Before She Met Rāma Gender and Analogical Thought in Sītā’s Pre-Epic History

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Michael Brattus Jones. (2022). Before She Met Rāma Gender and Analogical Thought in Sītā’s Pre-Epic History: Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 20(1), 21–31. Retrieved from


Sītā is well known as the virtuous wife of Rāma in the Rāmāyaṇa; she remains a familiar, idealized, and controversial gender-normative figure today. Less well known is that preceding her Epic birth from a plowfurrow as her father, King Janaka, was ritually plowing, she was the pre-eminent agricultural goddess stretching back to Ṛgvedic times.3 The first instance of Sītā occurs in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā (ṚV 4.57), in a hymn to Kṣetrapati, the Lord of the Field. Sī́te vándāmahe tvā, “Sītā, we praise you.” The word sī́tā literally means “plow-furrow.” Here in the vocative, the word is the name of an agricultural goddess whose gender and divinity were defined in relation to forces of the divine, natural and human worlds. These worlds overlapped through analogy into a nexus that constituted her female divinity. Multiple processes, human and natural, involved in agriculture were simultaneously analogized specifically to the process of sexual reproduction. The natural conditions of rain and of sunshine, as well as the human acts of plowing, and of sowing the seed, were each understood as analogous to the male reproductive role, while Sītā, the plow-furrow, would take the complementary female reproductive role and produce new life in the form of grain, of food.

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