History of Literature

Rama and Sita

Rama and Sita



One of the most widely worshipped Hindu deities, the embodiment of chivalry and virtue. Although there are three Ramas mentioned in Indian tradition (Parashurama, Balarama, and Ramacandra), the name is specifically associated with Ramacandra, the seventh incarnation (avatara) of Lord Vishnu. It is possible that Rama was an actual historical figure, a tribal hero of ancient India who was later deified. His story is told briefly in the Mahabharata (“Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty”) and at great length in the Ramayana (“Romance of Rama”).

References to Rama as an incarnation of Vishnu appear in the early centuries ce; there was, however, probably no special worship of him before the 11th century, and it was not until the 14th and 15th centuries that distinct sects appeared venerating him as the supreme god (notably that of the followers of the Brahman Ramananda). Rama’s popularity was increased greatly by the retelling of the Sanskrit epics in the vernaculars, such as Tulsidas’s celebrated Hindi version, the Ramcaritmanas (“Sacred Lake of the Acts of Rama”).

Rama and Krishna (also an incarnation of Vishnu) were the two most popular recipients of adoration from the bhakti (devotional) cults that swept the country during that time. Whereas Krishna is adored for his mischievous pranks and amorous dalliances, Rama is conceived as a model of reason, right action, and desirable virtues. Temples to Rama faced by shrines to his monkey devotee Hanuman are widespread throughout India. Rama’s name is a popular form of greeting among friends (“Ram! Ram!”), and Rama is the deity most invoked at death.

In sculpture, Rama is represented as a standing figure, holding an arrow in his right hand and a bow in his left. His image in a shrine or temple is almost invariably attended by figures of his wife, Sita, his favourite half-brother, Lakshmana, and his monkey devotee, Hanuman. In painting, he is depicted dark in colour (indicating his affinity with Lord Vishnu), with princely adornments and the kirita-makuta (tall conical cap) on his head indicating his royal status. Rama’s exploits were depicted with great sympathy by the Rajasthani and Pahari schools of painting in the 17th and 18th centuries.



also called Jānakī,

In Hindu mythology, the consort of Rāma and the embodiment of wifely devotion and self-surrender. Her abduction by the demon king Rāvana and subsequent rescue are the central incidents in the great Hindu epic Rāmāyana (“Romance of Rāma”). Sītā was raised by King Janaka; she was not his natural daughter but sprang from a furrow when he was ploughing his field. Rāma won her as his bride by bending Śiva’s bow, and she accompanied her husband when he went into exile. Though carried away to Lankā by Rāvana, she kept herself chaste by concentrating her heart on Rāma throughout her long imprisonment. On her return she asserted her purity and also proved it by voluntarily undergoing an ordeal by fire. Rāma, however, banished her to the forest in deference to public opinion. There she gave birth to their two children, Kuśa and Lava. After they reached maturity and were acknowledged by Rāma to be his sons, she called upon her mother, Earth, to swallow her up.

Sītā is worshiped as the incarnation of Laksmī, the consort of Vishnu. She is frequently depicted in Indian miniature paintings of the Rāmāyana, and her images in bronze are among the finest achievements of South Indian art. These usually form a group, with images of Rāma, his brother Laksmana, and his devotee, the monkey Hanumān; the iconographic texts instruct the artist to show Sītā looking at her husband with supreme happiness.


Rama and Sita

King Dasharatha of Ayodya in India was childless and made a special sacrifice to the gods, hoping that they would give him sons. Meanwhile, the gods begged their lord Brahma to help them against Ravana, the demon king. So Brahma asked the god Vishnu to vanquish the demon. Vishnu agreed and was born, in his seventh incarnation, as Rama and his three brothers Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna. Unaware of their divinity, the brothers grew up as the sons of King Dasharatha and his three wives and married. Rama married Sita, an incarnation of Vishnu's wife Lakshmi, and was made his father's heir. However, owing to the intrigues of one of his father's wives, he left the city with Sita and Lakshmana, to live in the forest. There, they lived a quiet life for ten years, until one day Ravana tricked the brothers into leaving Sita alone, and abducted her. Rama and Lakshmana, helped by Hanuman, general to the monkey king Sugriva, searched everywhere until Hanuman finally found her, shut up on the island of Lanka. With an army of monkeys and bears, Rama killed Ravana in a huge battle, was reunited with Sita, and returned to Ayodya where he became king and ruled for 11,000 years.




This 19th-century illustration shows scenes from the Ramayana, the story of Rama's life. It shows the
episode in which Rama hunts a magical deer, leaving Sita in the care of Lakshtnana. However, the demon
Ravana tricks Lakshtnana into leaving Sita, then whisks her off, fighting any creature that tries to stop him.




Rama was exiled lo the forest tor 14 years because his step-brother Bharata's mother wanted her
son to succeed to the throne. King Dasharatha agreed because she had once saved his life and
he had promised to grant her two requests. Grief-stricken, he died, and Bharata, horrified by
his mother's actions, begged Rama to return. But he refused, so Bharata put Rama's golden sandals
in charge, venerating them until Rama returned.



A Sad End

Rama rejected Sita after he rescued her because he believed she was defiled. Sita, unable to bear die slander, wanted to die but the gods would not allow it. They testified to her purity and told Rama he was an avatar of Vishnu. Rama and Sita lived happily for 10,000 years until Rama, told that his subjects still considered Sita impure, sent her into exile where she gave birth to his twin sons. Years later, Rama saw his sons and asked Sita to come back. But her heart was broken and she sank into the earth. Rama ruled sadly for another 1,000 years before he also returned to the gods. In die Thai version, Sita reappears from the underworld to be Rama's wife once more.



Journey Through the Sky

As Sita was carried through the sky by Ravana, she saw five monkeys sitting on a mountain. She cast down her jewels and her gold veil, in
the hope that this would help Rama to find her

Demon in Disguise

The golden deer was a demon in disguise called Maricha, who had been asked by Ravana to entice Rama and his brother away leaving Sita defenceless. Ravana was avenging his sister Surpanakha whom Rama had rejected. In a fit of jealousy she had attacked Sita, and had her nose and ears cut off by Lakshmana.






This 19th-centmy illustration shows the cross-fire between Ravana and Rama during the buttle ofLanka.


The Siege of Lanka

A the siege of Lanka, Rama and his monkey army, led by Hanuman, fought the rakshasas, or demons, led by Ravana. These included such terrible adversaries as Lightning-Tongue, Smoke-Eye, Death-to-Men, and Big-Belly. All of these were vanquished in turn, but Rama could not conquer Ravana himself until he had worshipped the sun, and borrowed the chariot and charioteer of the sky god Indra. With this divine aid, Rama pursued his enemy, though every time he cut off one of Ravana's ten heads, another grew in its place. Finally, he shot the demon with an arrow forged by Brahma - it flew like the wind, struck like the sun, passed through Ravana, cleaned itself in the sea, and returned to Rama's quiver. The gods rejoiced, and the sun shone down on the field of battle.




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