Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Virtue Ethics: An Ethical Development Program for High School Youth

Sita's Reputation

Part of Virtue Ethics

A retelling of stories from the Ramayana, an ancient Hindu text.

Perfect daughter, perfect wife, perfect mother. This is the way Hindus revere Sita. How could she not be virtuous and noble? Sita was the reincarnation of the goddess, Lakshimi. Hindus pray to Sita for moral strength, loyalty, and integrity. She is considered the perfect woman.

It was easy for Sita to be a good daughter. King Janaka and Queen Sunanya, while ploughing a field to prepare for a sacrifice to the gods, had found the baby Sita. They knew this must be a special child—a gift, indeed, from the gods. Since they both desired a daughter, they brought her back to the palace and raised her as their daughter. She grew to be smart, beautiful, and obedient. The perfect daughter.

Because of her attributes, many princes desired Princess Sita. The royal family held a contest for her hand in marriage, and the brave Prince Rama won it.

They loved each other very much, but it was not as easy for Sita to be the perfect wife. Her husband, Rama, was the oldest son and in line to become king of his kingdom, Ayodhaya. Through political intrigue, Rama's younger half-brother obtained the throne instead, and out of fear, banished Rama for 14 years. Sita was prepared to go into exile with her husband, but he argued that she should not come. What should the perfect wife do? Sita was not always an obedient wife: She decided that loyalty to her husband was more important than obedience. This is why people pray to her for loyalty. She waited until he had his say, then explained why it was her duty to accompany him. Through her patience and devotion, Rama was convinced and they fled into exile.

There existed an evil creature, Ravana. He, too, desired Sita. He kidnapped her and tried to seduce her. It was said no woman ever resisted him. Sita did: She remained true to Rama and was not deceived by Ravana's tricks or swayed by his gifts and sweet words. Again, Sita exhibited loyalty, moral strength, and integrity.

After many hardships and bloody battles, Rama rescued Sita and regained the throne. At first, Rama did not believe Sita had remained faithful to him. Neither did the people of Ayodhaya. Sita asked for a fire to be built and said if she had been sexually intimate with anyone besides her husband, she would burn. When she exited the fire safely, Rama believed she was telling the truth, but some in city still doubted.

As he sat in the royal palace, Rama heard the whispers of the people in his kingdom. "What kind of king takes back a wife who has lived with another man?" "Sita says she was true, but everybody knows no woman ever resisted Ravana." Rama worried that citizens would use Sita as an excuse to be promiscuous. More importantly, he felt his position as king was threatened by keeping Sita by his side. Rama was disturbed by the way people spoke about her and decided her presence was too disruptive. He had to decide what to be loyal to: his city or his wife. He chose his city, and banished Sita. Did he see the irony of the situation? Who knows.

Did Sita see the irony? If she did, she did not say anything. Being the perfect wife, she did not plead or curse Rama. She did not even tell Rama she was pregnant. She simply packed and left. She found refuge at the hermitage of a wise old man, Valmiki. Valmiki knew Sita was a woman of great integrity and honesty. He knew she needed a warm and safe place to raise the twin boys she gave birth to a short time later.

Being the perfect mother was not easy. Sita had to raise her sons alone. Although they were princes, they lived in exile, and did not enjoy the comfort of a court or a kingdom. Yet, Sita kept her integrity by being loyal to them.

For many years, Rama did not know he had sons. One day, when they were young men, he met Luv and Kush. He asked them to come live with him in the palace. Wishing the best for her sons, Sita urged them to go, but she refused to go back. Now that her sons were safe and on the way to receiving their rightful due, she asked to be released of her burdens—being perfect takes a heavy toll.

Now it was the pantheon of the gods and goddesses who desired Sita. The goddess of the earth opened up for her, wrapped her in her warm and loving arms, and carried Sita to the heavens, where she exists to this day, a shining example for all women.