Sita, The Heroine
Faithful and virtuous wife of Rama; a goddess, an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi
Princess Sita, Rama’s wife, has little independent power and lives under the control first of her father, then her husband, then her abductor. She perseveres, steadfastly maintaining her integrity. She embodies qualities that traditional South and Southeast Asian cultures have usually valued in a woman: beauty, dutifulness, and obedience, together with quiet courage. Like Rama, Sita has been held up as a model of behavior. In recent decades both scholars and the public have increasingly discussed how to interpret Sita’s experiences and actions and what sort of a model she should be.
HER ADHERANCE TO DUTY:
Sita must bear many hardships. At first her life promises to be idyllic. She is raised as a royal princess, and a perfect prince wins her hand. Just as his installation as heir to the throne is about to take place, though, Rama is condemned to years of exile and poverty. He expects his wife to stay behind, but Sita insists it is her wifely duty to accompany him, sharing his misfortune.
Soon her suffering increases further. She is tricked and abducted by the demon-king Ravana, and held captive in his city. To wear down her resistance Ravana uses every sort of psychological abuse, mixing cajolery and seemingly sincere professions of love with gruesome threats. She stalwartly refuses him, swearing her fidelity to Rama. She does not know whether anyone is coming to rescue her, or even trying. As her despair grows she contemplates suicide. Hope returns only when the monkey warrior Hanuman arrives bringing assurances from Rama.
When Rama finally defeats Ravana and Sita is freed she envisions the happiest of futures beside her husband. Their exile completed, they will return home for his coronation. Immediately, though, Rama publicly challenges her faithfulness and the truth of her word, in a humiliating spectacle. She insists on undergoing an ordeal of entering a huge fire to prove herself, and is vindicated. She and Rama are reunited in triumph. But in some tellings of the story rumors of her infidelity later circulate among the people and she is abandoned to another long exile.
Today some people are troubled by Sita’s willingness to accept the authority of her male relatives and the rules of a patriarchal society. What is widely admired, though, is her fortitude in suffering.