King Janaka wanted children. Before he offered up sacrifices to the gods to ask them for children, he marked out a small furrow in the earth. It was from this furrow that Sita was born, fully formed and the most beautiful woman on earth.
As such a beauty, Sita had many suitors, so many that it was impossible for her father to simply choose one. But he had a bow that had been given to him by Shiva himself, so he decided to use that bow to pick his daughter’s husband-to-be. A contest was set up so that each suitor should try to string the bow. The one who succeeded would get to marry Sita. Many tried, but only Rama, the son of King Dasaratha, was able to string the bow. (This, no doubt, was the bow’s intention, for — though no mortal realized it — Rama was an avatar of Vishnu, and Sita was an avatar of Vishnu’s wife Lakshmi, and it would have been most wrong for her to marry anyone other than Rama.)
Rama’s father wanted to step down and make Rama the next king, but his second wife tricked him into exiling Rama and making her own son king instead. Rama and Sita left the kingdom obediently, but when Dasaratha died, Rama’s half-brother declared that he was only regent, for Rama was the true king.
But Rama didn’t hear this news right away, and continued in his exile. During his exile, he met a demon named Surpanakha, who fell madly in love with him, and begged to become his wife. Rama explained to her that he was satisfied with Sita, and needed no additional wives. When Rama’s friend Lakshmana also rejected her, Surpanakha became enraged and attacked them, though her primary target was poor Sita. Rama and Lakshmana drove off Surpanakha’s attacks, leaving her mutilated but alive.
That was their greatest mistake, for Surpanakha went to her brother Ravana, a monstrous demon with ten heads, desperate to avenge herself. But her anger was still more at Sita than at Rama, so she filled her brother with desire for Sita’s beauty. Soon enough, Ravana felt he had to have Sita for his own, and he used trickery to separate Sita from her husband and his friend, then he carried her off to his palace, despite that Jatayu the vulture king tried to stop him.
Despite being mortally wounded by Ravana, Jatayu managed to live just long enough to tell Rama what had happened. Then began an epic quest to regain Sita from the monstrous Ravana. Rama had no human army, but gained an army of monkeys, led by the powerful Hanuman, and after much difficulty, he and his army made their way to the island where Ravana’s palace lay.