Of Vanaras, Rakshasas,
and the invisible corps of heaven
raptly watching everything.
the vision of Sita rising unscathed,
but all the more resplendent
with the grace of goodness and holiness,
came like an Apocalypse. (5: 196 & 197)
They are back in Ayodhya. The coronation and then, Rama-rajya. An era of peace and happiness. Sita, the eternal mother, exuding care for all those around. An understanding developed over time and with the experience of difficulties, watching others, listening to others. Yet all the time, thinking of the past, the why of what had happened.
Among the silences in Asoka –
and later in Ayodhya –
she had held inquisitions in her mind
coalescing the ends and means.
Try hard as she might, she felt unable
to unravel the criss-cross
complexity of Karma and free will,
askesis and recompense. (6: 701 & 702)
She discovers that she is now pregnant and Rama greets her excitedly:
You are not Bride, you are more than Woman.
O my Sita, Vaidehi!
Mother of my unborn son, O Goddess!
you o’erwhelm me with rapture! ( 7: 44)
He asks her what he can do to show his gratitude. All that she wants is to visit the forest hermitages. He is pleased to grant this simple request for were not the woods her second home?
In the durbar hall, Rama wants to know what his people think of him. He is told that there is loose talk among the varied citizenry wondering how Rama could accept Sita who had been carried away by a Rakshasa and kept in Asoka in Lanka, as queen. Alas, how easy it is to be swayed by rumours! Rama now quails – wondering if she should opt for a second permanent exile or abandon his queen.
He was alas! no private citizen
with freedom to exercise
in full measure the right to free thinking,
open discourse and action.
He was of the hoary Ikshvaku race,
he had to keep untarnished
his public image, he musn’t quail under
the whiplash or this censure. (7:103 & 104)
Those were the times when the public image of a person leading the country had to be unblemished. Since shedding his responsibility as anointed caretaker of the country, was unthinkable, it was his wife who had to go. And thus, the second betrayal. This time, he used circumstances to his favour. Sita had expressed a desire to visit the rishis. So be it. She could go, but not come back. The dirty job of telling her this was to be left to Lakshmana. Not surprisingly, Lakshmana rebels but finally it is he who takes her near Valmiki’s ashrama. His face gives him away and Sita realizes that Rama has placed a dread commission on his brother. She is horrified and saddened, but understands and sends Lakshmana away. She enters the protected haven and finds safety ‘as a child with her parents’. She muses:
In a life spread over many a year,
the paradisal moments
may be few, but their memory sustains
the long and bleak march of Time.
Flux, not stasis, is the law of our life,
and if the imperatives
of cyclic change and rhythmic flow ordain
these reversals in our lives,
by the same edict, does it not follow
that we fall only to rise,
we are worsted but to revive tomorrow,
aye, we die to wake again. (7: 240 -242)
The most powerful thoughts come towards the end in the canto titled “Calm of Mind and Nightmare Visions”. Sita saw the madness unleashed by the rakshasas and asuric forces that rent humanity. Prof Iyengar hears earth crying out:
I’ve bequeathed to them easy conditions
of living and surviving
as a race leading millions of others
and essaying harmony. (7:467)
With a mixture of presumption and pride,
Rakshasa and Asura –
albeit inhabiting the human frame –
will desecrate everything.
and the fertile and magnificent earth,
dug up and filled with noxious
effluents and wastes, will become at last
one dismal sterility. (7: 471 & 472)
Since the nineteen eighties when Sitayana was written, there have been so many efforts, national and international, to halt this desecration of earth. To conclude, Sita’s story is essentially our story too. Sita, born of earth, daughter of Mother Madhavi, is a symbol of us all, the earth – born, children of Mother Sakhambari. We too may be pigmy humanity, but we are also amrutasyahputrah, children of immortality. Hence Valmiki took up the story of Sita to tell us what we are, whither we are going, what should be our goal. Thus it not surprising at all that Sita’s story remains astonishingly relevant even today.
Ahana Lakshmi, b 1963, is a PhD in Environmental Science from Anna University, Chennai and works in the area of environment and coastal management. She has been writing essays and stories for children with a science/environment theme in various magazines including Gokulam (English) and Rashtra Deepika’s Children’s Digest. She has translated from Tamil to English, stories and essays by Kumudini (Ranganayaki Thatham), and has published an anthology of Kumudini’s writings titled “From the Inner Palace”. She has also translated stories by Prema Nandakumar, some of which have been published by Prathiba India, Muse India and other journals. She lives in Chennai.