How Could Sri Rama Do That To His Pregnant Wife?
By Kesava Krsna Dasa
How many devotees will answer the question of how Mother Sita was banished by Sri Rama to Valmiki’s hermitage? “Rama was righteous… He set an example for all…?” Or is there a deeper reason? Such an answer can take the ‘controversy’ out of it.
We do not have a right to question any of the Lord’s decisions, but in light of today’s awareness of human rights and the importance of family unity in strengthening spiritual communities, our answer might echo what appears to be a heartless decision to banish a pregnant wife, based on a seemingly major reaction to minor piece of public opinion.
Most people will answer that Rama, as an exemplary king, was being righteous in protecting His illustrious royal lineage and remaining aloof from any possible hint of negative public opinion. If we agree with this – and we do, on a social level – then we also agree with something that does not sound right by today’s standards of human decency.
How many of us would not be moved, or may protest if we learn of a husband who forsakes his young pregnant wife by sending her away forever, to the residence of a priest for example, on the pretext of spending a couple of days away with the in-laws? This might sound like a modern equivalent of this mysterious pastime. Then what is the deeper reason? In order to understand the deeper meaning, we have to acknowledge a reversal of roles played by the Lord. The Srimad Bhagavatam describes:
SB 9.11.8: Sukadeva Gosvami continued: Once while Lord Ramacandra was walking at night incognito, hiding Himself by a disguise to find out the people’s opinion of Himself, He heard a man speaking unfavorably about His wife, Sitadevi.
SB 9.11.9: [Speaking to his unchaste wife, the man said] You go to another man’s house, and therefore you are unchaste and polluted. I shall not maintain you any more. A henpecked husband like Lord Rama may accept a wife like Sita, who went to another man’s house, but I am not henpecked like Him, and therefore I shall not accept you again.
SB 9.11.10: Sukadeva Gosvami said: Men with a poor fund of knowledge and a heinous character speak nonsensically. Fearing such rascals, Lord Ramacandra abandoned His wife, Sitadevi, although she was pregnant. Thus Sitadevi went to the asrama of Valmiki Muni.
Such high drama certainly evokes human emotions because the Lord plays like a human. While we humans can learn about how Sri Rama dispensed with justice, mercy and compassion, He still has internal and external reasons for performing what He does, recorded and recited over millennia.
We can also ask why Srila Sukadeva Goswami mentioned this incident. Surely, he knew this would heighten sensitivities in people on a social level. Then, being an enlightened pure soul possessed of heightened perception and awareness, he would have cited this pastime to evoke higher and deeper emotions that will feature in the next portion of his reciting of Srimad Bhagavatam – the tenth canto.
Just as the Adi lila section of Chaitanya Charitamrta explains the internal and external reasons for Lord Chaitanya’s appearance on earth, so it is with the self-same Lord Rama. An internal reason for Lord Chaitanya’s appearance is that He desired to experience Srimati Radharani’s limitless love for Himself as Krishna. We can say the same for Lord Rama in relation to His wife Srimati Sitadevi, but on a behavioural level. Srimad Bhagavatam continues:
SB 9.11.15: Being forsaken by her husband, Sītādevī entrusted her two sons to the care of Vālmīki Muni. Then, meditating upon the lotus feet of Lord Rāmacandra, she entered into the earth.
SB 9.11.16: After hearing the news of mother Sītā’s entering the earth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead was certainly aggrieved. Although He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, upon remembering the exalted qualities of mother Sītā, He could not check His grief in transcendental love.
Srila Prabhupada explains this grief: “Lord Ramacandra’s grief at the news of Sitadevi’s entering the earth is not to be considered material. In the spiritual world also there are feelings of separation, but such feelings are considered spiritual bliss. Grief in separation exists even in the Absolute, but such feelings of separation in the spiritual world are transcendentally blissful. Such feelings are a sign of tasya prema-vasyatva-svabhava, being under the influence of hladini-sakti and being controlled by love. In the material world such feelings of separation are only a perverted reflection.” (SB 9.11.16 purport)
Thereafter, Lord Rama kept a deity form of Mother Sita. This is significant in light of Lord Rama’s reversal of roles. He already had the future in mind – a couple of million years ahead in fact (although He is beyond past, present and future). One day, while Rama was banished from His kingdom, He came to a replica of His Ayodhya kingdom in Navadvipa called Sri Modadrumadvipa and spoke to His wife Sita:
“`Listen, Sita, here is one very secret story. When the glorious age of Kali advents, I will display a yellow complexioned form here in Nadia. I will take birth in the womb of Saci in Jagannatha Misra’s house. I will give all the fortunate souls who see My childhood pastimes the supreme gift of prema. At that time, I will enjoy My beloved educational pastimes and reveal the glories of the holy name. I will then take sannyasa and go to Puri, and My own mother will weep with My wife in her arms.’
“Hearing this, Sita asked, `O lotus-eyed one, why will You make Your mother cry? Why will You give up Your wife and take sannyasa? What happiness is there in giving sorrow to Your wife?’
“Sri Rama replied, `O dear one, you know everything. But you are acting ignorant just to teach the living entities. Listen Sita, My devotees relish prema-bhakti in two ways. In union with Me they enjoy sambhoga, and in separation from Me they enjoy vipralambha. My eternal associates desire sambhoga, but I mercifully give them vipralambha. The devotees know that distress due to separation from Me is actually the topmost bliss. After separation, when union occurs, they feel happiness so much greater than before-a million times multiplied. That is the explanation of how there can be happiness in separation. You should accept this mood which is described in the four Vedas…”
“`She who is known as Aditi in the Vedas is now mother Kausalya and will become mother Saci in Gauranga’s pastimes. And you, Sita, will serve Me as Visnupriya. In separation, you will worship My Deity and spread My glories. Separated from you, I will worship a golden Sita Deity in Ayodhya. But this topic is very confidential, Sita. Do not reveal this to the people now. (Navadvipa-dhama-mahatmya, chapter fourteen)
Lord Rama is already thinking of His future role as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. His role as Rama being aggrieved by separation from His wife Sita, was reversed by His taking sannyasa in Kali-yuga and causing grief (bliss) to His wife Sita appearing as Srimati Visnupriya, and who also kept a deity form of Lord Chaitanya. A moving description is recounted:
“The earth splits from the sound of Vishnupriya’s crying: the birds and beasts, even the trees and stones shed tears when they heard it. Falling to the ground she would lament, crying out Why does my sinful life not end? In separation, her breath was like fire, drying her lips and her body trembled constantly.” (Chaitanya Mangala, 2.14.15-6)
The banishment of pregnant Mother Sita and Lord Chaitanya’s taking to the renounced order to deprive Visnupriya of a husband, are both socially harsh realities, but they are external ways of enjoying internal spiritual bliss. The Lord reverses the grieving roles in order to experience deeper spiritual emotions.
Lord Rama again had His Lord Krishna role in ever-present mind when He granted the wishes of the sages of Dandakaranya, who desired to have Rama as their husband. Those sages were to take birth as gopis in Sri Vrndavana dhama, and experience separation from Krishna, as recorded in the tenth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam.
If one might harbour some remaining doubt about the apparently ‘cruel’ banishment of pregnant Mother Sita, who came as Srimati Visnupriya more than five hundred years ago, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s Jaiva-Dharma gives us a glimpse of Her infinitely deep inner qualities:
“Sri Visnupriya is the Lord’s combined energies of hladhini and samvit. In other words, she is the personification of devotional service (bhakti-devi). She appeared during the advent of Sri Gaura to assist him in preaching the holy names of the Lord. Just as Sri Navadvipa, which consists of nine islands, is the personification of the nine types of devotional service, similarly, Srimati Visnupriya is also the personification of the nine types of devotional service.”
How the Lord wishes to enjoy His on-going pastimes here on earth sometimes confounds our sense of humanity – and how we think the Lord should behave. As some people say, “The whole world is a stage!” How true this is for the Lord. The Lord is waiting for us to join Him on this stage, through nothing other than loving selfless devotion unto Him.
Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa