“Even if I stay with You for hundreds of thousands of years, I shall not feel any loss. Even residence in the heavenly realm is not preferred by me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 27.20)
एवं वर्षसहस्राणां शतं वाऽहं त्वया सह।
व्यतिक्रमं न वेत्स्यामि स्वर्गोऽपि न हि मे मतः।।
evaṃ varṣasahasrāṇāṃ śataṃ vā’haṃ tvayā saha।
vyatikramaṃ na vetsyāmi svargo’pi na hi me mataḥ।।
“I was recently reading the section in the Ramayana where Sita Devi makes the case to her husband for accompanying Him in the exile period of fourteen years. This was a remarkable decision on so many levels, not the least of which is juxtaposition in lifestyles. The dramatic shift from a royal palace with servants to take care of your every need to a place full of bugs and mosquitos, with barely anything enjoyable.
“The stay would last fourteen years, but there was no doubt in Sita’s mind. Rama could do nothing to convince her otherwise. She made the case that the decision was in line with dharma, which can be translated as ‘righteousness’ or ‘religion.’ It was the wife’s duty to serve the husband. She referenced many such rules supporting the principle.
“I understand that these were not made up, that Sita grew up in Vedic culture and followed it, but just compare to the situation of the world today. People would laugh at some of these statements if they ever heard them. They would get angry and upset, offended that others are telling them to be supportive toward someone they may not even like anymore.
“Don’t you think these principles are outdated? Should we have new rules to match the conditions of society at present? Or is there still some validity, some worth, to the original teachings?”
It must be stated at the outset that Sita’s presentation was more like a lawyer arguing her case in court. Her husband, Shri Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, received a bad hand. Poor luck. An ill-fated attempt from the step-mother to gain a personal favor at the expense of others, all rooted in intense envy instigated by her servant.
Sita would not let Rama suffer in the forest alone for fourteen years. She made up her mind to follow Him, and to support her decision she essentially used the law against her husband. She knew that Rama was keeping attention to dharma, to following duty as best as possible. Her arguments would be ironclad; no chance to refute.
It should also be acknowledged that the material world is one of duality. High and low. Hot and cold. Up and down. Birth and death. A joyous occasion for one person, a solemn moment for another. The farmers are thrilled at the impending rainstorm, while the airline passengers stranded at the airport are seething with rage due to impatience.
This means that even sometimes the rules governing marriage and the ideal roles for the participants can be detrimental. But the recommendations are there to provide guidance in the general sense, to give happiness to society as they hopefully progress towards perfection of the consciousness.
As His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada likes to say, the human birth is meant for tapasya. This is voluntary imposition of austerity and penance. Not punishing yourself for no reason. No trying to win the contest of renunciation, to boast in front of others.
Rather, restrict sense enjoyment for the higher interest, paramartha. Keep attention on long-term pleasure, shreyas, instead of the immediate happiness from sense interaction, preyas. The rules within marriage can be considered in this light. A way to restrict sense enjoyment, to be in vairagya, though also in yukta, with the connection to another human being, living together for many years.
The one rule is never outdated; that of devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is the real dharma of the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi Devi, who maintains her attachment to her husband, Narayana, wherever they may find themselves. She can live in the greatest palace designed by Vishvakarma, the architect of the demigods. She can also stay in a thatched hut constructed by Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana.
There is no difference to her, since she is always connected in consciousness to the Supreme Lord. This provides visual evidence of the otherwise theoretical principle of true happiness being found only in yoga. We can get a taste today by starting a routine of chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. We initially arrive for the intrigue of a different way of living, and we ultimately stay for the unending bliss provided through the non-different association.
I came here for something new,
I stay for joy and bliss too.
Because always by His side,
Like in Vaikuntha to reside.
The choice of Sita Devi explaining,
From regal life abstaining.
So that with husband to be,
Whose lotus feet to see.