“She is the dear wife of Rama, who knows right and wrong and is grateful and self-realized. She is now under the control of the Rakshasis.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.18)
dharmajñasya kṛtajñasya rāmasya vidita ātmanaḥ |
iyam sā dayitā bhāryā rākṣasī vaśam āgatā ||
The wife is an extension of the husband. The two are essentially one; their deeds are taken as a collective unit. If one is bad, it reflects poorly on the other, and vice versa. Therefore in all respects it is beneficial for both parties to follow the righteous path, as this will benefit both of them in the future. Yet in one situation Shri Hanuman noticed conditions that were paradoxical. You had a pious husband combined with a pious wife, and yet the wife was in the worst circumstances, with the husband longing for her. How could this be?
The concept of the husband and wife assuming one identity at the time of marriage isn’t exclusive to the Vedas, the ancient scriptural tradition of India. What we know as Hinduism is actually just the modern term for the cultural tradition that follows the Vedas. Indeed, amongst wise souls there is no such thing as believing in a certain faith or belonging to a specific group. In the Vedas spirituality is presented as a science, wherein the individual is identified as a spirit soul who is transcendental to the changes of the outer covering. The covering is composed of material elements, which are accepted and discarded in the same way that clothes are worn and taken off.
The proper identification is provided at the beginning of the instructional period, and all subsequent rites, rituals and guidelines are aimed at tasting the fruit of one’s existence, which is association with the Supreme Spirit in a bond that never has to break. The material world’s current flows in the opposite direction, however. We know this instinctively, as a child is compelled to go to school in order to learn. Their first inclination is to play each day away, and this is not accepted as valid by the wiser adults. The children have to be forced to do things in order to better their condition.
The one thing that takes the individual farthest away from the real goal of life is lust, which manifests most strongly in attraction towards the opposite sex. For this reason the Supreme Spirit provided the institution of marriage in His Vedas. Through marriage conducted under religious guidelines the tendency towards lust is hopefully curbed. The attraction towards the opposite sex is contained, and through the partnership one has help in reaching the ultimate goal of consciousness of the Divine.
“The Blessed Lord said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.37)
If the husband is good, it is to be understood that his wife is supporting him. She shares in his merits, so if he’s somehow following the righteous path, she must be doing well in serving him. In the case of a famous princess a long time back, her husband was of the best character. He is described in the verse quoted above as a knower of dharma, which can translate to mean religion or duty. This is like saying that Rama, the woman’s husband, knew right and wrong. He didn’t have to guess what to do. Whatever He did was right.
Hanuman also says that Rama was grateful. The Sanskrit words krita and jnasya can also translate to mean one who knows actions. This can refer to one’s own actions or the actions of others. Both apply to Rama, as He always recognized the good deeds of others. And since He was a knower of dharma, all of His actions were good as well.
Rama was also self-realized. This is very important to mention because self-realization is the ultimate goal of the human form of life. If a married man is self-realized, it means that his wife somehow or other allowed that realization to happen. At worst, she didn’t get in the way of the realization. In Sita’s case, she was always there with Rama to help Him. He one time openly appreciated her support in this regard. He kindly referred to her as a sadharma-charini, which means a chaste wife who lives by religious principles.
“My dear beautiful wife, what you have said is befitting the occasion and also indicative of the greatness of your family heritage. You are dearer to Me than My life, for you are My companion in the performance of religious duties.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.21)
Hanuman first mentions Rama’s qualities so that he can show the stark contrast to the situation at hand. Sita, who is by extension the same as Rama, is here in the most difficult circumstance. She is under the sway of Rakshasis, who can be likened to female man-eaters. Under orders from the king of Lanka, Ravana, they are harassing Sita day and night, trying to scare her into submission. Ravana stole her away from Rama’s side through a backhanded plot, hoping to have her as a wife. She utterly refused him, and so he hoped maybe the fear of death would get her to change her mind.
How could something like this happen to someone who was married to someone who was righteous in every way? Rama had never done anything wrong, so why were these bad things constantly happening to Him? First, He lost the throne of Ayodhya on the day His father was to hand it to Him. Then He got kicked out of Ayodhya for twelve years, forced to roam the forests as a recluse. And then Sita, whose company He adored, vanished from His side. Such a wonderful person had all of these bad things happen to Him, and He couldn’t now just sit back and sulk, either. He had to find Sita. He wasn’t going to let her suffer alone.
Hanuman was an extension of Rama’s concern. That knower of the self, who acted piously and recognized good actions in others, had Hanuman working for Him. Hanuman found Sita in this instance after an extensive search. Though he may not have realized it at the moment, but the seemingly bad fortune for Sita and Rama turned out to be good since they got to witness Hanuman’s heroic service. That service is so pleasing to hear of that it is described in detail in the Sundara Kand of the Ramayana.
Rama is God and Sita His eternal consort; so they never actually undergo any suffering. The events of the Ramayana were sequenced in such a way so as to provide so many lessons to man. In spite of how pious one may be, material circumstances are not always guaranteed to be immediately favorable. How one reacts to misfortune is what truly tests their dedication to piety. In Rama’s case as well as Sita’s, the dedication to religious principles never waned, and in this way they provided a great lesson. Good and bad will come and go, but only one who is steady like Hanuman in their march towards the supreme destination will attain it.
Come together do the husband and wife,
Fused into one is their fortune in life.
If the husband possesses qualities good,
That wife is supportive is understood.
Rama treading the righteous path goes,
Good and bad and kind deeds of others He knows.
That Sita in harm’s way is certainly wrong,
Rama for her company shouldn’t have to long.
All this part of Ramayana’s play,
Chance for Hanuman to save the day.