In India, the Goddess Sita and God Rāma have long been considered the ideal role models of husband and wife. This is despite the fact that Sita and Rāma are clearly metaphysical presentations. Though they represent specific principles (tattvas) of creation, they have nevertheless been interpreted literally over generations both in the East and West. Whole studies have sprung up discussing the ideal couple just in gender terms alone. According to the literal reading, in Sita we have the ideal woman: her husband is god, friend and guru. Even when entering the fire (agni pariksha) to prove her chastity to Rāma after her return from Lanka where she was held by the Demon Ravana, Sita portrays the ideal women by bearing Rāma's cruelty silently. According to the actual interpretation, which is unknown, this narrative explains the manifestation of Puruṣa and Prakṛti. Sita entering into flames denotes that Prakṛti (rudimentary manifestation of matter) in the Ramayana is Agni. Therefore, Sita returns to Agni at the end of the world cycle. Rāma is known as Maryada Purushottam or the limited Puruṣa, Being, or Spirit and is like Jesus Christ in Christianity.
Orientologists, feminists and anthropologists (both within and outside India) certainly portray these models in patriarchal terms within Indic society. This perpetuates the false interpretation that men must be regarded as gods by their wives no matter what the texts present (i.e. burning by fire). However, we question this interpretation of patriarchal readings in Hinduism, as India was colonized from about 1680-1947. To understand the milieu of Hinduism, we can quote Karl Marx in the New-York Herald Tribune 1853: "All the civil wars, invasions, revolutions, conquests, famines, strangely complex, rapid, and destructive as the successive action in Hindostan may appear, did not go deeper than its surface. England has broken down the entire framework of Indian society, without any symptoms of reconstitution yet appearing. This loss of his old world, with no gain of a new one, imparts a particular kind of melancholy to the present misery of the Hindoo, and separates Hindostan, ruled by Britain, from all its ancient traditions, and from the whole of its past history."
We question whether it is Hinduism, colonialism, or capitalism that creates this sexist-macho culture where men are perceived as dominant and women as submissive? We can't just assume that it is Hinduism that defines gender roles. Regarding feminist writers of scholarly works regarding this topic, it is important to ask: What portions of texts do scholars choose to interpret? What frames of reference do they use in their interpretation? How much power do they have to disseminate their interpretations?
The God Rāma and Goddess Sita are symbols for the creative principle. Thus Rāma represents an aspect of the Puruṣa and Sita represents Rāma's other half that is Consciousness that manifests as sonancy or Divine Sound that becomes sentiency. Thus when Sita is banished from Ayodhya by Rāma to the forest at the end of Valmiki's Ramayana, she is swallowed by Mother Earth from whence she came from the furrow. Due to this, Sita is not born from the ethereal realm or the Yoni according to the Ramayana and the Veda. The ordeal this couple faces depicts that Rāma as the Puruṣa will survive the Solar Dissolution but Sita as sentiency is affected. This is depicted as the demon Rāvaṇa capturing Sita and imprisoning her on his islet.
We can cite a passage from the Padma Purana (VI. 270. 29-31 quoted in 'Divine Initiation' p. 83) to portray this meaning more clearly: "Janaki or Sita is the mother. Raghava or Rama is the father. I revere her the Manifest, him the Unmanifest. I revere her as Contemplation, him as Object of Contemplation. Offerings are made to the Evolved (Sita) and to the Non-Evolved (Rama), to Sita the Essence and to Rama the Changeless. As Lakshmi is to Vishnu, so Sita is to Rama. Sita is as Gauri is to Shiva."
The predominant correlation of the goddess with Indian women in the Vedic tradition is with the goddess Shri-Lakshmi, who is both auspicious and abundant. This is symbolized by the lighting of lamps in Hindu homes. Also in the marriage ceremony, it is often the goddess Laskhmi (but it depends on the tradition) that the bride symbolizes. Her husband also symbolizes the Divine. Thus, both are invested with tilaks and many other auspicious adornments such as jewellery in accordance with a Monist reading of the Dharmaśāstra. The marriage is regarded as a marriage of two souls in the light of two Divine Beings, as this accords with the Hindu idea of life to be lived to the maximum potential or dharma. The Hindus, to consecrate their marriage, walk seven times around the homa fire. The homa fire is the core energy that is the grace of the Divine that manifests as Creation for our benefit. The Hindus use this light or fire or Agni as their witness to live a fulfilled life and honor their partner in life's journey.
In Tantric culture, a virgin girl is worshipped as the deity in the Kumari puja (in Nepalese culture and northern and eastern India). All over India, girls are worshipped as Shakti during Durga Puja. In Assam, until recently, the entire left-hand worship (vama marga) of the Divine Goddess was practiced. In much of India, especially Bengal, women are seen as forms of the Divine Mother known as Kali Ma. In much of village society too, Mata is the term for the goddess and many women are worshipped as Mata. Children in India address their mothers as goddess or Mata/Mataji. Even Mother Mary is worshipped by Hindus. The high status of the Divine Mother is reflected in the high status of motherhood in all of India. But of course women are not limited to motherhood as India has had Indira Gandhi as prime minister and until today Sonia Gandhi is the defacto head of the Congress party. In Tamil culture, Mariamman is not a small-pox goddess as Orientology misreads. Her meaning is as described in the Tamil Agamas or Peria Puranam or Grand Purana, the grand Goddess. She is merely worshipped for grace to avert the viral attack that causes small pox.
Ultimately, the correct interpretation of Manu's Dharmaśāstra (another text jargonically presented) leads to the correct understanding of how women are regarded in India. They were to be protected by their fathers, husbands and sons. This has been exploited by dysfunctional males to maintain gender hierarchies. Is Hinduism at fault or the changing times? Manu states that from women manifests the family, society, state, and civilization. Therefore to Manu, women are the veritable goddesses on this earth. This is the value of women in Indic culture. Therefore, a woman is Lakshmi, she is Sita, and she is Devi.
David Kingsley in his work, 'Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition', confused a female's political reality with an abstract presentation of metaphysics. This confusion is carried on in Feminism, goddess and other studies on Hinduism, in particular, Religious Studies.