The Uttara Ramayana narrates a story about the birth of Mandodari. Mayasura (Maya), the son of sage Kashyapa is married to the apsara (heavenly nymph) Hema. They have two sons, Mayavi and Dundubhi, but long for a daughter, so they start performing penances to seek the favour of the god Shiva.
Meanwhile, an apsara named Madhura arrives at Mount Kailash, the abode of Shiva, to pay her respects. In absence of his wife Parvati, Madhura has clandestine coitus with Shiva. When Parvati returns, she finds traces of ashes from Shiva’s body on the breasts of Madhura. Agitated, Parvati curses Madhura and sends her to live in a well as a frog for twelve years. Shiva consoles Madhura and says she will become a beautiful woman and be married to a great valorous man. After twelve years, Madhura becomes a beautiful maiden again and cries out loudly from the well. Mayasura and Hema, who are performing penance nearby, answer her call and adopt her as their daughter. They bring her up as Mandodari.
The king of the giants, king Maya was married to an elf Hema. A beautiful daughter was born to them. But the elf neither had any affection for Maya nor for the newborn baby. So when the gods called her, she deserted the baby and went to heaven. In the absence of his wife, Maya showered all his love and affection on the baby. He named her Mandodari and always kept her with him.
Mandodari is the daughter of Mayasura, the King of the Asuras (demons), and the apsara Hema. Mandodari bears three sons: Meghanada (Indrajit), Atikaya, and Akshayakumara. According to some Ramayana adaptations, Mandodari is also the mother of Rama's wife Sita, who is infamously kidnapped by Ravana. Despite her husband's faults, Mandodari loves him and advises him to follow the path of righteousness. Mandodari repeatedly advises Ravana to return Sita to Rama, but her advice falls on deaf ears. Her love and loyalty to Ravana are praised in the Ramayana.
Mother of Sita
Though Valmiki's Ramayana does not record Mandodari as being the mother of Sita, some later adaptations of the Ramayana depict Mandodari as the mother of Sita or at least the cause of the latter's birth.
The Adbhuta Ramayana narrates: Ravana used to store the blood of sages he killed in a large pot. The sage Gritsamada was practicing penance to acquire the goddess Lakshmi as his daughter. He stored milk from Darbha grass and purified it with mantras in a pot so that Lakshmi would inhabit it. Ravana poured the milk from this pot into his blood pot. Mandodari is frustrated seeing the evil deeds of Ravana, so she decides to commit suicide by drinking the contents of the blood-pot, which is described to be more poisonous than poison. Instead of dying, Mandodari gets pregnant with the incarnation of Lakshmi due to the power of Gritsamada's milk. Mandodari buries the foetus in Kurukshetra, where it is discovered by Janaka, who named her Sita.
The Devi Bhagavata Purana says: When Ravana wants to marry Mandodari, Maya warns him that her horoscope indicated her first-born would destroy her clan and should be killed. Ignoring Maya's advice, Ravana buries his first child by Mandodari in a casket in Janaka’s city, where it is discovered and grew up as Sita. Jain adaptations of the Ramayana like Vasudevahindi, Uttara-purana, and others also 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.
In the Malay Seri Rama and the Javanese Rama Keling, Ravana wants to possess Mandodari, the mother of Rama, but instead marries a pseudo-Mandodari, who looks like the real one. Rama's father has a union with this pseudo-Mandodari, resulting in the birth of Sita, who is nominally Ravana's daughter.
According to the Ananda Ramayana, king Padmaksha had a daughter named Padma - an incarnate of the goddess Lakshmi. When her marriage is organized, Rakshasas (demons) kill the king. The grief-stricken Padma jumps into fire. Ravana discovers her body, which had turned into five jewels, in the fire and takes it to Lanka sealed in a box. Mandodari opens the box and finds Padma inside it. She advises Ravana to cast off the box containing the ill-fated Padma, who led to the doom of her father. When the lid of the box is closed, Padma curses Ravana that she will return to Lanka and cause his doom. Ravana buries the box in the city of Janaka, who discovers Padma and brings her up as Sita.
Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara Mandodari tathapanchakanya smare nityam mahapataka nashanam
Remembering ever the virgins five -Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and MandodariDestroys the greatest of sins.
Orthodox Hindus remember the panchakanya - the five virgins or maidens in this daily prayer, though none of them is considered an ideal woman who could be emulated. Mandodari, with Ahalya and Tara, belong to the Ramayana, while the rest are from the Mahabharata. Among the five elements, Mandodari is equated to water, "turbulent on the surface and deep in her spiritual quest". The writer Dhanalakshmi Ayyer says:
Her story is a reminder that the universal denigration of a group, based on the behaviour of a few, cannot cloud the greatness of the individual. Mandodari defies the stereotype of this racism. She is simple, unswerving, and self-effacing, driven by the light of knowledge which gives meaning to solid materialism in an age that is shrouded by impulse, passion, and desire. She is the instrument that awakens the mind and counsels reason when irrationality becomes the core being. That she goes unheard and unheeded does not change her path. To her, the dharmic part is inward-looking, while the role of the dutiful wife is the external self. Mandodari thought that her duty to her husband on issues of morals and values ended with her telling him what she thought of his actions. She neither put up any brave fight to stop him nor considered it her duty to do so.
Mandodari's role is short in the Ramayana. She is described as a pious and righteous royal lady.Compared to the rest of the panchakanya, Mukherjee considers Mandodari's life as "less colourful and eventful". He adds: "Mandodari seldom got prominence ... Her image lacks substance and fades quickly", though he stresses on her love and loyalty towards her husband.Pradip Bhattacharya, author of the book Panchkanya: Women of Substance notes that "there is hardly anything special that Valmiki (Ramayana) has written about her (Mandodari) except that she warns her husband to return Sita.