The Exile of Sita remains the most misunderstood episode of Ramayana. Why did Rama Banish Sita? And what is the truth behind Sita Agnipariksha?
The meaning behind Sita’s Agnipariksha: Why did Rama banish Sita?
Let us quickly refer to the other incidents mentioned in the same scripture (Ramayana) where Rama interacts with four women. They are:
- Ahalya, the wife of the sage Gautama Maharishi was cursed to remain as a stone for being tricked into infidelity. Many great sages and Demi gods appeared in Gautam Maharishi’s ashram but no one could liberate Ahalya from the curse. Because the underlying condition ordained was that Ahalya could be liberated from a being who would not judge her. No one among the great sages or among the demigods could liberate her because they all had preconceived notions about her behavior. She remained ostracized from the society until Rama came and liberated her. Rama was the only one who was spiritually evolved not to judge Ahalya on her “perceived sin.”
- The second incident is Rama’s meeting with Shabari was an old woman, an outcaste who lived alone in a hut in a forest. She served Ram berries which she had tasted before and were partially eaten. Protocol demanded that guests be treated like Gods and offering food that was already eaten constituted as a sin. Laxman was offended and rejected it instantly. It was Ram who not only calmed Laxman down but also ate the berries with a sense of gratitude; in return for the berries, he initiated Shabari into the highest knowledge of devotion.
- Tara was widowed after the demise of her husband Vali, and it was Rama who restored her to rule the kingdom.
- Finally, when Ravana was killed, his wife Mandodari feared the wrath of Rama. What did Rama do when he meet her? The victorious king bowed before Mandodari and eulogized her. He praised her virtues, asked her forgiveness for the pain he had caused her and gave her the highest of honors.
So, if Rama treated these women with so much respect and admiration, and helped each one of them, then how could he banish his pregnant wife Sita. Is there a deeper significance to this?
Yes there is a deeper significance behind Sita’s exile or Sita’s agnipariksha as mentioned in Ramayana. If we delve deeper with an open heart and open mind, then we allow the wisdom of the sages who composed these scriptures to resonate within us.
Ramayana and Mahabharata were written and passed from generation to generation for a purpose. Both these scriptures have a reference to a battle between the good and the evil. In a philosophical sense that battle refers to the contradictory sattvic (divine) and tamasic (demoniac) tendencies prevalent in each one of us. Each day we make choices out of our free will that determine our mental and spiritual evolution in this cycle of life and death.
By interpreting these scriptures, a human being is expected to derive strength to engage in the correct actions. Though this is the sole purpose of both Mahabharata and Ramayana, the motif or recurring theme in both these scriptures is different. While Mahabharat is a drama, the recurring theme in Ramayana is “pain” or “separation.”
When Rama is separated from his father Dasharatha, the king dies of grief. The separation of Rama and Laxman from their mother leaves her heart-broken and she lives an agonizing life pining for her sons. Bharat’s pain caused by the separation of Rama and Sita is intense and he lives the life of a hermit while discharging his duties. Bharat voluntary separates from material comforts and dressed in barks, sleeps on floors while waiting for his brother to return. Rama is separated from the right to rule as a king and gets separated from the comforts and riches that were destined to be enjoyed by him. Rama endures all this with Sita in the peaceful forest but finally Rama is separated from Sita after Ravan abducts her. Rama is separated from his peaceful exile in the forest and begins the tumultuous journey to reach Lanka. After winning the war against Ravana, Rama gets Sita back only to be separatedagain when he banishes her. Rama remains separated from his wife and sons.
That brings us to the point who were Rama and Sita? Lord Vishnu and Goddess Laxmi manifested as avatars in the form of Rama and Sita on this earth. They deliberately chose not be born as purna avatars, meaning that they were incognizant of their divinity and lived their entire lives believing they were human beings. Krishna was a purna avatar, meaning that he knew that he was the supreme God.
Rama and Sita lived their lives as mere mortals on this earth. Lord Vishnu and Goddess Laxmi deliberately chose their destiny and the unfolding of their lives as Rama and Sita- a life full of pain and separation. As human beings, Rama and Sita’s lives are full of agony and moments of happiness are few and fleeting.
What was the reason for Rama and Sita to choose this life? Why did Lord Vishnu choose this particular birth where he suffered heavily and had to face the blemish of having banished a pregnant wife?
The answer is mentioned explicitly in almost all significant scriptures but the significance is lost as people who pretend to be scholars have monopolized the visible content thus pushing the truth to oblivion.
The pain and agony of separation throughout Rama’s life, and the subsequent banishment of a pregnant Sita, were done to fulfill two objectives by Lord Vishnu:
The First Objective behind Sita’s exile or Sita Agnipariksha- Rescue his devotees
Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi lived the lives of Rama and Sita to rescue two of their greatest devotees- Ravana and Khumbkarna.
Yes, the seeds of the birth of Rama and Sita were laid long back to rescue these two devotees.
The genesis of Lord Vishnu’s avatar as is to mitigate the curse on his two most ardent devotees- Jaya and Vijaya, who were the gatekeepers of Vaikuntha. Jaya and Vijaya once stopped the four kumaras (mistaking them as children) from seeing Lord Vishnu. The four kumaras kept on requesting to meet Lord Vishnu but neither Jaya and Vijaya relented.
The kumaras were enraged and cursed the two gatekeepers, “Lord Vishnu belongs to this devotees. Just as you have caused us separation from Lord Vishnu, both of you will also lose your divinity and take birth as mortals on earth, getting separated from Lord Vishnu.”
For Jaya and Vijaya, the thought of separating from Lord Vishnu is unimaginable and they fall at the grace of Vishnu and request him to remove the curse of the kumaras. Vishnu refuses saying that the curse of the kumaras cannot be dishonored but reassures Jaya and Vijaya that he will take birth with them for all their mortal births on earth.
Lord Vishnu then offers them two choices: The first option is to take seven births on Earth as a devotee of Vishnu, while the second is to take three births as his enemy. Jaya and Vijaya cannot bear the thought of staying away from Vishnu for seven lives.
Jaya says, “Everyone who is born has to die and what better way to go than to be relieved of this earthly existence by you, our Lord.”
So the purpose of Rama’s birth was not to rescue Sita but to fulfill his promise to his devotees. It was Jaya and Vijaya who in their second birth were born as Ravana and Kumbhkarna.
The maya created by Lord Vishnu is such that he rescued his devotees and also through the life story of Rama and Sita gave us the scripture of Ramayana to lead us to the path of knowledge.
The Second Objective behind Sita’s exile or Sita Agnipariksha- Honoring the Curse of Sage Bhrigu
The second and lesser known truth about the banishment of Sita is not known to many people although the story is mentioned in the scriptures. The reason that Rama had to be separated from Sita was to fulfill a curse that was given to him! In the fights between Gods and Demons, Lord Vishnu often supported the Gods for the welfare of the three worlds.
Once Lord Vishnu had to use the Sudarshana Chakra against Sage Bhrigu’s wife Khyati to let the gods defeat the demons. Upon finding his wife slain by Vishnu, Bhrigu cursed Lord Vishnu that he would have to suffer the pangs of separation from his wife repeatedly. Lord Vishnu, the original giver of boons, acknowledged the Rishi’s anger and willingly accepted the curse of Sage Bhrigu.
Now hear the esoteric truth about the repeated separation of Rama from Sita in their lives and the subsequent banishment of Sita.
After accepting Sage Bhrigu’s curse, Lord Vishnu had to manifest the words of the Rishi. But there was a problem. Lord Vishnu or Brahman or Paramatman or Krishna is the supreme consciousness. For the purpose of creation, the one consciousness deludes itself and becomes many due to the illusion of differentiating between the seer and the seen, the body and the mind, I and them.
Now Vishnu who personifies Paramataman and the supreme knowledge, knows that he and Laxmi are the same. He knows the truth about the universe and he is beyond any diversity.
As long as he was Lord Vishnu, he was Achyuta, immovable and unchangeable.
Sage Bhrigu’s curse could not get manifested. Because there was no Vishnu and Laxmi! Both were part of the one supreme paramatma. As long as Lord Vishnu remained in his enlightened state, he would never experience the pain caused from bodily separation.
So how could the words of Sage Bhrigu be honored? Only by being born as normal human beings and creating a destiny that would cause their separation. Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi took the destiny of Rama and Sita in ignorance of their divinity and experienced the pangs of separation to honor Sage Bhrigu’s curse.
Thus, the life of Rama and Sita is to be contemplated upon as the lives of mere human beings; two mortals caught in the web of destiny, just like you and me.
Rama’s greatness is not because he was an avatar but because he took birth as a normal man who was destined to be a king. Rama is praiseworthy as a man because his step-mother robbed him of his kingdom but he never held any malice towards her. Rama the prince, lost his father, and got separated from his brothers and mother. Rama, the karma yogi, to honor his father’s words, relinquished his kingdom and went into exile. While in exile, Rama, the valiant warrior, overcame insurmountable difficulties and fought against the abductor of his wife without his traditional army. Rama, the righteous king, as per the dictates of destiny, had to banish his pregnant wife, forever earning a blemish on his reputation and knowing fully well that he would be misunderstood for ages to come. Rama, the sorrowful husband, practiced Brahmacharya after he was separated from his wife. Rama, the lonely king, missed the childhood of his sons and got deprived from the joys of fatherhood.
Yet Rama, the jnana yogi, discharged his duties stoically as a king. With full control over his senses, detached from material objects and always compassionate to others, Rama was a paragon of a perfect human being. Throughout his life, Rama put the needs and welfare of others above his own. He suffered like a normal man who was thrown in a tempest created by a destiny that was also chosen by him!
The glory of Rama is that he was a God who manifested as a man to rescue his devotees and honor the words of a Sage whom he respected.
The glory of Rama is that he was a God who willingly suffered the pangs of separation throughout his life from his one true love but never deviated from the path of Dharma.
That is why he is Maryada Pushottam.