Sita’s Agnipariksha is the most controversial episode of the Ramayan. The liberal feminists, with their sparse knowledge of the epic, have often used this one episode to vilify Hinduism, called it misogynistic. Evangelists have targeted Hindus using this instance to convert many Hindus.
The truth of Sita’s Agnipariksha, hence, needs to be made public knowledge for all Hindus.
While reiterating the fact that the episode of Sita’s Agnipariksha does not appear in the original Valmiki Ramayan or in Tulsi Das’s ‘Ramcharitmanas’, there is a school of thought propagated by Advaita Vedanta and it’s doctrine of Maya which believes that the original Sita was in the safe custody of Agnidev, while a shadow Sita, the Maya Sita was the one who was kidnapped by Ravan. Hence, the Agnipariksha was done to replace the shadow Sita who was taken back and Agnidev restored the original Sita.
Even if we consider the episode of Agnipariksha to be true, there is no reason to consider Bhangwan Ram to be a misogynist, a staunch patriarch.
One of the first and foremost reasons for the same is established by his treatment of various women who he came across during his travails
Ahalya could be restored to life and liberated from a curse by her husband, Rishi Gautam turning her to stone on accusation of infidelity, only by Sri Ram.
Mata Shabari, an elderly ascetic lady, whom Sri Ram honored by accepting berries partially eaten by her.
Tara, Bali’s wife, whom Sri Ram consoles following the death of Bali and treats her with utmost respect.
Mandodari, wife of Ravan, whom too, Sri Ram treats with utmost respect following the slaying of Ravan by him and makes her the queen of Lanka again.
If we now consider the episode of Sita’s Agniparkisha, there are a few points to ponder upon. Firstly, it is pertinent to mention that Sita was the reincarnation of Maa Lakshmi, the consort of Bhagwan Vishnu, whose primary purpose to be reborn as a human was to prove to the inmates of earth that the path to perfection is not through avoidance of suffering but in suffering willingly and subverting the ensuing pain with the right mental attitude.
By choosing to suffer but not be weighed down by pain and anguish, the evil which engenders suffering is nullified—this is more purifying and elevating than any ordeal of fire. Secondly, Sri Ram, known as Maryada Puroshottom, was the epitome of an ideal ruler and leader, to whom his subjects, their wellbeing and their desires were of utmost importance.
The common misconception is that Ram had asked Sita to perform the Agnipariksha when the truth is that it was Sita, who decided to take the test of Agnipariksha. She asked Lakshman to light the pyre in which she stepped only to come out unscathed. The fact that she herself wished to perform the Agnipariksha is enunciated by the following verse from Ramayana itself:
चितांमेकुरुसौमित्रे व्यसनस्यास्य भेषजम् |
मिथ्यापवादोपहता नाहं जीवितुमुत्सहे ||
“O Lakshmana! Create a pile of fire, for me, which is a remedy for this disaster. I no longer wish to survive, smitten as am with false blames.”
Bhagwan Ram being the King, whose role was also to bring justice coaxed Mata Sita so that no one can question her character. This intention again is proved through the following verse:
“प्रत्ययार्थंतुलोकानां त्रयाणाम् सत्यसंश्रयः |
उपेक्षे चापि वैदेहीं प्रविशन्तीं हुताशनम् ||
“In order to convince the three worlds, I, whose refuge is truth, ignored Sita while she was entering the fire.”
Moreover after the whole incident takes place, King Dashrath who came with Indra Dev also says the following:
कर्तव्योनतुवैदेहि मन्युस्त्यागमिमं प्रति |
रामेण त्वद्विशुद्ध्यर्थं कृतमेतद्धितैषिणा ||
“No wrath indeed should be rendered by you towards Ram, for having repudiated you. This has been done by him, wishing for your welfare and in order to demonstrate your purity.”
In those days, polygamy was a common practice amongst the kings. However, Sri Ram remained a one woman man and never ever cast aspersions on her character or doubted her chastity. This is proved by the following verse :
“नेय मर्हतिचैश्वर्यं रावणान्तःपुरे शुभा |
अनन्या हि मया सीता भास्करेण प्रभा यथा”
“This auspicious woman could not give way to the sovereignty, existing in the gynaecium of Ravan, in as much as Seetha is not different from me, even as sunlight is not different from the sun.”
The first verse shows the pain suffered by Ram during the process and that he too was equally affected; the second verse proves my point of Ram and Sita being no different from each other.
The Agnipariksha performed by Sita was only to reiterate to the world that one needs to endure hardships to prove one’s worth and integrity – a lesson to be remembered and practiced.
By Ranita Indic