“Since you are one who wishes to assail the beloved wife of Rama, you must also wish to swim across the ocean while wearing a boulder around your neck, and take away the sun and the moon using just your hands. Since you wish to take away Rama's wife, who is of the highest character, you must also wish to put out a blazing fire using just a piece of cloth. Since you are one who wishes to obtain the worthy wife of Rama [His ideal match], you must also wish to walk across iron needles.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.42-44)
In this passage, Sita Devi, the worthy wife of Lord Rama, is explaining to Ravana how ridiculous his idea of having her is. It’s deplorable for a man to covet another’s wife, let alone the wife of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Rama was an incarnation of God, and Sita was an incarnation of God’s wife in the spiritual world, Lakshmi Devi. Sita herein compares Ravana’s lusty desires to impossible feats, or those actions which are so silly that they aren’t even undertaken. She is illustrating absurdity by being absurd. Instead of simply chastising Ravana, she is trying to show the folly of his desires by comparing them to even more ridiculous acts. More than anything else, Sita reaffirms the fact that she is the worthy wife of Rama and no one else.
Sita Devi was born and raised as the daughter of the King of Mithila, Maharaja Janaka. When she was a baby, the king found her one day while plowing a field and then raised her as his own daughter. Around the same time, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, advented on earth in the form of a pious prince named Rama. Janaka held a self-choice ceremony, or svayamvara, to decide Sita’s nuptials. Lord Rama happened to attend this ceremony, and after lifting the famous bow of Lord Shiva, won the hand of Sita in marriage. The two lived happily in Rama’s kingdom of Ayodhya for twelve years when Rama was suddenly ordered to leave and not return for fourteen years. The couple then roamed the forests of India along with Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana. They set up a cottage in the forest of Dandaka. It was there that Ravana, a Rakshasa demon, appeared before Sita and propositioned her.
Sita was worthy of Rama and Rama was worthy of Sita. The purity went both ways. On the highest level of understanding, there is no difference between the two because one person is the energy and the other is the energetic. In fact, this is how the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, view a marriage. Through the religious institution of marriage, the husband and wife assume one identity, sharing a common fate in the afterlife. This relationship is an outgrowth of the pure loving relationship that exists in the spiritual world between God and His pleasure potency expansions. God is the original person, adi-purusha, from whom everything emanates. God is the supreme enjoyer after all, so to facilitate His desire for enjoyment, He expands Himself into pleasure potency forms, which are known as hladini-shakti. Krishna is the original form of God, and Shrimati Radharani is the original pleasure potency. From Radharani come all the goddesses of fortune, or Lakshmijis. So in essence, there is no difference between Radha-Krishna, and Sita-Rama.
As God’s most intimate associate in conjugal love, Sita possesses the highest qualities of devotion. During her time on earth, she never thought of anyone except Rama. She executed the processes of devotional service to perfection. Thus she was the only worthy spouse for Lord Rama. In a similar manner, Rama was the only worthy husband for Sita due to her pious and chaste nature. The relationship between God and His pure devotees operates in a manner similar to that of a good marriage. In a marriage, a husband will love and protect his wife provided that she is completely devoted to him. The husband will excuse all nagging and pestering or anything else he finds to be annoying from the wife, provided that she has no interest other than to serve him. This is the definition of chastity. In a similar manner, Lord Krishna relieves us of all sinful reactions provided that our only interest is to serve Him. It’s not that He gets angry if we forget Him, but He will pay more attention to us if we shift our interests in His direction.
Sita was both a chaste wife and a devotee, so she was doubly worthy of Rama’s protection. In performing her pastimes, Sita always associated with the spiritual energy. The Vedas tell us that God creates two energies: material and spiritual. Material nature is a temporary place which is full of miseries. It can be thought of as a prison house designed to act as a playground for the wayward souls who desire to imitate God. The spiritual energy is a direct expansion of God, so it inherits all of His pure qualities. God is so kind that even while living in the material world, one can associate with the spiritual energy. We can do this by engaging in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. There is no difference between God and His names, forms, and pastimes. Sita Devi associated directly with the spiritual energy by dedicating all her thoughts, words, and deeds to God’s personal form of Lord Rama. She also regularly recited His name, thought of Him, offered Him prayers, and assisted Him in pastimes. In this way, we see that Sita herself was completely spiritual. Though assuming a human body, she never directly associated with material nature, which is also known as maya.
Ravana, on the other hand, was completely engrossed in material life. This immediately disqualified him from ever having Sita’s association. The spiritually enlightened can never be coaxed into mixing with the gross materialists. By the same token, the non-devotees can never touch God or His associates. Ravana was a Rakshasa, so he inherited all bad qualities from the time of his birth. On a previous occasion, Ravana’s mother was cursed by the great sage Vishrava. She wanted to bear a child with the sage, and since she disturbed him while he was meditating, the sage agreed to her desire but also cursed her to have a Rakshasa son. Hence Ravana was born.
Ravana regularly indulged in intoxication, illicit sex, and meat eating. He would even eat human flesh, for he and his associates would regularly kill sages and then feast on their flesh. There was no way Ravana could ever win over a person as exalted as Sita. Instead of explaining these finer points to Ravana, Sita tried to convey the message through metaphors, illustrating absurdity by being absurd.
In the first comparison, Sita states that Ravana surely wishes to swim across an ocean with a rock tied around his neck. Obviously if a person tried this, they would sink. An ocean is hard enough to cross without having a huge weight pulling you down beneath the surface of the water. Sita warned Ravana that if he tried to forcibly win her over, he would surely drown.
In the next comparison, Sita states that Ravana surely had a wish to acquire the sun and the moon using his hands. In the modern age, scientists have developed a way to get to the moon, but only after much endeavor. After spending millions of dollars, all they have done is land there in costly spacesuits. They haven’t learned anything, nor have they advanced their material condition, which is what they were after in the first place. Hence, the moon still eludes them since they haven’t found any use for it. The sun is a completely different story. Even today’s scientists aren’t silly enough to try to go to the sun. One will surely be burned to death before they could even get close to the sun’s surface. In this way, Sita warned Ravana that he would also die if he tried to forcibly win her over.
In the third comparison, Sita states that Ravana surely wishes to bind a flaming fire with a piece of cloth. A small fire is not very hard to put out or contain. Taking a simple rag and swatting at the fire can usually put it out. Even a fire extinguisher can do the trick. If the fire gets any bigger, it really becomes a problem. It seems like every year there is at least one wild forest fire that rages across the state of California which officials can’t control. They do their best to try to thin the forests of dry brush, but Mother Nature always seems to thwart their efforts. Once the fire gets big enough, it takes on a life of its own. In a similar manner, Lord Rama’s power was like that of a blazing fire. Ravana was a tiny rag compared to Rama, thus by trying to steal away the Lord’s wife, he would surely be burned to death by the blazing fire represented by Rama’s arrows.
In fact, this is pretty much what happened, except it wasn’t Rama’s arrows, but the burning tail of a monkey. Lord Rama was God Himself, so naturally He had many devotees who were willing to step up and serve Him. Lord Hanuman, a Vanara [monkey-like human], was one such devotee. After Ravana kidnapped Sita, Hanuman successfully infiltrated the city of Lanka and made his way to Ravana. The demon had Hanuman bound and then lit his tail on fire. Through his devotional service, Hanuman had attained all the yogic siddhis, or perfections. He could make himself infinitely small or large at any time. After his tail was set on fire, Hanuman easily broke free of the bonds of the rope by becoming small, and then immediately assumed a large shape. He then dragged his burning tail all around the city of Lanka, shearing it of its beauty.
In the last comparison of these verses, Sita says that Ravana surely wishes to walk on iron spikes. This metaphor not only references Ravana’s sinful desire to steal away Lord Rama’s wife, but also material life in general. Whether one is seeking bhukti [material enjoyment], mukti [liberation from material activities], or siddhi [perfection in yogic performance], their path is riddled with pain and suffering throughout. This is actually God’s mercy because He doesn’t want us to associate with material life. Shri Krishna is described as having an eternal body, full of bliss and knowledge, sach-chid-ananda. In a similar manner, our souls are also eternally blissful, but through contact with material nature, we are forced into misery. Human life is meant for reconnecting with the spiritual energy, which will allow us to once again assume our blissful spiritual body. One does not have to wait until the time of death to reassume this nature, for the eternally liberated devotees are referred to as jivan-mukta, meaning they are already free of material miseries.
Ravana certainly wasn’t eligible to have Sita as his wife. Since devotees are pious, does it mean that they are eligible to have Sita as their life partner? Pure devotees know that Sita is only meant for Rama. They are happiest when they see the divine couple together. This is how Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, felt. He left his own wife at home in favor of serving Rama and Sita. Lakshmana derived great pleasure from protecting both Sita and Rama while they slept during the night. This is how devotees think.
Ravana wanted to take Sita and enjoy her for himself. Devotees know that Krishna is the original proprietor of everything. Whatever comes their way, devotees use towards God’s service. They are only happy when in God’s association and they have no desire to enjoy things that belong to Him. God is pro-choice, in that He allows us to choose which direction we want to go in. As Sita Devi states, one who follows Ravana’s sinful path is destined for destruction. Therefore we should choose to be with God instead of against Him.