Sitaayah caritam Mahat!
Greater are the two ordeals she underwent!
The Agnipariskha and exile as a pregnant woman are
so heart-wrenching that the current generation is totally at a loss to
understand those events. One needs to shed present-mindedness in judging these
events of a remote past. In this context it is worth remembering the verses
inscribed on stone 1000 years ago by the Chola King Veerarajendra,
the grandson of Rajaraja Chola.
The exile of Sita is discussed in this inscription
besides the other contentious issues of Ramayana. These were debated all these
years, perhaps right from Rama’s times. The one who understands them in the way
they should be understood is truly closer to the state of ‘Sthitaprajna’, others can
try to learn more, but never attempt to whitewash the truth. Any attempt to
twist or remove Agni Pravesha incident is grave injustice to the Epic, to Sita
and to posterity. Since because people of current times can’t understand the
purport of it, it is not right to rewrite the Ramayana, which is Veda as per
Valmiki and for scores of devotees of Rama including this writer.
Here I am taking up the analysis of ‘Agni Pravesha’ to show the historicity behind and the historic
developments around that over the millennia.
as Agni Pravesha.
Anyone visiting Sri Lanka on a cultural tour will be
pleasantly surprised to get introduced to Sita’s Agni Pravesha as Fire-walking. The cultural events arranged for tourists
in Sri Lanka contain the event of fire walking too, which Sri Lankans think was
done by Sita to prove her loyalty to Rama! This version prevalent in Sri Lanka
cannot be ignored, for, that country was very much part of Ramayana events and
the memory carried by them down the ages cannot be false. That memory of fire
walk by Sita offers a convincing reason on how she managed to come out of the
Sita asked Lakshmana to prepare a pyre (चितां
pyre is created for fire walk even today. The following picture is that of the
preparation of the fire in Draupadi Amman temple in
Udappu, Sri Lanka.
Fire- walking is wide-spread in Tamil lands even today.
Huge pyre is created for the fire-walk. The devotees walk on smoldering fire,
not on burning fire. They come out unscathed due to their devotion – something to
do with their thought force and will power. In all the cases the underlying
concept is complete allegiance to the deity.
Similar fire walking is found in the Pacific island
of Vanuatu where fire walking is a native practice. Today it is promoted as
fire-dance for tourist attraction.
This could not have started as a past time, but
anything other than that. Most probably as a ritual with religious connotations
but is exploited as tourist attraction today.
The concept and causes for this ritual are best
known from the Tamil lands only. In the contemporary world no other people
conduct the fire-walking events as Tamils do. And this has been a continuing
practice from an undated past. There was a Sangam age poet by name “Thee-midhi Naaganaar” – meaning, ‘Naaganaar who walked on fire” There is a tradition to
call this event as “Poo
midhi” – “walking on flowers”. One can understand
from this expression what the devotees think about this ordeal. For the devout,
walking on fire is akin to walking on a bed of flowers. And they voluntarily do
it, as a show of devotion and commitment to the deity.
The strange feature of Fire walking is that it is
done only to female Goddesses. Prominent among
them is Draupadi Amman!
Not many know that there are temples for Draupadi in remote regions in
Tamilnadu where Fire- walking is an important annual festival. The devotees of
this deity (Draupadi amman) in Tamil lands believe that
she did this walk after Mahabharata war to wipe out the insult done to her by
disrobing her in the court of Dhritarashtra! This proves that Draupadi
Amman is indeed Draupadi of Mahabharata. How she came to Tamil lands is best
understood from the literary references to the migration of Velir groups
consisting of relatives of Krishna and others
owing allegiance to Krishna and Pandavas after the last deluge that happened
3500 years ago (coinciding with the decline of the Harappan culture and inundation
at Byt Dwaraka).
The migrants had continued with their previous
practices, one of which is worshiping Draupadi by means of fire-walk. The
migration of fire-walking practice from Dwaraka and Harappan regions shows that
this practice must have been prevalent in North India too in remote past but
forgotten after a series of invasions.
Now let us go from the known to the unknown to
justify that Agni Pravesha done by Sita was nothing but fire walking.
Two features are deciphered from the fire walking
ritual done by the devotees of Tamil lands. One is that the deity for whom the fire
walking is done is a female and the other is absolute commitment or allegiance
to her. The popular belief that Draupadi did fire walking to wipe off the dishonor
she suffered in the hands of Dussasana could not have come up in the first
place without an incident of fire walk done by her. It is like how gold shines
more when burnt. The high level of importance attached to chastity must have
given rise to this practice. The same act also demonstrates her complete
allegiance to the Lord – in her case the Pandavas.
The incidence of Jauhar committed by Rajput women in the event of
facing certainty of dishonor (rape) in the hands of the cruel Mleccha Muslims
seems to be rooted in this practice only. Draupadi had a future with her husbands
after the war and so opted for fire-walk, but the hapless Rajput women had none
and therefore decided to end their life by fire. They could have chosen easier
and less painful means to end their lives, but by choosing fire they seemed to
have gone with the age old views on wiping out dishonor caused by or expected
to be caused by a male and to demonstrate their complete allegiance to their
husbands. What a thought, what a sublime emotional thought these women have
held on to! Certainly we have no right question the way they thought.
has a parallel to Sita’s fire walk!
She did that to wipe out the dishonor suffered in
the hands of Ravana. She had hopes of a future with her beloved husband Rama. An
examination of the dialogues by Rama and Sita that ended with Sita entering
fire sheds more light on this issue.
After winning Ravana, Rama says that he killed
Ravana to wipe out the insult meted out to him by way of having abducted his
wife, Sita. Now that insult had been paid back, Rama was not in a position to
take back Sita in the interests of keeping up the honour of his dynasty.
Sita’s response to this was to undergo test by fire.
She did not enter fire to get perished in it. Instead she wanted to show that
fire would not harm her if she was genuinely loyal and faithful to Rama.
She made 3 statements as a kind of command to the
Fire god, all of which convey only one meaning – that she was absolutely loyal
to Rama in thought, word and action and that Fire would not harm her if this
She used the same statements when she created yajna fire
at Ashoka Vana to worship Fire God appealing him not to harm Hanuman whose tail
was put on fire. The fire God did not hurt Hanuman. Such was the power of Sita,
the Pati Vrataa! Could that fire do any harm to her when she entered the smoldering
With Sita and then Draupadi being fire-walkers by
themselves, the practice would have evolved after them and directed at female deities.
This practice might sound primitive and might have
been in existence in the times of Sita or before.
Or it could be the other way that it was Sita who
started the practice and others followed her - to show loyalty to whomever it
matters and to show that they are as pure and golden like Sita.
With Draupadi more
recent in memory, fire walking has come to be associated with Draupadi. Following
Draupadi this practice must have thrived and inspired Kshatriya women whenever
they faced ordeal of similar nature. Today it continues with an emotional and
spiritual fervor throughout Tamilnadu.