By Vishakha Devi Dasi
In the face of extreme hardship, Lord Ramachandra’s queen reveals her extraordinary character, founded on her pure devotion to the Lord.
The epic Ramayana, written by the sage Valmiki, tells the story of Lord Ramachandra, Krishna’s incarnation as the perfect king. Lord Rama’s wife, queen, and eternal consort is Sita Devi. She is also the ideal devotee.
Sita Devi’s example shows that one who acts according to God’s desire is peaceful and has harmonious relationships, regardless of circumstances. Sita Devi exhibits her inner harmony throughout her ordeal, whether she’s hearing of her husband’s fourteen-year banishment to the forest, being abducted and imprisoned by Ravana, or being reunited with Lord Rama.
Sita Follows Her Conscience
In the Ramayana, Sita Devi first clearly expresses her own will by disobeying Lord Rama, who wants her to stay behind when He leaves for His exile to the forest. She decides that to be with Rama in all circumstances is her sacred duty. The unequivocal voice of her conscience will not allow her to do otherwise. By insisting on going with her husband to the forest, Sita defines for herself what a devoted wife is.
To convince Rama to allow her to go with Him, Sita says, “Every day I will serve You and practice self-discipline. I too will live on fruits and nuts and will not interfere with Your austerities. Taking shelter in Your arms, O Rama, I will become fearless.”
Rama replies, “O frail lady, in the forest wild beasts will lurk on all sides, waiting to attack, and we will have to sleep on the bare ground with scorpions, worms, mosquitoes, and gnats as constant nuisances. Abandon this idea of coming with Me. If you are truly devoted to Me, you will follow My instructions.”
“O Rama,” Sita says, “all these hardships will seem like blessings to me. If You protect me, I can tolerate anything.”
Seeing her determination, Rama finally agrees with her decision. On His request, Sita gives all her valuable possessions to the brahmanas and Vaishnavas, and she and Rama go to the forest with Lakshmana.
Despite the uncomfortable circumstances, Sita is peaceful. She has followed her pure interior directive, choosing wilderness over civilization, simplicity over opulence, austerity over luxury, and the satisfaction of following her conscience over the distress of being separated from Sri Rama.
Sita’s Harmony with the Earth and Living Beings
“I shall remain happy by gazing at the hills, lakes, and rivers,” Sita says when convincing Rama to allow her to accompany Him.
The natural beauty of forest life delights Sita, and she feels so cheerful and at home there that she seems to prefer it to the complexities of the city. Her silks and gold are gone. She has given up her palace bed-“as soft and white as milk foam”-to sleep on fallen leaves. And she no longer dines on a variety of delicious foods but on forest fruits and nuts and greens. Still, she has no regrets.
Forest life reveals that Sita has a special connection with the earth, the rivers, and the animals. When the transcendental couple is first crossing the Ganges, at midstream Sita joins her hands in prayer:
“O Mother Ganga, please protect Sri Rama on all sides. May He pass these fourteen years without harm.”
When Ravana abducts Sita, she is spirited and clever, although desperate. She calls out to her allies in the natural world-the trees, the river, the birds, and the animals-begging them to help her and to inform Rama of her abduction. Unable to help, the trees shed tears in the form of sap, and the lions, deer, and elephants are heartbroken. Sita wakes the old sleeping bird Jatayu and drops her jewels to the monkeys who will later assist Lord Rama.
In Lanka, Ravana thinks that by speaking of his love for Sita, she will soon be won over.
Ever fearless, however, Sita tells him, “My heart is devoted to Rama without deviation, and to Rama alone. Why should I, a swan sporting with her mate within a lotus-filled lake, prefer a duck meandering on the shore? You can do whatever you like to me, but rest assured that because of your vile and sinful lust, you will soon meet with death at Rama’s hands.”
Raging with fury, Ravana gives her twelve months to surrender to him and sends her to a grove of ashoka trees, where cruel, hideous women torture her.
Over the twelve months of Sita’s captivity, Ravana grows increasingly desperate and irrational in his frustrated lust. But even though an ordinary person in Sita’s unkempt condition would be weak and miserable, she grows stronger and more thoughtful. The flexibility with which she adjusted to changing situations in the forest has given way to an inflexible resistance to the terror of Ravana and his guards.
When Ravana again entreats Sita, she places a straw between herself and Ravana as a symbol of her unwillingness to contact him directly.
“You should withdraw your mind from me,” she says, “and remain content with the numerous consorts you already possess. You will never be able to have me. I shall never do anything contrary to righteousness, and so there is no hope of your ever gaining my favor.”
She then turns her back to Ravana.
“Give up your futile hope,” she tells him. “You no more deserve me than a sinful man deserves perfection…. Because you are acting perversely, directing yourself away from the path of virtue, you will soon become the cause of the destruction of your entire kingdom. I will never be tempted by your offers of insignificant opulence and royal comforts because I am undivided in my devotion to Rama…. I am as inseparable from Rama as sunlight is from the sun.”
Although apparently helpless and grief-stricken, Sita wins the sympathy of some of the other women Ravana has abducted. In Ravana’s absence, they comfort Sita. Also, several of the guards, most notably Trijata, respect and befriend Sita. They instruct the other guards to beg Sita’s forgiveness. Sarama, the wife of Vibhishana, Ravana’s virtuous brother, also becomes sympathetic to Sita, won over by her virtue.
When Hanuman arrives and offers to carry Sita on his back across the ocean, Sita, ever conscious of proper behavior, says, “I have vowed never to touch the body of any man other than Rama. I am already mortified due to being grasped by the sinful Ravana. I could not voluntarily touch another man. Nor could I allow anyone other than Rama to rescue me, thereby diminishing Rama’s fame. I therefore prefer to wait for my lord, confident that He will soon arrive.”
Hanuman assents to Sita’s request, respecting the incomparable chastity for which she is famous.
The Source of Sita’s Harmony
Always thinking of Rama within her heart, Sita constantly seeks to reunite with Him. Her commitment to Him and her constant meditation on Him protect her and give her the strength to resist Ravana’s many advances and allurements. Although Ravana delivers more offers and more threats, Sita’s fixed faith and conviction transform her: She grows in strength and calls upon powers she has never used before.
“I would burn you to ashes myself by the power of my asceticism and chastity,” Sita tells Ravana, “but I do not have my lord’s order. Nor do I wish to waste my ascetic merits on such a wretch as you.”
Sita resistance to Ravana’s obsession drains him of the powers he won through asceticism. “Thus the soldiers of Lord Ramachandra killed Ravana’s soldiers, who had lost all good fortune because Ravana had been condemned by the anger of mother Sita.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 9.10.20)
After Ravana’s death, his wife Mandodari says to his stricken body, “O greatly fortunate one, you came under the influence of lusty desires, and therefore you could not understand the influence of mother Sita. Now, because of her curse, you have been reduced to this state, having been killed by Lord Ramachandra.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 9.10.27)
Three Qualities of Sri Sita Devi Reveal Her Inner Harmony
Sita’s forgiveness: After Ravana’s death, Hanuman comes to Sita in the ashoka grove and, before taking her to Rama, offers to kill the female guards who have tormented her for so many months.
In accord with Her noble character, Sita is ever kind to the downtrodden.
“These guards,” she says, “were simply carrying out Ravana’s order. No blame should be attached to them. Any suffering I felt was surely the result of my own past misdeeds, for such is the universal law. Indeed, there is an ancient maxim that is always the code of the virtuous: ‘A righteous person does not consider the offenses of others. At all costs that person always observes the vow of not returning evil for evil, for the virtuous consider good conduct their ornament.'”
Sita Devi also says that compassion should always be shown toward sinners, for no one was ever found to be free of sin.
Sita’s openheartedness: As Sita, Rama, and their soldiers are returning to Ayodhya, they reach Kishkindha, the home of the monkey warriors who assisted Rama in defeating Ravana.
Sita says, “I would be pleased if I could return to Ayodhya in the company of all the wives of the monkey chiefs.”
Rama stops the chariot, the monkeys quickly get their wives, and when everyone has returned and is seated, they continue on their way.
Sita’s gratitude: After the coronation of Sita-Rama, Sita wants to give Hanuman something as a token of her appreciation for all that he did for her. She unclasps the necklace that Rama has given her and then looks at Him. Understanding her intention, Rama asks her to give the necklace to Hanuman, and she happily places it around his neck.
Evidence of Sita’s Unconditional Love
In the pastimes of Sita Devi we see the beauty of her character in contrast to the ugliness of the palace politics that drives her and Rama into exile; we witness how her love for Rama supersedes His duty to her; we see her graceful flexibility in accepting the austerities of the wilderness; we feel her fear of Ravana and admire her intelligence in opposing him; we find her steadfast and patient as Ravana’s captive; we see her virtue winning even her vicious guards to her side; we see her ferocious anger toward Ravana soothed by her constant meditation on Rama; we discover that her austerities under the ashoka tree make her not hardhearted but compassionate. All these experiences are harmonized by her unadulterated, unconditional love for Sri Ramachandra.
“I know of her undivided love for Me,” said Lord Rama. “Indeed, guarded as she is by her own moral power, Ravana could not have violated Sita.”
Maharaja Dasharatha, Sita’s father-in-law, once told her, “Your remarkable behavior will earn you a place in history as the most glorious woman the world has ever seen.”