“Sita Puts Out the Fire”: Some Depictions of the Testing of Sita’s Virtue in Indonesian, Malay, and Thai Literature
The Ramayana has been known in many forms throughout South and Southeast Asia for almost two thousand years. This paper deals with one incident in the epic: Sita’s trial by fire as proof of her chastity and loyalty to her husband Rama immediately following the defeat of Sita’s captor, the ten-headed monster Ravana, and her residence in the monster’s palace for four years. The story is told somewhat differently in the classical Malay Hikayt Seri Rama and the Thai Ramakien—partly for religious reasons but retaining a patriarchal emphasis. There are also modern retellings of this incident in Indonesian and Thai. These sympathetically describe Sita’s response to Rama’s harsh demands and might be considered “anti-Sita” works in as far as they contradict the traditional representations of Sita as a virtuous and obedient wife in favor of contemporary understandings of human freedom and autonomy, especially as these relate to women.