Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj describes Sītā Devī’s ideals and their upliftment of the world.
The appearances of Sītā Devī and Rādhārāṇī are similar. Rāma, Kṛṣṇa, and many others came in a human-like way. They came from a father and mother. But Sītā Devī did not come from the womb of a mother. When Rajarṣi Janaka was ploughing, he suddenly found Sītā Devī on the end of his iron instrument as She came out of the earth. He took Her at once to his parents and gave Her to his queen. Sītā Devī was brought up in his kingdom, and later She was given to the hands of Rāmachandra.
When the time of Rāmachandra’s coronation came, there was a great catastrophe. Kaikeyi came to Daśarath, and because Daśarath wanted to satisfy his obligation to her, Rāmachandra had to go and live in the forest just before He was going to occupy the throne. Sītā Devī followed Rāmachandra, and They had to pass fourteen years in the forest. After thirteen years, Rāvaṇa carried Sītā to Laṅkā, and She spent one year there as a captive. Then there was a fight. Rāvaṇa and all of his followers were killed, and Sītā Devī was taken back to Ayodhyā.
There are many things we have to understand properly. How could Sītā Devī be forcibly taken away by a demon? She is Lakṣmī. She is the beloved of Rāmachandra. So how is that possible? Her existence is quite transcendental. Mahāprabhu explained this,
sītāra ākṛti-māyā harila rāvaṇa
“A demon cannot see transcendental substance, what to speak of stealing or forcibly carrying away Sītā.”
That was all eyewash, a mere show, a drama, we may say. Only to teach the public, the subjects, Rāmachandra had to play like this with Sītā. There are so many things to be learned here.
Rāmachandra was so sober, so considerate, so indifferent, so courageous, but still His love and affection for Sītā was so great that He began to weep like a child day and night for months and months. He has so much love for Sītā. Yet after Rāvaṇa was killed and Sītā was brought in front of Rāmachandra, a peculiar change took place. Rāmachandra said, “I cannot take Her back. She lived for a long time in the clutches of Rāvaṇa. I can’t accept Her. To show that I am not a coward, and to teach Rāvaṇa, who stole My wife, a lesson, I fought. I have now finished My duty, but I cannot accept Sītā. She must be given a test. For the sake of the public, She must pass an examination of Her chastity.” This attitude was shown by Rāmachandra. His followers began to weep and cry: “What cruelty to our mother! We cannot tolerate it.” Especially Hanumān was upset. Anyhow, the Absolute’s order was there. A fire was arranged, and Sītā Devī entered it. When the fire went out, Sītā Devī was still there intact. No harm or injury to Her body was found. The people were astonished to see this. Then Sītā was accepted by Rāma.
After fourteen years Rāmachandra came back and occupied the throne. In Ayodhyā Rāmachandra had His spies. Rāja paśyanti karṇabhyāṁ: kings see with their ears, not with their eyes. Charita paśyanti, they see through their CIDs (ambassadors). One day a CID came, and Rāmachandra asked him, “What is the matter? How are things going in the country?” The CID replied, “It is difficult to say. Today, I have heard the very worst news.” Rāmachandra said, “Don’t be afraid. Say it!” Then the CID said, “I saw a quarrel between a wife and husband in an ordinary family of a washerman. The washerman said to his wife, “I won’t maintain you. You stayed in someone else’s house.” The husband was rebuking his wife: “You spent the night in someone else’s house, so I won’t maintain you. That henpecked Rāma may accept and maintain Sītā, who lived for a year in the house of Rāvaṇa, but I will not behave like that. Rāma may do it, but I will not.”
This was reported to Rāmachandra. Rāmachandra became very serious. He called for Lakṣmaṇ and said, “Rāja prakṛti rañjanāt. The root meaning of rāja, king, is rañjanāt. This means that his duty is to satisfy the subjects, the people. So, when I am king, I have no independence to think on My own. I must be guided by the will of My people. When such an objection has been raised about My practice and character, I have to do something about it. So, Lakṣmaṇ, My brother, You have done many things for Me without any consideration of right and wrong. I want to leave Sītā. I ask You to go and banish Her in the forest. Some days ago, She proposed to Me that She wants to see the tapovan of Vālmīki. With that plea You can take Her and leave Her there in the forest.
Lakṣmaṇ did so. He went to Sītā, “You wanted to visit Vālmīki’s tapovan. Rāmachandra has ordered Me to take You there.”
Sītā could not apprehend immediately that a catastrophe would come. She was rather cheerful, “Yes, take Me there.”
After taking Her to that forest, Lakṣmaṇ began to shed tears under a tree. Sītā asked, “Lakṣmaṇ, why are You crying?”
“This is the fact.”
“Oh, this is the fact? You have come to banish Me in the forest amongst these wild animals? And this is the decision of My lord?”
“Yes, what can I do? This is the order. I am not independent. I have nothing to say. I am only carrying out the order of My master. Please forgive Me.”
“Yes, what can You do? If He has ordered You, then of course You cannot but obey that.”
Sītā was also pregnant at that time. Lakṣmaṇ perhaps went away, and while Sītā was sitting under a tree, some of the disciples of Vālmīki came, saw Her there, and reported to Vālmīki. Vālmīki knew everything, because he had already written the Rāmāyaṇa, the Pastimes of Rāma. He was waiting for this day. He came and took Sītā with much affection and adoration. He brought Her to his cottage and treated Her like an affectionate daughter. She gave birth to two children, Lava and Kuśa, and they grew up there.
Meanwhile an aśvamedha-yajña was proposed by some ṛṣis, and Rāmachandra accepted it without Sītā. But the ṛṣis said, “To perform the sacrifice, there is the formal necessity of a queen by Your side.”
Rāmachandra said, “No. I am not prepared to accept any other wife. It is not possible for Me.”
Then how to do? The ṛṣis came to Rāmachandra’s relief, “You can construct a statue of Sītā.”
A golden Sītā was constructed, and taking Her, that statue, at His left, Rāmachandra performed the sacrifice. Of course, news of this came to Sītā. Sītā also thought that if Rāmachandra was going to perform sacrifice He would have to marry again. But when She heard that He was not going to marry a second time, that He had prepared a golden figure of Her for the sacrifice, She could not be removed from the affection of Rāmachandra.
Later there was a fight between Rāma-Lakṣmaṇ and the sons of Sītā, Lava and Kuśa. The sons were defeated, and Vālmīki came and made peace between them. At that time Sītā came before Rāmachandra. Rāmachandra asked for another examination, another test, of Her chastity. Sītā was mortified. At last She called upon Her mother, the earth, “O Mother, I cannot tolerate this insult repeatedly. Please accept Me, take Me in your lap.”
It is said that the earth cracked open, and Sītā went in. Seeing this, Rāmachandra ran into that crack to get Her back, but the crack closed before Rāmachandra could do so. Rāmachandra had to come back empty-handed. Of course He knew everything. He was sober, serious, and above all a king. He had to manage, to look after the welfare of the people. He went back to His throne again.
Sītā Devī, Lakṣmī Devī, came to show such an ideal for our benefit. Almost Her whole life was full of sorrow and pain, and She had so many qualities: adherence, affinity, chastity, devotion, abnegation, and so on. Women can be proud of Her ideal. She is respected by all. Sītā Devī’s ideal is immortal here in India. It has been honoured for a long time. Such deep selflessness, such affection towards Her husband, such affinity and purity, how She maintained Her purity under adverse circumstances, all of these things are to be learned from Her unparalleled example.
Rāmachandra is very very generous and sublime. That is very attractive. It is heart‑touching. His self‑abnegation is extreme. In response to the remark of a single subject, an ordinary man amongst lakhs and crores of men, He made the greatest sacrifice. He sacrificed to the maximum extent. Daśarath has several thousands of queens, innumerable queens, but Rāmachandra had only a single wife. And He played with Her in such a merciless way. It is possible only for the Lord. He did so to set an example here on the earth that we must not allow ourselves to be guided or attracted by the so-called ideals of luxury and pleasure in this mundane world, which are very mean things. Truth is above all. That should be the ideal of our life: the beck and call of truth. We should try to live the life of a surrendered soul with our eyes fixed on the aim. That is truth. We shall live a life for the truth, and not for any amount of pleasure or comfort which may be proposed from this plane. This ideal helps us to select our way and shows us our brilliant future. Everything here is trifling. We must trample down under our feet all the prospects proposed by this mundane world. The truth is truth, and we must aspire to be subservient to the truth, to the highest ideal. This world is nothing. We must trample over it.
This inspiration we get from the character and example of Rāmachandra and Sītā Devī. It will elevate the standard of our life and supply energy to show us the ideal substantially. We shall imbibe energy from Their characters to pursue our ideal. We can’t measure the inestimable goodness that we imbibe from the characters of Rāmachandra and Sītā Devī. So, we are infinitely indebted Them. Let Them bless us with Their goodwill and grace so that we may pass through the temptations of this world towards the higher goal which we have anyhow come to accept.