Presentation (Project) Title

Sita: A Look at What it Means to be a God

Mentor Information

Jennifer Knight (Department of History)

Presentation Format

Event

Abstract

The role of women throughout the body of Indian epic traditions is one whose themes prevail to modern day. The goddess Sita in the Ramayana is a figure whose purpose and agency in the epic has been examined by scholars for centuries A virtuous woman becomes an outcast following her abduction and subsequent return to the court of her husband. Often erased from the narrative is Sita’s own godly parentage, as the daughter of the Earth Goddess, Bhumi Devi. It is this complicated legacy that renders Sita one of the less venerated goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, particularly when compared to other consorts of the god Vishnu. Given her godly birth, her marriage to a prominent god in the Hindu pantheon, and centrality in one of the most famous Indian epics, one might wonder as to why Sita has not amassed a large cult of worship. This paper explores the factors that contribute to the perception of Sita today. Spatial, religious, and historical factors all impact the way Sita is both written and interpreted in the various iterations of the Ramayana. By using Valmiki’s Ramayana, the earliest written form of the story, we can examine the changes that have occurred through time. Examining these factors can help us see how and why the perception of such a central figure in Indian literature has changed, and what that means for society as a whole.

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Sita: A Look at What it Means to be a God

The role of women throughout the body of Indian epic traditions is one whose themes prevail to modern day. The goddess Sita in the Ramayana is a figure whose purpose and agency in the epic has been examined by scholars for centuries A virtuous woman becomes an outcast following her abduction and subsequent return to the court of her husband. Often erased from the narrative is Sita’s own godly parentage, as the daughter of the Earth Goddess, Bhumi Devi. It is this complicated legacy that renders Sita one of the less venerated goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, particularly when compared to other consorts of the god Vishnu. Given her godly birth, her marriage to a prominent god in the Hindu pantheon, and centrality in one of the most famous Indian epics, one might wonder as to why Sita has not amassed a large cult of worship. This paper explores the factors that contribute to the perception of Sita today. Spatial, religious, and historical factors all impact the way Sita is both written and interpreted in the various iterations of the Ramayana. By using Valmiki’s Ramayana, the earliest written form of the story, we can examine the changes that have occurred through time. Examining these factors can help us see how and why the perception of such a central figure in Indian literature has changed, and what that means for society as a whole.