TRAGEDY, HEROISM AND ETHICS IN THE CHARACTER OF SITA
The proposed study explores basically three aspects in the character of Sita in Valmiki’s Ramayana-tragedy, heroism and ethics . The text reflects on Sita not from a traditional viewpoint but it is a modern interpretation of her character which is the eptitome of virtues, at the same time bears the stigma of her husband’s injustice towards her and social defamation. The significance of the study lies in its analysis in modern context .The objectives of the study is to look at the causes of Sita’s tragedy, how she overcomes all obstacles of life with dignity and principles. The research design followed here is analytical. Both primary and secondary data collection methods are adopted.
Thousands of years ago, the Adi-kabi Valmiki wrote The Ramayana in which Sita is the central female character . In these thousands of years, the epic has not lost attraction. The story is telecasted in TV serial. Movies are also made. Scholars and critics have interpreted the story in different ways.
The story in brief runs like this . Dasarath was the king of Ayodhya .His eldest son , the prince Rama married the princess Sita, the eldest daughter of the king Janaka, Mithila . Dasarath was about to declare Rama as the future king of Ayodhya. But due to a conspiracy of his second queen Kaikeyi who demanded that her son Bharat should be the next king, Ram was exiled for 14 years from Ayodhya . Ram’s brother Lakshman and his wife Sita accompanied him to the deep forest. This conflict of the palace and Ram’s exile ultimately led to the sufferings of the three, Sita’s abduction,killing of the demon king Ravana, Sita’s Agnipariksha, the return of the three to Ayodhya, Ram’s kingship, Sita’s exile, the birth of Luv and Kush, Sita’s return to the lap of Mother Earth.
It is a long story containing 24000 verses. The story is originally told in Sanskrit.
“….. it is a rather long poem, and by tradition, is known as the Adikavya (adi=original,first;kvya=poem).While the basic story is about palace politics and battles with demon tribes, the narrative is interspersed with philosophy, ethics and notes on duty.”(Ramayan , Ancient History, Anindita Basu)
The Ramayana is a sublime story of Sita’s sufferings, her heroism and strong ethics that opens lot of avenues for deep study.
Sita is the female protagonist in the ancient Indian epic The Ramayana.Though the epic is entitled after her husband Ram (The Human Avatar of Vishnu),the main story would have been a very short and less impressive without the tragedy of Sita (Human incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi). Sita’s tragedy starts with how she is mesmerized by a golden deer which is actually the disguised form of Mareech, the maternal unlce of Ravana.It was a plan to abduct Sita to take revenge on Rama .Traditionally Sita is a woman who possesses all the virtues a society expects a woman should possess .It is the story of the ancient Indian society.Through Sita’s story we read how the society judged a woman. Even Sita couldn’t escape ‘criticism’. Sita had to face so many miseries, undergo exile and tests to prove her purity.
Her heroism lies in her sacrifice of the luxurious life of the palace to accompany her husband in the forest journey (exile). Was she unable to accept long-time separation of 14 years from her husband to whom she was newly married? Her heroism lies in her powerful stand against Ravana who couldn’t even dare to touch her. Her heroism lies in her upbringing of two children Luv and Kush in the Ashram of the Sage Valmiki far away from the palace. Her heroism lies in her final decision to reject the test of fire, not to see Rama’s face again and her taking shelter in mother Earth’s lap.
Sita remains a resistant and determined character who suffered throughout her married life. But as Aristotle in his ‘Poetics’, mentions,the ‘tragic flaw’ or hamartia lies in the tragic character itself. Though Aristotle referred to the tragedies, this is also true in case of Sita, the heroine of the Ramayana. Sita’s flaw is that she arrogantly desired to take the golden deer into her possession. She didn’t listen to Ram who was unwilling to captivate the deer.
A fresh reading of Sita’s character would definitely involve the study of the time when Valmiki lived. What was the purpose behind the creation of the Ramayana? Was it merely to eternalize Ram’s story? Or was there a purpose of satisfying the ego of a patriarchal society? How were women treated at that time? Is there any change in today’s Indian society? What does a study of female phychology says? What does feminists say? What does Sita’s decision to leave earthly life indicate? Did she actually commit suicide when she realized that she can’t tolerate Ram’s cruelty towards her?
As we see, the most of the female protagonists in literature are portrayed with both physical beauty and virtue . Sita is endowed with extreme physical beauty.
‘’The beauty of Sita can’t be described in words! She is very often referred to as ‘Trilok Sundari’.There is nothing in this Universe that is paralled to her beauty.’’(How does Sita in Ramayana Look?, Soumil Das)
Beauty creates motivation. Whether it ‘poetic beauty’(Aristotle’s Poetics) or physical beauty of a person, beauty is essential in a work of art to attract people to follow virtue. Beauty in that sense is virtue that leads us towards another virtue.
In a very scholary article ‘’Psychological and Spiritual significance of Ramayana’’, Harkirwat Singh says,
“Ramayana is more than the story. It has a philosophical, spiritual significance and a deep truth in it which most of us donot know.” In this article, the writer takes into account concepts like self, ego, mind and soul etc. According to him, Sita represents mind, Ravana represents ego, Ram represents pure consciousness.
The Ramayana starts with a shloka ‘ Maa Nishada…’ which Valmiki uttered cursing a hunter who killed one of two Kraunch birds while they were making love . It may be assumed that this tragic incident of separation between the two Krauch birds has an influence in the story of the Ramayana. Secondly, Valmiki was a highway robber in his early life . He robbed to feed his family. But his family members including his wife refused to be a partner in his sinful act of robbery which changed his mind and he gave up robbery for ever. It may be assumed that this incident has an influence in the story of the Ramayana in which Rama’s suspicious treatment towards Sita is very much prominent.
“It is believed that the scripture was authored on information by Rama’s wife Sita during her banishment from Ayodhya.” (Reason Why Lord Rama asked Sita to go through Agni Pariksha, Shruti Srivastava, June 06 , 2017).
There is a point here to believe that the narrative is subjective and the reader automatically feels an empathy towards Sita. Another probable inference is that Valmiki portrayed the image of Sita keeping in mind the psychology of a patriarchal society in which a virtuous woman also suffers . Here also we remember Aristotle’s Catharsis’ theory, according to which the emotions created in a tragedy gives safe outlet to our harmful emotions like ‘pity’ and ‘fear’. Sita’s tragedy fulfills this condition appropriately. Again, Aristotle says that the protagonist in a tragedy must be a good human being. Sita’s heroism and strong ethics of her character fulfill this condition too. However, Sita represents all women who suffer in a patriarchal society. Again the symbolical inertpretatation changes the whole concept of the epic. It also strongly suggests a social and ethical inference of the story.
- Basu, Anindita, Ramayan , Ancient History, ancient.eu,30 August 2016
- Das,Soumil,How does Sita in Ramayana look?-Quora, 04 May 2017
- Singwh, Harkirat, Psychological and Spiritual Significane of Ramayana,ncsureligion.wordpress.com, November 06 , 2018
- Srivastava, Shruti,Reason why Lord Rama asked Sita to go through Agni Pariksha?,www.speakingtree.in, June 06, 2017
1.Agrawal, Pravin, How Dacoit Ratnakara Became Maharshi Valmiki,www.speakingtree.in,September 03,2019
2.Sattar, Arshia, Valmiki’s Ramayana,HarperCollins Publishers India, 2019
3.Narayan R.k., The Indian Epics Retold,Penguin Books,1995