Moral Dilemmas: Lesson 5

Sita's test by fireRAMA PUTS SITA THROUGH ORDEAL BY FIRE
"On hearing this, Sita broke down. 'My trials are not ended yet, ' she cried. 'I thought with your victory all our troubles were at an end... ! So be it.' She beckoned to Lakshmana and ordered, 'Light a fire at once, on this very spot.'" (from Valmiki, trans. R.K. Narayan)

Defining the Dilemma

After Sita is rescued by Hanuman, Ram asks to have her brought to him. She is so happy to at last see him, to be reunited. Ram is very cold to her and speaks cruelly. He tells her and the world he cannot accept her as his wife after she has spent so long in another man's house -- "in Ravana's lap." He tells her the only reason he had Hanuman rescue her was to save his own honor. Sita proclaims her chastity, unswerving devotion, and her innocence and then instructs Lakshmana to light a fire to prove her chastity. She walks into the fire and comes out of it unscathed (the sweat on her brow due to her rage at Rama is still there after the ordeal). The lotus in her hair is still fresh. Rama claims he knew she was innocent all along but wanted her to prove it to the people.

Outcomes / Consequences

Rama must reflect on his true identity -- "Who am I really?" The gods berate him for sending Sita to the fire. Ordeal by fire is more a test for Rama than for Sita; he confronts his own divinity. For Rama to learn to comprehend that he is a god, he must conduct this ordeal. He is enacting his dharma -- he is upholding the honor of his family -- however, he may be doing the opposite in the eyes of others.

Dharma

According to dharma, a woman in the house of another man is impure.

Questions

1. What is Rama's correct decision in terms of Dharma?
2. Was it realistic according to human nature?
3. What would you have chosen in this decision?
4. Do you know of other situations that involve similar choices?

Extensions

1. Ask students what current or historical issue illustrates the same type of dilemma.
2. Ask students what comparable piece of literature illustrates similar dilemmas.
3. If this were to be viewed as a contemporary dilemma, what factors or variables would contribute to the outcome?

REFERENCE AND CLASSROOM MATERIALS