Growing up in India, one would have heard the ‘Ramayana’ in many different forms, languages, dialects and level of detail. What starts as a story to entertain kids gets complex with age. There are elements of human behavior that are interpreted and represented in absolutes or in shades of gray. This tale has a strong spiritual and religious sentiments attached and in the past led to riots and deaths. It’s remarkable, how a tale, considered by many as mythology, still manages to stir such strong emotions.
My first vivid memory of this epic tale was when I received a beautifully bound book with colored pictures presented to me by a good family friend. The font was just right and the pictures intriguing enough. This followed the Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana in TV. Anyone growing up around that time frame would recall how we would wait for the episode to begin every Sunday. It will be gross omission to forget the Mahabharat TV series, which enjoyed similar popularity. I will stick to Ramayana and its story in my life for this post.
With time, what changed was the nuance of characters in this beautiful epic. People into Telugu films would know of the beautiful movie ‘Sita Kalyanam’ by Bapu. His representation was lyrical and filled with such beauty that made one want to believe, may be God looks and talks like this. On a side note, my friends would know how much I like his artwork and in particular his representation of ‘Sri Sita-Rama Pattabhishekam’ (Sita and Rama’s Coronation). In many Hindu households, this picture is considered auspicious to have at home. (I ardently wish I am able to acquire one of Bapu’s original paintings, until then….)
What intrigued me, was the depiction of demure Shakti in the form of Sita, who could pick up the ‘Shiva Dhanush’ (Lord Shiva’s bow, weighing tons) and yet wait to be rescued when Ravana captures her. Sita needs to prove her chastity after her rescue, via the Agniparisksha (Fire test, where she emerges unscathed as she is pure). Sita and Rama are inseparable in spirit and their love, respect and devotion is unparalleled. Sita is ‘the’ perfect consort to Rama (the veritable Goddess). Yet he doesn’t bat an eyelid and sends her to the forest simply based on rumors (without telling her as much). I suppose these questions lingered and there has been certain discomfort in understanding this -injustice. Being a myth, one can have choose to believe what works well for one. Take it as a practice that was once held, abandon it, or consider the essence – it is purely interpretation that one is content with/not.
The last book I inadvertently picked up, was Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita. A beautifully written illustration of the Ramayana. It is simply written and what makes it interesting are the references made to several previous re-telling of this epic tale, made constantly in the book. In some ways, it tends to get academic, but yet distilled for simple readers such as me who have no command over mythology. Pattnaik presents a concept of multiple eras / universes when the universe was created and then destroyed and every single time, it started with Ramayana and continued the story transpired through generations of thinkers. He says, ” Indulge me, for:
“Within infinite myths lies eternal truth
Who sees it all?
Varuna has but a thousand eyes
Indra, a hundred
You and I, only two.”
Sita, Devdutta Pattnaik
Throughout the narration, Hanuman refers to Sita and her Ram or Ram and his Sita, because they are inseparable. Yet, in the story they are separate twice. Another perspective remains that this outward and meant for the sake of fulfilling their incarnation (Sree Maha Vishnu and his consort Goddess Lakshmi). Inwardly, they are the same as Shiva and Shakti – inseparable.
The book further brings to fore Sita’s attributes, how she introduces board games while living in Lanka and just by the aroma, recommends alteration of spice mix. Leading to a state of contentment in the dwellers of Lanka. The book highlights how deeply learned and well rounded is Sita – having spent time with her father at court and among learned men and women of the times and with her mother in the kitchen. Sita quotes a Upanishad when telling Trijata and says,
“I am the creator of my world and so are you. We can widen our world by breaking free from the maze of expectations. We can shrink our world by entrapping ourselves with expectations.” – Sita, Devdutta Pattnaik
She is portrayed as the (inwardly) unmovable ‘Shakti’ who takes it in her stride and follows the Dharma. As that is what Ramayana is meant to portray. It is the story of the righteous Rama, who never swerves from the path of Dharma. Sita understands things beyond what Rama intended. It is hard to de-link from the image of Rama, whom one has been bred to love and believe in. As that is the only way one can understand why Rama takes his idealism to a new level – following dharma at the cost of reason or logic. This especially comes through in ‘Uttarakanda’ the story after the coronation, when Sita is sent away to the forest based on rumors floating about her. Many do not believe in this part of Ramayana, may be because it is highly ironic and taking things beyond reason.
When I was listening to a discourse by Sri Chaganti Koteswara Rao on ‘Sundarakanda’, the part where Hanuman finds Sita in Lanka and conveys Rama’s plans, he helps demystifies some of the questions as well. Ideologically, I may have differences on how some the patriarchal practices may have evolved and still exist. However, he goes on to say that Sita’s (inward) penance/ meditation in Lanka while waiting for Rama, was one of the main reasons why Rama’s was able to destroy Ravana so easily. Given that Ravana was a learned man and was near invincible, the 10 months that Sita remained imprisoned and his behavior towards Sita (goddess incarnate) led to the fall of his entire clan.
I remain mystified, may be slightly convinced, it remains one’s belief and interpretation. It is what would make one happy. I loved this quote from Sita by Devdutta Pattnaik,
“He is God – he abandons no one.
And I am Goddess – I cannot be abandoned by anyone.”
My love grows and the quest continues….