The Ramayana is one of the most well-known stories in the world. The epic originates from the land of India and was authored by the sage, Valmiki around 500 BCE to 100 BCE. This epic is largely famous and well-loved in the South and Southeast Asia. To briefly summarise the epic, Ramayana is a story in which prince Rama is exiled from the kingdom for about fourteen years. It is said to be a conspiracy set by one of the wives, Kaikeyi of the king, Dashrata, so her son, Bharata could rule the kingdom. Rama is accompanied into banishment by his beautiful wife Sita and loyal brother Laksmana. During their exile Sita is abducted by the evil demon, Ravana, and taken to his kingdom in Lanka. The tale is followed by Rama’s mission to rescue his beloved wife with the help of his disciple, Lord Hanuman who was half-god, half-monkey and had an army of monkeys.
In the following paragraphs we will be discussing the acts of women in the Ramayana period in comparison to today’s women:
Sita: The Ideal Hindu Woman
From the epic of Ramayana, Sita is known to be an ideal Hindu woman and the following explains why. Sita’s hand was given in marriage to Rama by her father as Rama proved to be the only worthy husband among the other suitors. Her father told Rama that she is to be “henceforth sharer of thy virtue,” “faithful wife,” and “of thy weal and woe partaker” (Valmiki, 64). After their marriage, Sita was expected to share Rama’s sorrow as she was bound to him. “The faithful woman follows where her wedded lord may lead” (Valmiki, 64). Here, the wedded lord refers to Rama, hence, Sita feels that she has to follow her husband wherever he goes, be it leaving her comforts to be with him and also to serve him. Sita felt that she would be “happier than in her father’s mansions” living “with a faithful woman’s pride” (Valmiki, 64). This tells us about the sense of fulfilment Sita felt by following Rama into the exile. It shows us that Sita was represented as an ideal Hindu woman who was sensible about her duties towards her husband.
From the Ramayana epic, Sita’s virginity came into question after she was rescued from the trap of Ravana because Rama questioned her virginity after spent some time away from him, and was with Ravana. However, she proved her purity by taking part in the ritual test involving fire. Sita had to take the fire ritual for proving her virginity to Rama so that she could go back home pure and virtuous. While Sita was viewed as maidenly, righteous and conscious of her duties, the Laws of Manu (a book comprising of rules on dharma) which came after Ramayana depicted another picture of the lower rank woman and their many imperfections. The ‘Laws of Manu,’ states that it is important for men to watch over women who are seen as objects and have a likelihood of being unfaithful. “It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world, for that reason the wise never remain unguarded in the company of female” (Doniger & Smith,1991). The husband must keep her malicious and adulterous nature in check (Patton, 61). This law can be compared to Ramayana when Sita’s chastity was questioned, this shows that women were viewed as unfaithful thus Sita had to go through the test to prove her purity as people did not believe her.
Rights and Duties of Hindu Women
During the Ramayana era it was said that women were to only do household-domestic work, it might not be true in comparison to reality. We all known that Ramayana was a story so, the acts of women would have differed in reality. According to the ‘Law of Manu’ another Indian historical book, it is said that women could not own their own property or land such as livestock, grain or land; they were like a property to men. Even in the Ramayana, Sita, the bride is given to Rama by her father – it's like from one owner to the other. Women could only own property that was given to them by their husbands, like – wedding gifts, gifts from their husbands, some inheritance from their brother, father or mother. It may however not be true because in the ancient era there have been evidences proving that some women owned land. The men in the Ramayana period were also provided to keep their wives busy and out of trouble. They were to cook food, take care of the children and the furniture, a woman’s basic duty was to her husband in the domestic domain. It has also been noticed in the Ramayana, when Sita blindly follows her husband into exile as her main duty is to her husband.
According to the Hindu society, the role of women is noticed to be one of a kind in the Law of Manu, the Mahabharata and even Ramayana. They have had to play the role of a perfect wife and the caretaker of the household. Sita is represented as the ideal wife, mother, daughter, woman, and friend throughout Ramayana, however, she is still a property of the men in her life and inevitable to their notion. They were not treated in the best of manners, even when Sita was freed from Ravana, she was subjected to the fire test in which her innocence of virginity was to be proved, so that others didn’t doubt her and Rama didn’t have to banish her. The women were considered to be sacred till marriage, otherwise women were automatically considered corrupt and untouchable in society. Sita was the ideal wife any man would want at that period, she was beautiful, submissive and dutiful as a woman. She is a mythical character hence, it is difficult to believe if she was truly a dutiful and good wife. At that time the women might have been powerful but it is not seen anywhere, so we cannot be sure.
Empowerment of Hindu Women
Sita was sent into another exile again after they came back from their fourteen years of exile as people still doubted her. At that time, Sita was pregnant but she still followed Rama’s orders and went into exile. Sita was alone roaming in the forest when a sage, Valmiki (poet of Ramayana) spotted her and gave her refuge in his own ashram. Sita later gave birth to her two sons, Luv and Kush and raised them at the ashram. The twins, Luv and Kush were given an education and were taught military skills under the guidance of Valmiki who grew up to be brave and intelligent warrior princes. Valmiki also trained them in music and he taught them the Ramayana which he wrote himself, keeping sharp focus on Rama as the main character. Sita made sure that her sons got an all-rounded education and military skills. She also taught her sons to respect their father and not hate him even though she was unhappy for being separated from her husband, Rama. Sita gave her sons both father’s and mother’s love, she made sure they did not lack of anything. Rama trusted Sita that she will give a good upbringing to their sons to be future kings thus he did not seek for their custody.
This can be compared to today’s society where separation, divorce and single parenthood are increasing. In today’s society, we can see husbands and wives fighting with each other through which their children get affected. Sita and Rama’s story serves as a lesson for modern society for a better path. Sita was also viewed as a strong role model for Hindu women. She had to overcome many difficulties in her life and made tough decisions in keeping up with dharma, which was the socially received epitome of the Ramayana period. The epic Ramayana is still serves as a purpose of knowledge and cultural heritage in the Indian education system. It helps guide both genders in their sense of duty of marriage and teaches the youth to support one another. The strength and courage that Sita showed at that era proves that woman power is still growing and that women will never give up.
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