The forest was full of early morning noises as Rishi Valmiki walked to the river for a bath before the daily Yajna. His hair, tied in a bun above his head, was white with the experiences of a life full of sin and, later, hard penance. His beard was long enough to trip him, but his agility belied his advanced years. A sound of someone tripping alerts him of a presence—not an animal, for sure.
He squared his shoulders, expecting a Danava or a Rakshasa. He called out, “Who goes there? Show yourself.”
“I am Sita, Sir.” A petite woman appeared around the thick trunk of an ancient Banyan tree. In the pre-dawn light, he could see that her clothes were torn in places. She had angry red bruises on her bare arms and face, probably from stumbling around in the forest all night. She seemed several months pregnant.
Concern filled his voice now, “Dear lady, how come you are alone in this forest full of wild animals, and bare-handed? Are you lost?”
“Exiled would be a better word.”
“Exiled? And your crime?”
“I have not been informed of the crime, just the punishment,” she said dejectedly.
“You seem to have a very unjust king!”
“Ironically, he is the best king the world ever saw,” she chuckled without humor.
That’s when the pieces fell together. “Are you the famous Queen Sita, the wife of King Rama Chandra?”
When Sita answered, her voice was hoarse, “I was that a lifetime ago. Or was that only yesterday? Time loses its significance when you are abandoned by the man you love. Now, I am just Sita.”
He was confused. It was all so different from what he had heard about the king—he was the perfect king revered and loved by his subjects, who keeps their will before his own; the perfect brother who handed over his rightful kingdom to his step-brother without batting an eyelid; the perfect son who had gone to fourteen years of exile to keep his father’s word to his step-mother. And when King Ravana had abducted Sita from the forest, he had collected small wild tribes, crossed the sea and fought the most powerful king of all times to retrieve his wife—the perfect husband…
He had always been in awe of that man.
Sita continued, “Last evening, his younger brother left me in the forest on his orders. While leaving, he’d hinted that Rama was following the will of his subjects who are against keeping a woman who had ‘lived with another’. Even though, after winning me back, he had made me walk on flames as a proof of my purity, it wasn’t proof enough for his beloved subjects. And, of course, he wouldn’t give up his beloved kingdom for me as I had once done for him.” The words left a bitter taste in her mouth.
He chose his words carefully now, “Do you wish to go to your father, King Janaka of Mithila?”
“My father? Who hasn’t checked on me since I returned from a fourteen-years exile? He probably believes I eloped willingly, like everyone else,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief.
He was completely at loss now. But he couldn’t leave the lonely woman on her own—pregnant and unable to defend herself, would be an easy target for hungry animals. Moreover, the forest was infested by Danavas and Rakshasas. God only knows what they would do to a woman who looked so beautiful, even in rags.
He made a final effort. “Would you like to return to King Rama and plead your case? I assure you I can get you an audience with him. He will not deny the request of a Rishi.”
“Thank you! But I will not plead mercy in front of someone who punishes a victim of crime and her unborn child. Anyway, he would have granted me an audience if he had the courage to face me. He knows well that he’s wrong but did it anyway. He may forgive me, but I will not forgive him.
I was a princess, brought up in luxury, when I married him, but when he was exiled, I chose to accompany him to the forest. There were days, we did not have a roof over our heads. To make him happy, I picked fruits and vegetables in the forest, cooked meals, spun cloth, walked until my feet hurt and worked until I was sore all over, only to end up sleeping on the forest floor like a common woman. For fourteen years…
When Ravana abducted me, he had offered to marry me. I could have led a life of luxury in his castle, but I refused him and chose to live in a cottage like my Rama. And this is how he repays me?”
The fire in her eyes now turned to steel. “I’d rather stay in the forest like I’ve done it for fourteen years. My child needs no father.”
There was only one way to go from there, “Would you like to live in my humble ashram? I answer to no king.”
She gave a little smile, full of gratitude, “Only if you promise to raise my child as a fearless warrior and a better man.”
Author’s note: This story is about an unfortunate day in Ramayana, a revered epic in Sanskrit. It is said that King Rama Chandra grieved for his wife and never remarried. Many years later, his massive army was intercepted and easily defeated by two little boys in the forest. When Rama came to war, Sita finally stepped in and handed over the sons he never knew. However, she declined to return with him.
Photo by Ammpryt ART