Ramayana (Hindu epic): Why did Rama exile Sita even though he conducted agnipariksha?
I think agni pariksha was conducted to test the chastity of sita. Once that is done then why did Rama had to send sita into a forest on some comments made by a dhobi? If agni pariksha was not enough to prove Sita’s innocence what’s the point in conducting agnipariksha in the first place?
To understand this Lila of Lord Ram we would need to appreciate the values held sacred by the Vedic culture that the Ramayana demonstrates. The Vedic culture considers all relationships and all positions as opportunities for sacred service, service to God and to all his children.
In Vedic culture King to be able to effectively rule the people, the king himself has to be exemplary and that exemplariness has to be a manifest expression in all walks of his life. King and queen used to be an exemplary couple for the citizen, they should be spotless. So spotless that even rumours are not possible about such a person. We have been raised in a culture where what to speak of rumours, even when evidence are there, the administrators, the politicians, the kings don’t care and they continue to hold on to their post and to do their irreligious, corrupt and immoral activities. It’s very difficult for us to comprehend this level of morality since we have absolutely no experience of such exemplary personalities.
At that time, it was a culture that woman should not spend a night out of the house and this rule had no exceptions, and woman in Ayodhya started doing this with the excuse and reference of mother Sita. In order to protect dharma Lord Ram has to take this step and show an example of detachment to protect dharma.
When Lord Rama heard the accusations being leveled against his consort, this situation constituted an ethical crisis. In an ethical crisis, one has two choices, both moral, unlike in a moral crisis, when one has two choices, one moral and the other, immoral. To resolve an ethical crisis, one needs profound wisdom to recognize the higher moral principle and adjust the lower moral principle accordingly. So, through this incident, Lord Rama, who was God incarnate playing the role of an ideal human being, taught us how to wisely resolve ethical crises. As an ideal husband, the Lord was duty-bound to protect his wife. But as the ideal king, he was also duty-bound to exemplify and teach his citizens, whom he loved like his own children, the path to spiritual advancement.
Ordinarily, people are much attached materially to a spouse, children, house, wealth, etc. So, the king is duty-bound to demonstrate to his citizens the principle of detachment so that they become inspired towards detachment and thus make spiritual advancement. That’s why Lord Rama considered his duty as an ideal king more important than as the ideal husband and so sacrificed his love for his wife for the sake of his love for his children (citizens).
Some people say that for the sake of His own reputation, He gave up His wife. But at best a reputation can give a person only material pleasure so if material pleasure was all that was His interest and if reputation was all that was His interest then He could always have preserved the reputation by having some other wife, but he never did that.
At the time of their marriage, He had promised Sita that He would take an ekapathnivrta, that He would not accept any other wives. His fidelity to Sita is seen through His keeping that vrta. If we see further, Lord Rama performed several yajnas. Theseyajnas are to be performed by both husband and wife together. Although there was no one who could substitute for Sita unless Lord Ram married and there was pressure on Him that if He had to perform ashwameda and other yagnas, He had to have a queen with Him, He made golden image of Sita and that image sat with Him. The fact that He went to the extreme of doing that indicates that he was not irresponsible or immoral – just concerned about worldly pleasure through reputation or enjoyment. Lord Ram Himself was very principled. So what He is exhibiting through sending Sita away from His palace are not irresponsibility or immorality but detachment and exemplary conduct. Detachment means setting an example of dharma, one is not ready to compromise at all. One is ready to sacrifice any pleasure required for the setting up of dharma. This is from Lord Ram’s perspective.
Lord Ram had a conflict in between His duty as a family member, as a husband and duty as a king and He did His duty as a king by exemplifying detachment and He did His duty as a husband by ensuring that Sita was cared for. Although She was not cared for directly in His palace by Him, She was certainly cared for in His kingdom through His representatives, the sages and elderly hermits in the sage’s hermitage.
One might argue that if Sita had been at fault, all this may have been OK. But Sita had already gone through agni pariksha and proven her chastity. She had maintained Her chastity despite all the allurements of Ravana. Ravana had threatened Her as well as tempted Her. She maintained her chastity despite it all and then She proved Her chastity by going through the agni pariksha and then even after that She had to undergo the mortification of being rejected by Lord Ram. How is this justified?
The most agonizing and to some extent emotionally difficult part is to accept this from Sita’s perspective.
So certainly this is very heart rending. Firstly we have to understand that in every scripture there is a story line, there is philosophy and there is a rasa. There is an emotional experience that that scripture supposed to offer and that emotional experience is purifying, uplifting and eventually liberating. So in the Ramayan, the primary emotional experience that is offered is called as “Karuna rasa”. Karunarasa is not exactly compassion. We can’t have compassion for the Lord or His associates, but the idea is that normally compassion is invoked when we see somebody else suffering. Seeing the Lord suffering and the Lord gracefully accepting that suffering inspires attraction to the Lord within us and that emotion is purifying.
Vaishnava acharyas, especially those in the Sri Sampradaya, have actually taught that Lord Ram’s exiling mother Sita was to invoke this karuna rasa, Jiva Goswami also talks about it and from the rasa point of view there is a higher experience; that love in separation is higher than love in union in the sense that the emotions become intensified. As they say, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Lord Ram and Mother Sita wanted to experience that highest experience of love in separation and for that purpose, this happened.
Overall we can understand this at multiple levels,
1. At first level from the administrative point of view as a king, Lord Ram had to set the example of complete detachment so that He could exemplify dharmic detachment for His citizens and He did that. On the other hand, Lord Ram was not irresponsible as a husband. He arranged for the care of His pregnant wife.
2. From an even higher perspective of the Ramayan, it exemplifies how even the Lord undergoes suffering with grace and inspires us to accept whatever suffering we undergo in our lives because of our past karma gracefully.
3. It also increases emotional attraction towards the Lord in our hearts
4. And lastly, it enabled Sita and Ram to taste the supreme rasa of love in separation which is the highest emotional experience between lovers.
Unfortunately, all of us, for whose sake he made this glorious sacrifice, fail to appreciate Him.