Poetic Insults

Sita's wedding“Devoted to one husband, being born into a pure family and having obtained one also, I am incapable of doing such a reproachable act, one that ought not to be done.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.4-5)

akāryam na mayā kāryamekapatnyā vigarhitam ||
kulam samprāptayā puṇyam kule mahati jātayā |

It is said that one of the qualities of a devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is poetic ability. This should make sense, as by definition a devotee is someone connected to a person of all good qualities. In that connection, all they have to do is mention some of those good qualities and automatically their speech is sweet. It is always more pleasing to hear praise of someone than it is to hear insults and rants against their character. In devotion to God, speaking of the good qualities, or saguna, is so pleasing that the devotee is not satisfied in their description. Therefore they constantly find new ways to output their glorification, in the process further sharpening their poetic abilities. In this instance, we’re reminded of how that poetic ability can also very quickly cut at the heart of the miscreant, who is by definition an enemy of God.

The word “demon” is often used when describing enemies of the Supreme Lord. It should be noted that the original Sanskrit term is “asura.” This is translated into “demon” for our understanding, but actually the word is a basic negation of another word. The word “sura” means devotee, a person who believes in God and acts off of it. The sura is also a kind of species, one of the original to inhabit the creation. The first created living entity, Lord Brahma is a sura by quality, but with respect to race their origin is considered to be from a woman named Aditi. Most asuras, or those who are against the people of the godly nature, trace their ancestry to Diti, who is Aditi’s sister. Her descendants are specifically known as Daityas, which is a kind of asura.

“Diti and Aditi are two sisters. The sons of Aditi are called Adityas, and the sons of Diti are called Daityas. All the Adityas are devotees of the Lord, and all the Daityas are atheistic.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.30 Purport)

We refer to the asuras as demons because of their bad qualities. They don’t think that God exists. If they should hear of Him, they try to deprecate His qualities. In the worst cases, they openly attack Him and His supporters. This struggle between the suras and asuras has been going on since the beginning of known time. In smaller pockets derivatives of the same struggles are seen, wherein criminals battle against the law-abiding citizens. The suras are the equivalent of the good guys and the asuras the bad guys. In modern times, godlessness is so prevalent that fictional demons are often portrayed as heroes or those to be envied due to their tremendous power. There is anger at the good guys for doing away with such characters.

Ravana was an asura by quality, and by species he was a Rakshasa, which can be considered a worse kind of asura. An asura might only be an atheist, someone who doesn’t believe in God but doesn’t necessarily try to thwart the influence of the suras. A Rakshasa is more ignorant and thus they can do things like eat human flesh and kill priests. Ravana was such a character, and one time he did the reproachable deed of stealing another man’s wife behind his back. As a proud king, he should have fought for this woman openly, but he was advised against that course of action. Deep down he knew that this prince, though living in the forest at the time, would defeat him in battle.

Sita and RamaThe above referenced verse from the Ramayana is part of a series of statements made by Sita Devi to Ravana. The evil king brought Sita back to Lanka to try to make her his queen, but she refused him. He offered her the chief position. He openly declared that he would become her slave, the most henpecked husband, if she gave in. Here Sita not only rebukes him, but also informs him that by her very nature it is impossible for her to be with him.

A man cannot give birth to a child. That’s just the way it is. Nature has dictated it so. You can try as hard as you want to change the reality, but there is nothing you can do. In the same way, Sita tells Ravana that by nature she is devoted to only one husband, Shri Rama. She also mentions that her birth-family is pure, as is her family post-marriage. She uses these as justification for her position and also as a way to insult Ravana.

Sita’s birth-family traces to King Janaka of Mithila. Even during this time he was well-respected throughout the world. The events of the Ramayana occur in every cycle of the creation, and sometimes the events don’t follow the exact same sequence. In one telling, it is said that Ravana visited Janaka’s kingdom during the time of Sita’s svayamvara. This was a self-choice ceremony to determine Sita’s husband. Ravana tried to lift the bow of Lord Shiva in the assembly but failed. Rama, the eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha, easily lifted it and thus won Sita’s hand in marriage. From this we know that Ravana had enough respect for Janaka to try to go and win his daughter’s hand in marriage.

In Vedic culture, at the time of marriage the woman is given over to the husband’s family. Lest anyone think that Sita’s link to high character would change after severing ties with her birth-family, we’re reminded here that her family after marriage was also pure. King Dasharatha of Ayodhya was just as respected as Janaka. He was from a line of kings descending from Maharaja Ikshvaku, one of the first kings on earth. Ikshvaku was the son of Manu, the father of mankind.

Bhagavad-gita, 4.1“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)

Sita, Rama and Lakshmana leaving for the forestA single act from a prince in this line showed just how pious the family was. Dasharatha’s eldest son Rama went to the forest to keep His father’s word intact. Rama was the powerful warrior who was the only one in the assembly in Janaka’s kingdom to lift the extremely heavy bow. Thus He was not weak at all. He was so strong that Ravana was afraid to fight with Him. And yet that same Rama accepted the vanaprastha mode of life, where He wandered from place to place with His wife, surviving on very little.

Contrast this with Ravana, who lived in hedonism. He already had many beautiful wives, but that wasn’t satisfying him. Ravana had a pious father in the sage Vishrava, but his mother was a Rakshasa. Ravana adopted the lifestyle of the latter in adulthood. Thus there was no comparison between his qualities and Sita’s. They didn’t mix at all. In pointing to her family ties, Sita praised the kings in Janakpur and Ayodhya and simultaneously insulted Ravana. She basically told him, “Look at the families that I come from. You think you can match up to them at all? You think I would ever insult their legacies by giving in to you? It is simply impossible; don’t even entertain the thought.”

Sharp, cutting words such as these serve to further reveal Sita’s spotless nature to the world. They show that those who love God can tailor their poetic ability to fit the situation. Sita always has only one husband, who is the singular object of affection for the purest suras, those who transcend the material qualities through service that continues without interruption and without motivation. One who always thinks of Him and His beautiful wife, the daughter of King Janaka and the daughter-in-law of King Dasharatha, has a similar link to the purest families, which thus prevents them from doing the most reproachable deeds.

In Closing:

From pious families Sita Devi came,

In comparison Ravana in qualities lame.


First the father King Janaka did protect,

Then family of Dasharatha she did accept.


Completely pure was each line,

From them one way for virtue to define.


Ravana’s qualities with her never to mix,

Better if on own wives his mind to fix.


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