A Gaudiya Vaishnava Perspective
Mother Sita, was the daughter of Maharaja Janaka and the wife of Lord Rama. She was known for her beauty, noble qualities, good behavior and intelligence. Mother Sita was a chaste, devoted wife who insisted on accompanying her husband to the forest for fourteen years. She was a princess and it was not expected of her to make such a sacrifice but mother Sita loved her husband so much that she could not stay a moment without Him. She felt without Lord Rama, Ayodhya would be like a jungle and the forest where He stayed would be like a kingdom. Lord Rama tried to dissuade her by graphically describing the challenges of living in the forest but mother Sita insisted it was her duty to accompany Him.
Sage Valmiki’s Ramayana states that mother Sita was at Panchavati with Lord Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana when Ravana, the king of Rakshasas, diverted Rama and Lakshmana by guile and cunning and abducted her to his kingdom, Lanka. Lord Rama along with Lakshmana, Hanuman and the Vanara Sena (monkey army) defeated Ravana and vanquished his entire dynasty with the help of Sugriva and Vibhishana. After the battle, Lord Rama enthroned Vibhishana as the king of Lanka. In the Yuddha Khanda of the Ramayana, we find the narration of the agni pariksha (trial by fire) of Srimati Sitadevi.
Lord Ramachandra, in order to set the ideal standard for the monarch, performed a pastime in which He put Mother Sita’s chastity to the test. Although Mother Sita is the Goddess of Fortune herself and without a tinge of impurity, It was the Supreme Lord’s wish to teach humanity a valuable lesson.
The End of Sita’s Ordeal
Hanuman delivered the news to mother Sita that Lord Rama had killed Ravana and very soon she would be freed from captivity. Jubilant, she eagerly awaited reunion with her beloved husband. There was a big procession organized by king Vibhishana, who was sent to escort mother Sita. As Mother Sita was carried in a palanquin in a grand parade, the residents of Lanka excitedly lined up on the main streets to catch a glimpse of her.
Seeing Lord Rama after the prolonged separation, her eyes welled up with tears of joy. Lord Rama was also very happy to see His beloved Sita. He had traveled far on an arduous journey and warred with the powerful Ravana because he had committed the offense of abducting her.
Lord Rama Speaks
It was an august gathering with the royalty of Lanka and the noble warriors who had fought the battle. There were also the citizens of Lanka. In that noble assembly, Lord Rama addressed Sita, “I have killed Ravana to establish the standard of proper human conduct. By kidnapping you Ravana brought disgrace to the great dynasty of Ikshavaku. Ravana’s death avenges the insult to that dynasty. Being a kshatriya I had the sworn duty to kill Ravana. I have done all this to set the ideal standard of human conduct and behavior. A ruler should be extremely sensitive to public criticism. His acts are expected to be above the highest standard of morality and conduct.”
A Heart Rending Pronouncement
Then Lord Rama then made a profound declaration devastating to Sita, “I have fought this battle, not for you but to establish dharma. By those very standards of dharma, I have decided that since you have lived under the shelter of another man for a long time, as a king of the dynasty of Raghu, of the dynasty of Ikshavaku, it would be improper for me to accept you as my wife again.”
Sita Wishes to Enter Fire
Mother Sita was shattered to hear these words from Lord Rama. Her tears of joy quickly turned to tears of sorrow. She prayed and begged Lord Rama saying that her chastity and character were unquestionable. Lord Rama was unrelenting. He made this proclamation publicly and he was not going to change His mind. Mother Sita begged Lakshmana saying that if Rama was not going to accept her, what was the use of living. She begged him to prepare a pyre and she wished to enter the fire. All the people assembled there were shocked by mother Sita’s wish. Women started crying and begging mother Sita to change her mind. Lakshmana was also angry at Lord Rama. He said mother Sita did not deserve this. Devatas assembled and pleaded with Rama. Brahma said that this was not right. But Lord Rama did not change his decision. He said, “I’ve appeared as a human being and I’m here to set the highest standard of human conduct”.
Lord Rama gave his consent to Lakshmana to build the pyre and set fire to it. Mother Sita paid her respects to Lord Rama circumambulating Him thrice, and then she offered respects to the assembled sages and devatas. She then circumambulated the fire. The people witnessing this scene were going mad with agony. Then mother Sita entered the fire. As the flames consumed her beautiful form, the people wept at the heart-wrenching act of Lord Rama.
Acharyas Explain Agni Pariksha
This is the most controversial part of Ramayana. People often ask, “Why did mother Sita have to go through this ordeal to prove herself?” In order to answer this question, one has to understand the scriptures with the help of Acharyas. We can comprehend mother Sita’s agni pariksha based on the purports of the Acharya.
Lord Chaitanya’s Meeting with Sri Ramadasa Vipra
To shed light on this incident in Ramayana, we need to know about an incident in the pastimes of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. During his extensive travels to preach the love of God, He went to Madurai, South India. There He met a brahmana called, Ramadasa Vipra, who was a great devotee of Lord Rama. Ramdasa Vipra was always reading the Ramayana and chanting Lord Rama’s name. When he used to read the Ramayana he would cry loudly.
Once Ramdasa Vipra had invited Chaitanya Mahaprabhu for ‘Bhiksha’ (taking prasadam) at his house. He welcomed Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and washed His feet but while engaged in his usual deep meditation on Lord Rama he had forgotten to cook. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu realizing that food had not been prepared asked Ramdasa Vipra about lunch. Ramdasa Vipra engrossed in the pastimes of Lord Rama said, “Lakshmana has gone to the forest and not returned bringing the fruits, vegetables, and roots required for preparation of the meal, so mother Sita has not cooked anything for lunch.” Ramdasa Vipra was so absorbed in ecstasy that he was almost deranged. Suddenly, Ramadasa Vipra awoke from his trance and realizing the situation quickly prepared lunch for Lord Chaitanya.
Lord Chaitanya Pacifies Ramadasa Vipra
Lord Chaitanya saw that Ramadasa Vipra was always morose. After serving Him, Ramadasa Vipra continued to fast in a state of melancholy. When the Lord asked him the reason for his sadness, Ramdasa Vipra replied, “Ravana, the vile demon, has touched mother Sita. I cannot tolerate this. My body is burning with that pain and I cannot eat! I wish I would die.” He fasted feeling agonized by what had happened to mother Sita. At this point, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu explained to him that Ravana could not as much as touch mother Sita for her form was pure spirit. He only kidnapped her maya-form that she had sent to him. This pacified Ramdasa Vipra and he finally took lunch.
Lord Chaitanya Finds Scriptural Evidence
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu continued his travel in South India and reached Rameshvara where He went to the Rameshvara Temple. At the temple, He saw brahmanas reading the Kurma Purana. They were discussing the verses from this text that described the kidnapping of mother Sita. In the Kurma Purana, it is said that mother Sita, was Adi Lakshmi, pleasure potency of the Lord, the Antaranga, Hladini Shakti of the Lord. She was not an ordinary human being. When she was about to be abducted by Ravana, she offered prayers to Agnidev, who immediately took her away and placed a ‘Chaya-Sita’ (illusionary Sita or duplicate maya-Sita) in her place. Ravana did not know this. He hastily captured the illusionary Sita. Ravana was not qualified to even touch mother Sita. He only kept illusionary Sita at his Ashoka Vana.
Explanation of the Kurma Purana
Actually, when Ravana came to kidnap mother Sita, she took shelter of the fire-god, Agni. The fire-god covered mother Sita’s body and protected her from the hands of Ravana. Agni took away the real Sita and brought her to his own abode. An illusionary form of mother Sita was then delivered to Ravana, and in this way, Ravana was cheated.
When mother Sita entered the pyre for agni-pariksha, her body was extremely effulgent. People were wonder struck. Their wailing stopped. From the agni, Agnideva personally took the illusionary Sita and returned the real Sita to Lord Rama. This is the truth about mother Sita.
The Transcendental Position of Sita & Rama
It was not possible for Ravana to even touch the lotus feet of mother Sita. Sita is the mother of the universe and the supreme goddess of fortune. Nobody can touch mother Sita. In fact, a person with material senses cannot even see her. When Ravana kidnapped her, he took only her material illusionary form.
Lord Rama is the Supreme Personality and He knew everything. He was just playing the role of a human. After the agni-pariksha, He accepted the real mother Sita. He took her back to Ayodhya, where He was coronated, King. Lord Rama set very high standards for human conduct and behavior with His exemplary qualities.
Hence we see how the Acharya’s purports to Shastra help us gain a deeper understanding of the scriptures. It is evident that mother Sita was not an ordinary human being. She was the pleasure potency of Lord Rama, who appeared on the earth to protect his devotees and establish dharma.