Valmiki had enough described about every question we probably can have and dealt them with great detail. People who talk without even looking into what has actually happened, criticize Rama and get away from Sita’s mercy. Let’s not be a part of that mob and try to spread wisdom to everyone with whatever truth we know. Now let me explain the episode of Agni Pariksha but let me take you back to sunderkanda before explaining it. Ramayana OR any historical literary sources are like Jigsaw puzzle. Each episode in isolation conveys very little. Together they make you understand the real meat of the source.
When Hanuman’s tail was lit, the rakshasas started displaying him in the streets of Lanka. Sita heard the news and prayed to agni like this.
yadyasti pati susrUshA yadyasti charitam tapah yadivAtyEkapatnItvam sItO bhava hanUmatah yadi kinchidanukrOsastasya mayyasti dhImatah yadivA bhAgyasEshOme sIto bhava hanUmatah yadi maam vritta sampannAm tvam samAgama lAlasaam savijAnAti dharmAtmA sIto bhava hanUmatah
The last sentence in bold means: If dharmatma Rama knows that I am chaste, sIlavati and am waiting for his arrival, then O agnideva stay cold to hanuman. And due to this satya vachana, agni stayed cold to hanuman. The when hanuman found that agni was not burning him, he understood that,
sItAyAschAnrisamsEna tEjasA rAghavasyacha
This is the greatness of Sita who is the teja of Rama.
After he burnt Lanka, he turned back and saw the whole Lanka in fire and got disheartened that Sita might get caught in the fire. Again he thought for a second and said to himself convincingly that,
athah chAru sarvAngI rakshitA svEna tEjasA nasishyati kalyAnI nAgni ragnau pravartate
Sita herself is an agni who can save herself with her brilliance. How could agni burn agni?
There is a reason all these incidents should be known before going to the final incident. One, we will have complete understanding of the dharma in Ramayana. Second, we will know a lot more than concentrating on one incident.
Sita did agni pravesh voluntarily to die. Reasons will come later. The incident finally became agni pariksha. Important thing is Rama never told in words to Sita to prove her chastity with agni parIksha.
Kaikeyi’s first wish was that Rama has to go to forest 14 years and not Lakshmana and Sita. Dasharatha never said this with his mouth that Rama has to go to forest. It is not pitru vakya pAlana that Rama did. It is pitru satya pAlana. Then he took permission from his mother though she was reluctant first. He then came to Sita and told her that this is all what happened and he has to go to forest immediately. Rama tells her to live the 14 years serving the elders and practicing penance. Sita says she will come with him and serve him in the forest. But Rama objects and says forest is very dangerous and she would have a hard time there. Sita persists and start crying for his behavior.
It is very lengthy but I am trying to summarize it.
Then Rama says
na dEvi tava duhkhe na swargamapyabhirOchumE
If you cry, even swarga is not pleasing to me.
tava sarva mabhiprAyamavignyAya subhAnanE vAsam narOchayEranyE sakthimAnapi rakshanE
Even though I am capable of protecting you in forest, its not good to order you to come to forest with me without knowing your strong opinion. This is required because, already the world has criticized Rama very well for his deeds towards Sita in the name of women abuse, but Rama has at every place tried to show Sita’s greatness and after every incident Valmiki reveals the reason lucidly.
Finally orders her as
sAhidhistAna vadyAngI vanAya madhirEkshanE anugucchasva mAm bhIru saha dharma charI bhava
Now O Sita, come along with me and become my dharma chArini.
Now Agni Pariksha
Rama said the following words to Sita.
“प्राप्तचारित्रसंदेह मम प्रतिमुखे स्थिता |
दीपो नेत्रातुरस्येव प्रतिकूलासि मे दृढम् ||”
(Valmiki Ramayana 6–115–17)
“You, with a suspicion arisen on your character, standing in front of me, are extremely disagreeable to me, even as a deepaM (light) to one, who is suffering from a eye-disease.”
Now, let everyone read the above verse twice, thrice, or several times till one gets what it says. OK, let me explain what it says. It doesn’t look special, but is indeed a special verse.
Here Rama is saying → Sita is disagreeable to Rama out of suspicion as ‘dIpaM (light)’ is unbearable to a person suffering from eye-disease. Now what does it mean? When a person has some eye disease, bright light would feel very irritating to the eyes, his eyes would tear when exposed to light. If one has ever visited an eye-doctor for eye-test, one would be able to agree that when the eye-doctor dilates the retina for check-up, the pupil diameter increases due to dilation. That time that patient wouldn’t be able to tolerate bright lights, it would irritate and pain and make the eyes tear like anything.
Now tell me, whose fault is it? Is the lamp or light at fault? or it is the fault of the eye which is suffereing from some disease? Obviously ‘light’ is always ‘pure’, ‘faultless’; it is the eye tainted with a disease which makes the person feel aversion to light.
So, with this statement itself Rama has given a clear cut message to Sita saying, “You are pure and blemish-less like a light which I know, blemish is not in you, it is in my eyes, which is trying to look at you the way the world would look at you tomorrow if today I won’t act like them and question you. Therefore you the pure one is ‘not agreeable’ to me”
But Sita herself says something which clarifies this. Thats all Rama says. Then Sita says in grief.
kAthinyam rAja dharmam
King’s dharma is very rigid. You have shown me the grief one tapasvI would feel when penetrated with such sharp words. I have said the same to lakshmana when he was relucant to go when mArIcha came as the golden deer and imitated your voice. Then she orders Lakshmana to set up fire. Before going into fire, she says to Rama, I wold like to say only one word. You and me are not different as the sun and his light. Then she walked towards the fire.
Valmiki then explains the state of Rama for the grief he had and Sita’s hurt feelings which left her no reason to live.
dadhyau muhUrtham dharmAtmA bhAshpa vyAkula lOchanah
Rama who was dharmAtma closed his eyes and drops were flowing out.
Sita has now entered agni. All the devathas along with brahma and shiva came there. They say
kartA sarvasya lokasya srEstO dharma bhritAm varah upEkshasE katham sItA patantI bhavya vAhanE upEkshasincha vaidEhI mAnusha prAkritO yathA
You being the protector of all the worlds, who is the uplifter of dharma, how can you suspect Sita like a common man? Then Rama says,
AtmAnam mAnusham manyE rAmam dasharadAtmajam sEham tasya yatasyAkam bhagawAn stabravItumE
I think I am Rama, a human, son of Dasharatha. Its better you all tell me who I am. Then all the devathas recite a sthotra called Rama sthotra in his glory. There are two great sthotras in yuddha kanda, one Aditya hridayam and two Rama sthotram. Both are considered very divine like Bhagavad Gita which is a part of the bhishma parva of Mahabharata. At the end of this Rama sthotra they also decalre that who ever will recite this sthotra will be victorious in every deed they do.
Then agni comes to Rama and asks Rama for rescue. He was unable to sustain Sita and says that he is an indhanAgni, an agni which burns on some fuel (indhan). She is unindhanAgni. she is an agni which doesnt need any fuel. Agni could not bear Sita as her brilliance was destroying agni’s brilliance. Agni then confesses this,
naiva vAchA na manasA naiva buddhyA na chakshusA suvrittA vritta soundIryam natvAmatya charatchuvA
Not with words, manas, mind, vision Sita would never behave irrelated to Rama. If Ravana had taken her away, its his misconduct, but Sita’s manas always belonged to Rama.
eshAtE rAmA vaidEhI pApamasyAm navidyatE vishuddhi bhAvAm nishpApAm pratigrihnIshva maithilI
O Rama Sita does not have a single sin on her part. So accept Sita who is so very pure in her conduct.
This was agni’s confession. Agni is considered the sakshi for all the truth. Here agni himself confessed her to be pure. When Agni said this Rama was greatly delighted. His state here was explained by Valmiki as,
dadhyau muhUrtham dharmAtmA harsha vyAkula lOchanA
Rama who is a dharmatma had eyes which were delighted with joy. Then Rama declared in front of everyone his opinion on Sita and the reason for his deed.
avasyam chApi lOkEshu sItA pAvana marhati
For sure Sita is very pure. If I accept her directly the world would say
bAlisOvada kAmAtma rAmO dasharAtmajah
Rama being blind with desire has accepted Sita who has a doubtful character.
iti vakshati mAm lOkO jAnakIm avisOdhayE
So I have explored Sita and showed the truth to the world. I know Agni cannot harm her.
imAmapi vishAlAkshI rakshitAm svEna tEjasA
Sita can protect herself from agni with her brilliance. These are the same words Hanuman uses in sundara kanda when he thought Sita might have got caught in fire and then convinces himself that Sita can protect herself.
pratyayArtantu lOkAnAm triAnAm satya samsrayah upEkshayichApi vaidEhIm pravisantI hutAsanah
Now Sita has been proved to the three worlds to be pure.
nasakyassudushtAtmA manasApi hi mathilIm pradarshayitumaprApyAm dIptAmagni sikhAmiva
I haven’t said Sita to do this. But Sita understanding my intentions did this. Sita herself is a great fire and no fire can approach her to burn.
navihAtum mayA saktyAm kIrtirAtma vadhA yadA
I can’t live without Sita. This is the love and affection he had towards Sita. These are the words Rama says to everybody who stood there.
EtatchritvA subham vAkyam rAghavEnApi bhAshitam tatham subhataram vAkyam yAjahAra mahEshwarah
When Rama said these ‘shubha vakya’ Lord Shiva says further ‘shubhataram vakya’.
pushkarAksha mahAbAhO mahA vakshah parantapah dishtyAm krityamidam karma tvayA dharma bhritAm varah
O Rama with great chest and arms, you have thought very well and did a great deed. Lord shiva certified Rama’s action to be absolutely perfect.
Then Sita stood by Rama’s side and they both shone with great brilliance.