“I was then placed under the care of the chief queen, the pious Sunayana. That highly-esteemed lady raised me with the love and affection of a mother.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.33)
In this passage, Sita Devi is describing the circumstances of her birth and how she became the daughter of King Janaka of Mithila. Many many thousands of years ago, Janaka ruled over the kingdom of Mithila along with his wife Sunayana. The couple were childless until one day when Janaka found a little baby girl on a field that he intended to plough. The child was none other than the goddess of fortune, Lakshmiji, appearing in human form. Janaka immediately had an attachment to her and decided that he would raise her as his daughter. This was a joyful day not only for Janaka, but also for his wife. It is the dream of every queen to have a nice child to look after and care for. Being gifted with a daughter was a special bonus for Sunayana.
The mother-daughter relationship is one of the more unique relationship paradigms. Nothing can compare to it, for the mother-son, father-daughter, and even father-son relationships are completely different. It is usually the case that mothers care for their sons by smothering them with love. The famous television sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond illustrates this phenomenon. The mother on show, Marie Barone, has a special fondness for her youngest son, a thirty-something Ray Barone. She takes her motherly duties very seriously. She involves herself in every aspect of her son’s life, making sure that Ray’s wife is serving him properly. Marie also makes sure that everyone in the family is well fed. Though a fictional television series, the episodes mimic the typical mother-son relationships that exist in real life.
The mother-daughter relationship is usually quite different. Girls face unique challenges while growing up, especially physiologically. The mother is there to guide the daughter and deal with any issues that come up. The mother was once a young girl herself, so she can provide better insights in these areas than a father can. A good mother is also a veteran of married life, so she knows how to properly care for young children and how to maintain a happy home. In the Vedic tradition, these duties take on an added importance since the husband generally takes charge of earning money for the family. Women of the Vedic tradition are perfect in every regard. Though they traditionally never received an education, they were by no means unintelligent. Sunayana especially had a firm grasp of the proper duties of a wife. Her topmost trait however, was her devotion to God. Both she and Janaka focused their lives on service to God.
King Janaka belonged to a long line of pious kings, each of whom was also known by the name of Janaka. During his reign in the Treta Yuga, man was pious for the most part. Kings had specific duties they were entrusted with, the foremost of which was the protection of the citizens. Violence is required on certain occasions, and the kshatriya kings were the ones required to use said violence to maintain law and order. In Sanskrit, the scriptures are known as shastra (pronounced shaah-stra), which means “that which governs”. The Vedic scriptures provide great detail in how a kingdom should be governed. It is the duty of the kshatriya king to abide by the shastras, and to also use shastra (pronounced shuss-tra) to punish those who violate the rules of the scriptures.
On the home front, it was the duty of the queen to manage the affairs of the home. While young boys would go off to be trained with a guru, or spiritual master, the girls would stay at home and remain under the care of the parents until they reached an age appropriate for marriage. Sita Devi’s childhood was no different in this regard. Yet just because she was at home, it didn’t mean that she didn’t get an education. As Stia Devi mentios above, she was raised by Sunayana with the tenderness of a mother. This affection was shown in the form of education on proper etiquette and codes of conduct. Brahmanas, or the priestly class of men, would regularly visit Janaka’s kingdom. Not only would they visit, but they would provide counsel on all matters to the royal order. One of the primary areas of concern for any any parent is the proper upbringing of their children. For this reason, brahmanas would be called to come and look at Sita Devi and predict her future. Sita remembered everything the brahmanas would tell her mother. In this sense, she was the perfect devotee, for she had an eager desire to hear Vedic knowledge. Above all other processes, hearing is the most effective way to transmit and take in knowledge about Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Though this fact may seem controversial in this day and age, the Vedic tradition is that typically the men would learn all about the Vedas by taking instruction from a guru. Women would learn from their parents in their youth and then from their husbands in adulthood. There is no better example of this principle in practice than the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Lord Shiva is known as Mahadeva, or the great demigod. Though classified as a demigod, he is actually sort of in between a demigod and God Himself. He is considered a great Vaishnava, for he spends all his time meditating on the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu, who is God Himself. Parvati is the daughter of the mountain king, Himavat. In her youth, she performed unprecedented levels of austerity for the sole purpose of having Lord Shiva as a husband. Her wish came true and the two have since enjoyed wedded bliss. From reading the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas, we can see how their relationship is an example of a perfect marriage. One day Lord Shiva decided he would recite the story of the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, Krishna’s incarnation appearing on earth during the Treta Yuga. Mother Parvati took on the role of a disciple, attentively listening to every word from her husband and humbly submitting any questions she had.
This is the behavior of an ideal married couple. The husband makes sure to gain a firm grasp of Vedic knowledge, so that he can then discuss relevant topics with his wife. In this way, the husband and wife forge an eternal bond centered around devotional service to God. Sunayana thus raised Sita Devi to be a perfect devotee, wife, and mother, all by following Vedic traditions. When she reached a suitable age, Sita was married off to Lord Rama in an elaborate ceremony. In marriage, Sita proved to be the most devoted wife and perfect daughter-in-law. There is a common stereotype that a wife and her mother-in-law don’t get along. This sort of makes sense since the wife, in essence, takes over the responsibilities of taking care of the husband. These responsibilities originally belonged to the mother, so naturally there will arise some competition between the wife and mother-in-law in regards to who will better take care of the wife’s husband.
Though this friction is almost always there, it didn’t exist in any sense in the relationship between Sita and Rama’s mothers. Though Rama took birth from the womb of Queen Kausalya, he had two other step-mothers in Sumitra and Kaikeyi. Lord Rama, as kind and sweet as He was, viewed all His mothers equally and never showed favoritism towards any one of them. Sita Devi mimicked Rama’s behavior in this regard.
“One who sees the Supersoul in every living being and equal everywhere does not degrade himself by his mind. Thus he approaches the transcendental destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.29)
Sita Devi’s most important attribute was her pure devotion to God. Since she was Lakshmi herself, she naturally possessed pure devotion as soon as she appeared on earth. Nevertheless, both Janaka and Sunayana raised her properly, telling her to view Rama as her deity. A pure devotee is kind towards everyone, what to speak of family members such as parents and siblings of one’s husband.
King Janaka struck gold the day he found Sita Devi. Since she was God’s wife appearing in human form, Janaka and the queen both treated Sita with the respect she deserved. They raised her to be the most exalted princess, a person we can all look up to as a role model. As the perfect devotee of God, she serves as the guru for the whole world. Janaka and Sunayana had the rare opportunity of having direct association with Sita, and they made the most of it.
In this day and age, Sita and Rama have incarnated in the forms of Their holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. By constantly chanting these names and committing ourselves to the path of devotional service, we can show the same affection towards Sita Devi that Janaka and Sunayana did. Nothing makes devotees happier than bringing other sincere souls to Krishna consciousness. By humbly serving and respecting the pure devotees of Krishna, we make the Lord happy and thus we achieve the highest perfection of life.