(Click to listen to audio version of the story)
There are many narratives about Sita’s birth. Valmiki states that Janaka, king of Videha, is the foster father of Sita since he found her while ploughing the field. Appellations like Bhumija, Dharanisuta, Parthivi , suggest that Sita is the daughter of mother-earth and ‘not born from the womb’- ayonija. The question who is Sita’s biological father is mired in mystery.
However some folk narratives suggest Ravana fathered Sita, with his wife Mandodari. A folksong from the Dalit bards of Karnataka describe Ravana as father as well as ‘mother’ of Sita.
The bards begin the tale with Ravana who is called Ravula in local dialect. Ravula and Mandodari are unhappy as they are childless. Ravula decides to performs austerities, and goes to the forest. For years he prays to lord Shiva, with severe austerities. One day he meets a mendicant who is non other than Shiva in disguise. Ravula narrates his sufferings, and mendicant takes pity on him. The mendicant gives him a mango and says “ Let your wife eat it. You will be blessed with a child” Ravula agrees. But Ravula is greedy man and cannot be trusted for his words. He has sweet words on his lips and poison in his belly.
As he carries the mango to Mandodari, his greed takes over. “Let me just taste a small bite of the mango to see if it is sweet.” He says to himself and sucks the mango juice. “Hmmm it is really very tasty. Let me have little more, I am sure Mandodari will not mind if have one more bite”, and eats little more. Thus he finishes the flesh of the mango and now only the seed is left. He gives the seed to Mandodari. She gets angry and throws away seed in the yard. It sprouts into a sapling.
Meanwhile Ravula who has eaten the mango, gets pregnant.
Each passing day his pregnancy starts advancing. As Ravula’s stomach begins to swell, he pleads to Shiva –
“In one day , it was a month O Shiva
In the second day, it was a second month and craving began for him O Shiva
On the third day it was third month.
How shall I show my face to the world O Shiva
On the fourth day it was fourth Month
How can I bear this O Shiva.
Five days and it was five month O Lord you have given me trouble O Shiva!
Six days and six months gone O Shiva!
In seven days it was seventh month and soon came the eighth O Shiva
Ravula was in his ninth month.
When he was round round and ready to birth her.
She was born the dear
Sita is born through his nose*
When he sneezed. Sitamma is born.
And Ravula named her Sita.” **
Ravula was too embarrassed to have daughter born in this manner.
He wrapped the child in piece of cloth and left her in the field. King Janaka found her and took her home.
*word sita in Kannada also means ‘to sneeze’, thus the name Sita- born from the sneeze
** Song translated from Kannada by A. K. Ramanujan