- In the RAMAYANA Sita is the wife of RAMA. Sita means “furrow,” and it is said that she was not born to her father Janaka, but was ploughed up by him during a sacrificial rite to gain progeny. Sita was won by Rama in a contest by bending SHIVA’s bow.Sita is considered the model for wifely fidel-ity and purity in India (though modern Indian women have begun to rebel against this model). In the epic, she was kidnapped by the demon king Ravana and taken to Lanka. Because of a curse he was unable to violate her, and she refused his advances. Her husband fought successfully for her freedom. However, he doubted that she had remained faithful and cruelly rejected her, saying he had only fought against Ravana to clear his name.To clear her name, Sita underwent a “trial by fire” (agnipravesha), which she survived unscathed. Several vernacular versions of the Ramayana indicate that the real Sita never actually went into the fire, sending a substitute instead; in fact, in these versions she was not even really kidnapped, but had only been in hiding. These versions seem to show a later discomfort with the original SANSKRIT story.After her trial by fire, Sita was then accepted by Rama, until people once more began to chal-lenge her faithfulness and Rama asked Lakshmana to take her away to the forest, in exile once more. He did not know that she was pregnant with his two sons, Kusha and Lava. She gave birth to her sons in the ASHRAM of the very VALMIKI who is cited as the author of the epic.On one occasion Rama initiated a HORSE SAC-RIFICE; in that ritual, a horse is allowed to roam at will for a year, followed by the king’s soldiers. Whatever land the horse covers becomes part of the ruler’s kingdom. Kusha and Lava as it hap-pens captured the king’s horse and defeated the king’s army when it arrived, thus defeating, in an act of poetic justice, their father. When Rama heard from VALMIKI that these were his own sons he asked that they be taken to court, where they sang the Ramayana story. He then called for Sita to return and declared her innocence in open court. Sita, however, refused to return and asked Mother Earth, from which she had been born, to take her back, whereupon she disappeared.Further reading: Jacqueline Suthren Hirst and Lyn Thomas, eds., Playing for Real: Hindu Role Models, Religion and Gender (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004); C. Rajagopalachari, Ramayana (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1972); Paula Richman, ed., Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of Narrative Tradition in South Asia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); Paula Richman, ed., Questioning Ramayanas: A South Asian Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.