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Sita with her son Lava
|Affiliation||Avatar of Lakshmi|
Sita (Devanagari: सीता listen (help·info), also spelled Seeta or Seetha, meaning "furrow") is the central female character of the Hindu epic Ramayana and was born in Janakpurdham present day Mithila, Nepal. She is the consort of the Hindu God Sri Rama (avatar of Vishnu) and is an avatar of Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth and wife of Vishnu. She is esteemed as a paragon of spousal and feminine virtues for all Hindu women. Sita is known for her dedication, self-sacrifice, courage and purity.
Sita is described as the daughter of the earth goddess Bhūmi and the adopted daughter of King Janaka of Mithila and Queen Sunayna. In her youth, she marries Sri Rama, the prince of Ayodhya. Soon after her marriage, she is forced into exile with her husband and brother-in-law Lakshmana. While in exile, the trio settle in the Dandaka forest, from where she is abducted by the Ravana, Rakshasa King of Lanka. She is imprisoned in the Ashoka Vatika of Lanka by Ravana. Sita is finally rescued by Sri Rama in the climatic war where Sri Rama slays Ravana. Sita proves her chastity by undergoing a trial by fire. Thereafter, Sri Rama and Sita return to Ayodhya, where they are crowned as king and queen. However, Sri Rama abandons a pregnant Sita when one of his subjects casts doubt over her chastity. In the refuge of Sage Valmiki's hermitage Sita gives birth to twins Lava and Kusha. After her sons grow up and unite with their father, Sita returns to her mother, the Earth's womb for release from a cruel world after refusing another test of her purity.
Etymology and other names
She is best known by the name Sita, derived from the Sanskrit word sīta, which means furrow. According to Ramayana, Janaka found her while ploughing as a part of a yagna and adopted her. The word sīta was a poetic term in ancient kingdom of Nepal & India, its imagery redolent of fecundity and the many blessings coming from settled agriculture. The Sita of the Ramayana may have been named after a more ancient Vedic goddess Sita, who is mentioned once in the Rigveda as an earth goddess who blesses the land with good crops. In the Vedic era, she was one of the goddesses associated with fertility. A Vedic hymn (Rig Veda 4:57) recites:
|“||Auspicious Sita, come thou near;
We venerate and worship thee
In Harivansha Sita has been invoked as one of the names of goddess Arya:
|“||O goddess, you are the altar's center in the sacrifice,
The priest's fee
Sita is known by many epithets. She is called Jānaki as the daughter of Janaka; Maithili as the princess of Mithila'. As the wife of Sri Rama, she is called Ramā. Her father Janaka had earned the sobriquet Videha due to his ability to transcend body consciousness; Sita is therefore also known as Vaidehi.
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Sita's origin has been the subject of scholarly studies. Sita's birth and parentage have been depicted differently in different versions of Ramayana.
- Valmiki's Ramayana: In Valmiki's Ramayana and Kamban's Tamil epic Ramavataram, Sita is said to have been discovered in a furrow in a ploughed field, and for that reason is regarded as a daughter of Bhūmi Devi (the goddess earth), Sita Birthstar is Ashlesha Constellation in Chaitra month. She was discovered, adopted and brought up by Janaka, king of Mithila, and his wife Sunayana.
- Ramayana Manjari: In Ramayana Manjari (verses 344–366), North-western and Bengal recensions of Valmiki Ramayana, it has been described as on hearing a voice from the sky and then seeing Menaka, Janaka expresses his wish to obtain a child. And when he finds the child, he hears the same voice again telling him the infant is his spiritual child, born of Menaka.
- Janka's real daughter: In Ramopkhyana of the Mahabharata and also in Paumachariya of Vimala Suri, Sita has been depicted as Janaka's real daughter. According to Rev. Fr. Camille Bulcke, this motif that Sita was the real daughter of Janaka, as described in Ramopkhyana Mahabharata was based on the authentic version of Valmiki Ramayana. Later the story of Sita miraculously appearing in furrow was inserted in Valmiki Ramayana.
- Reincarnation of Vedavati: Some versions of the Ramayana suggest that Sita was a reincarnation of Vedavati. Ravana tried to molest Vedavati and her chastity was sullied beyond Ravana's redemption when she was performing penance to become consort of Vishnu. Vedavati immolated herself on a pyre to escape Ravana's lust, vowing to return in another age and be the cause of Ravana's destruction. She was duly reborn as Sita.
- Reincarnation of Manivati: According to Gunabhadra's Uttara Purana of the ninth century BCE, Ravana disturbs the asceticism of Manivati, daughter of Amitavega of Alkapuri, and she pledges to take revenge on Ravana. Manivati is later reborn as the daughter of Ravana and Mandodari. But, astrologers predict ruin of Ravana because of this child. So, Ravana orders to kill the child. Manivati is placed in a casket and buried in the ground of Mithila where she is discovered by some of the farmers of the kingdom. Then Janka, king of that state adopts her.
- Ravana's daughter: In Sanghadasa's Jaina version of Ramayana of the 5th century BCE, Sita, entitled Vasudevahindi, is born as daughter of Ravana. According to this version, astrologers predict that first child of Vidyadhara Maya (Ravana's wife) will destroy his lineage. That's why Ravana abandons her and orders the infant to be buried in a distant land where she is later discovered and adopted by Janka.
When Sita reaches adulthood, Janaka organises a swayamwara with the condition that Sita would marry only that person who would be able to string Pinak Dhanu (bow of Shiva). Janaka knew, the bow of Shiva was not even liftable let alone stringable for ordinary mortals, and for selfish people it was not even approachable. Thus, Janaka tries to find the best husband for Sita.
At this time Vishvamitra had brought Sri Rama and his brother Lakshmana to the forest for the protection of sacrifice. Hearing about this swayamwara, Vishvamitra asks Sri Rama to participate in it and takes Sri Rama and Lakshmana to the palace of Janaka. Janaka is greatly pleased to learn that Sri Rama and Lakshmana are sons of Dasharatha. Next morning, in the middle of the hall, Sri Rama lifts up the bow of Shiva with his left hand, fastens the string tightly and finally breaks the bow. However, another incarnation of Vishnu, Parashurama, became really angry as the bow belonged to Lord Shiva and it was broken. However, he does not realise that Sri Rama is also an incarnation of Vishnu, therefore after being informed of this, he apologises for getting angry. And thus Sri Rama fulfils Janaka's condition to marry Sita. Later on Vivaha Panchami, a marriage ceremony is conducted under the guidance of Satananda. Sri Rama marries Sita, Bharata marries Mandavi, Lakshmana marries Urmila and Shatrughna marries Shrutakirti.Janaki Mandir
Exile and abduction
Some time after the wedding, one of the mothers of Sri Rama was compelled into making Bharata king in order to use one of the boons that she received from Dasharata. She was forced by one of the workers of the palace named Manthara (whose name is not spoken in order to avoid bad luck in some traditions) and forced Sri Rama to leave Ayodhya and spend a period of exile in the forests of Dandaka and later Panchavati. Sita and Lakshmana willingly renounced the comforts of the palace and joined Sri Rama in braving exile, even living in the Dandaka and Panchavati forests. The Panchavati forest became the scene for Sita's abduction by Ravana, King of Lanka. Ravana kidnapped Sita, disguising himself as a brahmana mendicant, or begging holy-man, while her husband was away fetching a magnificent golden deer to please her. Some versions of the Ramayana describe that Sita takes refuge with the fire-god Agni, while Maya Sita, her illusionary double, is kidnapped by the demon-king. Jatayu, the vulture-king, who was a friend of Dasratha (Sri Rama's father), tried to protect Sita but Ravana chopped off his wings. Jatayu survived long enough to inform Sri Rama of what had happened.
Ravana took her back to his kingdom in Lanka, and Sita was held as a prisoner in one of his palaces. During her captivity for a year in Lanka, Ravana expressed his desire for her; however, Sita refused his advances and struggled to maintain her chastity. Hanuman was sent by Sri Rama to seek Sita and eventually succeeded in discovering Sita's whereabouts. Sita gave Hanuman her jewellery and asked him to give it to her husband. However, Hanuman was caught by Lankan forces. As punishment for trespassing in Lanka and seeing Sita, Hanuman was punished by having his tail set on fire. As a result of his punishment and due to his superior strength, Hanuman was able to escape after his tail had been set on fire and he burnt down much of Lanka before returning across the sea to his Lord SriRama.
Sita was finally rescued by Sri Rama, who waged a famous battle to defeat Ravana. Upon rescue, Sri Rama worried about the future of human society – that no man or woman may use this as an excuse to live with each other without marriage – makes Sita walk on fire to prove her chastity.
In some version of Ramayana, during this test the fire-deity Agni appears in front of Sri Rama and hands over him the real Sita as during the abduction she was already taken away from Ravana, while he was fighting with Jatayu. Whom Ravan took to Lanka there-after is Chhaya-Sita, a shadow of Sita.
The Thailand version of the Ramayana, however, tells of Sita walking on the fire, of her own accord, to feel clean, as opposed to jumping in it. She is not burnt, the coals turn to lotuses. Walking on live coals is still a common custom in the South of India.
Abandonment and later life
The couple came back to Ayodhya, where Sri Rama was crowned king with Sita by his side. While Sri Rama's trust and affection for Sita never wavered, it soon became evident that some people in Ayodhya could not accept Sita's long captivity under the power of Ravana.
During Sri Rama's period of rule, an intemperate washerman, while berating his wayward wife, declared that he was "no pusillanimous Sri Rama who would take his wife back after she had lived in the house of another man". This statement was reported back to Sri Rama, who knew that the accusation of Sita was baseless. Nevertheless, he would not let slander undermine his rule, so he sent Sita away.
Thus Sita was thus forced into exile a second time; she was not only alone this time but also pregnant. Abandoned Sita wandered about in the forest and at last reached the hermitage of Valmiki who gave her refuge in his hermitage, where she delivered twin sons named Kusha and Luv or Lava. The other hermits discouraged Valmiki giving Sita shelter and protection and saying, "Sita is impure, otherwise her husband would not have abandoned her".
In the hermitage, Sita raised her sons alone, as a single mother. They grew up to be valiant and intelligent, and were eventually united with their father. Once she had witnessed the acceptance of her children by Sri Rama, Sita sought final refuge in the arms of her mother Bhūmi. Hearing her plea for release from an unjust world and from a life that had rarely been happy, the Earth dramatically split open; Bhūmi appeared and took Sita away to a better world (that is, back to Sri Rama in the form of Vishnu in Vishnu's abode).
Speeches in the Ramayana
While the Ramayana mostly concentrates on Sri Rama's actions, Sita also speaks many times during the exile. The first time is in the town of Chitrakuta where she narrates an ancient story to Sri Rama, whereby Sri Rama promises to Sita that he will never kill anybody without provocation.
The second time Sita is shown talking prominently is when she speaks to Ravana. Ravana has come to her in the form of a Brahmin and Sita tells him that he doesn't look like one.
Some of her most prominent speeches are with Hanuman when he reaches Lanka. Hanuman wants an immediate union of Sri Rama and Sita, and thus he proposes to Sita to ride on his back. Sita refuses as she does not want to run away like a thief; instead she wants her husband Sri Rama to come and defeat Ravana to save her.
A female deity of agricultural fertility by the name Sita was known before Valmiki's Ramayana, but was overshadowed by better-known Goddesses associated with fertility. According to the Ramayana, Sita was discovered in a furrow when Janaka was ploughing. Since Janaka was a king, it is likely that ploughing was part of a royal ritual to ensure fertility of the land. Sita is considered to be the child of the Mother Earth, produced by the union between the king and the land. Sita is a personification of the Earth's fertility, abundance, and well-being.
Sita has been a much revered figure amongst the Hindus. In the blurring of the boundary between religion and mythology, between history and fiction, she has been portrayed as an ideal daughter, an ideal wife, and an ideal mother. These portrayals of her never change, and are more or less constant in various texts, stories, illustrations, and even movies and modern media. Sita is often worshipped with Sri Rama as his consort. The occasion of her marriage to Sri Rama is celebrated as Vivaha Panchami.
The actions, reactions and instincts manifested by Sita at every juncture in a long and arduous life are deemed exemplary. Her story has been portrayed in the book Sitayanam. The values that she enshrined and adhered to at every point in the course of a demanding life are the values of womanly virtue held sacred by countless generations of Nepalese and Indians.
What is ambiguous is her portrayal as an ideal queen. Was she a good statesperson? Was she a warrior? Her sacrifices and actions are most often portrayed in her personal capacity and not as a governance figure. Sita was abducted because she had to step out of the safety line to give alms to Ravan disguised as a Brahmin. The giving of alms to Brahmin in those times was more of a duty to be performed, rather than an optional charitable act. This held true more so for the royals and they were to lead by example. Also, the incident of Sita's refusal to come back with Hanuman like a common thief, her renunciation of queen-hood and exile from Ayodhya after her return. All her key aspects are shown in a favourable light, but not as a head of state, but as an ideal woman. This is in stark contrast to Sri Rama, who is always portrayed as an ideal king who was just and fair and always thought of his people before all else in addition to being depicted as an ideal husband and an ideal son.
Popular culture sees Sita as an abla naari or a helpless woman. She is portrayed as someone who needs support and assistance of the male folk in the myth. However, this would have to be balanced with Sita's steadfast demonstration of honour and dignity, compelling her to both enter the fire and to ask Mother Earth to take her from a setting filled with pain and misunderstanding. In this light, Sita becomes a complex figure of what it meant to be a woman in ancient India.
- Janaki Mandir, located at Janakpur, Nepal
- Sita Mai Temple, situated in Sitamai village in the Karnal district of Haryana in North India
- Sita Kund, Punaura Dham, situated in Sitamarhi District in Bihar
- Seetha Amman Kovil, Nähe Nuwara Eliya,Srilanka
- Sutherland, Sally J. "Sita and Draupadi, Aggressive Behavior and Female Role-Models in the Sanskrit Epics". University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
- Swami Parmeshwaranand (2001-01-01). Encyclopaedic Dictionaries of Puranas. Sarup & Sons. pp. 1210–1220. ISBN 978-81-7625-226-3. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
- "Sita, Hindu Deity and incarnation of Lakshmi". Michigan State University. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
- Suresh Chandra (1998). Encyclopaedia of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Sarup & Sons. pp. 304–. ISBN 978-81-7625-039-9. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
- Heidi Rika Maria Pauwels (2007). Indian Literature and Popular Cinema: Recasting Classics. Routledge. pp. 53–. ISBN 978-0-415-44741-6. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
- Singaravelu, S. "Sita, Birth and Parentage in the SriRama Story". University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. pp. 235–240. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
- "The Story of Mother Sita the consort of Lord SriRama". Salagram.net. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
- Bhargava, Anju P. "Contemporary Influence of Sita by". The Infinity Foundation. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
- "Sitayanam – A Woman's Journey of Strength" by Anju P. Bhargava;
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