37. They Go to See Janaka’s Bow
“Janaka, king of Videha, has a mighty bow that once belonged to Shiva,” Vishvamitra said. “Whoever lifts and strings that bow will marry Janaka’s daughter, Sita. Many kings and princes have tried to lift the bow; they all failed.”
Rama and Lakshmana looked at Vishvamitra expectantly.
“Let’s go see that bow,” he said.
Vishvamitra then took the princes to Mithila, Janaka’s royal city.
Janaka was delighted by their arrival. “Powerful men have been defeated by this bow, and in their anger they have waged war against me,” he said. “I’ll gladly wed Sita to Rama if he passes the test.”
38. The Story of Sita
This is how Sita became the daughter of King Janaka:
The farmers of Mithila invited their king to begin the sowing season. Janaka brought forth his golden plow and offered prayers to the gods.
As he plowed, he noticed ten tiny fingers rising up from the soil. There, in a freshly plowed furrow, he found a tiny baby, a girl, reaching her arms towards him.
“She is a gift from Bhudevi, the earth-goddess,” Janaka exclaimed, “and she has chosen me to be her father!”
Janaka named her Sita, which is Sanskrit for “furrow,” and he adopted her as his daughter.
39. Another Story of Sita
But where did that baby come from? Here is one story:
Ravana kept the blood of warriors he had killed in a pot.
Meanwhile, a rishi kept sacred milk in a pot, hoping to acquire an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi as his daughter.
Ravana stole that milk and poured it into the warriors’ blood.
Horrified, Ravana’s wife Mandodari drank the blood and milk, hoping to conceal Ravana’s crime. Instead, she became pregnant with an incarnation of Lakshmi.
When the baby was born, Mandodari buried her in the ground far from Lanka.
Janaka discovered that baby.
He named her Sita.
40. Yet Another Story of Sita
This is another story about the baby in the field:
King Padmaksha had a daughter, Padma, an incarnation of Lakshmi.
Ravana attacked the kingdom and killed Padmaksha.
Padma jumped into her father’s pyre, which transformed her into a jewel. Ravana put the jewel in a box and returned to Lanka.
Ravana’s wife opened the box and found a baby inside. “She brings doom!” Mandodari shouted. “Take her away!”
Then the baby shouted, “I will return and destroy your kingdom.”
Ravana buried the box in the ground far from Lanka.
Janaka discovered the baby inside the box.
He named her Sita.
41. Sita Learns to Cook
King Janaka entertained many wise men and women at his court and rewarded them with cows. “May their milk forever serve you as your wisdom has served me,” he proclaimed.
Sita wondered who fed the philosophers while they attended her father’s court. Curious, she went to the kitchen and found her mother Sunaina there: chopping, slicing, stirring, baking.
From Sunaina, Sita learned to cook.
One day a crow carried some food Sita had cooked all the way to Lanka, and it fell into Ravana’s mouth. “I must find this woman!” Ravana exclaimed. “Someday she must come and cook for me.”
42. Sita Surprises Her Sisters
King Janaka had a bow that long ago belonged to the god Shiva. The bow was so heavy that it took a dozen men to move it.
One day, Sita was helping her sisters to clean the palace. “We need to sweep here under the bow,” said Sita.
“That’s impossible,” said her sisters. “No one can lift that bow!”
But Sita, with no effort at all, lifted the bow, while her sisters stared at her in amazement.
Later, Janaka used the bow as a marriage test. “Whoever can lift this bow and string it shall marry my daughter!” he proclaimed.
43. A Stranger Comes to Janaka’s Court
Many princes came to Janaka’s court, hoping to lift the bow and marry Sita. They all failed.
One day, a stranger arrived. “I will lift and string the bow!’ he said.
The stranger bent down. He lifted the bow, but then he slipped, and the bow pinned him to the ground.
King Janaka’s guards could not free him, but Sita stepped forward and, all alone, lifted the bow, freeing the stranger.
The stranger was not grateful. He shouted at Sita, “If I cannot lift the bow, no man can!”
Then he stormed out of the court.
That stranger was Ravana.
44. Sita Meets Two Strangers
“Go visit the royal gardens,” Vishvamitra said to the princes, and so they did.
Meanwhile, Sita had gone to a temple in the garden. “Goddess, send a worthy man to be my husband,” she prayed.
Sita and her companions then saw two handsome strangers in the garden, and the strangers saw them.
Rama fell in love with Sita at first sight, and she with him.
When Sita’s companions saw that she was lovestruck, they hurried her away. “It’s late, my lady,” they said. “We must go.”
Sita then returned to the temple to thank the goddess for answering her prayers.
45. Rama Comes to Janaka’s Court
Vishvamitra brought Rama and Lakshmana to King Janaka’s court. “This is Prince Rama of Ayodhya,” Vishvamitra announced. “He wishes to try the bow.”
Janaka ordered his servants to bring the bow, and the cart groaned beneath its weight.
Effortlessly, Rama lifted the bow.
Rama strung the bow.
Then he looked up and saw Sita, who was smiling.
Distracted, Rama bent the bow further, and it snapped with a CRACK as loud as a thunderclap.
“Someone has strung the bow at last!” King Janaka shouted. “Prince Rama shall marry my Sita.”
But many wondered at the omen of the broken bow.
46. Parashurama Appears
When he heard the sound of Shiva’s bow breaking, Parashurama suddenly appeared, the greatest warrior among the brahmins. “Sita’s suitor was to string the bow,” he shouted, “not break it! Who did this?”
“I did,” Rama replied calmly, “Prince Rama of Ayodhya.”
“You must shoot me, Prince Rama!”
“I hesitate, Parashurama; you are brahmin-born.”
“Your arrow won’t kill me,” said Parashurama, “but will only transport me to Mount Mahendra, and there I can dwell in peace.”
Rama shot an arrow, and Parashurama vanished.
King Janaka sighed with relief. “Well done, Rama!” he said, and Sita smiled, proud of her husband-to-be.
47. Sons and Daughters Marry
After Rama passed the marriage test, King Janaka proposed not one, but four marriages. “Let your three brothers marry Sita’s three sisters!” he proclaimed.
So Sita married Rama, Urmila married Lakshmana, while Mandavi married Bharata and Shrutakirti married Shatrughna.
After the wedding ceremony, Sunaina, the mother of the brides, gave them each two dolls made of sandalwood, a king and a queen, to keep on a sacred altar in the courtyard of their new home.
Sita also brought the seeds of the plants in her mother’s garden so that in Ayodhya she could continue to cook the foods of Mithila.
48. The Story of Arundhati
When the brides arrived at Ayodhya, Arundhati, wife of the priest Vashishtha, warned them to always wear their marriage symbols: beads, bangles, toe-rings, and vermilion in their hair.
“There were once seven couples in the forest,” she said, “seven rishis and their wives. But one day six of the wives worshiped the fire without wearing their symbols. The fire-god Agni, thinking they were unmarried, ravished them, and their husbands then rejected them. They became the Matrikas. But I wore my marriage symbols, and Agni did not touch me, alone of all the wives.”
The brides took her warning to heart.
49. The Story of Ramachandra
When Sita came to Ayodhya, Rama’s mother, Queen Kaushalya, was eager to tell her all about Rama.
One day Sita asked, “Rama belongs to the Solar Dynasty of kings that descend from Surya, the sun-god, but you call him Ramachandra, Moon-Rama. Why is that?”
“Little Rama wanted the moon to sleep beside him,” Kaushalya explained. “But no matter how loudly he called to the moon, it stayed up in the sky. So we put a pot of water on his bed, with the moon reflected in the water. Thus Rama slept with the moon. That’s why we call him Ramachandra.”
50. Sita Looks at Ayodhya
One day Sita said to Rama, “There are so many old houses in Ayodhya! I think every house should be a beautiful new mansion filled with splendid furnishings.”
Rama smiled. “I disagree, my dear,” he said. “If every house were new and perfect, what would the carpenters or masons or painters do? What would furniture-makers make? What would carpet-weavers weave? God has created the world so that it is always a work in progress. There is good and bad always, new and old everywhere, with an infinite variety of ways to be and things to do. That is God’s world.”