathivratha... Regarding your doubts about Uttarkanda, I know story but not sure how much is really true, you can get the story from Telugu movies "Lava Kusha" movie of NTR or "Sri Rama Rajyam" of NTR's son Balakrishna (recently released)... One correction I see in your blog: There was no story of Lakshmana Rekha in Valmiki Ramayana... It was justed an added story...

  8. Phani, thanks for the corrections and detail! With our epics and puranas, there are always different unauthentic versions floating around, and it is good to weed inaccuracies out.

    Btw, some of the 'doubts' expressed are not my own; just presenting possible points of view.

  9. Also, Sri Rama never had the celestial powers where as Sri Krishna had all divine powers even when he was an infant. Rama Avatara is not just to kill Asuras but to show how human beings should live in the society. He excused many Asuras and gave a chance if they can change and follow Dharama. Where as during Sri Krishna's time many Asuras were around and Krishna had to slay evey one the momment he took birth. So Lord Vishnu incarnated as Sri Krishna with all his divine powers retained. Hence Sri Krishna could kill asuras even when he was a toddler. Rama was incarnated as normal Human Being. Hence Sri Rama never knew that he was incarnation of Lord Vishna until it was told by "Sri Chaturmukha Brhama" just after Sita Agni Pariksha. Rama then replied that the only thing he know about his bith was he is the son of Dhasaradha. So I just want to clarify the text you mentioned in the blog "Rama and Sita being the Lord and His consort herself cannot have experienced any sorrow anyway".... Rama & Sita have experianced unimaginable sorrow during the last 9 months of Aranya Vaasam... There is one more fact to consider is while Sri Rama is a human being, Sita is not. She is "Ayonija", which she declared herself a few times in Sri Ramayana. She came from Earth herself and found visible to Janaka Maharaja herself. I can recall one episode in Sri Ramayana where she tells one dialogue "I am enjoying all happiness with Sri Rama, what human beings enjoy in their life." In Sundarakanda, Sita tell Ravanana "Using my "Pathivratha" shakthi I can kill you but I am not doing that because I want Sri Rama to come and kill you and rescue me"...

  10. All avatars (or any form) of the Lord/Brahman are to be considered complete, at least per Dwaita vedanta. Some schools of thought may have concepts such as 'poorna avatar', etc., indicating a diminished version of the Lord in other forms, which is debatable.

    Rama avatar did not have miracle displays unlike Krishna avatar. The exhibition of powers isn't necessarily an indicator of a full/diminished avatar.

    Just curious, where are you getting your version of the Ramayana from? And why do you consider Rama a 'human being'? Any human-form avatar of the Lord is explained by Dwaita vedanta to not include garbha-vaasa (akin to immaculate conception), for there cannot be a material aspect to His birth.

  11. Both Sri Rama & Sri Krishna were incarnated as normal human beings (through Garbha vaasa). But the difference is Sri Rama doesn't possess any divine powers and because of the same reason there wont be even a single instance in entire Sri Ramayana where Rama had shown any magical/divine powers. Where as Sri Krishna had all magical powers from his birth and he exhibited accordingly throughout his life time. I am referring to Valmiki Ramayana from one of the most famous pravachanams from Sri Chaganti Koteswara Rao (please see wiki about him). Alternatively you can look http://www.valmikiramayan.net/ which shows both Sanskrit & English meanings of all Slokas of Sri Ramayana...

  12. Phani,

    Sri Rama has exhibited divine powers aplenty. The turning of Ahilya from stone form back to her human form is one. There are others.

    Krishna avatara exhibited a lot of wonders at every turn.

    Why hold the exhibition of divine powers as a yardstick for the entity being an incarnation of Vishnu/Brahman? Matsya and Kurma were avataras that may not even fit the human form, but are all equivalent forms of Brahman.

    We can go into a discussion on how Brahman is indivisible (i.e., there cannot be different forms of Brahman with different 'powers'), and the differences from one school of vedanta to another on this topic. However, this blog may not be the place for it.
    There are many pravachana-kaaras, and they may subscribe to one vedantic school or another; sometimes their own unique flavour. Whichever school they pick, they must stand the test of compliance with the Vedas..