Sita’s Birth and Parentage in the Rama Story

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Sita's Birth and Parentage in the Rama Story

Author(s): S. Singaravelu
Source: Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 41, No. 2 (1982), pp. 235-243
Published by: Nanzan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1178126

Sita's birth and parentage are depicted differently in the various versions of the Rama story. In Valmiki's Sanskrit epic Ramayana (VR) and Kamban's Tamil epic Iramavataram (KR), Sita is said to have sprung miraculously from a furrow made by king Janaka of Mithila while ploughing the ground to prepare it for a sacrifice instituted by him to obtain progeny.1 A variant of this motif, found in the Northwestern and the Bengal recensions of VR, as well as in the Ramayana-Manjari (verses 344-346) of Ksemendra, is that king Janaka, on hearing a voice from the sky and then seeing the nymph Menaka, expresses his wish to obtain a child, and when he finds the child in the furrow, the same voice tells him that the infant is his spiritual child, born of Menaka (Bulcke 1952: 109).

The motif of Sita's miraculous appearance in the furrow seems to be connected with an agricultural myth relating to the personification of the furrow (sita) as a goddess.2 An additional element in the motif of Sita's birth in VR and Tamil Uttarakantam is that Kusadhvaja's daughter Vedavati3 is reborn as Sita in order to take revenge on Ravana, because Ravana tried to molest her when she was performing penance to realize her desire to become the consort of Lord Visnu.4 There are also references in VR and KR to Sita being the reincarnation of the goddess Laksmi, who is the consort of Lord Visnu.5

The Ramopakhyana of the Mahabharata and Vimala Suri's Jaina version Paumacariya represent Sita as king Janaka's real daughter,6 and this motif is probably based on the Adi-Ramayana, or the authentic version of Valmiki (Bulcke 1952: 108).

In Sanghadasa's Jaina version of the fifth century A.D., entitled Vasudevahindi, Sita is born as Ravana's daughter and is later adopted by king Janaka. According to this version, when Vidyadhara Maya offers his daughter Mandodari to Ravana in marriage, astrologers predict that his first child will destroy Ravana's lineage. Nevertheless, Ravana, who is enamoured of Mandodari, marries her on the understanding that her first child shall be abandoned. Accordingly, when Mandodari gives birth to a daughter, Ravana orders the infant to be placed in an urn and buried in a distant land, which happens to be the kingdom of Janaka. Subsequently, king Janaka discovers the child, adopts her as his daughter, and entrusts her to the care of his consort named Dharini (Kulkarni 1952-1953: 129).

According to another Jaina version, which is to be found in Gunabhadra's Uttara-Purana of the ninth century A.D., Ravana disturbs the asceticism of Manivati, who is the daughter of king Amitavega of Alkapuri, and she pledges to reincarnate herself as the daughter of Ravana and take revenge on him. Manivati is later reborn as the daughter of Ravana's consort Mandodari, and as the astrologers predict Ravana's ruin because of the child, she is placed in a casket and buried in Mithila by Marica. After the infant is discovered by some of the farmers in the kingdom, she becomes the adoptive daughter of king Janaka.7

In the Tibetan version of the ninth century, Sita is born of Ravana's wife as the reincarnation of the goddess Uma, who has sworn to destroy the demons, because she has been offended by them. Ravana is told by court astrologers that he will die because of his daughter, and there-upon Sita is placed in a vessel and set adrift on a river where she is found by peasants (Raghavan 1975: 11).

According to the Khotanese version from Chinese Turkestan, which is also believed to date back to the ninth century A.D., Sita is born as the daughter of Ravana's chief queen, and as the astrologers predict that she will cause ruin to Ravana's city, she is placed in a box and cast upon a river, and later she becomes the adoptive daughter of a sage (Bailey 1939: 465; 1939-1942: 564).

In the Sanskrit version of Dasavataracarita, composed by Ksemendra in the eleventh century A.D., Sita is said to appear on a lotus blossom in a lake, when Ravana worships Lord Siva in the form of a linga, and Ravana's wife Mandodari adopts her as her daughter. When, however, the sage Narada visits Mandodari and predicts that Ravana will be enamoured of the girl, Mandodari places the child in a casket and arranges for the casket to be buried in a distant land, where Sita becomes the adoptive daughter of king Janaka.8

According to the Adbhuta-Ramayana of the fifteenth century A.D., the sage Narada, who is jostled by the attendants of the goddess Laksmi during a concert in heaven, curses the goddess to become incarnate as the daughter of a demoness. Meanwhile, in the Dandaka forest, a sage named Grtsamada, in order to fulfil his wife's desire to have a daughter, sprinkles milk into a jar with the kusa grass daily, so that it will become inhabited by the goddess Laksmi. Around the same time, Ravana arrives in the Dandaka forest, and in an attempt to make the sages of the forest submit to him, he collects a little blood with the tip of his arrow from each of the sages, placing it in the same jar in which the sage Grtsamada has been sprinkling the milk. Eventually Ravana takes the jar to Lafika and gives it to his wife Mandodari, telling her that, as the blood in the jar is more poisonous than poison itself, she may on no account taste it or give it to anyone to taste. However, after Ravana goes forth again on his career of conquest, Mandodari suspects that Ravana has been unfaithful to her and decides to kill herself by drinking the contents of the jar. Instead of dying, she becomes pregnant with a child, who is the reincarnation of the goddess Laksmi in accordance with the curse of the sage Narada. However, she feels alarmed over her pregnancy in Ravana's absence, and therefore she sets out to Kuruksetra under the pretence of making a pilgrimage, frees herself of the foetus, buries it in the ground, and returns home. Subsequently, king Janaka discovers the child while ploughing the ground for a sacrifice and adopts her as his daughter (Grierson 1921: 422-424; 1926-1928: 14-15, 18, 20-21).

In the Kashmiri version of Ramavataracarita, composed by Divakara Prakasa Bhatta in the eighteenth century A.D., Ravana's wife Mandodari gives birth to Sita in the absence of her husband, and since the child's horoscope reveals that she will cause Ravana's death and that, if she is allowed to marry, she will become a dweller of the forest and will come from there to destroy Lanka, Mandodari ties a stone round the child's neck and throws her into a river. When the child is washed ashore, she is discovered by king Janaka, who adopts her as his daughter (Grierson 1928-1930: 285-286).

The motif of Sita being born as the daughter of Ravana and his consort is also found in several of the Southeast Asian versions. According to the Malay Hikayat Seri Rama (HSR), Ravana eats a portion of the sacrificial meal brought by the crow-demon Gagakswara from king Dasaratha's palace and subsequently king Dasaratha sleeps with Ravana's wife Mandudaki, who is the replica of king Dasaratha's own wife Mandudaki, and as a result of these two events, Ravana's wife gives birth to Sita. Since the astrologers predict that Sita will cause Ravana's destruction, she is placed in an iron box and set adrift on the sea, and eventually she becomes the adoptive daughter of king Maharisi Kali of Durwatipurwa (Zieseniss 1963: 13-16). It may be observed in this connection that the motif of king Dasaratha sleeping with Ravana's wife and later boasting that he, not Ravana, is to be the father of her child, has been included in HSR perhaps with the intention of reconciling the motif of Sita being Ravana's daughter with the motif of Sita being the sister of Rama, which is to be found in the Buddhist version of the Rama story known as the Dasaratha-Jataka.9

THE motif of Sita being born as the daughter of Ravana as the result of Ravana's wife partaking of the sacrificial food meant for king Dasaratha's wives is combined with certain other elements in the Thai Ramakien (RK). According to RK, Ravana's consort eats a portion of the sacrificial food brought to her by the crow-demoness Kakanasun and later gives birth to Sita, who is also said to be the reincarnation of the goddess Laksmi. Since the astrologers, including Ravana's brother Vibhisana, predict that the child will cause Ravana's destruction, she is placed in a glass urn and set afloat on a river. After the goddess Manimekhala causes the urn to reach the sea, it is discovered by king Janaka, who buries it in the earth. Sixteen years later, king Janaka ploughs the ground by using the sacred bull of Lord Siva, and Sita steps out of the urn and becomes his adoptive daughter.10 It is noteworthy that several elements such as the reincarnation of the goddess Laksmi as Sita, her birth as the daughter of Ravana, the infant being set adrift on the river and later on the ocean as well, the urn containing the child being buried in the earth, and king Janaka discovering it again while ploughing the ground, are combined in RK to present an elaborate account of Sita's birth and parentage.

The motif of Ravana's daughter Sita being the reincarnation of a divine being is to be found in several other Southeast Asian versions as well. In the Javanese version of Serat Kanda, Sita as Ravana's daughter is said to be the reincarnation of Lord Visnu's consort named Sri Mendang (Stutterheim 1925: 71). According to a Wayang Siam version in Malaysia, Lord Visnu's wife named Siti Andang Dewi reincarnates herself on earth in order to take revenge on her ravisher Serajuk (Sirancak), who is the future Ravana, and she enters the body of Ravana's wife through her mouth, causing her to become pregnant. As Ravana's brother declares that the child will bring disaster, the child is aborted and placed in a jar, which is then set adrift on the ocean. Eventually, the child is discovered by Maharisi Kala Api, and the child grows into a beautiful girl named Siti Dewi (Sweeney 1972: 94-95).

In the Laotian version Phra Lak-Phra Lam, Indra's wife is reborn as the daughter of Ravana in order to take revenge on him, because he assumed the form of Indra and seduced her. Soon after her birth, she begins to attack Ravana with a knife, and Ravana orders her to be thrown into a river, but she is saved by a hermit, who adopts her as his daughter (Vo Thu Tinh 1971: 26-28).

According to the Rama Jataka of Laos, Sita, who is the reincarnation of Indra's wife, is abandoned by her father Ravana on the advice of his brother Vibhisana, because she is destined to bring about the downfall of Ravana. The child is at first guarded by the spirits of the forest, and is later adopted by a hermit living on an island (Dhani Nivat 1946: 7).

In the Laotian version known as Gvay Dvorahbi, Indra's chief queen Sujata reincarnates herself on the lap of Ravana in order to take revenge on him, because he seduced her. On the advice of the astrologers who predict that the child will cause Ravana's death, she is placed in a golden casket and set adrift on a raft in the ocean, and subsequently a hermit adopts her as his daughter. She is named Sita, because after opening the casket, the hermit sees the child raising her hand and rubbing (si) her eyes (ta) (Sahai 1976: 9, 36-38).

In the Burmese version of Rama-thagyin, composed by U Aung Phyo in the eighteenth century A.D., Sita is said to be the reincarnation of a beautiful heavenly maiden, whom Ravana tries to seduce. She escapes from Ravana, descends to the earth, kindles a fire and enters the flames. Later she emerges from the earth as an infant. When she is brought to Lafika, Ravana is terrified of her and orders her to be placed in a box and set adrift on the ocean. King Janaka, who is ploughing the ground nearby for a sacrifice, sees the child floating on the ocean, and he adopts her as his daughter (U Thein Han 1971). The motif of king Janaka finding Sita floating on the river Yamuna and later adopting her as his daughter is also to be found in the Khmer literary version known as Reamker (Ramakerti), though it does not refer to Sita as Ravana's daughter.11

Now, to sum up the discussion on Sita's birth and her parentage as represented in the various versions of the Rama story:

  1. In twelve out of the seventeen versions under review, Sita is said to be the reincarnation of either a goddess (Lord Visnu's consort Laksmi, Lord Siva's consort Uma, or Indra's consort), or an ascetic maiden, who swears to take revenge on Ravana, because of his wrong-doing.
  2. Several of the Hindu versions, including VR and KR, refer to the miraculous birth of Siti from the furrow of the earth, this motif being apparently connected with the agricultural myth concerning the personification of the furrow as a goddess in the Vedic period.
  3. Sita appears as the real or natural daughter of king Janaka in some versions, such as the Ramopakhyana of the Mahabharata and Vimala Suri's Jaina version entitled Paumacariya.
  4. In most of the versions under review, Sita is the adoptive daughter of king Janaka or a hermit.
  5. In thirteen out of the seventeen versions under review, Sita is said to be the daughter of Ravana or his consort, and on the advice of the astrologers predicting evil consequences of her birth, Sita is abandoned, and she becomes the adoptive daughter of a king or hermit.
  6. As regards the manner of abandoning Sita, she is either buried in the earth or is set adrift on the river/sea.
  7. While the Jaina versions refer to the motif of Sita being buried under the earth, most of the Southeast Asian versions have the motif of casting the child adrift on water, and the RK in particular includes both the motifs.
  8. Sita appears as the daughter of king Dasaratha and therefore as the sister, or the half-sister, of Rama in such versions as the Dasaratha-Jataka and the Luang Prabang version of Laos.
  9. In the HSR, the motif of Sita being the daughter of king Dasaratha is combined with the motif of Sita being the daughter of Ravana.

As regards the question of antiquity of the different motifs concerning Sita's birth and her parentage, there is a wide divergence of views among scholars. According to Rev. Fr. C. Bulcke, the motif of Sita being the natural daughter of king Janaka as found in the Rimopakhyana Mahabhdrata may well have been based on the then extant Adi-Ramayana, or the authentic version of Valmiki, before the motif of Sita appearing miraculously in the furrow was inserted in VR (Bulcke 1952: 107-108). On the other hand, there is also the view that the motif of representing Sita as the daughter of king Dasaratha may have been an older motif, which seems to have been retained by the Dasaratha-Jataka and that it may have been changed to one of representing Sita as the daughter of Rama's rival, or as one who miraculously appears in the furrow of the earth, to be adopted by a foster parent, these changes being made to obviate the offensive nature of an additional detail found in the Buddhist version ascribing the status of Rama's queen-consort to Sita (Przyluski 1939: 298). Furthermore, the motif of Sita being abandoned by Ravana may have been derived from ancient folklore, in which an abandoned child was believed to cause the ruin of the original family (Thompson 1957: 326, 366).

NOTES

  1. VR., I, 66; RV(HPS)., I, pp. 131-132; KR., I, 12: 16-17.
  2. In the R.g-Veda (IV, 57, 6), Sita is invoked as a goddess presiding over agriculture or the fruits of the earth. In the Kausika-Suitra (106) of the later Vedic period, she appears as a divinity of the ploughed field, adorned with lotus blossoms. In Paraskara's Grhya-Suitra (II, 17, 9), she is called Indra-patni (" the wife of the rain-god Indra ").
  3. According to the Srimaddevibhagavata-Purana (IX, 16) and the Brahmavaivarta-Purana (Prakrit-khanda, Ch. 14), Kusadhvaja and his wife venerate the goddess Laksmi and obtain a divine daughter, and as the child chants the hymns of the Veda at her birth, she is named Vedavati. An attempt to identify Vedavati with the goddess Laksmi is also evident in this story. See Bulcke 1952: 109.
  4. VR., VII, 17; RV(HPS)., III, pp. 420-422; IR(OU)., 8: 1-19.
  5. See RV(HPS)., III, p. 506; KR., I, 10: 38.
  6. The Mahabharata, III, 258, 9; The Paumacariya, edited by H. Jacobi, Ch. 26. According to the Jaina version, Sita has also a brother named Bhamandala. See also Bulcke 1952: 107-108.
  7. Uttara-Purana (Indore, 1917), Parvan 68; See also Bulcke 1952: 110.
  8. Dasavataracarita, Sriramavatara, verses 70-104; See also Bulcke 1952: 112.
  9. Dasaratha-Jataka, the Buddhist story of King Rama, edited and translated by V. Fausboll (Copenhagen: Hagerup, 1871). See also Zieseniss 1963: 113; Raghavan 1975: 158. In the Luang Prabang version of the Rama story in Laos, Sita is said to be the daughter of king Dasaratha's fourth queen, and she is later placed in an urn and set adrift on the ocean, because astrologers predict evil consequences of her birth. Subsequently she is adopted by a sage (Sahai 1971: 226).
  10. RK., I, 290-293 and 323-332; RAO., 63 and 68-69; SSP., 32-33.
  11. Ramakerti (XVIe-XVIIe siecles), traduit et commente par Saveros Pou (Paris: Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient, 1977), p. 4. The motif of Indra's wife reincarnating herself as the daughter of Ravana in order to take revenge on him because of his wrong-doing, is to be found in the popular Khmer versions. See Ramker (Ramayana Khmer), avant-propos par M. Hang Thun Hak (Phnom-Penh: Imprimerie Sangkum Reastr Niyum, 1969), p. 35.

REFERENCES

(a) Abbreviations

BEFEO : Bulletin de l'Ecole Franfaise d'Extreme-Orient, Hanoi and Paris.
BSOAS : Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, London
HSR : Hikayat Seri Rama.
IHQ : Indian Historical Quarterly, Calcutta.
IR(OU) : Iramayanam, Ottakkuttar iyarriya uttarakantam, Annamalainagar: Annamalai University, 1977
JAOS : Journal of the American Oriental Society, New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A.
JOIB : Journal of the Oriental Institute, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Baroda.
JRAS : Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London.
JSS : Journal of the Siam Society, Bangkok.
KR : Kambaramayanam, edited with the commentary by V. M. Kopalakirushnamacariyar.
Madras, 1959.
RAO : R. A. Olsson (Translator). The Ramakien. Bangkok: Praepittaya Company Limited Partnership, 1968.
RK : Ramakien Phrarachaniphon Thi 1. 4 Volumes. Bangkok: Chabap Khruusapha, 1951.
RV(HPS). : The Ramayana of Valmiki, translated into English by Hari Prasad Shastri. 3 Volumes. London: Shanti Sadan, 1952-1959.
SSP : Swami Satyananda Puri and Charoen Sarahiran (Translators), Ramakirti (Ramakien), or the Thai version of the Ramayana. Reprint, Bangkok: Thai Bharat Cultural Lodge and Satyananda Puri Foundation, 1949.
TUK Tamil Uttarakantam: Iramayanam, Ottakkuttar iyarriya uttarakantam. Annamalainagar: Annamalai University, 1977.
VR : The Valmiki-Ramayana, critically edited for the first time by G. H. Bhatt and others. 7 Volumes. Baroda: Oriental Institute, M.S. University of Baroda, 1960-1971.
ZIES : A. Zieseniss, The Rama Saga in Malaysia, its origin and development. Translation into English by P. W. Burch. Singapore: Malaysian Sociological Research Institute Ltd., 1963.

(b) Texts and Translations (alphabetized by titles)

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  • Dasavataracarita: Sriramavatara.
  • Grhya-Sutra.
  • Hikayat Seri Rama, edited by Rev. W. G. Shellabear. Singapore: Malaysia Publishing House Ltd., 1964.
  • Iramayanam. Ottakkuttar iyarriya uttarakantam, Part 1, edited with commentary by S. Venkataramaccettiyar. Annamalainagar: Annamalai University, 1977.
  • Kausika-Sutra.
  • Kaviccakkaravartti Kambar iyarriya iramayanam, edited by R. P. Cetuppillai and others. 6 Vols. Annamalainagar: Annamalai University, 1957-1970.
  • Mahabharata, critical edition. Poona, 1933-1969.
  • Paumacariya, edited by H. Jacobi. Bhavanagar, 1914.
  • Phra Lak Phra Lam, or the Phra Lam Sadok, edited by S. Sahai. New Delhi: Indian Council for Cultural Relations, 1973.
  • Ramakien, Phrarachaniphon thi 1. Bangkok: Khruusapha. B.E. 2494., A.D. 1951.
  • Ramakerti (XVIe-XVIIe Siecles), textes Khmer publie par Saveros Pou. Paris: Publications
    de l'Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient, Vol. CXVII, 1979.
  • Ramakerti (XVIe-XVIIe Siecles), traduit et commente par Saveros Pou. Paris: Publications de l'Ecole Fran~aise d'Extreme-Orient, Vol. CX, 1977.
  • Sri Kambaramayanam, with the commentary by V. M. Kopalakirushnamacariyar.
    6 Vols. 6th edition, Madras: V. M. K6palakirushnamacariyar Co., 1959.
  • Srimaddevibhagavata-Purana.
  • Uttara-Purana.
  • Valmiki-Ramayana, critically edited for the first time by G. H. Bhatt and others. 7 Vols. Baroda: Oriental Institute, M.S. University of Baroda, 1960-1971.
  • ___Trans. HIari Prasad Shastri. 3 Vols. London: Shanti Sadan, 1952-1959.

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