Saturday, April 02, 2005

Why did Ramji leave Sitaji?

Only a few days back, I had the opportunity to listen to Anup Jalota at ABES. In a bhajan, he drew our attention to the fact that "ram-sita koi na kehta, sab kahte sita-ram" (Nobody says Ram-Sita, but everyone says Sita-Ram), thus giving more importance to Shakti (womanhood). I was just discussing the topic with one of my friends, when I was made to remember that still, Ramji renounced Sitaji. I had never thought over the topic so seriously, and it just shook me. Even though, I believe it must have been more painful for Ramji to leave Sitaji, I don't think he can justify it on any basis.

So, to get answers to my question, to find what others think about this issue, I posted the same question on our newsgroup (iitk.misc) and I am happy that I got some very good replies. I am just trying to compile the posts in the thread, with some minor changes (but keeping the intent same).

I started out with the post asking junta their views:

I have been thinking about this thing for some time. Ramji denounced Sitaji for no mistake of her, just because somebody said something. Sitaji served him for 14 years in banbas. Was with him in his thick and thin. Do you think that it was a justified move by Ramji? Infact was even "Agni Pariksha" a justified move?

I would like to hear your arguments. Why have women been subject to punishments even without their faults?

Gagan guessed that may be the story has been tempered along the line:

Ramji lived his life as a template for rightful human behavior (maryada). The only exception is this act. Explanations that come to my mind:

1. Maybe he wanted to tell that you should be honest in a relationship. Rather than confining your doubts to yourself you should come out in the open with them.

2. Or maybe somewhere down the line somebody tampered the story.

But, the first reason did not appeal to me. Don't you think that there should be trust between the two spouses? Sitaji had been true to him, and their is no reason to believe otherwise.

Vinod has a view that it is only a story written by Kalidas, who didn't have much respect for women:

The Ramayana as we read it today was written by Tulsidas. So it is Ramayana as told by Tulsidas and not Ramayana as it happened - if at all it happened. Tulsidas had a personal grudge against women. He was not happy with his wife who regarded him as a useless person. Also we should keep in mind the social background in which he wrote his work. During those times, the position of women was not very high. Also, Tulsidas was a Pundit. Even now many religious people profess that women are vile creatures by nature and are the root of all evil.

There have been more instances of remarks against women in Tulsidas' Ramayana. Everyone knows about the doha -
Dhol ganwar shudra pashu nari,
Ye sab tadan ke adhikari.

Thus it appears that Tulsidas did not have much regard for women - even for Sita. His personal feelings may thus have affected his work. He might have felt that Ram was justified in denouncing Sita in this way. Or perhaps he felt that because his work should conform to the social standards of his time and any king during his times would have behaved in a similar manner so he wrote the story that way.

because as I see it the reasons for denouncing Sita - the suspicions of one single person - baseless suspicions at that - are absolutely inadequate.

It is very painful to note that even today some religious people tend to hold to this view :( These charges about Kalidas were refuted by Vinay who believes that Ramayana was actually written by Valmiki; and Kalidas has just altered that.

Actual source of the epic is valmiki ramayan. Ramacharit manas is not true ramayan but it is written with a twist to serve a different purpose. Maharisihi vedvyas wrote "adhyatma ramayan". It is the complete adhyatma modeled over Ramayan. Tulsidas takes from it heavily. So he also said this when he gives introduction, how he has built the story. He takes from various nigam-agam and after that "katha prabandh vichitra banayi"(in his own words).

He has tried to explain agni-pariksha with the belief that it was to dispel the fears within the masses:

Well as far as the agni-pariksha is concerned, valmiki ramayan is very clear about it. It was taken with same purpose of testing sita's character. The people, who see sita as goddess, will have difficult time in accepting it, so tulsidas mythologized it.

But the thing that is most difficult for me to digest is that some people do not consider Sitaji to be Pativrata. What else do you want? She helped him in his banbas.. and is that to be considered wrong?

Well, to give some reference, sita is not supposed to be "pativrata". Anusuya, Savitri etc comes into this category and they are never questioned over anything.

Sita's "patidharma" is questioned many times. Some reference:- When Ram went to vanawas, he asked sita to remain in ayodhya, as jungle is very problematic. He will have difficult time with her. Protection of sita was big headache. Sita didn't accept it. Tulsidas wrote that Ram was irritated enough about it that he even said, I am not going to keep any other women, so you don't worry. Even more tougher words (see valmiki ramayan). When Ram went to Anusuya's ashrma, Anusuya taught sita pativrat dharma. It was very odd that Ram is carrying over his wife so matter was understood.

Well the second time, it is clearly surprising to leave her as Sita had given agni-pariksha. As valmiki-ramayan states, that happened because of so many talks about Sita in Ayodhya. There was two possibilities. Either Ram leaves Sita or leave the throne. Second option, IMHO, would have given Ram and Raghuwansh bad repute. So I think first option was better.

Ashish believes that it is indeed a mockery on the stupid (if I am allowed to say so) norms of the society.

My explanataion goes this way that he was using his talent to make mockery of social values of his time by showing what was the character of common people and ruling class was at that time. We read about jauhar pratha in his time not when supposedly Ram and Sita walked on this earth. and the clues about this mockery are in his book itself. On one side he was showing that it was acceptable for Anusuya to be cheated and be forgiven but on the other hand society drove Rama to move out his wife. While Rama has love for shudras ,the society had concept like "Dhol ganwar....".

Ayush has given a very good reasoning behind such scriptures. He says that these religious texts are written to propagate the ideas of the "ruling class".

Indian society has been more or less male prime society. This episode was also probably written to support the same concept so that the common masses know that a woman should remain "pure" throughout her life. And that her respect and position in society goes away the moment she sleeps with a man not her husband( never a single such incident involving a man in any of religious texts).

You can also see that gurukuls always had ksatriyas and bramins. No shudras were ever shown in them and this is an actual fact too. They were always socially ostracized. There are other instances which can be quoted to explain the prevalent caste system in the times when Ramayana was written and passed on.

So these religious texts are mere instruments to propagate the higher caste superiority and male prime society .

This is a good insight into the mindset with which the text might have been written. Kiran and Gaurav have also given their valuable suggestions. They say that it was not Sitaji who was kidnapped but instead Vaidehi. Gaurav writes:

Ram ji knew what was about to happen, so he told SitaJi. Actually just before the abduction of Sita ji from the forest, Ram ji and Sita ji had a long chat. Then Ram ji called upon the fire god and asked him to take Sita ji under his protection and instead of Sita ji her a mere replica i.e. Pratibimbh and later this reflection of Sita ji was abducted by Ravana and was taken to Lanka. After the victory the real Sita ji had to be replaced so what Ram ji thought was by asking Sita ji to do a Agni Pariksha both the purposes would get solved.

Kiran has given a the nice story about Vaidehi:

Vaidehi is an incarnation of Tulasi who went into a great penance to become wife of Vishnu. Ravana is said to have tried to enroach upon her modesty; enraged she curses Ravana that he would burn to ashes the next time he touches a woman against her wishes. (So, contrary to what is shown on the TV, Ravana never touches Sita, rather only coaxes her to marry him so as to be safe from the curse.) Our Vaidehi meanwhile jumps into a fire created by her penance and dies. In her re-birth, she takes place of Sita and goes to Lanka not actual Sita. This is revealed to Rama after the fire test. So she is the suffering spiritual wife of Rama. Vaidehi is popularly mis-construed as another name of Sita but it is not so.

This was just a bit of trivia, mostly unrelated to the question that I posed. Even if all this was true, how we can not justify the move to abandon Sitaji. Nitin agrees with me, when I say that there is no way we can justify the move.

Everybody makes mistakes and that is why probably we say "Its HUMAN to make mistakes". Maybe that's why concept of GOD came up. People wanted to imagine and believe in something and someone totally PERFECT - The one who is flawless. I don't know whether Ramji is HIS incarnation amongst us lesser mortals but I can say one thing for sure of all the things, He has lead his life as an example to everyone, An ideal life, so what if he made some mistakes, everybody does.

Now to what Abhas said - Yes I believe that no matter what Ramji shouldn't have denounced Sitaji. And why the Agnipariksha itself in first place, Marriage is all about Trust. If He trusted Sitaji then of course it would be foolish to suggest that she was asked to give Agni Pariksha to show the world she was pure and yes she did come out unscathed. Maybe u still say that's justified but then how can He denounce her on a chastity statement of some foolish unreasonable guy from His kingdom. We know that guy was having a fight himself with his wife and he might have said that in anger and in prejudice.

One cant satisfy anyone and everyone. No matter what Ramji shouldn't have denounced Sitaji. He must have been supported her, that he didn't do. After all she chose staying with Ramji when he was banished from his kingdom and spent 14 years in jungle. She always did what was right and after all this Ramji shouldn't have done this to her. He faltered.

I found the explanation given by Chandra Mohan really appealing:

As far as my knowledge goes Ramji was going through his worst times when he had to denounce Sita. As was his practice he sent his men in his state to know if the public was happy or not. He was shocked to know that because of the incident of that one man denouncing his wife for spending a night at a boatman's house, many people in Avadh started saying that the women of Avadh were becoming characterless as Sita was given so much respect despite her stay at Ravana's place. Though this was a totally illogical statement yet it spread like anything.

Ramji had to set an example for his subjects. Though he never doubted Sita for her purity yet to justify according to the wishes of people he had to denounce her. We all know that Ramji was more of a democratic monarch and so he took decisions based on what people felt. According to his philosophy even if one man in his reign doubted his capability of ruling , he has no right to rule.

Still, all writers of Ramayana and its translated versions have shown sympathy not only to Sita for the denouncement but also to Ram who had to take such a hard decisions. I do not blame Ram for this act, it was the unequal treatment towards women at those times that compelled him to bow in front of mob mentality, which we all know is very dangerous.

On my remark that the condition of women is still bad, he had a good explanation.

We all feel that women should be treated equally, but actually at those times we either worshipped women or treated them in humanly. We held the position of women so high as Sati and Devi that we did not expect them to do any wrong and so even when we had the slightest doubt we used to degrade them to the rank of impure etc. Equality can never come if you place someone too high; only when we treat women as
nothing else except humans that man and women will be equal. Ram put his priorities as a king higher than that as a husband and they were conflicting. Only if he wasn't the king of Ayodhya....

I think that these are the best remarks to conclude my discussion. We need equality between men and women; Man and Woman are both humans and equal. I envision a day, when we can proudly say that, we HUMANS live in a PERFECT world.