In today’s world, it is unimaginable for anyone to value anything that is not one’s own – relative or asset – more than that which is consider “own”. So, when a King gave someone a wish to ask anything of him and if that person asked for the King’s flesh, or to banish his first born, he wouldn’t think twice. Yes, it wasn’t fair on his son, who had absolutely nothing to do with the whole incident of his Father’s granting of the wish, but he too, as per the societal norms simply leave everything behind to live in a jungle for 14 years.
When Prince Ram left his Kingdom to go live in the forest, the King didn’t send his choicest goodies for his pleasure. His life – and that of Sita and Lakshman – who had joined him out of their own volition despite Ram’s protests – was miserable and tough – from others’ viewpoint, but he lived it with utmost Grace and love.
When Ram married Sita, the first thing he did was to vow that unlike others in that age and time, he will remain steadfastly a One-woman-Man. Never will be set his eyes on anyone and never will be marry anyone. He didn’t demand anything of Sita, he just took it upon himself to set the context of his marriage and his conduct in there.
Sita, out of her love and felt duty – and despite protests from Ram to stay back (just as Lakshman’s wife Urmila did) – accompanied him everywhere in the forest and gave her all to that relationship. Ram, on the other hand, loved her more than he loved anyone. Respected her more than he respected anyone. He would run and beget things at a moment’s notice at the whim of Sita. No matter what he did, his first and foremost concern was always Sita and not him or Lakshman. Although he never wanted, yet his agreeing to take Sita along with him to the forest was more to agree to her wishes as opposed to force his own decision on her. Once the situation took the shape where Sita accompanied him, he was duty-bound and also love-bound to care for her over and above himself and his own brother. Which he did.
If one has to view the relationship of Ram and Sita, it has to be viewed in the substantive context of how they lived, loved, cared and respected for each other from the time of their marriage to the time they came back to Ayodhya.
Ram’s character and Sita’s Abandonment
Ram’s character today is being maligned because of his abandoning of Sita after they returned back from the forest and she was pregnant.
It is important to understand Ram’s action in context of who he was and what relationship he had with Sita all along. It is outrageous to evaluate his whole life and person on the basis of one action, which may have been understood out of context by someone who has never even read the story fully!
Sita story was added later to Ramayan
But before we go there, let us understand where this “Sita Abandonment” story comes from?
Amongst the Hindu religious texts, Ramayan is considered Smriti, meaning learned by memory. Shruti religious texts were revealed texts as opposed to learned by memory. The way to understand it is that while Smriti can be the basis of theology of Hinduism, Shruti which can be propagated by experience and methods from the teacher/Master, is more subtle in instruction.
The so-called latter years of Ram were never part of Tulsidas’ Ram Charit Manas or Valmiki’s original Ramayan. This story of Sita’s Agni Pariksha and her abandonment as well as the whole story of Luv and Kush is the subject of “Uttara Kand” of Ramayan. It is held by most scholars that this particular part of what is now clubbed with the other chapters was not there originally and has been clearly added later.
So, those who categorically talk of Ram being a “bad husband” seem to be making up the whole conclusion out of something that was never part of the main text at all!
while stabilizing the original text of Ramayana, historians surmised that portions of two Books [Kaandas], namely Book I, Bala Kaanda and Book VII, Uttara Ramayana (not listed above) are later additions – “The first and the last Books of the Ramayana are later additions. The bulk, consisting of Books II–VI, represents Rama as an ideal hero. In Books I and VII, however Rama is made an avatara or incarnation of Vishnu, and the epic poem is transformed into a Vaishnava text. The reference to the Greeks, Parthians, and Sakas show that these Books cannot be earlier than the second century B.C……”[ The cultural Heritage of India, Vol. IV, The Religions, The Ramakrishna Mission, Institute of Culture ].
However Book I, Balakanda is considered to be an original version except for some injected stories. Story starts from the fifth chapter of Book I, and tradition demands it to be read with the others. This stipulation is not obligatory to Uttara Kaanda, a later kaanda, wherein Sita’s expulsion to forest takes place. (link)
Sita Abandonment Anyhow
In the canto addressing the whole episode, it starts with how Ram and Sita would spend time in the evening with each other, with Ram repeatedly talking of his love for Sita. That day, he knew Sita was pregnant, and also reiterates that he wants to give her whatever she wants.
Post that when he hears of the discontent and the questions being targeted at Sita and to their relationship amongst the populace, he goes to check it out himself. It is there that the episode of washerman happens. Now, it is obvious from the story that the discontent was very widespread and it certainly wasn’t a washerman’s comment on which Ram turned Sita out.
Anyhow, he came back and fought through the whole situation within himself. Men had openly and regularly started treating women with suspicion and with abuse. Right or wrong, that had negatively impacted the way women were being treated by men in the kingdom.
The logic of the populace was that while Ram’s character of single-woman devotion would bind the men, the taking away of Sita by Ravan on his lap and she remaining there with him for one year was to impact the women negatively if they weren’t held accountable for integrity.
That was the argument of the populace. Ram, however, didn’t have even an iota of doubt or malice. The incident, in any case occurred, as per the story after many months of their coming back! During the whole time, Ram and Sita’s relationship was not just fine but Ram was as devoted and besotted by her as ever.
Why abandonment? The main reason that one finds why he went to decide on this was because during the discussion when Ram promised her whatever she wished, she expressed her deepest desire to once again go and stay with the people and animals in the forest the way they had done during their exile. Ram had at that time, prior to the knowledge of subjects’ discontent, said that he would make sure her wishes are followed.
The decision was not easy for him and he knew that if he were to even come in front of Sita, he would not let it happen. So he asked Lakshman to take Sita to the forest across the river and leave her near the Ashrams of the Sages.
His discussion with Lakshman and other’s who accompanied him was terse, strict and as a King. He addressed it as a King as opposed to as a husband.
All through the entire time that Sita was away, he didn’t sleep properly, lived minimally, and wouldn’t entertain any woman’s thought other than Sita’s. It was obvious that Ram suffered a lot in himself as well.
The decision never sat well with Ram ever in his life, but it was something that he did as a King and not a householder. Such a decision would have never happened or even been appropriate when he was a Prince and not leading the entire populace. But as a King, he gave his everything to that role. And in that he was consistent.
The women argue that this was not correct since why would you put your own wife to harm to lead the Kingdom well.
Such arguments come from people who have never had the responsibility of leading other people. Many times, leaders of people have taken decisions to put their own and dearest in harm’s way to save their people. Guru Gobind Singh sacrificed his ENTIRE family, including his two young sons to fight Aurangzeb in order to save the lives and honor of people who had come to him seeking refuge! He was not even ruling them! He simply took on the responsibility because it was the right thing to do, despite the fact that those Dogra kings weren’t reliable allies.
One can judge the actions in many ways and make conclusions that seem to reflect one’s own limited view point of the world, as opposed to the facts in that situation. When Ram’s life and his decision on Sita is viewed in totality, then it is difficult to really say that he was such a bad husband.
In fact, Gautama Buddha – who abandoned his wife and infant to find his own path – basically abandoned her because of his own whim – , may come across as a worse husband 🙂 But that is a story for another day.