Sita means furrow in Sanskrit. In Rigveda, she is named as an earth goddess who is associated with fecundity. A Vedic hymn invokes Sita in this manner;
Auspicious Sita, come thou near;
We venerate and worship Thee
That thou mayst bless and prosper us
And bring us fruits abundantly.
She has been a great icon who inspires all of us. Tradition in India speaks Sita as an exemplary lady who has been a role model of feminity. Her character represents all the required traits of an ideal woman viz..pious, devoted, affectionate, simple. She is worshipped as God incarnate.
Despite all these divine-like qualities embodied in her, Sita’s portrayal has been deprived of its just place. Sita’s forbearance has been greatly highlighted overlooking the other dimensions of her character. Sita was a docile yet courageous figure in the Ramayana. Penetrating deep into the character analysis of Sita one comes across many times Sita standing as an epitome of immense willpower and inner strength. Being of a mother goddess origin, we find Sita in harmony with nature. In the Sita Upanishada Sita is eulogized as the ultimate Brahman, the material cause behind every manifestation. The Upanishad identifies Sita with primordial Prakriti (nature) and her three powers:
सा देवी त्रिविधा भवति शक्त्यासना
इच्छाशक्तिः क्रियाशक्तिः साक्षाच्छक्तिरिति
That divine Being is threefold,
through her power, namely,
the power of desire,
the power of action,
the power of knowledge.
—Sita Upanishad verse 11
It further states; As the moon (She) is the mistress of the herbs; She is the tree of plenty, flowers, fruits, creepers and bowers; the mistress of medicinal plants and physicians; She is the divine draught of immortality, yielding the fruit of massive splendor.
As the legend speaks, Sita, as a young girl, had picked up Shiva’s bow with one hand — a feat which even great warriors found difficult to accomplish. It showed how Sita possessed strength both physical and mental. It was her ability to stand up and face challenges which are displayed when Lord Rama leaves for forests and she insists to accompany him. The charming serenity of the forest makes her feel captivated that she would opt for the simplicities of the forest life over the complexities of the life at the kingdom. This is one of the instances where we witness Sita being the determined and assertive woman in her thoughts. Whatever she decides she does such is the resoluteness of Sita. She thus follows Ram into the forests. It is with regard to her birth from the mother earth Sita has a special relationship with nature. Forest life is romantic and pleasant for her. She finds deep affinity with the solace of a jungle. Sita and Rama have many adventures in the forest, meeting various sages and vanquishing demons. Contrary to the popular belief, lady Sita as being portrayed in Valmiki’s Ramayan is a powerful woman who never shies away from taking crucial matters into her hands. In one of the versions of Ramayana namely Adbhut Ramayana which too happens to be the work of Maharishi Valmiki, Sita’s characterization is not of the demure, helpless victim waiting for her husband to rescue her. Sita is never seen shedding tears here, in fact, she is depicted as Goddess Kali who kills many demons.
In Adbhut Ramayana there is one unique story of Sita even slaying thousand headed Ravana. Here she is identified with Prakriti (Nature or the universal creative principle). She takes on the form of Shiva, and Rama says that Purusha is one of her forms (26: 29). She kills mercilessly and creates profusely. She also preserves the universe and acts for its welfare. The reason behind her birth is to establish Dharma and destroy evil on earth. She thus acts as an agent and not victim. Therefore, Sita’s actions apparently seem to be motivated by wifely devotion, are in fact aimed at universal welfare. In the Adbhut Ramayana, Sita gets ready to fight battle only when her husband falls unconscious, and is appeased only when the Gods bring him back to life. Thus we see Sita is synonyms with Shakti and encapsulates all the major traits of Shakti. In Ashok Vatika, her restraint is remarkable and unprecedented. It was the amazing strength of her character that Ravana never dared to even touch her.
But here also one peculiar fact come to the forefront that Adbhut Ramayana misses whole episode of Sita’s abduction and exile hence completely shifting focus from Sita a mute spectator eagerly waiting for her husband to rescue her. Here the stature of Sita is elevated to the level that even Rama is being depicted as a Sita devotee. It begins with Brahma, the creator God, telling Rama that he needs to recognize Sita’s importance: “Rama, you are not able to do anything without her. To make you realize this, Sita, who is beyond criticism, has done all these actions” (24:42). Brahma then tells Rama to actually look at Sita: “Look at Janaki, Rama, give up fear, great-armed one” (24:43).
In this way, we see what is being popularized of Sita till date stands in contradiction of how she is portrayed in other versions of Ramayana e.g. Adbhut Ramayana. So the need of the hour is just like the two most popular versions of Ramayana, they also need to be universalized. As it can be figured out that Valmiki himself felt that in his Ramayana due place has not been provided to Janki so he orders to overhaul it writes Adbhut Ramayana with the new perspective towards Sita and that’s why it is called Adbhut meaning extraordinary.
Such approach towards the characterization of Sita provides a befitting challenge to those who here and there try to demean our holy scriptures on the pretext of showing the female protagonists helpless and victimized. But whereas our scriptures show that females were held in highest esteem in the ancient era, the following mantra in Manusmriti is adequate enough to prove it:
Yatra Narestu pujyantey ramantey tatra devata Yatreta too na pujyantey sarva tatrafla kriya. –Manusmriti 3-56
‘wherever women are given their due respect, even the deities like to reside there and where they are not respected, all actions remain unfruitful’.