Why Didn’t Lanka King Ravana Ever Touch Sita?

India is known for its rich culture and traditions. Folklore and storytelling has been a part of this tradition since time immemorial. Similarly epics and Puranas along with moral stories like Panchatantra have been handed down from generation to generation. Over time several additions have been made to some of these but the essence remains the same. Ramayana and Mahabharata are popular even today. There are many versions of these epics and they vary from region to region. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that some of the tales appear with slight variations.

The concept of hero and villain is not only a modern one but a cinematic one as well. The struggle between good and evil is a universal fact but to apply modern standards to traditional concepts is both unfair and erroneous. So by modern standards Ravana is a villain, however, this description is one-sided and biased. To begin with Ravana was a scholar and a great devotee of Lord Shiva. Besides he was a just and fair king. It is said that Lanka prospered under his rule. Different versions exist as to why he never touched Sita even though he abducted and held her captive.

While some believe that it is the divine powers of Sita that prevented Ravana from behaving inappropriately towards her, others say that it was due to a curse that Ravana could never touch her. Legend has it that once Ravana was so enamoured by the beauty of Apsara Rambha that he lusted after her. He tried to seduce her when she was on her way to visit Nalakubera. She refuted his advances and even pleaded with him saying that she was married. Infuriated, he forced himself on Rambha. This news reached Nalakubera who was terribly angered. He then cursed Ravana that the latter would die if he touched any woman he lusted after. This curse is what stopped him from misbehaving with Sita. In some versions of the story it is said that the curse was placed by Lord Brahma after Ravana raped a celestial nymph named Punjikasthala.

As per Gunnabhadra’s Uttara Purana, Manivati, daughter of Amitavega of Alkapuri, was once doing tapas. Her asceticism was disturbed by Ravana which angered her. She vowed to avenge this. Several years later she was reborn as the daughter of Ravana and Mandodari. However, since astrologers had predicted that the first born of the royal couple would bring destruction to their lineage, Ravana hired an assassin to get the child killed. The assassin could not bring himself to kill such a beautiful child and hence he put her in a casket and buried her in the soil. The place where he buried her fell under King Janaka’s kingdom. As per divine instructions Janaka got the soil tilled and chanced upon the casket. The childless couple was extremely happy at this discovery. This is how Sita (meaning furrow) became the princess of Mithila. Years later when Lord Ram and Sita were exiled to live in the forests for 14 years, Ravana came to fetch his daughter and that is the reason why he never lusted after her.

Some believe that Ravana, being a great king, knew that Lord Ram was none other than Mahavishnu himself. In order to attain salvation, Ravana drew Ram to the battlefield using Sita as bait.

There are as many versions of any story in India as there are regions and tribes. Over the centuries folklore and reality has inter-mingled and hence it is very difficult to separate the two. Whatever be the reason, it is undeniable that though Ravana abducted Sita and kept her captive, he never misbehaved with her.

Latha Iyer**