“Having thus spoken to Ravana, Vaidehi, that celebrated wife, turned her back to Ravana and again spoke these words:” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.5-6)
evamuktvā tu vaidehī rāvaṇam tam yaśasvinī ||
rāvaṇam pṛṣṭhataḥ kṛtvā bhūyo vacanambravīt |
Here Sita Devi adds insult to injury in her reply to the fiendish king of Lanka, Ravana. The injury came from her harsh rebuke of his advances. Think of putting forth your best plea to someone and having them reject you in the worst possible way. The pain of rejection is stronger in this scenario. The classic response of “It’s not you, it’s me” emerged from the desire to soften the blow of rejection on the hopeful party. In this instance, the desire was just the opposite. Sita wanted Ravana to know that there was no possible way she would be with him. Such an emphatic denial was necessary because the proposed relationship was impossible to create.
Think of a situation where a child on a commercial airplane asks to step into the cockpit and man the controls. Sure the behavior is cute and endearing, but there is no way the idea should be entertained in the least. The results would be disastrous. Think of any situation where the thing desired is completely incongruous. With the worst possible situation imaginable, know that it still doesn’t compare to what Ravana requested. Indeed, there was no way for him to get what he wanted.
In his mind it didn’t seem so. He just wanted the company of a woman. This had never been a problem up to this point. As a powerful king he had conquered many other powerful kings around the world. The boon of those victories was the wives of the conquered kings. Thus Ravana had the most beautiful wives in the world. They were devoted to him, and they served his every need. As he liked to get drunk off wine every single night, they would follow suit. A glimpse into their world of partying is provided in the Sundara-kanda of the Ramayana. Shri Hanuman, who went to search for Sita, stumbled upon Ravana’s nightlife inside of the opulent palaces of the city.
As Ravana always got what he wanted in terms of female association, he thought he could have Sita in the same way. Though he didn’t conquer over her husband, he felt like he didn’t have to. If we see a glass of water on the kitchen counter, we shouldn’t have a problem drinking it. Just pick it up and enjoy, no? The close proximity of Sita Devi’s physical body gave the illusion to Ravana that he could have her association without issue. Just as it was impossible for him to have Sita, there was no way for him to defeat Rama, her husband, in a fair fight. Fortunately for him at the time, Ravana didn’t try to go that route. He instead created a ruse to steal Sita away. He forcefully took her from the side of her husband. Though she hadn’t done anything wrong and didn’t desire his company at all, he took her anyway.
As he used physical force to bring her to Lanka, he thought it wouldn’t be a problem to win her over. Rama was the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya and was known throughout the world for His fighting prowess with the bow and arrow. And yet Rama was residing in the lonely forest at the time, divested of His kingdom and the opulence it provided. Ravana thought that Sita was being forced to suffer at Rama’s behest. In the demon’s mind, there was no way that the princess enjoyed living in the renounced forest. Ravana had an opulent kingdom, so that would appeal to her more.
He practically begged her to become his wife. He openly declared that he would become her slave if she gave in to his advances. He would do anything for her. What Ravana didn’t know was that Sita would do anything for Rama. And that wouldn’t be to satisfy her material desires, or kama, for kama doesn’t exist in Sita. Her desires are considered prema, or pure love, because they are directed at the Supreme Lord, who happens to be her husband. Thus what Ravana requested was impossible; it wasn’t going to happen.
In her initial reply, Sita advised Ravana to keep his focus on his own wives. She compared him to a person who has sinned all their life asking for salvation at the end. She told him that she was incapable of doing anything so wrong, for she was born into a pious family and then later on married into one. In this verse from the Ramayana, we see her make a subtle physical gesture before continuing on with the rejection.
To turn your back to someone while talking to them is considered very rude. In this instance, it gave the impression to Ravana that Sita didn’t even want to look at him. She didn’t turn her back in shyness; she did so in disgust. After turning her back, she would continue with harsh words that were rooted in the truth. The “it’s not you; it’s me”, line didn’t hold true here. It was more like, “It’s you and it’s me.” “You are a disgusting creature full of sin, and I am the religiously wedded wife of the most pious man in the world. You can never be with me and I can never be with anyone except Rama.”
In the same way know that through following devotional service, one’s love for the Supreme Lord, who is the best friend of every living entity, is what defines them. In that highest platform of consciousness, there is no way for the devotee to accept any other protector. And by the same token, the materially attached, especially those who are direct enemies of the Supreme Lord, become too disgusting to even look at. Better it is to keep the vision of the beautiful Sita and Rama than to even think of gazing upon the vile Ravana.
Reduce sting of rejection to try,
To other party give famous lie.
“It’s not you; it’s me” softens the blow,
So that real flaws they’ll not know.
To Ravana not offered in the same way,
Turning her back first, Sita rejection to say.
She of highest character, Ravana vile,
Remember her only, she of sweetest smile.