Lokamata Janaki
The Vedanta Kesari|May 2021
Sita Navami falls exactly a month after Rama Navami. While Rama Navami is celebrated with great devotional fervour, celebrating Sita Navami is not very common. But we cannot think of Rama without Sita. This year Sita Navami falls on the 21st of May. Let us celebrate Sita Navami contemplating Mother Sita’s life.
SULINI V NAIR

Among all the various conceptualizations of God none is as beautiful, as heart-warming, as all-embracing as the concept of God as Mother. Sanatana Dharma celebrates this Divine Motherhood of God through a multitude of manifestations; beautiful, compassionate, fierce, destructive — spanning the entire spectrum of bhavas. Among the various incarnations of the Divine Mother, that of Mother Sita reaches out to us closest, simply because of her intense expression of the human condition and an uncompromising espousal of great ideals. She, for the most part, revealed herself as a woman of great nobility than as the Divine Mother. A parallel we know more intimately is Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. Perhaps the more humanly they express themselves, the closer we feel towards them and the more confident we are of aspiring towards what they point to. In fact, if we consider the avatars as embodiments of divinity and beyond our reach, we do not gain much. Hence, their humanness is also their greatest compassion, even if at times it also makes them be greatly misunderstood.

Maharshi Valmiki’s Sita is, simply put, unreachable. In her commingles loveliness, softness of heart, compassion, faithfulness, wisdom, valour and forbearance.

Swami Vivekananda says, “…You may exhaust the literature of the world that is past, and I may assure you that you will have to exhaust the literature of the world of the future, before finding another Sita. Sita is unique; that character was depicted once and for all… 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…”1

Born of the earth and found by Rajarshi Janaka, as he was turning the sod on the grounds where he had resolved to perform a yajna, he brought up Sita as his beloved daughter. That Sita was no ordinary child was revealed very early in her life when she effortlessly moved aside the box containing Lord Shiva’s bow — so heavy with divine power that even the mightiest men could not move it; she pushed it aside to pick up her ball that had rolled underneath! Only the Goddess’s divinity could match that of Shiva. Realising that Sita was extraordinary, Janaka resolved to give her in marriage only to one who proved worthy of her. And Rama turned out to be that lone worthy one.

After their marriage Rama and Sita pass twelve years in great happiness. In a dramatic turn of events, on the day he is scheduled to be crowned the king of Ayodhya, Rama dons the ascetic’s garb because he decides to go into forest exile to honour his father’s promise to Kaikeyi. When he breaks this news to Sita, she immediately resolves to follow him into the forest. In both Rama and Sita there is no hint of irritation, regret or anger due to this sudden change of fortunes. They seem to look forward to a life of austerity. Their choices and conduct in this situation are like scriptural edicts. The sthitaprajnatvam that Sri Krishna teaches in the succeeding yuga is exemplified by Rama and Sita. By effortlessly relinquishing the throne of Ayodhya , they both enthrone them selves eternally in the hearts of devotees.

But Rama is not happy to take Sita along. In eighteen verse she describes to her the horrors she would have to face in the forest. But Sita is not weak and helpless. She is a proud Kshatriya lady who knows when to assert herself and accomplish what she believes to be the right thing. Unyielding in her determination to follow Rama, she remembers her dharma as described by Janaka when he gave her in marriage to Rama. He had said, इयं सीता मम सुता सहधम्पिरी तव... पवतव्रता महािागा छिायेवानुगता सदा — “Here is Sita, my daughter, your companion on the path of dharma... Faithful to you, she will bring you all prosperity and follow you like your shadow forever and ever.”2 She chides and taunts Rama: Could he not protect her from all the possible dangers of life in the forest! Her father had thought he had got the best man for his daughter but now the son-in-law appeared to be a woman dressed like a man! Rama is not in the least piqued by her words; on the contrary he admires that she is no ordinary woman, praises her courage and decides to take her along. “Beloved Sita”, he says, “you have arrived at a most welcome decision worthy in every way of my family as well as of yours.”3

The love that bound Rama and Sita was of oneness of heart that needed no words to articulate, nor eyes to convey. Though they played their human roles to perfection, Rama and Sita were divine personages with a divine mission to fulfil.

It would be erroneous to assess the life, motives and actions of people in Treta Yuga through the lens of our contemporary value system.

Adherence to Dharma

To understand the life and conduct of men and women who lived in the Treta Yuga, we should know how concepts like dharma, sanctity of truth, the role of a king, his relationship with his subjects etc. , were perceived in that age. Without this knowledge, if we try to assess persona lities in the Ramayana through the lens of our contemporary value system, we will only misunderstand their motives and actions.

Dharma is the foundation of creation. Therefore, the highest dharma of a man or a woman is to discover Truth or God — the source of dharma. Our every relationship and action has its own dharma. Furthermore, relationships and actions that connect the individual with the larger whole is considered as higher dharma. Thus, service to one’s motherland, society, family and one’s own limited self, follow in the order of declining importance. An act in accordance to dharma at a lower level , becomes adharmic or unrighteous if it is inconsistent with a higher dharma. Similarly, if an act or decision conforms to a higher dharma but is problematic at a lower level, it still remains dharmic. This is how our every decision or action becomes either dharmic or adharmic. Clarity in this working of dharma will help us to understand the motives and actions of Rama, Sita and others.

Valmiki declares that Rama is the embodiment of dharma. As we read the Ramayana, we realise that Sita too is firmly rooted in dharma. While on their way to Dandakaranya, Sita shares with Rama, in loving words, her apprehensions about his carrying weapons into the forest where they mean to lead a life of austerity. She worries if the weapons would lead Rama to adharmic action — cruelty without enmity, without righteous cause — a terrible evil. She warns that when a kshatriya trained to fight finds his weapons ready or when fire finds fuel nearby, it could be dangerous. It provokes one to a display of strength. She narrates also the story of an ascetic who was led astray from his austerities and into adharma simply by having in his custody a sword given for safekeeping. Sita says, “From Dharma follows wealth, from Dharma comes happiness, by recourse to Dharma one gets everything. This world has Dharma as its essence. The wise emaciate themselves with effort imposing several restrictions on themselves and achieve Dharma…”4 She gently advises Rama to practice such dharma in the forest, with a pious mind, as is suited for austerities. However, she also wonders aloud as to who could really be capable of teaching Dharma to Rama, the very embodiment of Truth and Dharma! She tells him that being a woman of tender heart, she is only reminding him what he already knows, and not teaching him.

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