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Was Seeta a dutiful wife who accepted the Agnipariksha as her husband’s rightful test? In this alternative Ramayana, Seeta begins to question everything she thought was true.
I was asked to dress up so that I could meet my king as a queen does. But all I wanted to do was meet my friend. To run into his arms and to be told that all was well. I wanted to hold him and let him know that things would be fine now. And he need not worry about me anymore.
I wanted to look into those dark eyes as I had all those years back in the Udhyan. I wanted to see the love and the tenderness that I had seen so many times afterwards. I wanted to run to him. But given that he was the leader of these men and this army, I agreed to them.
I hurriedly dressed – don’t ask me what I wore – I have no idea. I could barely stop myself from running out to him. But slowed down my step, so that I could savor the sight of him waiting for me. I came to him – my Rama! My home!
I looked up into his eyes – the stranger’s eyes. The eyes of a warrior. The eyes of a leader. The eyes of a stranger. The eyes where there was no recognition. Eyes that were hardened by the war – by the terrible things they had seen. Eyes that must hopefully have waited for my return… nay…longed for it.
The eyes never wavered from mine, and never became gentle either. The seconds stretched to minutes. The silence stretched to…
What Agnipariksha? Do you know that if we enter fire, we burn? Irrespective of how chaste we are? I will not enter the fire. You can tell people who matter to you that I did and I was saved. But I am not entering the fire and being a stupid proof for your fears. The only proof would be my charred remains.
The Vaidji with Vibhishana hung his head. “Agnipariksha is a test we have to determine if you have had relations with any man other than Rama.”
“But that would be the certification of the Rakshashas. They would want to portray to the world that their king is good and does not force his attention on a woman”, said Rama.
Sushena, the Vaid at Sugriva’s court came forward. “We also have similar tests, Rama! We can help you out! Would our verdict be acceptable to you?”
Rama agreed, though reluctantly.
I agreed, with anger write large on my face. “What do you want me to do?”
Sushena said, with bowed head. “Seetaji! I need you to go into the tent, where you will find my assistant. She will take you through the procedure.”
I went in. The assistant took various samples from me – I don’t even want to talk about it. I came out and stood in front of everybody. This time, I was angry. My eyes raked through every member of the army standing in front of me. I looked at Rama. He was looking away from me – not meeting my eyes. I looked at Lakshmana. He was looking at Rama with blazing eyes. I was surprised. So he did not like this pariksha – the test of finding out the chasteness of his bhabhi. But then why isn’t he saying anything? What is the point of disagreeing if you don’t express it?
Sushena had gone into the tent and he came out soon. He said in a voice loud and clear, “Seeta is untouched by anyone other than Rama! She is chaste.”
Rama looked at me. He came towards me with deliberate strides. “Seeta! You are the impeccable one. I had no doubt in my mind that you are unblemished. You and I know that we had to do this for satisfying wagging tongues. As a queen you have to be seen as a person without a spot on your character. As a king I should be seen as impartial. I have to behave the same way to my wife as I would to any other woman in the country. Hence I had to steel myself to be nasty to you. I know it would have broken your heart. It did break mine. I am sorry you had to go through this. But it has proved beyond doubt that you are as pure as Ganga.”
I was numb. I did not have anything to say. But people were watching me. My reaction would determine the respect people have for Rama. I had to do the right thing. I smiled. It was an effort. I walked up to him and stood next to him. It was an effort. I looked up at him. It was an effort. I smiled at him and turned and stood next to him looking at the other people. “Jai Shri Ram!!!” The cry started as a single voice and everyone joined in.
People were now happy. They were all cheering Rama, cheering us, and the sense of victory was back. I have never had ‘Out of body experiences’ that many people had spoken about. I did then. It was as though, everything was happening to a different person. I was a detached observer. I could not get involved in anything. I made all the right sounds. I assume they were right because others looked happy.
Rama’s words just after the pariksha, justifying the action, kept echoing in my ears. Something was wrong in them and I couldn’t figure out what. Something did not add up and I was trying to make sense of it. I told myself, that I am feeling detached because, of the fatigue. The sense of hopelessness in the Ashok vana followed by deliverance must have numbed me. Things will become all right once we go home. I just have to be myself and things will turn out for the best. One step at a time, one day at a time.
The love that I had for Rama will reawaken in me.
Pic credit: Madhubani painting of Sita’s Agnipariksha courtesy Dolls Of India
She is currently writing the Seetayana at her blog, from which this is an excerpt.
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