‘Sita and Rama – The Divine in the Connubial Paradigm’

A series of calumnious tweets recently on the ‘Ramayana’ by Audrey Truscke, an author of questionable scholarship and dubious connections, who has built her fame doing hit jobs on Hindus and airbrushing historical crimes against them, once again lays bare the inveterate antagonism that the Abrahamic cults harbour towards naturalistic traditions like Hinduism and seek to destroy it through ceaseless assaults directed towards it. This hostility in case of Christianity has only changed form, from cruel inquisitions and genocidal campaigns of the past centuries to a war of elaborately contrived sophistry to coerce a narrative bound to their predications and suitable to the interests of the Christian world.

But other than the fact that this fresh bit of scurrility calls attention to repeated such bids at bolstering certain ideological premises by seeking to fit a timeless literary work into themes of oppressive patriarchy and suffering feminity, Truschke’s spurious claims merit little more of our time, repudiated as these have been thoroughly by several reasoned voices in social media, the ones she is wont to promptly label as “Hindutva trolls” and block the moment her bluff is called.

Far more worthwhile it would be to deepen our own understanding about some of these aspects of the epics which appear troublesome when assessed against modernist memes.One such episode is the agnipareeksha in the ‘Yuddha Kanda’ of the Ramayana.

Today is Sita Navami, the day the Goddess Lakshmi is said to have incarnated to unfold the divine play of Narayana in the Treta Yuga conjoint with the avatara of Sri Ramachandra. “The world idea [of the time] is a glorious androgyny. Complementarity is its underpinning. Compliments on the consummation of the praxis in complementation are reserved mostly for her [Sita].” Their eternal story remains imprinted on the psyche of this land as the exemplary humans of their age worthy of emulation, love and reverence.

If one has read the Valmiki Ramayana, one would know that Rama did not ‘put Sita through a trial by fire’ as is the common refrain. The narration in the epic is thus: As Janaki approached Sri Rama, he assumed a rigid countenance and said to her, that he had acted in accordance with his manly dharma in freeing her from the oppression she was suffering and cleansed the blemish on his lineage. But there was a doubt cast on her character as she had resided in another man’s house and having her in his power he would have molested her. And therefore Rama said to Maithili that she was free to go wherever and with whomsoever she wished, but he was unable to accept her back. Struck with grief at these harsh words, the mortified Vaidehi addressed Raghava through her tears saying that his behaviour was that as of ordinary men who cast aspersions upon the conduct of ordinary women and thereby cast doubts on entire womankind. She berated him for being a feeble man who had disregarded his wife’s devotion and virtues. Greatly distressed and immersed in thought, Sita then commanded Lakshmana to prepare the fire, as that was the only medication for the calamity that had befallen her having suffered a false accusation, and the only destination of those who had no destination, since that was her predicament abandoned in an assembly of people by her beloved. It is a metaphorical representation of the judgement women must go through in the world every day. Sri Rama assumed a hard exterior because he knew Sita would have to go through it. Mother Sita went through agnipareeksha on her own volition. In spite of Lakshmana’s furious protestations, Sita and Rama were firm and one in their decision. Because they both knew.

It is clear from the narration that this episode addresses the inferior, lowly minds that assail the character of women and would have done so even with Sita and not considered her a devi fit to be worshipped alongside Sri Rama. Don’t some perverted minds still do so, allege that Sita had been ‘raped’ by Ravana? It is to silence this baser humanity and not to satisfy Sri Rama’s ego as a common male that the agnipareeksha episode is incorporated in the Ramayana.

Sita and Sri Rama are the ultimate complementing partners who support each other’s dharma (righteous path) and enable their mutual leela (divine play) to unfold independently. Sita did not need a man to ‘rescue’ her. She was verily devi, the Divine Feminine Herself and by her own limitless power capable of protecting herself. She was the manifestation of Divine shakti who could lift the mighty bow of Shiva effortlessly with her left hand. She safeguarded her physical integrity with no weapon other than holding up a single blade of grass which Ravana would not dare to cross, failing which he would be burnt alive. But would that stop tongues from wagging in posterity? From besmirching Sita’s character? Didn’t a certain dhobi do so subsequently? Possibly they would say, Rama gave in to the desire and maya of a mere woman and therefore accepted Sita back. That would put the veracity of both their avatars under question. Sita could destroy Ravana by her own tej, the effulgence of her being alone. But that would not have been conducive to Rama’s manly dharma as an ideal husband, to strive to deliver his wife from captivity of a powerful, unwanted male constraining her. Sita is not a passive, helpless spectator of her fate, but allows herself to be delivered by her husband. She refused to be rescued by Hanumana even though he had declared himself her son, because that is a husband’s manly dharma and due honourable action. She knew he would come to redeem her and he knew she would pass through the fire unscathed. They both made a statement of absolute, implicit trust. The validity of their incarnation is in having lived as common people, among them, through the tribulations and sentiments and feelings experienced by them and in that context demonstrating the ideal of the avatar as maryadapurushottama.

The masterly epic is not premised on our present-day notions and/or presumptions about progress or regress of society. “The salience of the kavya, which is plotted along union and separation though, doesn’t hinge on notions or impressions of a society gone to seed. Both the ethos and mythos of the epic are misappropriated by such a fraught exigesis. It concerns male-female dynamics in a sensibility zone of excelling each other instead of a riven man-woman dichotomy.”

The equation of a helpless, inferior, dependant wife owned by her husband, existed in Abrahamic religions, never in Hinduism. Rama can never be worshipped without Sita. They are equal, bound by mutual dharma, inseparable parts of each other’s incarnation. She is pativrata just as Rama is ekpatnivrat. It is a distorted interpretation applied to their story that gives rise to such questioning.

Sri Rama explains in the following shlokas of Valmiki Ramayana his object behind the enactment of this sequence:

एवमुक्तोमहातेजाधृमानुरुविक्रमः |
उवाचत्रिदशश्रेष्ठंरामोधर्मभृतांवरः || ६-११८-१२

Hearing those words, the courageous Rama of great prowess and the foremost of those upholding the virtue, replied to the fire-god, the best of gods.

अवश्यंचापिलोकेषुसीतापावनमर्हति |
दीर्घकालोषिताहीयंरावणान्तःपुरेशुभा || ६-११८-१३

Sita certainly deserves this pure factory ordeal in the eyes of the people in as much as this blessed woman had resided for a long time indeed in the gynaecium of Ravana.

बालिशोबतकामात्मरामोदशरथात्मजः |
इतिवक्ष्यतिमांलोकोजानकीमविशोध्यहि || ६-११८-१४

The world would chatter against me, saying that Rama, the son of Dasaratha, was really foolish and that his mind was dominated by lust, if I accept Sita without examining her with regard to her chastity.

अनन्यहृदयांभक्तांमचत्तपरिवर्तिनीम् |
अहमप्यवगच्छामिमैथिलींजनकात्मजाम् || ६-११८-१५

I also know that Sita, the daughter of Janaka, who ever revolves in my mind, is undivided in her affection to me.

इमामपिविशालाक्षींरक्षितांस्वेनतेजसा |
रावणोनातिवर्तेतवेलमिवमहोदधिः || ६-११८-१६

Ravana could not violate this wide-eyed woman, protected as she was by her own splendour, any more than an ocean would transgress its bounds.

प्रत्ययार्थंतुलोकानांत्रयाणाम्सत्यसंश्रयः |
उपेक्षेचापिवैदेहींप्रविशन्तींहुताशनम् || ६-११८-१७

In order to convince the three worlds, I, whose refugee is truth, ignored Sita while she was entering the fire.

नचशक्तःसुदुष्टत्मामनसापिहिमैथिलीम् |
प्रधर्षयितुमप्राप्यांदीप्तामग्निशिखामिव || ६-११८-१८

The evil-minded Ravana was not able to lay his violent hands, even in thought, o the unobtainable Sita, who was blazing like a flaming tongue of fire.

नेयमर्हतिचैश्वर्यंरावणान्तःपुरेशुभा |
अनन्याहिमयासीताभास्करेणप्रभायथा || ६-११८-१९

This auspicious woman could not give way to the sovereignty, existing in the gynaecium of Ravana, in as much as Sita is not different from me, even as sunlight is not different from the sun.

विशुद्धात्रिषुलोकेषुमैथिलीजनकात्मजा |
नविहातुंमयाशक्याकीर्तिरात्मवतायथा || ६-११८-२०

Sita, the daughter of Janaka, is completely pure in her character, in all the three worlds and can no longer be renounced by me, as a good name cannot be cast aside by a prudent man.

The part of Ramayana that describes Sita’s exile also needs a particular perspective to understand. This part of Ramayana exemplifies the fulfilment of rajdharma, the ideal of a ruler who as praja-vatsala-rajanya (a king committed to his subjects) puts the interests of his subjects above those of his personal goals. When the people of Ayodhya express the view that dharma was imperilled as a woman of questionable reputation, who had resided with another man was their queen, and they would as a repercussion have to tolerate the scandals of their own wives, Rama is obliged to give in to their remonstrations, not because he doubted Sita’s character, but to make them realise the consequences of the folly of humiliating a woman for her misfortune, as the dhobi who criticised Sri Rama had done, and yet claimed moral superiority to the king by turning his dishonoured wife out of his house. To address the fate of this unfortunate woman and all such women in time to come was as much incumbent on Sri Rama, and not just safeguarding the place of his own wife. After Sita was exiled, Sri Rama did not marry again and lived the bare existence as an ascetic to share in the fate of his wife as is the dharma of a husband. The epic beautifully reveals how as time passes the people of Ayodhya realise their mistake, having suffered the absence of their great queen and beg their king to bring Mother Janaki back. The dhobi tearfully repents his error in judging a wronged woman. The injunction of the presiding hrishis during aswamedha yagya conducted by Sri Rama reinforce the status of the lady of the house that there can be no worldly gain in the absence of the ardhangini, the essential other of a man.

But those who commit the sin of harshly treating the feminine bear the severity of the consequence of their action. Sita declined to return to Ayodhya. Sita’s manner of exit from the world, the act of giving up the world and her body is a powerful statement: that if disregarded, Shree (the feminine as prosperity, joy, light in our lives) can leave forever. Sita represents feminine power and forebearance, the kind only women can possess. She can make or break a man.

The spirit of the epic is best conveyed in this quote: “Great literature rises above the closed semantics of parable. It nuances the themes and forces you to keep pondering. Discursive overdetermination is not what sterling literature seeks to establish. The imponderables of life are examined, and truisms are put to test. Literature seeks to loosen up dogmas and hard-boiled notions about roles and set human responses while demonstrating the power and peril of the choices Man makes.”

[Quoted lines are from Shri Ranjit Kumar Dash, Sr. Assistant Editor, Asian Age]

Author: Smita Mukerji

Published: April 24, 2018

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