Loving Sita Maa

(Sita drops her necklace as the demon king Ravana carries her away in his chariot. Still from Sita Sings the Blues)

It has probably become apparent to those of you regular readers that my inclinations are headed towards Sri Rama, as far as an ishta devata, goes. I fought it for a while, under the idea that I was learning about and getting to know all the various aspects of Brahman before settling on one. That led to a lot of confusion and frustration, during which I prayed to – surprise, surprise – Rama, because I didn’t know who else to pray to. That should’ve been a tip-off.

Anyway, that’s not really he point. The point is that while I was able to be quite comfortable with praying to Rama, I had a very hard time with Sita. Actually, I’ve had a hard time reconciling the stories of most of the female devis with my modern, Western ideas about women and feminism. At a glance, most of the women in Hindu stories aren’t in favorable positions, especially if you’re looking at them from a Western perspective. Sita must constantly prove herself to Rama. Radha pines away for Krishna. Parvati must go through many trials to even get Shiva to notice her.

So I meditated on Sita Maa. A lot. And here’s where I’ve netted out:

I adore her.

Putting superficial Western ideas aside, she is a lovely lovely example of patience and devotion. I ask her every day to give me just an ounce of her infinite patience and self-control. Rather than seeing her as a person who might hold a “modern” woman back, I think she is an example for all “modern” people, in that she teaches us to weather hard times and have faith that God is there for us, even when things seem hopeless. She teaches us quiet perseverance. She teaches us limitless devotion. She teaches us kindness and generosity to everyone, no matter who they are.

In the same way that the rakshasas are examples of perfect souls blinded and trapped by maya, Sita is the patience of the soul, waiting for us to realize it and free it so that it can be reunited with God, Rama, the universal oneness, whatever you want to call it.

Jai Sita Maa!

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About HappyGoth

By day, I'm a graphic designer. By night, I'm a knitter. I'm doing my part to keep Hotlanta stylish. I imagine that if you don't already understand the title of the blog, you're probably confused and perhaps slightly annoyed, but never fear - I do have a reason (and it's a good one). Having gone to hear Stephanie Pearl McPhee, and then having been inspired to blog about knitting, I found myself wondering what to call the blog. I recalled a conversation I had with Mouse and the Chicken Goddess about why it is a Bad Idea to anger knitters - this conversation was following SPM, aka the Yarn Harlot telling the assembled throng about Those Who Do Not Understand Knitting and Therefore Belittle It Much to the Chagrin of Others, or TWDNUKTBMCO, which is not the acronym she used but is the one I'm using because I forgot hers - that is, we are numerous and we all have very pointy sticks, easily transforming into an angry mob. Therefore, knitters = angry mob.
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29 Responses to Loving Sita Maa

  1. kodanda says:

    Jai Siya Ram! 😀

    You’re getting it! See once you stop thinking and just do it, it starts to come to you. Our minds make this much harder than it actually is.

  2. Anuj says:

    wrt ramayana, what makes you think that rama’s life was so perfect? Rama comes to earth with the SOLE PURPOSE of establishing dharma. In the middle, he takes a wife and settles in the jungles. And then the story hits him with a dilemma. There comes a time when he has to choose between his family and his kingdom; he chooses his kingdom. Rama is guilty of abandoning his family. Though that part of his actions are considered as sacrifice; that he would go to such lengths to fulfill his purpose.

    I think sita had no choice. She lived in a world and a time when women had a very limited role to play in the society. Today, with globalization and economic progress, a women has the opportunity to participate in all aspects of development and functions of society which is good!! This means we have moved forward and continuing to do so. People who make comparisons of the conditions of women in the era when those epics were written with the conditions of the 21st century are just silly. It is obvious and does not need any special explanations. The important part of those epics are what those characters do when they are hit with such predicaments. So it’s interpretations with always be an individual opinion.

    There is no doubt that sita lived a miserable life. She lost faith in living. And that she only lived for the sake of taking care of her kids. So when her kids reunited with their father, all her burdens had been lifted completely. Her descend into the earth is a metaphor of two possible things: 1) She left her husband and went back to her birth family(Mother earth; her mother) or 2) Suicide

    Her character shows how the female sex is an underdog, who has everything to loose, a weaker sex which always struggles to find her place in the man’s world. Neck deep in this predicament, she still has the sanity to make a sane choice(a sacrifice) to fulfill her duties before she snuffs herself out.

    If sita’s tale shock the people in the 21st century then it will surely frighten the next century generation.

    • HappyGoth says:

      “People who make comparisons of the conditions of women in the era when those epics were written with the conditions of the 21st century are just silly. It is obvious and does not need any special explanations. The important part of those epics are what those characters do when they are hit with such predicaments. So it’s interpretations with always be an individual opinion.”

      Exactly. And since I can’t compare myself to a woman in a story written over 3000 years ago, my interpretation is based on her actions as a metaphor for the human soul. For the Self. I don’t take any of these stories absolutely literally. When I was a practicing Christian, I didn’t take any of the Bible stories literally. Because we’re human beings with limited understanding, we need relatable figures in stories to help us understand things. So therefore we have the Ramayana, the Old Testament, and any number of other relatable examples, depending on who you are, where you’re from, and your own culture. Ultimately it’s up to each person to choose an interpretation that best helps them make sense of things. Also know that when I look for a deeper message, I’m looking to the Vedas and Upanishads, not just the Ramayana.

      “Her character shows how the female sex is an underdog, who has everything to loose, a weaker sex which always struggles to find her place in the man’s world. Neck deep in this predicament, she still has the sanity to make a sane choice(a sacrifice) to fulfill her duties before she snuffs herself out.”

      I imagine that if I was male, this would be much easier to accept. As a female, I have to find a way to reconcile the historical patriarchy present in religious texts (an artifact of the patriarchal society recording them, the time they were written and the men writing them) with my independent, strong identity as a female. For whatever reason, I’ve made a connection to Rama. But if I view Sita’s role as a reminder that I’ll always be a second-class citizen with no power, then I’m doing generations of strong, capable women a disservice. I’m not trying to cover up the genuinely horrible things Sita went through, but I’m not going to look at them as the most profound message of that story. It’s like saying, “Rama’s story is about the nobility of the soul and Vishnu incarnate on earth to save the world from evil, and Sita’s is just about the inevitable decisions of a suffering woman.” She’s Lakshmi incarnate, too. Her story has to have a deeper meaning.

      • Anuj says:

        I’m not trying to give you an alternate interpretation. It is just how it is. In a made up world, sita would have been a queen living in ayodhya ruling alongside a loving rama. She’d have kids and grand kids even. And she’d probably die in her sleep in a huge palace. Instead, the life of sita(the wife of a prime hindu semi-god) comes to an end with suicide. It is not a fairy tale; it’s tragic.

        Sita takes the first test and refuses to take the second one. Her refusal is actually a rejection of an ungrateful husband. She avenges herself by committing suicide which pins the cause of her death on rama. She dies yet she emerges triumphant and supreme. She represents all the virtues of a good wife while rama’s image is forever tainted.

        A women is disabled(compared to men) by her physical design. If women have anyone or anything to be thankful for the improvement in egalitarianism then it is because of the years of economic progress which has pulled women out of their homes to fill the void left by rampant industrialization and demands of consumerism. Had it not happened, women would have still been considered as commodities to be hidden away in a closet or the kitchen, be it in the east or the west.

        This is why is have many criticisms against dogmatic religions. If hinduism(or whatever it is called) cannot adapt and reform to the needs of the time then it rightfully deserves to be discarded in a dustbin.

      • HappyGoth says:

        “This is why is have many criticisms against dogmatic religions. If hinduism(or whatever it is called) cannot adapt and reform to the needs of the time then it rightfully deserves to be discarded in a dustbin.”

        Absolutely.

        Although I’d steer clear of calling all women disabled. Different, yes. Not disabled. Women have done a lot to contribute to that egalitarianism and progress (Marie Curie, Helen Keller, Susan B. Anthony, Mary Wollstonecraft, Ada Lovelace, Simone de Beauvoir, Gita Saghal, the pink saree-clad women of Banda, etc).

        (And I appreciate your explanation of the Rama/Sita thing. One of the things I like about the story is that none of the main characters are all good or all bad. Just like people, the real story is much more interesting and complicated.)

  3. surya says:

    The misinterpretation here is shocking. Rama was following his Raja (king) Dharma and as per the ‘wishes’ of his subjects he abandoned sita in an Ashrama, where she was safely preserved until the end of her avatar. On the other hand Rama remained a single man without any other companion until his own avatar came to an end. Just imagine those are the times kings having multiple wives was the norm. This factor tilts the scales in favor of Rama that he himself was a victim of circumstances along with his beloved sita, needless to say her plight was no better. What is there to ‘enjoy’ if one abstains from alcohol, sex and smoke, I don’t get it.
    His love for her was unquestionable throughout his life, that he made a golden life size sculpture and placed it next to him to perform ashwamedha yaagam in the aftermath. He could have jolly well gone for a brand new patni/ bride, but he didn’t. By keeping her image by his side during the time of entire ritual, he made a statement to his citizens that just because he followed their directive it doesn’t mean he accepted their judgment of her character, he blew their hypothesis away by that single gesture. The moral of the story is that even good people suffer in the hands of cruel ‘justice’ in this world.
    Nice try. There are many ‘experts’ out there to spread malicious propaganda against Hinduism. Most are pseudohindus who are living in selfdoubt. Others are frankly antihindu. Beware.

  4. surya says:

    ” This is why is have many criticisms against dogmatic religions. If hinduism(or whatever it is called) cannot adapt and reform to the needs of the time then it rightfully deserves to be discarded in a dustbin.”

    AH still dont ring warning bells?
    Many hindu forums are infected with viruses.
    you need a defender.Delete such comments please.

    • surya says:

      Hinduism is the only faith women goddesses are adored almost on par with male gods.
      Ignorance is not the problem by Anuj, hatemongering is. The Troll is spamming the forum. He called Lisa Miller’s article ‘was hurting sentiments of hindus’, in fact many hindus proudly cited the Newsweek article for a longtime, it was a pleasant surprise to all hindus across the world. Everyone knows whose feelings were hurt during that time. Many angry abrahamics cried foul and demanded her ouster by Newsweek..

      Anuj is not a hindu, we both know that. He wil camp here and malign hinduism so long as it is permitted.

      • HappyGoth says:

        I sent that article to my mother! It helped me through a period of confusion as I tried to figure out where to fit my previous relationship with Jesus into my new relationship with Gods that (seemingly) didn’t fit. My mother had a similarly grateful reaction to mine.

        Generally, I feel that things that bring us closer together as people and help us understand one another are pretty good. Phoo on all the naysayers.

    • HappyGoth says:

      I don’t generally delete comments unless they’re off-topic or purposefully and pointedly hurtful to one person.

      I do agree that as a whole, a religion’s social positions need to adapt and change. This is why, although I fully acknowledge my status as an apostate, I agree far more with the Episcopal Church than the Roman Catholic church, as the former has adapted its social standing to fit the times, whereas the latter has kept a fairly rigid and old-fashioned social stance. (I won’t even get into my issues with the Catholic Church, as those could take up several lengthy blog posts and ultimately aren’t particularly helpful.)

      That said, I also acknowledge that a religion’s traditions are well worth preserving. I posted another couple of articles I found after my confusion and frustration subsided, and those articles are beautifully articulated discourses on just the things you listed in your last comment.

      Anyway, please do keep reading, and thanks for being a strong voice.

  5. kothandaramar says:

    I concur with Surya on his points. This story has really been put out of context. I will not go into more depth, but remember a lot of people have agendas and are willing to smear the truth in their favour. Other than the destruction of Ravana at the request of the gods (Brahma and Shiva) who were foolish enough to give him such boons, the other more important aspect of this incarnation is to set forth the guidelines of living a Dharmic life. Sri Rama shows the ideal way to live from House holder through aesthetic and finally the trappings of Raja Dharma. The last was the most cruel to everyone. BUT, then read the Gita, Krishna speaks of selfless acts of sacrifice at the most righteous that can be performed.

    Finally, bear in mind that many Sanskrit Scholars and even Sampradayas for Hundreds of years have felt the last chapter was a later interpolation and thus in a lot of cases discarded as it not only does not follow the story but the writing style is also “off”.

    • HappyGoth says:

      Have you read the article I linked to in the blog after this one, about the various regional variants of the Ramayana? It’s really fascinating, and interesting to look at how each different culture interprets the relationship between Rama and Sita, the relationship between Rama and Ravana (totally a surprise to me), and who Sita is, as a strong female character. I’m glad I have gotten so many differing viewpoints, because it has made me really look at Sita and understand her on a deeper, more profound level than ACK comics or Sita Sings the Blues presents her. That’s the beauty of the story, I think.

      It’s nice to finally understand her.

  6. kodanda says:

    Which article is that Surya?

    • surya says:

      Kodanda
      Lisa Miller’s WE ARE ALL HINDUS NOW (2009), Newsweek.
      I read all those comments on the article, about half a dozen abrahamics wrote comments blaming it on hinduism everything wrong under sun . The Newsweek erased 500 or so comments, not intentionally though.The paper, halfway through it, changed its comments policy and made everyone to register and log in, as a result the the short number of comments we see today are not the represenative sample of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the circualtion of that issue. Very eloquent discussion went on and many american readers were given a detailed account of hinduism in those comments. The hatemongering was initially unleashed by americans but was taken over soon by india based/origin abrahamics.

  7. Anuj says:

    @surya
    It is sad that hindu’s like you are running all over the place trying to turn dharmic characters into their abrahamic counterparts. Hindu characters display all the flaws of human beings in contrast to AH characters who are always displayed as absolute righteous. Rama’s first request to sita is arguable but the second request leaves no doubts about rama’s character. That part is put there intentionally. In fact, it just tries to explain the hindu concept of “karma”. Rama leaves his wife and pay’s a price for it(rama the defeater of evil king ravana and also rama the husband who abandoned his pregnant wife).

    Am I a hindu or not? Only I know that for sure. You can call me whatever you want if that satisfies you and I hope you find pleasure in it.

    • HappyGoth says:

      Sir, I suggest you brush up on your Christian and Islamic texts; it is only one interpretation of them that says the figures are absolutely righteous. In fact, many are quite flawed, and suffer greatly because of it. Therein lies the lesson (and this comes from a person whose Christian background is rather academic).

      Because ALL characters in any mythology are solidly grounded in a historical time period, it is very important, as modern adherents to the related belief system, that we move past those initial cultural symbols, and look for deeper, spiritual symbolism in the stories. I suggest reading the articles I posted yesterday, as they are very educational on the subject of mythological interpretation and how it relates to the practices of Hinduism.

      As I said in a previous comment, please refrain from personal attacks against other commenters or comments intended to provoke overly heated discussion. These are grounds for comment deletion.

  8. Anuj says:

    I think that over the years, there has been a trend to interpret indic epics in the way that could make it possible to connect it with the people of abrahamic backgrounds. Even during the days of the making of the indian TV series ramanand sagar’s ramayana, many disturbing and tragic parts of the epic were skipped from production and those scenes which stayed were fast forwarded, particularly, the scene where sita has to go through the trail by fire.

    This is nothing but abrahamization of indic epics. The several variations that are floating around(especially some really wacko one’s; ie, that sita was a different sita etc) are an example of the distortion being done by some silly hindus themselves. They think they can hide some parts of the epics which they consider disturbing and shady. They do not understand that in context, these parts form the crux of the storyline and the major reason for the character’s dilemma.

    But anyway, I cannot and will not join a screaming match. We all have a brain which we can use. This will be my last comment. May everyone start believing in a different interpretable sita; the real one, supposedly.

    • HappyGoth says:

      Well, I will say this one thing – my emotional dilemma with Sita is that she represents a lot of what I find to be historically frustrating about being a female. She represents a lot of expectations (not all of them purely culturally Indian) on women by a patriarchal society, and those are things I don’t agree with. Then again, there’s a moral quandary in the Mahabarata that’s difficult to work with. I think it’s worth bringing up those uncomfortable things, because why else would they be there but to make people pay attention to them, and then figuring out how those things best apply to one’s life and particular situation. For me, Sita can’t be an example of a woman’s dharma, since my life doesn’t resemble hers at all. But I can see the qualities she possesses (and Rama, for that matter) and apply them to my struggles and successes.

      (And kudos to Nina Paley for telling the story in its entirety, nasty bits and all, even if I feel that her retelling takes a little mystery out of the story.)

  9. surya says:

    @Anuj,

    “Am I a hindu or not? Only I know that for sure.”
    Agree. IS it possible to tell me if you are or are not?
    If you are a reformist then you may tell me what WE can do to make the faith better, a debate and reform were strengths of the faith. Uttarayan was an add on in Ramayan, that said Rama was also a victim just like sita was. Why would he live a single man and live a sad life if he werent in love with the only wife he ever had?

  10. surya says:

    @AH

    “And kudos to Nina Paley for telling the story in its entirety, nasty bits and all, even if I feel that her retelling takes a little mystery out of the story”
    Disagree.
    The story was told to me when I was a kid the same way she did. And that was the same when Valmiki wrote the story some tens of hundreds of years ago. The inference and commentary was different but not the EVENTS. Nina Paley didnt tell anything new, her interpretation echoes in Anuj’s post, thats all. No, no sequence of events ever was hidden/undermined. Reason? Neither Nina Paley nor Anuj or myself understand sanskrit or Pali, so therefore our common sources of Ramayana are the very same epics written some very longtime ago. Facts, thus, were never disputed ever.

    • HappyGoth says:

      Aargh. I am ever the peacemaker and apologist, and am guilty of backpedaling in order to try to smooth things over. Which is silly. Ultimately it makes me look wishy-washy, which is something I most decidedly am not.

      Anyway, I much prefer modern interpretations of the epic, based on modern issues and politics, even though I see the academic validity of looking at things in historical context. I am not the same kind of woman that was alive when the Ramayana was written (and re-written, etc), so I have to interpret it a different way than at face value. I know this. I should have gone ahead and acknowledged that.

  11. kodanda says:

    My problem with Nina Paley and the “narrators” is that a lot of the story was taken out of context a few times to reflect her own abandonment issues.

    I feel sorry for Ms. Paley, no one should have to suffer such an embarrassing and heart breaking rejection as she did. BUT! She is NOT Sita. Her situation was not the same as Sita’s and her man Dave sure as hell wasn’t Sri Rama. Dave was just tired of her, where as Sri Rama was following his Raja Dharma which, believe it or not broke his heart. We must understand that this incarnation of Vishnu/Narayana was to give a living example of Dharma on earth as humans. All the strife, troubles and decisions in life included. Everyone had their role to play and had to live their dharma just as. Sita was told to stay at the palace. The prose in English thus:

    “Then, best of women, rest thou here,
    And Bharat’s will with love revere.
    Obedient to thy king remain,
    And still thy vows of truth maintain.
    To the wide wood my steps I bend:
    Make thou thy dwelling here;
    See that thy conduct ne’er offend,
    And keep my words, my dear.'”

    Then Sita states:

    “Forbid me not: with thee I go
    The tangled wood to tread.
    There will I live with thee, as though
    This roof were o’er my head.
    My will for thine shall be resigned;
    Thy feet my steps shall guide.
    Thou, only thou, art in my mind:
    I heed not all beside.
    Thy heart shall ne’er by me be grieved;
    Do not my prayer deny:
    Take me, dear lord; of thee bereaved
    Thy Sitá swears to die.’
    These words the duteous lady spake,
    Nor would he yet consent
    His faithful wife with him to take
    To share his banishment.
    He soothed her with his gentle speech;
    To change her will he strove:
    And much he said the woes to teach
    Of those in wilds who rove.”

    She chose to “stand by her man” and endure the hardships as well.

    Yes, the words muttered by Sri Rama prior to Sita’s agnipariksha seem harsh by today’s standard, but we must remember the Aryans were big on purification. Honestly, I don’t think a man alive could accept that Ravana never took advantage of her.

    Anyway, the above is not an apologia of Sri Rama’s actions. He did as he handled it as he thought he should. He is God, and Sita is his Shakti, so who are we to question? I’m not trying to be escapist here, but fact of the matter is taken at face value a lot of interpretations on these actions can be had, but the reality is we must look deeper.

    There is no doubt Sri Rama loved Sita with all his heart. From urging her to stay in Ayodhya, to capturing the Golden hind at Sita request (for her), to never remarrying after the exile. But these were divine sacrifices to ones dharma on all accounts, to sacrifice without fruit of actions is the most righteous, despite how we might perceive it.

    It is the human mind that perverts this divine sacrifice.

    • HappyGoth says:

      “I feel sorry for Ms. Paley, no one should have to suffer such an embarrassing and heart breaking rejection as she did. BUT! She is NOT Sita. Her situation was not the same as Sita’s and her man Dave sure as hell wasn’t Sri Rama. Dave was just tired of her, where as Sri Rama was following his Raja Dharma which, believe it or not broke his heart.”

      I think that’s a really good summary of the situation.

      The lesson I’ve taken away from this whole exchange is that these epics are more than what our own egos make them out to be. It is wiser to look deeper and find the meaning that is relevant to the Self, not the meaning that reflects our own physical issues. I stick with the sentiment in my original post, no matter how flip-floppy I look in my commentary (again something that comes from me trying to make friends with everybody; I fully acknowledge that this is impossible, and am working at being better at standing up for what I believe in).

  12. kodanda says:

    oops sorry I didn’t close the bold tag proper :/

  13. surya says:

    I omitted to mention an important piece of historical info in my above posts. Clearly there is a case here to misjudge the hindus for their (misperceived) apathy towards Sita’s predicament. Rama’s decision to banish Sita sparked rows between pro and anti banishment groups all along, the expulsion remained a controversial issue right from his own time on earth and continued so throughout the centuries. Large number of hindus have strongly criticized his kingdom’s decision, starting from his own devotee hanuman who didn’t agree with Rama on this. My point is we cant give credit to anyone for bringing this up today, as if the rest were all blind and uncaring about the injustice meted out to sita. I don’t want RECENT learners to project Ninas anad Anujs as pillars of modern justice system demanding palliation and remedial measures in the belief that ALL hindus were agreeable to King Rama’s action. Lot of water passed under the bridge, its just some are crossing the bridge today witnessing ‘new’ currents. Hope I made my view clear.

    • HappyGoth says:

      You did! I had never anticipated when I made the original post that it would become the spark of such intense debate. I have read a wide variety of interpretations of the story, and was searching for the opposite opinion to Nina and Anuj, because I felt that I was doing Hindus a disservice by doing anything else. And because people are people, I also acknowledge that this story has likely been controversial for quite some time. I get the feeling that the controversy is at the heart of its message. There is never a single simple answer, and the truth is often quite different than what a person sees at the surface. I appreciate you and Kodanda taking that stance and making people think.

  14. kodanda says:

    “because people are people”

    This is one thing that seems to be overlooked is that at Sita’s trial by fire when Rama’s words were so harsh even the Devas came down to defend Sita, that he had not realized his own divinity. Fact is, in order for his Avatara to accomplish what he had to do he had to be a human, completely and thus was disillusioned by his own maya. This means that no matter what, he had to be human in all his thoughts, actions and in following what was perceived to be his right actions as King. Brahma reacted and questioned Rama’s words with basically “Who do you think you are?” At which point Sri Rama replied as a human would “I deem myself a mortal man.
    Of old Ikshváku’s line, I spring from Das’aratha Kosal’s king”. So we see here his is still under the speel of illusion thus at this point, at least mentally a man. Then Brahma reveals his divine nature: “O cast the idle thought aside. Thou art the Lord Náráyan, thou The God to whom all creatures bow.”. When Sita’s honour was restored through the fire Sri Rama showed emotion and remorse.

    But take it as you may. Everyone will have a different view of the events. Fact is, only the Devas know what really happened. So all we can do is take the story and try and better ourselves through it, which is the whole point isn’t it?

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