Sita in the Hermitage of Valmiki
India, Punjab Hills, Kangra, ca. 1800-25. Opaque watercolor, gold, and ink on paper. Lent by a private collection.

Rescued from the demon Ravana's fortress at Lanka, and having proven her fidelity to Rama by emerging unscathed from a test by fire, Sita returns to Ayodhya with her husband, Rama. Back in their northern capital innuendos are cast upon Sita's fidelity and the morality of Rama's acceptance of her Rama forthwith instructs his brother Lakshmana to take the pregnant Sita into the forest. At the hermitage of the revered sage Valmiki, Sita gives birth to her twin sons, Lava and Kusha. These events, depicted in this painting, refer to the last episode of the Ramayana.

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Sita in the Hermitage of Valmiki

In the extreme lower left of the painting, Sita enters the hilly landscape following an entourage led by the sage Valmiki. As Sita arrives at the hermitage, her slightly protruding belly reminds us of the condition in which she left Ayodhya. Her subsequent life at the hermitage is presented in several scenes that are distributed throughout the composition and are separated by the rounded contours of reed huts. Sita is seen on three more occasions. At the upper right corner she touches the feet of Valmiki's wife and asks for sanctuary; immediately below she sits in a hut as an acolyte brings her food; and finally, well after the birth of her twins, she is seen playing with one child as the other jumps into the arms of the silver-haired Valmiki.