Chapter 5: Rebellion as Religion
Parasurama is thought by Hindus to be only an anshavatara - that means the partial incarnation of God. The second most important incarnation is Rama, who is worshipped all over India. He is the most worshipped incarnation in India, but the reasons why he is worshipped are again the same.
His father had four wives; Rama was his eldest son, and when he felt that he was getting too old and death was coming close, he wanted Rama to be enthroned as his successor. But his fourth wife, who was the youngest and the most beautiful, whom he had just chosen.. Now this dirty old man, who knows that he is going to die, is almost on his deathbed - why should he have married at this time? She persuaded him that Rama should be sent, exiled, into the forest beyond the kingdom for fourteen years - because her own son by that time would be adult and she wanted her son to be the king. And this old man, so infatuated with that young woman, for no reason at all exiled Rama for fourteen years, for no crime he had committed. And Hindus worship him because he obeyed his father: obedience to tradition, to your father, to your forefathers; obedience to the past, obedience to the dead.
Rama’s wife, Sita, followed him, because in India a woman is thought to be a true, authentic woman if she simply becomes a shadow to her husband, with no soul of her own. She followed like a shadow, but was stolen from the forest by another king, Ravana. For three years Rama had to fight, collect his friends, sympathizers, and fight with Ravana to take his wife back. He recovered his wife.
But the words he said to her are so ugly that I cannot conceive that a human being with any sense of dignity would utter such words. He said, “Listen, woman, don’t get this idea in your head that I have been fighting for you. It was a question of my prestige. I can get thousands of women like you, and before I can accept you, you will have to pass through a fire test. You will have to pass through fire. If you can come through it alive, I will know that you are pure, that you have not deceived me, that you have not cheated me. If you don’t come out alive, it is settled.”
Now, it is strange; it seems there are double standards. If Sita was to take this fire test, then he should have also gone through the fire test. For three years he was also alone, living with thousands of other people. What is the guarantee of his character, his morality, his purity? No, it is a man’s world. Man can ask the woman about her character, but the woman cannot ask.
The story is: Sita passed the fire test, came out of it alive. Still, when they came back home there was great suspicion in the kingdom: for three years Rama’s wife had remained in the palace of Ravana, and Rama had accepted her back. He knew perfectly; she had even taken the fire test, which is absolutely unscientific.