“This is Sita, who is firmly dedicated to her husband and is the daughter of the great soul Janaka, who is the King of Mithila and strictly adherent to religious principles.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.15)
iyam sā dharma śīlasya janakasya mahātmanaḥ |
sutā maithilarājasya sītā bhartṛdṛḍha vratā ||
For those who are not familiar with the Ramayana and its characters, who are real-life historical personalities, from this verse they can learn about one of them: Sita Devi. The ancient scriptural texts of India were composed by sages out of a desire to spread the glories of the Supreme Lord to others. The act itself is known as kirtanam, or describing, and it is a way to simultaneously realize God at the personal level. Due to the influence of Kali Yuga, the dark age of quarrel and hypocrisy, fools and cheaters give their own interpretations to the texts while ignoring the authentic message. Here Shri Hanuman gives us another definitive truth from the Ramayana, leaving no room for doubt.
What are some of the misinterpretations?
The Ramayana gets its name from the lead character, Shri Rama. As a Sanskrit word, His name means one who gives transcendental pleasure or one who holds all transcendental pleasure. This word Rama is one way to address God, and Shri Rama the historical figure is a non-different expansion of the Supreme Lord. These facts aren’t concocted by the author. They are presented clearly in the Ramayana itself. Indeed, we only know of Rama’s existence from the Vedic texts, which all speak to His being God. Any other interpretation of Rama is therefore incorrect.
One of the bogus interpretations says that the Ramayana refers to the “Rama” within all of us. Following that, Sita, Rama’s wife, represents something else about us, and Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, again something else. Shri Hanuman, the greatest servant of the trio, represents another personal aspect. This is the result of mental speculation, as nowhere in the Ramayana is any of this said, and indeed all the verses speak to real personalities, who travelled to real places that one can locate to this day inside of India and neighboring areas. In other Vedic texts the same pastimes are described in varying levels of detail, and in all of those texts Rama’s divinity is confirmed.
In this verse from the Ramayana Shri Hanuman confirms to himself that he has spotted Sita. Hanuman is in a grove of Ashoka trees inside of the kingdom of Lanka, which was presided over at the time by the Rakshasa king Ravana. Hanuman doesn’t say that he has found the material body or the “Sita” within. He refers to Sita by her identifiable features, which are perceivable and understandable to the sober person who has no intention of twisting the truth to suit their personal needs.
It was custom in ancient times for a person to be identified by their parents. Today when someone asks for identification, they look at a government approved card that has our picture on it. The driver’s license and passport have our picture, our address, and our name. They also have our date of birth. The relationship to the parents is not required; as the approved form of id is enough for the authenticating party to verify identity.
In times past, the form of identification was the relationship to the parents. In this instance, Sita is identified through her relation to Janaka. And who is Janaka? Hanuman says that Janaka is a great-soul, or mahatma. The word “mahatma” is a compound word consisting of “maha” and “atma”. “Maha” means great and “atma” means soul. Atma can also mean body or mind, but in this context it means soul. Of course we can say that anyone is a great soul. No one has any real authority in this matter, as what we call someone else is completely up to us.
Hanuman gives evidence for why Janaka is a mahatma. Hanuman says that Janaka is strictly adherent to religious principles, or dharma. The material and subtle bodies are maintained through action in dharma, or religious principles, for the purpose of reaching the pinnacle of action, which is devotional service. Every soul’s constitutional position is lover of God, but in the conditioned state one is unaware of this fact. As Lord Krishna, the same Rama but in His original form, says in the Bhagavad-gita [7.19], it takes many, many lifetimes for a person to finally surrender to God in earnest and become a devotee.
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)
In the meantime, the principles of dharma allow one to progress to that rare state of love for God in full surrender. The king is the upholder of dharma; he maintains adherence to religious principles in society by first following them himself. His occupational duties as a kshatriya, or one in the royal order, include protecting the innocent against aggressors, following the advice of the priestly class, and collecting taxes in order to maintain a good government. Janaka was known throughout the world as a king who followed dharma. He ruled over the kingdom of Mithila, a factual area that still exists to this day.
Sita is the daughter of that great-soul, giving us one way to identify her. The relationship to Janaka is one based on body, and next Hanuman identifies Sita based on action. She is unswerving in her devotion to her husband. This has double significance here. For a woman who follows Vedic principles, her primary duty in adult life is to serve her husband with dedication. This is her dharma, which is just below devotional service. Following dharma for the sake of abiding by duty is action in the mode of goodness, which eventually turns into bhakti, or love for God, when the attachment to the results is discarded. When lacking bhakti, the wife’s fate is tied to the husband; she goes wherever he goes in the afterlife.
In Sita’s case, however, the husband was the Supreme Lord. This automatically made her dharma fall into the category of bhakti. In devotional service, the end result is always association with God in some way. Sita is always with Rama, though the two might not always be within the same physical proximity. In this case Sita was separated from Rama, and Hanuman was sent to find her on Rama’s behalf. Upon first sight Hanuman accurately identified her for both himself and the future generations who would delight in the sacred nonfictional tale that is the Ramayana.
From Hanuman’s words get a feel,
For Sita, character from Ramayana real.
Not a figment of the imagination,
Or aspect of body representation.
By relationship to father Janaka she is identified,
With respect for dharma over kingdom he did preside.
Also known as Shri Rama’s beloved wife,
Service to Him her dharma in life.
From the speculating cheaters stay away,
And instead listen to what Hanuman does say.