[ Transcribed from lectures given by Sri Atmatattva Das ]
Two or three days passed, and all the brahmacaris in the ashrama were talking. “Prabhu, do you know what has happened? Why has this queen visited our ashrama?”
“Kings and queens always visit ashramas.”
“You are too innocent. This queen has been banished by her husband.”
“Then we should give her shelter.”
“What do you mean, give her shelter? Ashrama is not meant for giving shelter to destitute matajis. If her husband has kicked her out, she must go. What is she doing here? It’s a bad name for our ashrama. Tomorrow even the king will get angry at us. Even the demigods will be unhappy.” So they were talking like this. It became bigger and bigger, and everyone was talking.
Valmiki was sitting in his yajnashala doing some yajna, and he saw someone talking. “Ssh! Silence!” He continued the yajna, and then he noticed someone talking again. Quickly he finished the yajna and did a purnahoti. “Everyone come here! What is your problem?”
They said, “No problem, everything is all right.”
“No, no, there is some problem.” Valmiki said.
“What problem? If some queen comes here, what is the problem for us? We are brahmacaris, we don’t care. We didn’t say anything. Who is saying?”
Valmiki said, “No, you are saying something. Don’t play jokes with me. I don’t want to know who said it. Just tell me what is the subject.”
One of the brahmacaris said, “They say that maybe the queen is not chaste, and maybe they will tell something about us, maybe it is bad for our ashrama. They are all telling like that.”
Valmiki said, “We can solve this problem. I am telling you, she is chaste.” When the founder was not there, they could give so many opinions, but this was the founder himself.
They said, “Maharaja, you say she is chaste.”
Valmiki replied, “Yes, I say she is chaste.”
“How do you know?” they asked.
Valmiki said, “All right, let us argue. How do you know she is unchaste?”
They said, “Why does her husband keep her like this in the forest?”
Valmiki said, “Do you know who is her husband?”
They said, “Yes, we know. The king of Ayodhya, Ramacandra.”
“Do you know who he is?” Valmiki asked.
“We know He is the Supreme Lord.”
Valmiki said, “So then, if the Supreme Lord is kicking someone out, that must be a very qualified person. What is the problem for you and I?”
They said, “But still, others will criticize.”
Valmiki said, “All right, we will do a test. Bring Sita here.” Sita came, and Valmiki said, “They are all saying you are unchaste. I know you are chaste, but you have to prove it.”
She said, “Anything you say, I will do. Do you want me to go into fire again?”
Then they all said, “No, no! Brahma-hatya will come. Suppose you die, and then what happens?”
Valmiki said, “She is saying that she is ready for any test, so you prescribe that test.”
Then they all went outside and made a committee. Then they came back, and said, “She must cross the Sitiba-sala lake. Then she is chaste.”
Valmiki said, “All right, we will arrange it today.” So they all went to the lake.
This Sitiba-sala lake was very huge, almost like an ocean. It is in the Himalayas. This lake had also expanded outside its region into a forest part of Ayodhya, because some rishi wanted to have the lake there, so she expanded there. This lake was known as Sitiba-sala because there was a couple of birds. The husband bird one day came back after getting grains, and he saw the wife bird was not there. He was waiting, and after sunset the bird came. Around the lake are the trees, and that is where the rishis are, speaking so much dharma and religion. So even the birds were influenced. He said, “It is already sunset. Why are you coming so late?”
She said, “I lost my way. And somehow I found my way back here again.”
He said, “No, no. You have to do some prayascitta, some atonement. I think you are unchaste.”
The female bird said, “Birds don’t have these rules!”
The male bird said, “Well we are living in this ashrama area, and here everyone has dharma. We cannot have adharma, it will not be acceptable. You can go, go somewhere.” And he started crying, “What happened to my family? Why has it become like this?”
So as the female bird was flying, some demigods known as the Dik-palas, the eight directions, and there was the Pala or controller of the directions, they were in the tank taking bath. All the demigods took bath in that tank. They saw the bird crying, and they said, “Come here. Why are you crying?”
She said, “What to do? My husband says I am not chaste.”
They all laughed and said, “What? But you are a bird! What does he want?”
She said, “He says I must do some prayascitta.”
“There is no prayascitta for animals and birds. Even the human beings don’t do it.”
She said, “Somehow or other, please take me back to my husband.”
They came there and said, “Hey! What is this? You don’t have these things, you are birds. She lost her way and came back, now come on, take her.”
He said, “No. This is a religious area. Everyone is religious here. How can I be irreligious? Not possible. You are demigods, and you know so much shastra. Please prescribe some prayascitta.”
So they said, “All right. You cross this lake.”
The bird said, “You think that this small bird can cross this lake?”
They said, “She will cross it. And if she crosses the lake, you accept that she is chaste.” So then the bird said, “I will cross this lake,” but she fell in the water.
But the Dik-palas, the controllers of direction, made some arrangement that she crossed the lake and came to the other side. When she got there, they said, “Look, no bird can do it. She has done it, so she must be chaste. Take her.” From that time this lake was known as Sitiba-sala, because a Sitiba bird crossed the lake and proved her chastity. So the ashrama inmates of Valmiki decided that Sitadevi should also prove her chastity in this way. So Sitadevi looked at the lake, and she said, “Even if I have thought about another man when I was asleep, unconscious, dreaming, sick, or in my mind, if I have ever thought of another man, I will drown.” And then she jumped. She didn’t even try to swim, but the waves of the lake carried her across to the other side. She was dropped there.
Valmiki looked at the brahmacaris as if to say, “What do you say now?” When he looked they were all gone. As soon as they saw she was halfway over they went back. Then they made an outhouse for her and accommodated her. She stayed there. Every day she was worshipping Ramacandra, and would perform some austerity for His welfare. Although He had kicked her out, she was performing some austerity for Him. That is a wife.