Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Sita included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Sītā

Wife of Śrī Rāma.

Who is Sītā?

Sītā is the incarnation of Mahālakṣmī. Lakṣmī took the birth of a woman because of the curse of Sarasvatī. Vedavatī, Sītā, Pāñcālī, all these women of chastity were the incarnations of Lakṣmī The stories of Lakṣmī passing from birth to birth such as Vedavatī, Tulasī, Sītā, Pāñcālī and so on until at last she reached the world of Viṣṇu, occurring in various Purāṇas are collected and given here.

Lakṣmī, Sarasvatī and Gaṅgā were the wives of Mahāviṣṇu. One day Viṣṇu was sitting with his three wives and entertaining them with conversation when Devī Gaṅgā looked at Viṣṇu amorously. Instantly a quarrel arose among the three of them. When the row became uncontrollable, Sarasvatī cursed Lakṣmī to take birth in the earth as a plant. Gaṇgā cursed Sarasvatī and made her a river. Sarasvatī cursed Gaṅgā and made her a river. At the end of all these rows and curses Viṣṇu stood up and said to Lakṣmī. "Lakṣmī! you will take birth as the daughter of Dharmadhvaja on the earth with the name Tulasī. In order that the curse of Sarasvatī may come true, a plant called Tulasī (holy basil) will grow up on the earth from a portion of you. While you are living as the daughter of Dharmadhvaja, an asura named Śaṅkhacūḍa born from my portion will marry you."

The curse was realized. Sarasvatī and Gaṅgā became rivers. Lakṣmī was about to be born as the daughter of Dharmadhvaja. Who was Dharmadhvaja? He was a man of righteous deeds and good qualities, born of the family of Dakṣasāvarṇi who was born from a portion of Mahāviṣṇu. Brahmasāvarṇī was born from Dakṣasāvarni. Dharmasāvarṇi begot Rudrasāvarṇi, Indrasāvarṇi begot Vṛṣadhvaja. Rathadhvaja was the son of Vṛṣadhvaja. Two sons named Dharmadhvaja and Kuśadhvaja were born to Rathadhvaja. Dharmadhvaja and Kuśadhvaja were performing penance before Devī Lakṣmī to regain the wealth and prosperity lost by the curse of the Sun.

How did Dharmadhvaja and Kuśadhvaja lose their prosperity? Their grandfather Vṛṣadhvaja was a devotee of Śiva. He performed penance before Śiva for a long time. Śiva became pleased with Vṛṣadhvaja and lived in his hermitage for the period of three Devayugas. This king Vṛṣadhvaja made a proclamation that none other than Śiva should be worshipped. As all the other gods were despised, the Sun got angry and cursed Vṛṣadhvaja. "Let the prosperity of yours and your posterity be destroyed." Śiva did not like the action taken by the Sun against his favourite. Śiva took his trident and went against the Sun, who took refuge near his father Prajāpati Kaśyapa. Kaśyapa complained to Brahmā. Brahmā ran to Vaikuṇṭha. Śiva also came there with his trident. Viṣṇu looked at them and said "You gods, hear this. What is the need of all this hurry? Within the short time you have taken to run up to this place so many years have elapsed in the world. It is a long time since Vṛṣadhavaja died. His son Rathadhvaja also is dead. Rathadhvaja has two sons named Dharmadhvaja and Kuśadhvaja. They both have become Kings. But because of the curse of the Sun, they are devoid of any radiance. They are now worshipping Mahālakṣmī for radiance." Hearing this talk of Mahāviṣṇu all of them returned to their places.

It has been mentioned that Dharmadhvaja and Kuśadhvaja had been engaged in penance before Mahālakṣmī. Devī Mahālakṣmī appeared before them and granted their wish. Devī promised them that she would take birth as the daughter of each of them, and she would recover for them all the wealth and prosperity they had lost. Accordingly Mahālakṣmī took birth by her portion as the daughter of Mādhavī, the wife of Dharmadhvaja under the name Tulasī. (For the rest of the story of Tulasī see under Tulasī, Para 4).

Mālāvatī was the wife of Kuśadhvaja. As Lakṣmī had promised to take birth as their daughter, both of them waited for the birth of the child uttering the Vedas. At this time a child was born from the mouth of Kuśadhvaja. This child was the incarnation of Lakṣmī. With the birth of the child Kuśadhvaja regained all the wealth and prosperity he had lost. The child was named Vedavatī (Devavatī). She grew up and became a young woman. Her desire was to get Mahāviṣṇu as her husband. Once an asura named Śambhu came to the hermitage of Kuśadhvaja. When he saw Vedavatī he fell in love with her. He asked Kuśadhvaja for the hand of his daughter, but Kuśadhvaja did not give his consent.

Śambhu got angry. He came back in the night and killed Kuśadhvaja with his sword. Hearing the sound Vedavatī woke up and saw the dead body of her father lying in a pool of blood. She looked at Śambhu angrily. In that fiery look Śambhu was burnt to ashes.

Vedavatī began to perform very severe penance to get Viṣṇu as her husband. It was at this time that Rāvaṇa had begun his campaign of conquest. He defeated all kings and was proceeding victoriously through the vicinity of the Himālayas, when he saw the beautiful damsel Vedavatī sitting alone and performing penance. Seeing so beautiful a girl engaged in penance, he told her that he was the famous Rāvaṇa with ten heads and requested her to throw away the garment of bark of the tree and the matted hair and to accept him as her husband. She rejected his request. The angry Rāvaṇa caught hold of her hand. She resisted using her teeth and finger-nails. She cried out that she wanted no more to retain the body made impure by the touch of a wicked person. She made a fire and jumped into it. Thus in the sight of Rāvaṇa, she burnt herself to death. Before death she vowed that in the next birth Mahāviṣṇu would become her husband and would kill Rāvaṇa.

Rāvaṇa who himself was burning in the fire of amour, was extremely sorry at the death of the beautiful girl. He took the ashes of hers to Laṅkā and put them in a golden box and kept the box in a solitary place. He used to visit the place daily. Since the arrival of the ashes, bad omens began to occur in Laṅkā. One day Nārada came to Laṅkā. Rāvaṇa asked Nārada for the reason of constant occurrences of bad omens in Laṅkā. Nārada replied that the cause of bad omens was the golden box he was keeping and that if it was kept in Laṅkā any longer, it would cause destruction and that if it was destroyed, great disaster would follow. Nārada advised Rāvaṇa to remove the box without opening it to somewhere else outside Laṅkā. Accordingly Rāvaṇa caused the golden box to be dropped in the sea. By and by it came with the waves to the shore of Bhārata (India). Robbers took it and went to the north and hid it in a forest. They were not able to take it away again. Thus the box came to be deposited on the basin of a river in Mithilā.

It was this river-basin that King Janaka selected as the place for sacrifice. Being kept in this holy place, the ashes of the body of Devavatī in the box mingled with her spirit and was taking shape into a child. When the place was ploughed for preparing the spot of sacrifice, for Janaka, this golden box was discovered. The child which was inside the box, was taken home and brought up by the king who named her Sītā. It was the portion of this Sītā herself that took birth next as Pāñcālī. (Devī Bhāgavata, Kamba Rāmāyaṇa)

Other versions.

(i) The King Padmākṣa performed penance before Mahāviṣṇu with a view to get Mahālakṣmī as daughter. Mahāviṣṇu gave the King a great Phallus to realize his wish. From that a beautiful girl was born. The King named her Padmā. When she attained marriageable age, the King made preparations for her Svayaṃvara (the bride herself choosing a husband). On the day fixed for the marriage Rākṣasas came and destroyed all the preparations and killed King Padmākṣa. Because of her sorrow at this disaster Padmā jumped into the fire. The giants searched for Padmā every where, but they could not find her. They returned in disappointment.

One day, during this period, Rāvaṇa was travelling in his Aerial chariot. When he reached this place, he saw Padmā who had come out of the fire. Rāvaṇa was fascinated by the beauty of Padmā. So he turned towards her. Seeing this, Padmā again jumped into the pile of fire for safety. Without any delay Rāvaṇa made a search in the pile of fire. At last he got the body of Padmā (Sītā) in the form of five jewels. The disappointed Rāvaṇa placed the five jewels in a box and took it to Laṅkā and gave it to his wife Mandodarī. One day Mandodarī opened that box and saw Padmā sitting in the form of a beautiful virgin. Thinking that it was not propitious to keep her who was the cause of destruction to Padmākṣa, his family and kingdom, Mandodarī exerted pressure on Rāvaṇa to cast the box out of Laṅkā. Rāvaṇa with his men took the box from Laṅkā and buried it in Mithilā. Before the box was closed Padmā cursed Rāvaṇa. "I will come to Laṅkā again to kill you and your clan."

One day when a brahmin of Mithilā was ploughing his field he got this box. Thinking that it belonged to the King, the brahmin took the box to King Janaka. The King took the child in the box and brought it up. He named the child Sītā. (Ānanda Rāmāyaṇa, 7-6).

(ii) In Adbhuta Rāmāyaṇa we see another story which is somewhat different from that we see in Ānanda Rāmāyaṇa. It is given below:—

Rāvaṇa who had become the harasser of the entire world began to harass the hermits and sages also. He used to shoot arrows at the hermits who were sitting in meditation in the forests, and taking their blood in the arrow-head, he stored it in a big pot. In the same forest a hermit named Gṛtsamada was engaged in penance to get a daughter who would be equal to Lakṣmī in everyway. He took milk with the head of Darbha grass and stored it daily in a pot. One day Rāvaṇa came to his hermitage and took the pot of milk stealthily. He poured the milk into the pot in which he had stored the blood and stirring it well gave it to his wife Mandodarī. Seeing the character of her husband becoming worse and worse every day, Mandodarī became miserable. One day she decided to commit suicide and drank the contents of the pot given by Rāvaṇa. The thing which was taken for suicide, made her pregnant. Mandodarī buried that foetus in Kurukṣetra. After a while a girl was born from it. That child was Sītā, the daughter of King Janaka.

(iii) There is a story in Devī Bhāgavata stating how Sītā was born as the daughter of Rāvaṇa. It is as follows:

Rāvaṇa wished to marry Mandodarī, the daughter of Maya. Then Maya said to Rāvaṇa thus:—"According to the horoscope of Mandodarī, the first child born to her will be the destroyer of its clan. So it would be better to kill that child." Not acting upon the advice of Maya, Rāvaṇa put the first child in a box and buried it in the city of King Janaka. This child was Sītā, the wife of Śrī Rāma.


Sītā grew up in the palace of King Janaka. Kuśadhvaja the younger brother of Janaka had three daughters. They were named Māṇḍavī, Ūrmilā and Śrutakīrti. Sītā grew up along with these three sisters. The four of them grew up as sisters and friends. Sītā grew up to be a young woman. Several young men wished to marry her. Janaka refused everyone of them. One day the princesses were playing with their maids in the garden of the harem. Sītā sat on the dais in the centre of the garden to make a flower garland. All their attempts to gather the jasmine flowers from the twigs of a large mango tree in the garden ended in failure. Śītā instantly ran to the weapon house and taking a bow and arrow, shot down the flowers. The flowers fell down on the cloth placed on the ground without being damaged. Janaka saw the shooting of Sītā, from the palace. He was amazed at the expertness of Sītā. The bow which Sītā took was Śaivacāpa (the bow of Śiva). Śiva had used this bow, in days of old, to destroy the sacrifice of Dakṣa. Śiva, who was pacified by the destruction of the sacrifice of Dakṣa and the victory over his enemies, gave this bow to his devotee, the King of Videha. That King kept the bow in his weapon-house and used to worship it. Śītā had taken that bow and shot with it.

The King who had been thinking about the marriage of Sītā thought that what he saw was a good omen. So the King made a proclamation that only he who could take the bow of Śiva, draw it, and shoot with it would become eligible to marry Sītā. Hearing this many adventurers came to the palace and tried to handle the Śaivacāpa and retreated admitting defeat. It was at this time that Viśvāmitra brought Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa to the forest for the protection of sacrifice. Hearing about the Svayaṃvara of Sītā, Viśvāmitra took the princes to the palace of Janaka. The King was greatly pleased when he learned that the princes were the sons of Daśaratha, of the solar Dynasty. Next morning, at the instruction of his elders and priests and teachers, Śrī Rāma stood on the dais in the middle of the hall, where the Śaivacāpa was placed, ready to handle it. He lifted up the bow with his left hand, drew it easily and fastened the string tightly and the bow was broken. When the Kings who were present, heard the roaring sound of the breaking of the bow, they shivered with fear as serpents at the sound of thunder. Sītā jumped with joy like a peacock. A letter was sent to Daśaratha then and there. Friends and relatives arrived. Under the guidance of the presiding priest Śatānanda, the marriage ceremony was conducted. Rāma married Sītā, Bharata married Māṇḍavī, Lakṣmaṇa married Ūrmilā, and Śatrughna married Śrutakīrti. The brides and bridegrooms went to Ayodhyā with their parents and relatives. (Kamba Rāmāyaṇa, Bālakāṇḍa).

Anasūyā’s gift of clothes and ornaments.

Daśaratha who had become old, wished to hand over the realm to Śrī Rāma. Since Kaikeyī stood as a hindrance, the kingdom fell into the hands of Bharata. Moreover Sītā had to live in the forest with Śrī Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa for fourteen years. In the early period of their forest-life they visited the hermitage of Atri. Seeing the devotion of Sītā towards her husband, Anasūyā the wife of hermit Atri, blessed her and gave her a fine garland, clothes and ornaments and cosmetics. Anasūyā blessed Sītā again and said that she would shine as Lakṣmī if she besmeared her body with the divine cosmetics. (Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, Ayodhyā Kāṇḍa, Sargas 118-120).

Test by Pārvatī and Parameśvara.

In the last year of forest-life Pārvatī and Parameśvara tested the firmness of the love of Sītā and Rāma. (See under Rāma, Para 14).

Phantom Sītā.

A few days before the abduction of Sītā by Rāvaṇa, Fire god took the guise of a Brahmin and approached Śrī Rāma and said: "O, Śrī Rāma! The Devas have sent me to tell you certain things which will take place shortly. Your incarnation has the aim of killing Rāvaṇa. Sītā is meant to be a cause for the same. The death of Rāvaṇa is imminent. He will come and carry Sītā away. So entrust Sītā with me. I will keep her carefully. Make a phantom (Māyā) Sītā and keep her here, instead of the real Sītādevī. After the killing of Rāvaṇa, when Sītā enters fire as a proof of her purity, I will return Devī Sītā."

Śrī Rāma agreed to it. Fire god by his power of contemplation, created a phantom Sītā, exactly like the real Sītā in shape and figure and nature and placing her beside Rāma, he disappeared with the real Sītā. Even Lakṣmaṇa was not aware of this fact. The real Sītā Devī was under the care of Fire god till the moment of the test of chastity of Sītā by fire, after the killing of Rāvaṇa. During the time of entering the fire the illusory Sītā vanished in the fire and the real Sītā came out. (Devī Bhāgavata, Skandha 9).

Sītā killed Sahasramukha.

See under Sahasramukha Rāvaṇa.

Abandonment of Sītā.

See under Rāma, Para 31.

Sītā in the hermitage of Vālmīki.

Abandoned Sītā, who was pregnant, wandered about in the forest and at last reached the hermitage of Vālmīki, who gave her protection and shelter. The story of an occurrence at this time is given in Kathāsaritsāgara, Alaṅkāravatīlambaka, Taraṅga 1.

The other hermits did not like Vālmīki’s action of giving shelter to Sītā. They said "Sītā is impure. Otherwise her husband would not have abandoned her. By her association we also would become sinners. As the hermit Vālmīki is kind, he will not cast her away especially when she is pregnant. So the best thing for all of us, is to go to another hermitage." This murmuring of the hermits reached the ears of Vālmīki. He said "She is pure and chaste. I know it with my inward eyes." But they did not believe it. Then Sīta said "Lord! you can test my chastity in whatever way you like, and if I am found to be impure you may cut off my head."

The hermits tested Sītā in the Ṭiṭṭibhasaras (a divine lake near the hermitage of Vālmīki) and were convinced that she was chaste and pure. (See under Ṭiṭṭibhasaras to know the greatness of this divine lake).

Cursed Sītā.

Sītā was spending miserable days in the hermitage of Vālmīki. Her matrimonial life was a hell. Is there any special reason for misery? Yes. It is the curse of a bird. Once Śeṣa told this story, of the cursing of Sītā by a bird, to the hermit Vātsyāyana. That story is given below:

The event took place when Sītā was a young girl in the palace of Janaka. One day while Sītā was playing in the garden she saw two parrots, cock and hen, which talked well. The spouses were delightfully engaged in love-making. As soon as the couple saw Sītā they flew up to a tree and sang thus: "A handsome king will take birth on the earth. His name will be Śrī Rāma. His wife’s name will be Sītā. Their wedded life will be happy.

Hearing the song, Sītā thought that they were some divine persons, and asked her maids to catch them and give them food. The maids caught the parrots and brought them before Sītā. She asked the birds. "Don't fear. Who are you? Where do you come from? Who is that Rāma? Who is Sītā? How did you come to know of them? Tell me all. I will not hurt you!

The birds replied. "In the forest there is a hermit named Vālmīki. We live in his beautiful hermitage. That hermit has composed the story Rāmāyaṇa, which is yet to happen, and has taught it to his disciples. We have heard those songs. Having heard them over and over we also have learned them by heart. We will tell you who Rāma is and who Jānakī is and what would happen to her who lives happily with him. Hear it! Saying thus the parrots passed on to the story of Rāma. Due to the sacrifice of the hermit Ṛṣyaśṛṅga, Mahāviṣṇu incarnated as four persons, of whom Rāma the eldest, with his younger brother and Viśvāmitra, would come to Mithilā. He would draw the bow and marry Sītā...

Sītā was extremely pleased with the sweet song of the birds and asked them so many questions repeatedly with curiosity. Seeing the excitement of the questioner the parrots understood that she was Sītā herself. They asked her. "Beautiful girl! who are you? Why are you so much interested in knowing about Rāma? What is your name?" Sītā disclosed everything about her to the birds, and said "I am the same Sītā, the daughter of Janaka you have sung about. I will let you go only on the day when that handsome prince Rāma comes and marries me. Your conversation has made me so curious. You can live comfortably in my house, eating sweetmeats." The birds were in great fear when they heard this. They looked at each other and replied to Sītā. "Good child! we birds fly about in the sky and perch on trees and bush. Houses are not comfortable to us. Moreover I am pregnant. After my delivery in our own place I will come here. You need not have any doubt." The female parrot said thus. But Sītā did not let them go. Then the male parrot prayed humbly with anxiety. "Sītā, allow her to go. Why do you detain my beautiful wife? Allow us to have our own way in the forest. My wife is pregnant. After the confinement both of us will come back." Sītā said "Let her live with me. You may go as you please."

The parrots were in great sorrow. If they had not made any noise on that tree this detention would not have occurred. These pitiable supplications had no effect on Sītā. The male bird cried to Sītā to let him take his mate along with him, and beat his head on the ground. Sītā was adamant. The female bird, filled with misery and anger cursed Sītā thus. "You have separated me from my husband. I am pregnant. May you too be separated from your husband when you become pregnant". When she had finished saying, she fell on the ground and wriggled and died. An acrial chariot came down to the earth from heaven for the soul of that bird which had died exalting and glorifying Śrī Rāma. The soul of the bird got into the chariot and went up to heaven. The male bird, being unable to bear the death of his beloved wife, dipped himself in the Gaṅgā. Before his death he cried out in anger. "I must be born in the city of Rāma. By my words, this Sītā should be separated from her husband and fall into misery." He died in the Ganges in Krodha (anger) and fear. So he took rebirth with the name Krodhana as a washerman by caste and profession. It was this washerman who spoke words of calumny about Sītā. Due to the calumny of this washerman, Śrī Rāma abandoned Sītā and she had to take shelter in the hermitage of Vālmīki. (Padma Purāṇa, Pātāla Khaṇḍa, Chapter 57).

The end of Sītā.

(See under Rāma, Para 33).

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