Invoking Sita at Weddings

It was about three decades ago that I first heard it at a wedding. It was the marriage of a doctor’s daughter and the wedding hall was packed to capacity, rather overflowing with invitees, the stage arrangements were ethereal and the beautifully bedecked bride had been ceremonially ushered onto the stage by a long lineup of girls holding ‘Ashtamangalya.’

As the moment for tying of the thali came, the nadaswaram-thakil ensemble suddenly stopped the music. Then, as the groom tied the thali around the neck of the bride, the hall reverberated with the lilting Tyagaraja composition ‘Sita Kalyana Vaibhogame.’

The man sitting next to me made a subdued, involuntary cry ‘Ayyo,’ which could be an equivalent to ’Oh My God.’ I saw some guests sitting in front of me looking at each other as though something was amiss. None of them made any comment, but the looks on their faces betrayed their thoughts: Is this song appropriate at this most auspicious moment in the girl’s life? Do the parents of the girl wish her to have such a wonderful married life as that the hapless Sita had?

In subsequent years the Tyagaraja composition became a must for many a Nair wedding at Thiruvananthapuram, invariably heard at the auspicious moment of thali tying.

Sita Kalyana Vaibhogame, mostly sung in Ragam Shankarabharanam and sometimes in Ragam Nattai Kurinji, is definitely one of the best and most melodious pieces of Carnatic music, bringing out the great veneration that composer Tyagaraja had for Sree Rama. In fact barring the refrain of the pallavi, Sita Kalyana Vaibhogame, Rama Kalyana Vaibhogame, which extols the grand wedding of Sita and Rama, all else in the song are about Rama only. There is no further word about Sita.

Let us see the lyrics of the song:

Sita Kalyana Vaibhogame
Rama Kalyana Vaibhogame

Pavanaja stuti paatra paavana charitra
Ravisoma varanaetra ramaneeya gaatra

Sita Kalyana Vaibhogame
Rama Kalyana Vaibhogame

Charanam 1

Bhaktajana paripaala bharita sarajaala
Bhukti muktida leela bhoodaeva paala

Sita Kalyana Vaibhogame
Rama Kalyana Vaibhogame

Charanam 2

Paamaraa surabheema paripoorna kaama
Syaama jagadabhiraama saakaetadhaama

Sita Kalyana Vaibhogame
Rama Kalyana Vaibhogame

Charanam 3

Sarvalokaadhaara samaraika dheera
Garvamaanasadoora kanakaaga dheera

Sita Kalyana Vaibhogame
Rama Kalyana Vaibhogame

Charanam 4

Nigamaagama vihaara nirupama sareera
Nagadha raagha vidaara nata lokaadhaara

Sita Kalyana Vaibhogame
Rama Kalyana Vaibhogame

Charanam 5

Paramaesanuta geeta bhavajaladhi pota
Taranikula samjaata Tyaagaraajanuta

Sita Kalyana Vaibhogame
Rama Kalyana Vaibhogame

A translation of the lyrics by Carnatic vocalist and scholar T K Govinda Rao (who incidentally was the first playback singer in Malayalam cinema), goes somewhat like this:

‘How grand and imposing the wedding of SIta and Rama is! Praised by the son of the wind God (Hanuman), this hero of countless exploits, having the sun and the moon as his eyes, and possessing a frame of ravishing beauty is an unfailing protector of his devotees and bestower of prosperity and beatitude, which is a part of his leelas. He causes terror in the minds of rakshasas. His calmness and composure reveal him as one who has no more desires to be fulfilled. Sporting a radiant blue hue, he is the source of bliss for the world. A resident of Ayodhya, he is the prop of the entire world. A peerless warrior in battles, he is beyond the ken of men of arrogance and haughtiness. He is tall and courageous, reminding one of the great Mount Meru. He is the hero figuring in the scriptures. With an unmatched form, he is the mainstay of his devotees, whose sins he wipes out graciously. Celebrated by Lord Siva in song and music, he is the raft enabling deserving mortals to cross the ocean of samsara. That is the aim of his incarnation in the solar race, he whom Tyagaraja worships.’

As a Rama stuti this is indeed great, but when the wedding of a local girl is compared to the wedding of Sita, doubts arise about its appropriateness for the occasion.

Surely Sita is an iconic figure not only in the epics but also in the thought process of vast sections of humanity, considered as a woman of substance, of resoluteness, of sacrifice and of purity in its purest sense. Her marriage was magnificent, and the spectacular manner in which it came about, including the breaking of the heavy and unliftable bow of Siva, Pinaka, by Prince Rama who came to attend her Swayamvara, was out of the world. But was not her married life a prolonged state of intense misery, isolation, exclusion and rejection?

To be precise Sita had only a very short period of conjugal bliss, from her Swayamvara to the time of the intended but failed coronation of Rama as the heir apparent. When the die was cast by Kaikeyi in favour of her son Bharata, Rama, the ever dutiful son, chose to go on a fourteen year exile to the wild as demanded by the wily queen. Sita could have remained back at the palace, but she too chose to be beside her husband in fortune or misfortune, rain or shine, enjoying the pleasures of the palace or enduring the hardships of the wilderness.

And how much did she suffer! It was at almost the fag end of her exile in the wild that she was abducted by Ravana in retaliation to the totally unjustifiable disfigurement of his sister Soorpanakha by Lakshmana. Cutting away the nose and breasts of a woman, whether an apsaras or a rakshasi, is definitely a horrendously vile act and it was this, and not Sita’s crossing of the so called ‘Lakshman Rekha,’ that caused her abduction.

And during her one year captivity in Lanka, it was with the strength of her chastity and purity that Sita could withstand the mounting pressures from Ravana to be his consort.

But what did Sita face when Rama finally killed Ravana in battle and rescued her? She had to face the public humiliation of initial rejection by Rama, a humiliation perhaps far worse than what she felt during the entire period of her captivity in Lanka. What she heard were harsh and vicious ‘barbed words,’ which in the language of Valmiki, appeared ‘as though her own limbs were pierced by those words, which were arrow-like with pointed splinters.’ Sita also protested to Rama about ‘such harsh words, which are violent to hear for me, like a common man speaking to a common woman.’

Apart from the ‘barbed words,’ more was in store for the hapless Sita. Even after her self-immolation bid, described as ‘Agni Pareeksha,’ Rama was reluctant to accept her and did so only after fervent appeals and entreaties from Gods who descended from heaven.

And this was not the last cut. Sometime after their homecoming to Ayodhya and his coronation as king, Rama chose to abandon Sita for a second time. Sita was not only his consort but his subject as well, like the washerman who spoke ill of her. But Rama did not extend to her the same consideration that he showed the washerman. He chose to leave her in the deep, wild forests, alone and helpless, knowing fully well that she was pregnant. How good and proper it would have been if he had sent her back to Videha, the kingdom of her foster father!

As for Rama, out of sight meant out of mind. He never made enquiries about her and it was only because of the exigencies of aswamedha yaga that he had a golden statue of Sita made to place beside him during the ceremonies.

And when he finally met his twin sons at Valmiki Ashram and entreated Sita to go with him to Ayodhya, Sita chose her own retaliatory option - of ending her life. Heeding to her intense prayers the earth split open and, in full sight of her husband, she went back to the earth, her mother.

Sita’s story being such how good and proper is the ‘Sita Kalyana song as a wedding hall invocation?


More by :  P. Ravindran Nayar

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