“It is not possible for me to be tempted by opulence or wealth. I am undeviatingly with Rama, like the radiance with the sun.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.15-16)
śakyā lobhayituṃ nāhamaiśvaryeṇa dhanena vā ||
ananyā rāghaveṇāhaṃ bhāskareṇa prabhā yathā |
Ravana took Sita away while she was residing in the forest with her husband Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. Rama was the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya. What was a king’s son doing living like a homeless man in a thatched hut constructed by His younger brother? Why was His wife with Him? If you’re going to rough it, you might as well give up all enjoyable things. In the scope of material desires, nothing is more enjoyable than the association of an attractive member of the opposite sex. Thus the presence of Sita in the forest of Dandaka raised a contradiction, but an intelligent person would study the situation further before rushing to judgment.
Such study would reveal that Rama was compelled to bring both Sita and Lakshmana because of their refusal to stay home. Imagine if you were wrongfully convicted of a crime and the punishment was residing in a desolate area for fourteen years. Would you think of asking someone to come with you? Maybe if you didn’t like the person you would. Maybe if you thought they were the truly guilty one you would insist that they suffer along with you. But you wouldn’t ask people that you really cared about. To have affection for someone means to put their interests ahead of yours.
Rama is the most unselfish person, so naturally He asked His dear wife to stay home. He gave the same plea to Lakshmana. The reasons provided suited each situation. With Lakshmana, Rama wanted him to stay home and watch after the kingdom. The king, Dasharatha, would be saddened by Rama’s absence. Though it was to protect the good name of His father that Rama agreed to the banishment, it was not Dasharatha’s choice. The king was painted into a corner by his youngest wife, Kaikeyi, who wanted her son Bharata to ascend the throne instead of Rama. If Lakshmana left too, then Dasharatha would be bereft of two of his four sons.
With Sita, the pitch was a lot easier. She was a woman, a beautiful one at that. It is the stereotype that women prefer to go shopping so that they can wear the fanciest jewelry and the latest designer clothes. Imagine if you’re a princess, where you have so much opulence around you all the time. To go from that life to the wilderness, where there would be nothing but the shade of your husband’s lotus feet, would be a stretch. Thus Rama, for Sita’s best interest, asked her to remain home.
“Whether it be residence on top of a palace, traveling on airplanes, or flying through the sky (via yogic powers), in all circumstances the shade of the husband's feet is by far superior.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 27.9)
None of that opulence appealed to Sita. What would you rather have, your favorite food dish offered to you regularly or the association of someone you cherish? If you have the latter, then the former doesn’t really matter. Eating out at restaurants is enjoyable not particularly because of the type of food one consumes. In modern times, picking up food to eat is not an inconvenience. The outing to the restaurant is enjoyed because it allows you to spend time with someone that you like. Where you eat usually isn’t that important; it’s the association that matters.
For Sita, Rama’s association was most preferable. Indeed, His company is the most valuable gift for any person. The goddess of fortune, Lakshmi Devi, rests on His chest in His form of Lord Narayana, the source of men. Sita is the same Lakshmi, so naturally she has the same affection. What would jewels mean to her without her husband around? She wanted to look beautiful especially for Him. There was no need to look attractive otherwise. The opulence of the kingdom didn’t matter either. Rama was banished just when the kingdom was about to be handed to Him. The night before the unfortunate turn of events, Sita and Rama slept on the floor on a bed of kusha grass as a means of sacrifice for worshiping Lord Narayana.
Beyond just preferring to go with Rama, Sita made such a flawless presentation, relying on logic, reason, and Rama’s own past words and His dedication to dharma, that the Lord was forced to take her. Now, in the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, she is explaining to Ravana how she can never be enticed by opulence or wealth. She is always with Rama, like the sunshine is with the sun.
Ravana took Sita when she was in the forest with Rama. It never occurred to him that Sita wouldn’t find opulence and wealth appealing. He didn’t stop to think, “Hey, I wonder what this woman is doing here. Why isn’t she back home? It’s not typical for a woman to accompany her husband in such a way.” Most likely he thought that Rama forced her to come along, that He was too attached to live without her. Perhaps Sita wanted the opulence and wealth of a royal kingdom but was forced to live without it.
Therefore Ravana made his many advances, but got rejected every time. The sunshine is so connected with the sun that it knows the sun very well. As Shri Rama is the original sun of spiritual effulgence, knowing Him means that one has full knowledge. Not that they know every nook and detail about every law of science and the workings of various machines, but they aren’t lacking anything with respect to knowledge that is important. I may know physics inside and out, but if I think that material opulence and wealth are the summit to an existence, I’m not very wise.
Ravana had so many beautiful wives. He had tremendous strength. The opulence of his city of Lanka was beyond description. Though he had it all, he was driven by his senses. He was a slave to them, rather than a master. If his high material position correlated with real intelligence, he wouldn’t have been induced to act sinfully, being moved around like a puppet.
The king of Lanka offended Sita and Rama in the worst possible way and had to pay dearly for it. Hanuman, another central character of the Ramayana, also met Sita and Rama, but he had a different mindset. He studied the situation, as from his position in high intelligence he was rightfully curious. He heard the situation from Rama and Lakshmana and then deduced that risking everything to please the goddess of fortune is the most worthwhile activity. Unlike Ravana, he was able to bring her real happiness by delivering to her a message from her husband. From his exploits, we know that Hanuman too is forever linked with the spiritual sun, the sun of the sun dynasty, Shri Rama.
Wife in austere setting to see,
How happy could she really be?
Driven by lust, Ravana of singular course,
Took Sita back to Lanka by force.
Opulence and riches on the table placed,
Rejected outright, spit back in his face.
Hanuman instead chance at devotion to seize,
Showed proper way for God to please.