Sita, the incarnation of Goddess Lakhsmi, was instrumental in the destruction of the otherwise invincible demon-king Ravana. Sage Valmiki, who scripted the Ramayana, narrated in the epic that Sita was a foundling, and was brought up by the generous and virtuous King Janaka, the ruler of Mithila. However, several folk lore and alternative versions present conflicting details about the birth of Sita.
So did Ravana, the ten-headed king of Lanka, commit incest, when he lusted after Sita? Though Valmiki’s Ramayana does not record Ravana’s wife Mandodari as the mother of Sita, some later adaptations depict her as the biological mother and yet some other versions cite the Lanka queen as the reason for the birth of Sita.
Valmiki present a detailed narration on the birth of Rama and his brothers, the Vanaras and even secondary characters in the epic, but he is suspiciously mum on the leading lady of his masterpiece, which he calls Sitaya Charitam Mahaan (the name Ramayana was not given by Valmiki). Sita’s identity is just that as of a daughter of Janak, and the wife of Rama.
The most common story that goes: Sita is a manifestation of Goddess Lakshmi; she has neither a beginning nor an end and so no question arises about the presence of her biological parents.
The Adbhuta Ramayana narrates that Ravana murdered saints and sages, and stored their blood in a pot. The concoction was considered the deadliest poison on earth. Meanwhile, Sage Gritsamada was meditating to acquire Lakshmi as his daughter. He stored milk from the Darbha grass, and stored it in a clay pot so that the goddess would inhabit it. Ravana, being the destructive force, took away the sage’s container and mixed the potion in his blood pot.
Mandodari, seeing such misdeeds of her husband, tried to kill herself by gulping down the poisonous liquid from Ravana’s pot. But because the blood was mixed with Gritsamada’s purified milk, the potion had healing properties, and the queen got pregnant instead of dying. She eventually gave birth to girl child, but fearing her husband’s rage, asked her servants to bury it in Mithila. Janaka discovered the baby in the paddy fields, took her as his own, naming her Sita.
According to the Devi Bhagavata Purana, when Ravana expressed his desire to marry Mandodari, he is warned that her first-born would kill him. Nevertheless, Ravana marries Mandodari and when his wife bears him a girl, he hides the newborn in a casket and sends it off to Mithila. This is how Janaka discoveres Sita.
Vasudevahindi and Uttara-purana, the Jain adaptations of the Ramayana state that Sita is the daughter of Ravana and Mandodari, and is abandoned when she is prophesied to be the cause of the end of Ravana and his family.
Another common story is the parable of Vedavati, who immolates herself when Ravana tries to violate her. She is reborn as the daughter of Prithvi, the earth goddess, who offers her child to Janaka while he is tilling the earth…
In the Ananda Ramayana, Vedavati is replaced by Padma, the daughter of King Padmaksha. While she is engaged in penance, Ravana tries to molest her sexually. Incensed, the princess immolates herself and five jewels appear in her place. Ravana puts the jewels in a casket and carry them to Lanka. When Mandodari opens it, she is surprised to find a girl in the casket.
Mandodari, sees it as the premonition of her husband’s death… She then orders her servants to dispose off the box. The servants reach the kingdom of Mithila, where they bury it and leave.
All these theories have one thing common: Ravana and Mandodari. They seem to have played a direct or indirect role in the birth of Sita. Either ways, it only reiterates that when Ravana lusted after Sita during her sojourn in Lanka, he committed incest unknowingly, and paid the biggest price by dying in the hands of Rama.
Source: The Speaking Tree