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The Abduction of Sita

Asian Art Museum Storyteller Miriam Mills tells a scene from from the Rama epic (Ramayana) with the use of artworks in the Asian Art Museum's collection. Discover more fresh takes on this ageless tale in the exhibition, The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe.

Full of lies, sexuality, magic, and bravado, the abduction of Sita by Ravana is a compelling story of illusion, violence, and fear. Small wonder, then, that it is one of the most frequently depicted episodes in the Rama epic.

The episode begins when the demoness Shurpanakha reports to her brother Ravana that Rama and Lakshmana have cruelly disfigured her, killed others of her and Ravana’s brothers, and slain a demon army. At the same time, she tells Ravana of Sita’s incomparable beauty. Ravana determines to kidnap Sita, and to do so with the help of a magical diversion. He compels a demon to transform himself into a golden deer, and thus to lure first Rama and then Lakshmana away from the now-defenseless Sita.

Ravana travels in his donkey-drawn sky-chariot to Rama and Sita’s hut in the forest. Once there, he transforms his own appearance into that of a harmless ascetic, whom Sita is duty-bound by custom to welcome. The demon king resumes his natural form, drags Sita into his chariot, and flies away. He is attacked by a great vulture king, who tries to rescue Sita. Ravana defeats him and proceeds to carry off Sita to his kingdom. 

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