Reading Guide. To defend her honor, Sita demands that she be allowed a test by fire, as she calls upon the fire-god, Agni, to witness her fidelity to Rama.
Image: In the illustration, you see two scenes in one frame: on the left, you see the fire god Agni protecting Sita in the fire, and then on the left, you can see him restoring Sita to Rama with a blessing.
Source. Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists by Sister Nivedita (1914). [800 words]
Then Sita, hearing that cruel speech of Rama, little like his wonted words, trembled like a swaying vine and wept with heavy tears, and she was ashamed before that great assembly. But she wiped the tears from her face, and answered him, "Ah, why dost thou speak thus roughly and unkindly? Seeing the ways of other women, thou wilt trust in none! But, O thou long-armed hero, I am my own sufficient witness to my purity. It was not with my consent that another touched my person. My body was not in my power, but my heart, that lies under my own sway, is set on thee alone. O thou, my lord and source of honour, our affection increased by living continually together for a long time, and now, if thou dost not know my faithfulness, I am undone for ever. O king, why didst thou not renounce me when Hanuman came? Then would I have given up my life, and thou needst not have undertaken all thy labour, nor laid a burden on thy friends. Thou art angered; like a common man thou seest naught in me but womanhood. I am called the daughter of Janaka, but, in sooth, I was born of Earth; thou knowest not my true self."
Then Sita turned to Lakshmana and said with faltering speech, "O son of Sumitra, build me a funeral pyre; therein is my only refuge. Branded with an undeserved stigma, I will not live."
Lakshmana, wrought with grief and anger, turned to Rama, and in obedience to his gesture he prepared the funeral pyre.
Then Sita, circumambulating Rama, standing with downcast eyes, approached the fire; with folded hands she stood and prayed, "Inasmuch as my heart has never turned from Rama, do thou, O Fire, all men's witness, guard me; since Rama casts me away as stained, who in sooth am stainless, do thou be my refuge."
Then Sita went about the pyre and entered the burning flames, so that all, both young and old, assembled there were overcome with grief, and the noise of uttermost wailing and lamentation arose on every hand.
Rama stayed immovable and rapt, but the gods came down to Lanka in their shining cars and, folding their hands, prayed Rama to relent. "Thou that dost protect the worlds; why dost thou renounce the daughter of Janaka, leaving her to choose the death by fire? How can it be thou knowest not what thyself art? Thou wast in the beginning, and shalt be at the end: thou art first of all the gods, thyself the grandsire and creator. Why dost thou treat Sita after the fashion of a mere man?" said they.
To whom Rama replied, "I know myself only as a man, Rama, the son of Dasharatha; now let the grandsire tell me who I am and whence I came."
Then Brahma answered, "Hearken, thou whose virtue lies in truth! O Lord, thou art Narayana, bearing disc and mace; thou art the one-tusked boar; thou goest beyond the past, the present, and the future; thine is the bow of Time; thou art creation and destruction; thou art the slayer of all enemies, thou the forgiveness and control of passions; thou art the refuge of all gods and hermits; thou art manifest in every creature, in cows and brahmins, in every quarter, in sky and river and mountain-peak; a thousand limbs, a thousand eyes, a thousand heads are thine; thy heart am I, thy tongue Sarasvati; the closing of thy eye is night, its opening day. Sita is Lakshmi and thou Vishnu. And, O Rama, now Ravana is slain, do thou ascend to Heaven, thy work accomplished. Naught shall they lack whose hearts are set on thee, nor fail who chant thy lay."
Then Fire, hearing those happy words, rose up with Sita on his lap, radiant as the morning sun, with golden jewels and black curling hair, and he gave her back to Rama, saying: "O Rama, here is thy Sita, whom no stain has touched. Not in word or thought or look has Sita turned aside from thee. Albeit tempted every way, she did not think of Ravana even in her inmost heart. As she is spotless, do thou take her back."
Rama, staying silent for a while, with shining eyes pondered the speech of Agni; then he answered, "Because this fair one dwelt long time in Ravana's house, she needed vindication before the assembled folk. Had I taken her unproved, the people would complain that Rama, son of King Dasharatha, was moved by desire, and set at naught social law. I know well that Sita's heart is set on me alone, and that her own virtue was her sufficient refuge from the assaults of Ravana; she is mine as the sun's rays are the sun's. I can no more renounce her, but rather it behoves me to obey your happy words."
Thus the glorious son of Dasharatha regained his bride, and his heart was glad.