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From an Advaita Vedanta perspective, Sita’s character and story can offer profound insights into the nature of reality, spiritual growth, and the ultimate goal of liberation. Learn more about this pivotal character in the Ramayana and why she is revered as the epitome of womanly purity and virtue.

Sita’s life before exhile

Many believe Sita is the daughter of the Earth Goddess Bhumi but she was adopted and raised by King Janaka and Queen Sunaina of Mithila. Sita married Prince Rama of Ayodhya after he successfully strung Shiva’s divine bow, an act that other princes could not accomplish. After marrying Rama, Sita left Mithila to live in Ayodhya.

Her arrival in Ayodhya was celebrated and she was warmly welcomed into the royal family. She lived happily, participating in royal duties and ceremonies. Her relationship with Rama was depicted as ideal, filled with mutual respect and affection.

When the ailing King Dasharatha, Rama’s father, decided to crown Rama as his successor, the couple’s serene life took a drastic turn. One of the King’s wives coerced him into crowning Rama’s brother Bharata instead and exiling Rama for 14 years.

Rama intended to exile alone, but Sita (and Lakshmana) insisted on joining him, arguing that her place was by his side, sharing his life’s joys and sorrows. This supported one of the central themes in the Ramayana – Sita’s loyalty and devotion to her husband.

Sita’s life during exhile

Initially, Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana spent some time in the Chitrakoot forest. Their lives were relatively peaceful, and they received visits from sages and family members. This period is significant as it shows the trio’s initial adaptation to forest life and the simplicity and ascetic lifestyle they adopted.

While moving deeper into the forest, they met several sages, received blessings, and learned about the hardships these holy men faced due to the demons disturbing their penances. Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana resolved to protect the sages, showing their commitment to righteousness (dharma).

Eventually, the trio reached Panchavati, where they set up a more permanent hermitage. It is here that Sita saw a beautiful golden deer and desired it. Rama went to capture it for her but the golden deer was the demon Maricha, who had been sent to lure Rama away from the hermitage.

While Rama was pursuing the golden deer, Lakshmana, who was tasked to watch Sita, was also lured away. It was then that Sita was abducted by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. This act leads to the central conflict of the epic.

Rama, with the help of the Lord Hanuman, eventually rescues Sita. To prove her chastity while in captivity, she undergoes a trial by fire, where she emerges unscathed, proving her purity. Despite her proven purity, public aspersion regarding her chastity leads Rama to abandon a pregnant Sita. She finds refuge in the hermitage of sage Valmiki, where she gives birth to twin sons, Lava and Kusha.

Advaita view on Devi Sita

From an Advaita Vedanta perspective, characters like Sita from the Ramayana can be interpreted symbolically and literally. Here’s how Sita might be seen through an Advaita Vedantic lens:

Embodiment of virtue and dharma: Sita represents the ideal of dharma (righteousness or duty) in human form. In Advaita, following one’s dharma is seen as a way to transcend individual ego and align with the cosmic order, ultimately realizing the Self or Atman (soul) as non-different from Brahman. Despite numerous hardships, Sita’s unwavering commitment to her duties as a wife and her dharma can symbolize the soul’s adherence to spiritual principles that lead toward liberation (moksha).

Manifestation of Maya: Sita’s experiences, especially her abduction and trials, can also be interpreted as manifestations of Maya, the cosmic illusion. According to Advaita Vedanta, Maya makes the world appear diverse and distinct while obscuring the underlying non-dual reality of Brahman. Sita’s trials could be viewed as the soul’s journey through the illusory world, full of challenges and distractions that must be overcome to achieve spiritual realization.

Symbol of Pure Consciousness or Shakti: In Advaita Vedanta, the world is often seen as a play of Shakti (energy or power) that operates through Maya but originates from Brahman. Sita can be interpreted as a manifestation of divine Shakti, embodying pure consciousness subjected to the trials of life. Her purity, resilience, and innate divinity emphasize the idea that the soul’s true nature is pure and eternal, untouched by worldly suffering.

Path to Self-Realization: In Advaita philosophy, Sita’s journey, including her suffering and eventual liberation, can be a metaphor for the soul’s journey. Just as Sita undergoes trials and emerges purified, the individual soul undergoes experiences in the world that ultimately lead to realizing its true nature as part of the universal Brahman.

Devotion as a Means of Liberation: Sita’s deep devotion to Rama reflects Bhakti (devotion), which Advaita also recognizes as a valid means to achieve non-duality knowledge. Her devotion can be seen as symbolic of the soul’s devotion to the Supreme, which leads to liberation through realizing its unity with the divine.

Examples where Sita demonstrates non-duality

Sita’s character and actions can be interpreted through a non-dual lens, revealing aspects that resonate with Advaita Vedanta philosophy. Here are some examples where her behaviour and experiences can be seen as symbolic of non-dual principles:

Unwavering equanimity: Throughout the Ramayana, Sita faces numerous hardships, from her exile into the forest to her abduction by Ravana and eventual trial by fire. Despite these challenges, she maintains a composed and serene demeanour, which embodies the non-dual principle that the true Self (Atman) is unaffected by worldly fluctuations. Her ability to remain equanimous reflects the Advaita teaching that the essence of the self is unchanging and beyond suffering.

Sita’s trial by fire: After Rama defeats Ravana, Sita undergoes a fire trial to prove her chastity. This trial can be interpreted symbolically as the burning away of all illusions and impurities, revealing her true, untainted nature, which is a direct parallel to the Advaita concept that through spiritual purification, one realizes their true nature as non-different from Brahman (the ultimate reality). The fire does not harm her, indicating her pure, divine nature that transcends physical existence.

Identity with Rama: In many interpretations of the Ramayana, Sita is considered an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi, while Rama is an avatar of Vishnu. Their relationship often symbolizes the unity of the divine masculine and feminine principles and underscores the essential oneness.

The Golden Deer (Maricha): The episode where Sita asks Rama to capture the golden deer (the demon Maricha in disguise) can also be interpreted through a non-dual lens. Her attraction to the deer might symbolize the soul’s temporary distraction by Maya (illusion), which creates a separation (duality) from Rama (the divine). Her subsequent suffering and eventual reunification with Rama symbolize the soul’s journey from illusion to realizing its true, divine nature.

These interpretations require viewing the epic through a philosophical lens and revealing deeper spiritual truths in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta.

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