Among the many folk versions that the epic tale of Ramayana has spawned is a remarkable woman-centric ballad by a 16th century Bengali poet called Chandravati. One of the stories embedded in the larger narrative of the ballad is around how Sita finds her way to Janaka’s palace. This story is very different from most other versions and also from the popular Valmiki and Tulsidas’s epic tale.

The story goes that Sita was born to Mandodari (Ravana’s wife) (see Birth of Chandrabati’s Sita) in the form of a golden egg. As the egg inside a golden casket floated down to the river, wending its way out of the ocean, it drifted close to the kingdom of King Janaka. Now here lived a poor fisherman named Madhava with his wife Sata. The two lived a frugal life, sometimes going without a meal for days at end. Sata was devoted to her husband, giving him the only jute saree she possessed to rest on, on hot summer days. She went door to door asking for alms to feed her husband whose desultory luck with the fishing net often brought nothing but weed and pebbles.

Thus was life following its tragic course for the couple when one morning, Madhava went down to the river as usual and with a prayer to the goddess Manasa flung his net into the water. This time, instead of the fluttering back to him, limp and listless, the net heaved in a strange treasure. A golden casket. Stunned by his catch, Madhva rushed home to his wife, who feared that her husband had finally given in to despair when she saw him rush breathless into her arms.

Madhava opened his net to show his wife what he had found. Sata was stunned and like the pious woman she was, she offered her prayers to the casket, invoking all the gods and goddesses in her thanks for the gift that had come their way. The casket was left in the corner of the hut made of straw and dry leaves with the egg resting comfortably within, but from that day on, the couple’s fortunes turned. Soon Sata’s cow began giving milk and bore a calf, the fishing net brought in fresh catch and the couple were finally able to afford two meals a day.

One night as Sata slept beside her husband, she had a dream. It was the second hour of the night when all dreams come true. A beautiful maiden stepped out of the casket, glowing like the goddess Lakshmi herself and blooming like the lotus flower. She clasped her hands around Sata’s neck and said, “Mother, take me to the palace and hand me to the queen. King Janaka is my father and the queen my mother and my life will begin in their care.”

Early morning, before the light streamed in through the skies, Sata bathed and ran through her morning prayers before picking up the casket and making her way to the palace. She unlocked the casket and placed the egg in the queen’s hands, narrating the dream that had led her here. The queen was overjoyed and bestowed Sata with pearls and jewels and all the riches she could find. But the fisherman’s wife had just one request, rejecting the treasures that the queen had laid in front of her, she said, “Please just promise me one thing. Name the girl that is born from this egg after me, as Sata’s daughter, may she be known as Sita.” And thus it came to be that when the egg cracked and a beautiful princess was born to Janaka and his wife, she was named Sita.

Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta

Source: A woman’s Ramayana: Candravati’s Bengali epic by Mandakranta Bose and Sarika Priyadarshini Bose

Location: Bengal