“If do you repair today to the forest impregnable, I shall go before you, oh Raghava, treading upon the thorns and prickly grass.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)
We are all familiar with the typical storyline of romance films. A guy meets a girl and they both take a liking to each other, but there is something keeping them from being together. Sometimes the woman isn’t sure if the man is right for her and she wants more evidence that he really loves her. Sensing this, the man will go out of his way to be more romantic. Buying flowers, writing love letters, and hatching elaborate schemes are all part of the guy’s plan to win the girl over her. He woos her in hopes of sweeping her off her feet and eventually living happily ever after.
These movies typically end happily with the guy and the girl overcoming whatever obstacles were in their way. These stories usually stop here, and we don’t get to see what happens to the couple once they enter married life. As evidenced by the high divorce rate in America, real life relationships often dissolve due to disagreements and the loss of affection. The man has already chased after the girl and caught her, so he no longer feels obligated to be romantic and spontaneous. The woman misses this romantic side of her husband, and gradually starts to feel unappreciated. Feeling this way, the woman starts to wonder whether or not her husband still loves her. No one likes to love somebody and not be loved back, so this situation leads to bitterness. Bitterness leads to disagreements, which lead to full blown arguments, which can eventually lead to divorce.
Lord Rama was a special incarnation of Lord Krishna that appeared on this earth many thousands of years ago in the city of Ayodhya. He played the role of a pious prince, completely dedicated to the welfare of His dependents and well-wishers. When God comes to earth, He brings along His closest associates to help Him in the execution of His mission. Lord Rama was married to Sita Devi, the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. In the spiritual world, Lakshmi is the eternal consort of Narayana, or God, serving to His every need. More than just a wife, she is a perfect devotee who brings good fortune and wealth to all those who please her. Her intimate association with God brings her the most pleasure, thus Lord Narayana is the most fortunate and the wealthiest. As Sita Devi, Lakshmi mimicked the role she plays in the spiritual world, dedicating her life to the welfare and good fortune of her husband.
As the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha, Rama was next in line for the throne. When He reached the appropriate age, all preparations were made by Dashratha for his son’s installation. However, on the day set for Rama’s installation, the plans were suddenly changed, with Rama’s younger brother Bharata chosen to ascend the throne instead. In conjunction with this directive, the Lord was ordered to leave the kingdom and not return for fourteen years. Rama agreed to these two orders from His father, for He had no attachment to the throne nor to the worldly pleasures afforded Him in the kingdom.
After being given the order to spend fourteen years living as a homeless recluse in the forest by His father, Rama went to His beautiful and faithful wife Sita to break the bad news to her. Though having already been married for twelve years, the couple was still in love, and Rama wanted to protect her. He instructed Sita to remain in the kingdom during the exile period and not to worry about Him. He gave her a great dissertation on the duties of a wife and the dangers of forest life. Sita was raised as the most beloved daughter of King Janaka of Mithila, so she was always accustomed to living the life of a princess. Forest life was meant for the very toughest of men, those who had their senses under control, and who had no attachments to worldly comforts. Lord Rama, being God Himself, was the ultimate renunciate, so living in the forest would be no problem for Him. Yet Sita was a woman, and being of the fairer sex, she held a privileged status in society. We often hear the term “women and children first” when referring to who should be initially tended to in times of trouble. Rama’s exile to the forest was an emergency situation in their marriage, so the Lord wanted to protect His wife first.
Sita Devi, on the other hand, wanted no such protection. She wanted to follow the Lord to the forest, for Rama was her very life and soul. She countered His arguments on propriety with her own. In pleading with her husband, she told Him that she would walk ahead of Him in the forest and protect Him. This isn’t very surprising coming from Sita, since she was a great devotee of the Lord. Most of us initially approach God for some personal benefit.
“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)
On a higher level, when one becomes a devotee, he or she no longer asks things from God, but instead offers things to Him. Sita was a delicate woman not used to the hardships of forest life, but she showed that she was as tough and renounced as the greatest of yogis. Having been married for so many years, her love for Rama hadn’t dwindled a bit. It was she who was offering romantic gestures in the most difficult of times. Even later in life when she would be abandoned by Rama, she never stopped thinking of Him and loving Him. This illustrates the power of devotional service. Devotees of the God never stop loving Him and are always thinking of new ways to show their love. By always keeping their minds fixed on the lotus feet of the Lord, they are always with God and He is always with them. Being forever engaged in Krishna’s service, one truly does live happily ever after.