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Monday, 21 March 2016

Rama and his disastrous decision to allow Sita to take the Agni-pariksha

Whispers that bellow fire

“How can a wife who has lived with another man be true to her husband?” whispered the fisherman about Sita when she returned. Doubts are like the swarming pests upon a plant. If allowed to thrive, they cluster, unite and kill it, no matter how strong the plant is. Upon Sita was laid one such indictment, which if was not resolved, would have made Ramayana end with uncertainty and probably, ignominy. The episode of Rama’s greatness has always overshadowed the resilience, forbearance and strength of Sita. While Rama gained greater fanfare in his attempt to save Sita, she sat in Lanka as the prime reason behind all of Rama’s glorious chapters of fighting evil and restoring dharma. 

Once again the all-suffering Sita was dragged to the fore and was used by destiny to prove a point, then by the king, Ravana and now by a fisherman. Rama, even today, for many, has to justify why He, who is worshipped as God, watched silently, as if in approval, Sita’s heart-wrenching test of fidelity. Didn’t Hanuman once inform Rama that when he saw Sita at Lanka, he could only find the body there, empty of soul? That the constant thought of Rama had Sita’s soul detached from the body? But He had a reason and we shall see what the reason was.

Besides, if you accept the adoration as God, you will have to prove yourself to be one. If your worth is high, so are the stakes especially if you are sitting on jewels. The higher the organism, stiffer are the challenges. Therefore, people were and are right in questioning his humaneness in abandoning Sita. While many ponder over Rama’s righteousness, Rama and Sita have already succeeded in fulfilling the purpose of their advent, that is, to be worshipped by humans as the ideal of God head. Imperceptibly, they accomplished the great feat of restoring in human beings, faith in God and in being symbols of the ultimate female principle-prakriti and the ultimate male principle-purusha. They assured beings of liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

How did they manage to do this in spite of all the jarring episodes?

While we answer that, a little bit about Rama. Rama knew quite well that he was born to re-establish religion and that he would be followed by thousands; and his path would be trodden by millions in the future.  Otherwise, how could a person take so much honor, exude so much charisma upon his people and stand like a spear against any impending calamity as the savior of the world; drinking quite lustily with serene eyes into that privilege? No man but he who is commissioned by God can take that position and emerge victorious. An ordinary man would be reduced to ashes in that very flame of fame.

Now coming back to the question; we will try to build up the answer. The foundations of society are intact when men and women are chaste, when men develop the moral strength to remain chaste and women, to safe guard their purity. Rama on his part did stand tall against all such allurements, biting the snares of passion from all women, preserving all his blushes for his Sita. It was quite understandable that women, good and evil, wanted to possess this personification of all beauty and strength. Sita too had to live by that great demand but she didn’t have to prove that to Rama. Her Lord knew her best. But He knew those insidious, howling cries of doubt, born of sense weakness, would rent the air sometime. Did Rama, for all his love for and trust in Sita, have to bother? He did, because Sita and he were born to be the guiding lights for humanity. The impersonal Rama allowed the Agni-Pariksha for the good of the world. It seems He already knew the nature of weak minds and the resistance they would put up against the need for purity. Weak humans will always find a way out to belittle the need for purity.

We just can’t imagine a Ramayana without a solution being arrived to this problem.  At the same time, the solution to this problem was not as simple as Rama standing by Sita and proclaiming his faith in her. Rama did realize and so did Sita that, such accusations at their very first pronouncement would threaten to be an eternal stigma on their great lives since there would be no way to prove it otherwise. How can it be proved that she was pure? Can one imagine the kind of agony Rama must have gone through when such an accusation was hurled at his beloved Sita for whom he braved death and all? The same shock what his father had felt when he was about to leave Ayodhya revisited Rama when he realized the impossibility, through all logic, of setting this lethal claim square. A boulder being dropped on a supine Rama’s chest would have been less painful.

But they had to square off and defend themselves because they came to set ideals for the ever erring animal creatures to enable them to attain God head. I feel, Rama knew quite well that such claims would be made in the future and if not sorted out now, centuries later, the same empathizers of Sita, would have with the same tongue asked, “was Sita really pure?”, just like how even after the Agni-pariksha doubts were raised. The barrel of a gun, the arrow of suspicion, is always waiting to be shot. The difference is only in the direction it is held. Besides, the doubt if not doused then, the rumor if not demolished, would have gradually become a reality. We know the law that when rumors such as this are not invalidated, they become a fact. 

That fisher man was us, our minds, the faithless, the doubting, the weak, us! Through continuum of assertions, the wicked, intelligent minds would have made it an established fact that Sita was impure and was thus not worthy as a symbol of purity and chastity. They would have said, “Sita lost her purity and the king Rama held his head down in remorse”.  The disease of doubt is innate and only fire can burn it. The fire of knowledge is called ‘aparoksha anubhuti’, direct experience. Sita entered into such a fire to prove the purity of Her life and the doubt died for ever clearing the air of impurity. The fisher man's claim was rendered useless with regards to raising doubts about Sita's purity. Through Mother Sita, purity and truth once more claimed victory as not just the highest prerequisites for liberation but for righteous life as well. Truth and purity cannot be burnt by fire. The same minds which questioned Rama’s prudence would have questioned Sita’s character had the Agni- pariksha not been taken.

On Rama’s part, I guess, Rama thought it was better for him to face ignominy for allowing this act than to allow the very pure Sita to be tainted with this calumny for life. This act had immortalized Sita. She became greater than Rama. The act also ensured that any such claims like that made by the fisherman would be nipped in the bud. We want to write a eulogy to this great Mother and thank her for her life. But it was best done by her son, Swami Vivekananda, who in deepest emotion born of meditation on her, burst out saying, “Sita is unique; that character was depicted once and for all. There may have been several Ramas, perhaps, but never more than one Sita! She is the very type of the true Indian woman, for all the Indian ideals of a perfected woman have grown out of that one life of Sita; and here she stands these thousands of years, commanding the worship of every man, woman, and child throughout the length and breadth of the land of Aryavarta. There she will always be, this glorious. Sita, purer than purity itself, all patience, and all suffering. She who suffered that life of suffering without a murmur, she the ever - chaste and ever - pure wife, she the ideal of the people, the ideal of the gods, the great Sita, our national God she must always remain. And every one of us knows her too well to require much delineation. All our mythology may vanish, even our Vedas may depart, and our Sanskrit language may vanish for ever, but so long as there will be five Hindus living here, even if only speaking the most vulgar patois, there will be the story of Sita present. Mark my words: Sita has gone into the very vitals of our race. She is there in the blood of every Hindu man and woman; we are all children of Sita.”


  1. Very nice. It answered my life-long sense of injured pride - why a woman has to prove her worthiness? Forwarding the link to like-minded ladies.

  2. Going through the above well written blog, I'm reminded of few things concerning Rama, which I'd like to share.

    After Sita’s chastity is proved, all the exalted deities sing the praise of Sri Rama in unison, extolling Him as the Supreme Power, the Ultimate. Unmoved by all this adulation Sri Rama stands on the ground, His palms folded in supplication, and tells the celestials that He considers Himself to be a mere man, the son of Dasaratha-

    "AtmAnam mAnusham manyE, RAmam DasarathAtmajam"

    Unlike other avataras, who claim themselves to be God, Rama does not say so. He always emphasizes on being human. In the introductory chapter of Srimad Ramayana, Valmiki's question to Narada, which forms the genesis for the great epic, is worth analysis. Valmiki lists sixteen glorious gunas and seeks to know from Narada as to which human being is endowed with all of them. And Valmiki is very specific about a Man-

    "tvam samartthOsi gyAtum Evam vidham naram"

    -not a God or even a demigod. And in reply, Narada too, indeed finds such a human being and tells Valmiki to listen carefully-
    "MunE! VakshyAmi aham buddhvA tai: yuktam shrayatAm narai:"

    It is thus very clear from the prologue itself that Sri Rama was considered a Man and not a deity, both by the author and his interlocutor. Interestingly, Visvamitra calls Sri Rama a man-a tiger among men-when waking him up one morning in the jungle, for the performance of adulatory rituals addressed to deities-

    "KousalyA suprajA Rama! poorvA sandhyA pravartatE
    uttishtta nara sArdoola! Kartavyam daivam Ahnikam"

    Having said all this, does not mean that he is not aware of the cause of his advent. One instance for example, is when Vibhishana together with four of his companions reach the place where Rama is halting, seeking refuge. Then Rama (like a normal human leader) asks for the opinion of the leaders in his group. All of them express their doubts to accept Vibhishana. But Hanuman says that Vibhishana need not be doubted because he thinks that Vibhishana understands the great qualities in Rama and demerits in Ravana. Hearing Hanuman’s words, Rama says that He cannot desert Vibhishana who is seeking refuge in Him and says –
    “sakrudeva prapannAya tavAsmi iti cha yAchate;
    abhayam sarvabhUtEbhyo dadAmyetad vratam mama.”
    “‘Oh Rama, I am yours! Saying this only once! You have become mine. I take you unto Me and remove all your fears! And this is my vow!”
    Greatness of Rama lies in his being humble and human. His life shows us or rather teaches us to live by following dharma. For Dharma, we should be prepared to undergo any amount of struggles, discomforts, inconveniences and suffering. We can follow what Rama does and says, but, it is not the same with Krishna. We can only follow what Krishna says, but, cannot do what he does.

  3. excellent write up. Thanks

  4. Wonderful write up. Hope ignorant people who throw calumny on Rama get some enlightenment.