Monday, May 28, 2012

Being Sita

Courtesy - - a Raja Ravi Varma
Almost all my life, I’ve grown up listening to stories from Ramayana. Not a Dussera would pass without the reciting of Sundarakanda and Pattabhishekam (by my parents). You could say I inherited the devotion. But more than the spiritual aspect, as a story-teller, I see Ramayana as an enduring, engrossing, engaging, action-packed, tragic love-story.

When Rama was banished to the forest, he never expected Sita (or Lakshmana for that matter) to join him. Sita did not accompany her Rama because of a sense of duty, but because of something even simpler – she utterly loved him, as he did in return (something lost on the good judge who chose to lecture a lady seeking a divorce). Sure, Sita would have had her misgivings, her anger, her fear – but none of these was able to override the fact that she loved Rama, and living apart was out of question.

I came across jocular opinions where people say Rama took his time in finding Sita. I think of Rama’s plight when he discovers that his wife has gone missing. Where would you search for your beautiful, gentle, trusting wife in a brooding, dense forest? Has she been attacked by an animal? Is she lying wounded somewhere? Did she go this way...or that? Is that her voice? Is that her footstep? Is that her cry?

Every waking moment must have been a torture for Rama. Who has Sita? Where is she? Is she being tortured? Is she alive? Is she calling out his name? And here he is – just a man with just a bow and a quiver full of arrows. A man who is absolutely helpless – who has to walk in a directionless way – simply because staying still is not an option; knowing every passing minute, the distance between him and Sita is widening; knowing that the possibility that he may never see his wife is increasing. A man who has no army to speak of, save a devoted brother.

Imagine Bharatavarsha of those days – a land of soaring mountains, fierce rivers and impenetrable forests. What would you do to go in search of a missing one? You have no transport to speak of, no communication system to aid you. You do the only thing possible – walk, walk, walk. Beg, plead, cajole information out of every living being you encounter. You finally get information that is reliable. There is a rumour that Sita could be held captive in a remote island down south. And here you are – stuck in the north. You cannot do this on your own – you need manpower, you need transportation, you need weapons. This is now a political strategy – you can recruit an army only by rendering your kshatriya services. This is time consuming, but you have no choice.

Sita is nothing but a pawn in a man’s game. Ravana is known to be a man of charm and charisma, a very gifted musician and a great scholar. His abduction of Sita was more of an act of vendetta, than an act of dumb lust. His sister was disfigured by those two brothers – now they had to pay the price. What better way to punish a man than to rip his honour to shreds? What better humiliation can be delivered to a man than by seducing his wife? Indeed Ravana had no doubts that Sita would succumb to his charms – what was lacking in him after all?

His mistake was he that he underestimated his quarry. He initially thought torture of rakshasis in Ashoka vanam would break Sita’s spirit – but it only strengthened her. He thought his pestering visits, now entreating, now threatening would weaken her resolve. But her faith and love in Rama only increased.

Sita did have a chance to escape with the help of Hanuman. Ramayana would have been over in a jiffy. But she chose to walk out to freedom with her head held high, rather than sneak out on a strange creature’s shoulders in the middle of the night. No, freedom without dignity is no freedom at all. Besides, the evil in Lanka could be annihilated only by one man – her Rama. She had to wait. It would mean more days of torture. It would mean Rama could be killed in the battlefield. It could mean she herself could be killed. All that was acceptable – what was not acceptable was surrendering in spirit in front of Ravana. What a cold reserve! What an icy determination! What an unshakeable faith!

I think of her second banishment and I dwell on the tragedy of being Rama. In those days, one did not just clamber on to a throne. Becoming a king and a ruler was not a whimsy. It was considered a duty bestowed upon one’s head by gods no less – and the subjects’ wishes was the king’s command (not the way it is today). Indeed one could sit on a golden throne, wearing golden crowns – but if credibility was lost, you were no longer a king; you would have failed miserably in your duty – a matter of great shame. So when that confounded whisper started, what options did Rama have?

He could have punished the rumour-monger – that would only strengthen the rumour and harm Sita even more.

He could have given up the throne and gone away with Sita. But once again, that would validate the rumours – and besides, what kind of a warrior King and Queen would sneak away with lowered heads?

He could ignore the rumour – but that would only spread like forest fire.

The only option left was too hideous, too cruel. Should he fail in his duty as a king? Or should he fail in his duty as a husband? He was a ruler first, husband later – his dharma asked him to choose the former. Knowing Sita – she would have left him either way.

I imagine Sita – and despite what is usually depicted (a weeping, helpless Sita )– I imagine her assessing the situation with her characteristic calm, surgical determination. She could protest and stay on. That would only mean listening to rumours about her character day after day. It would mean seeing Rama’s credibility being erased. It would mean her children would grow up in ignominy. No – she had too much of pride to grovel and protest and stick on in a place where her dignity was not honoured. She had too much of pride to be with a man, who despite his undying love, was bound by his duties and was destined to fail her.

I bet as she walked out head held high, she did not shed a drop of tear much to the disappointment of the gawking crowd.

It amuses me when ‘learned’ people today ask women to be like ‘Sita’ in a flippant way – they view Sita as an ever-suffering wife who followed her husband like a tethered cow. But yes, I want to be like Sita. I want to have her cold reserve, her calculated determination, her absolute hold on her right to dignity, and her pride even in the face of adversity. Indeed, I wish more and more women were like Sita – there would be fewer burning houses.

And Rama...oh Rama! Despite being a king, his personal life was always in tatters – he had but a fleeting period of companionship. His crown was his curse and he was never able to give Sita a life she deserved – a guilt that must have eaten him away. When he took that decision – he knew he was condemning himself for life too. What greater pain is there than the pain of having failed an innocent loved one? What a curse to be devoid of the joys of fatherhood – to never see your children born, never hold them in your hands, never hear their first words? Rama is more than a symbol of monogamy. He is the lonely warrior, the dutiful king, a cursed lover.

To me, he will always be the man who bore his suffering with dignity, he will always be Maryada Purushotam.

© Sumana Khan - 2012


  1. Great commentary!
    Can you write similarly on others too?
    It would make a great new series.
    I would love to read a similar piece on Raavana, Karna, Duryodhana, Dhritiraashtra and also Bhishma.
    What we read about these evergreen characters are the views of narrators.
    I would love to read an account of events as perceived by these characters themselves.
    What if Karna were to write his autobiography?
    How would he present his dilemma?
    Loyalty to his blood brothers and a mother who abandoned him at birth or loyalty to Duryodhana?
    How would he present his side of the story of Draupadi's Vastraaharan?

    To me it would make fascinating reading.
    This is just a suggestion for your consideration.

    I had a long reading session of some of your old posts yesterday and have commented on some of them.

    I will resume later during this week.
    Your blogs are eminently readable and I consider the time well spent.

    I had subscribed to your blog but have so far not received this post in my email.
    May be it will be received later.
    I will let you know.
    IHM's blog posts reach me seconds after she posts on her blog.
    Shail's posts reach me a day later.
    I wonder why?


    1. GVjee...yes that would be a wonderful series indeed! All our texts present characters as devathas or rakshasas - and the stories are told from the perspective of Vishnu avtaara. It would be a great scholarly work to look at them as humans and characterise them!

      Thank you for all your comments!

      I am not sure about the delay - let me troubleshoot.

    2. A great narrative ! Very very intelligent analysis.

      However I cannot fully subscribe to Ms. Sita's view on Rama & Sita 's inability or compulsions of the sad episode of the second banishment of Sita. Rama being the famous and just King that he was, his options were not limited to what Ms. Sita has listed out. As a king his duty was also to do justice to Sita, a woman who was as pure as Fire, who was a pregnant lady at that time, and who was his saha dharma chaarini. His duty is not only to his subjects who were spreading rumours on their own country's Queen.
      Rama should have called all the doubting thomases to his Durbar and subjected Sita to do the Agni Pravesham yet again to destroy the common sunjects'doubts. Why did not Rama use this option ? By banishing Sita to the forests has he not indirectly accepted that Sita was guilty ?

      Just loud thinking. No offence meant towards any scholar or saint or intellectual.

      Parsa V R Rao.

    3. Thank you for stopping by Mr.Rao. I agree with what you say! As I've mentioned in other comments,I strongly feel this episode was not well thought through - it goes against the very prinicples Rama stood for. Also, we should view the characters from a different perspective - a royal family has a different set of code of conduct when compared to a regular house-holder. Rama's actions were always dictated by his crown; a burden which a regular householder does not carry!

      Once again, thank you for your kind words - and I hope you'll like my other blogs too :)

  2. Hi Sumana,
    Long time :)... One thing in the whole of Ramayana that I could not comprehend was the decision of Rama banishing sita for second time. That one instance, all his good qualities are reduced to ashes, I have read some of the translations, and none seem to capture the inner turmoil of Rama therefore robbing the reader with much needed justification.

    This post is a good read for 2 reasons.
    1) Captures the first banishment in a very "close" way ( kannada word -hridyangama)
    2) I guess I am somehow little convinced now on Rama's decision on the second banishment


    1. Vikram...nice to 'see' you!

      Some versions of Ramayana don't have this second banishment piece. IMO it was added for more drama - and to bring things to a logical conclusion (i mean the avataar had to end). Saying Rama died of old age must've seemed ridiculous. THis new twist was added; unfortunately it shows Rama in poor light. It does say that having banished Sita again, Rama lived as if he were in the forest within the palace. He used to sleep on the floor and so on.

      When he decided to do the yagna - there was a problem. A man cannot perform the fire ritual without his wife by his side. WHen the populace asked Rama to remarry - it was apparently the first time he denied their wishes. And the yagna was carried out with Sita's golden idol placed next to him.

  3. "He could have given up the throne and gone away with Sita. But once again, that would validate the rumours."

    His sending Sita away to the forest also did the same, validate the rumors. A father's promise ( made to his wife Kaikeyi, a woman) had to be upheld, so Rama went to the forest, giving up his throne to Bharat. When aspersions were cast on Sita, why did he not give the throne to the same Bharat and leave with Sita to the forest? I know what they say, times were different. But I don't know why Rama who trusted Bharat to rule in his stead could not do so once again for his wife? Standing up for your father is okay, but not standing by your wife? That is something that has survived Treta Yug to Kalyug :)
    Great writing as usual :)

    1. ha ha...the only answer i have is that the second time around, he was ritualistically bound to the throne - the pattabhisheka was done. i am in no way justiifying wife-abandonment...merely contemplating on the scenario, and rama and sita as individuals, as humans - making serious error of judgements in the framework they were all of us.

      But as I mentioned in an earlier comment, this second banishment is not accepted in all versions - because it does stick out like a sore thumb. i mean here is a man who waged a deadly war to save his wife, only to desert her again...that too when she was pregnant? it is rubbish. it also does not gel with the fact the king is duty bound to protect all innocent beings - no innocent should be punished even by mistake. conveniently this also has been overlooked while writing this episode!

      and of course - we should never forget that the authors are men - sages no less, nonetheless men. which is why our mythology stories are probably told from the point of view of a man - a man's view of a virtuous woman, a man's view of a virtuous man, a man's view of duty and so on.

      it is great to have you back ;)

    2. According to my grandfather, the second part wasn't added till later. I don't remember what stories he used to tell about how Rama avatar came to an end though..

    3. Pixie - that is my understanding too. Not all versions of Ramayana have the uttarakanda (banishment) part.

  4. What a co-incidence. I am right now reading Ramayana written/compiled by C. Rajgopalachari. :)
    I also had a viewpoint as that of Shail's. Why not stand by your wife. This is one thing that has stuck me ever since I've known about Ramayana. The great ekasthreepurusha abandons his wife hearing false rumors. It also points a finger on his love for Sita. It proves that he too has doubt on her fidelity. But your refreshing viewpoint is simply amazing. How would the characters speak for themselves, how would they perceive all that is going on around them. I also second GVjee's request for you to write about other characters as well.

    1. @Coffee - welcome :) There is a school of thought that discusses about the intensification of love in separation. a bit beyond my head LOL!

      And thank you for your kind words.

  5. I really liked the way you have put in feelings of the characters involved, especially Ram's feelings when Sita is abducted.

    I would like to shape Ramayan differently in an ideal world. That world in which professional and private lives are separated. When Kaikaie asked Dashrath to make Bharat the king, he should have refused that request because it fell into the professional sphere. Even if Dashrath didn't do it, the next generation, i.e. Ram could have done that by telling the dhobi that his wife's purity has nothing to do with his own ability to rule; family is off-limits.

    1. STF thanks for visiting :) As I mentioned in response to Shail - I think it would have been interesting to see how Ramayana would turn out if the protagonist was Sita.

  6. The question Shail and Coffee have asked has been churning in my head ever since I became capable of thinking. Over the last few days, happened to read this Triology series starting with "Immortals of Meluha" by Amish. Something that I perceived after this reading was that Rama was more of a strategist ruler who created every base rule for the society to work in perfect tandem. When he is the creator, he was bound to follow many of them not only a ruler but also as a commoner, if we ever gave up his throne. His rules seemed to have created a near-perfect empire for which he was greatly regarded and raised to the status of god.
    Although the rules he created was for the greater good of the society, no rule is devoid of issues nor does it last for eternity and my guess is that some might have even back-fired on him ! As a man of character, may be, he had to endure them.

    1. Yes, 'Ram Rajya' was an ideal state of governance.

      As a Shri Vaishnava, I still have a naive devotion that Rama is an avtaar of Vishnu :) There is a puranic story that Vishnu was cursed by Sage Bhrigu for having killed his wife Usana. The curse was that Vishnu too would suffer separation, birth and death as a man on earth. And he had to endure that karma in the Rama avtaara.

      But overall, I believe the uttarakanda was not all that well thought out. it goes against the very grain of Rama's character that stands for justice and valour.

  7. Hey Moon, a post with a lot of food for thought! Keep it coming :)

  8. After posting the links to your blog on a public community forum, I received the following email.
    I am also reproducing my reply for your reference.
    I have replaced the name of the person who wrote to me with ****

    Dear Mr. Viswanath,

    Thank you for introducing me to these blogs - very interesting and informative.

    Who publishes 'This & That"? Are all blogs posted by one person. All blogs are said to be posted by Moonbeam. Is this a Pseudo name of the lady?

    Could you please enlighten me more on this Blog Paper or Site - the publisher and about the lady and whether we could contribute to the Blog?



    Dear ***,

    I am glad you found this blog interesting.
    I did too.
    Yes all the blogs are from one person as far as I know.
    Moonbeam is the name she uses on her blog.
    Her real name is probably Sumana or it could be a name she uses for her interaction with other bloggers in blogosphere. Many bloggers do not reveal their real names and identities. It allows them to be more uninhibited while writing. It is also safer as the there are several undesirable characters prowling and stalking the net waiting for opportunities.

    I have concluded that she is a young lady in her thirties from the information she has revealed in her other postings. But I have no confirmed information and have made no attempt to know more about her.

    I stumbled upon this blog and stayed as a reader only due to the quality of the content.

    I am not sure if she will accept contributions from others on her blog.
    I do not know any contact particulars like email address of telephone number.
    I communicate with her only through her blog.
    Only she can decide if she will share her blog platform with others.
    You could perhaps post a comment on her blog and ask her directly.

    Thanks for your interest.
    With regards

    1. Thank you GVjee!

      Your guesses about my profile are right :)

      As of now, I don't put up articles written by others - what I usually do is if I find something interesting, I share the link and write my own analysis. If I know the person really well (usually fellow bloggers), I invite them to write a guest blog.

      And yes, I am the author of all the blogs - this site is mine :)

  9. Hi. Stumbled on your blog and this was the first post I read. Absolutely fantastically written and has given lot of food for thought. Will comment more later. Off to read your older posts now. Hope tobe a regular her:)

    1. Thank you Abhipraya (what a lovely name)...and welcome! I hope you enjoy all the other posts as well :)

    2. I share Abhipraya's "abhipraaya" about your blog.

  10. Interesting read. I thought of sharing with my friend Shail. While reading the comments I realized how did I land and Subscribed to your post earlier, it was probably a link from Shail's FB.

    Keep penning your thoughts.

  11. Very interesting.
    The Ramayana I have loved stopped after Rama and Sita returned to Ayodhya after their exile. So, I loved the story.
    Growing up, I heard the version of Rama banishing Sita based on the words of a washer (I think), I didn't approve.
    I still don't approve of the banishing. I don't approve of the fact that Sita is always depicted as a weak, subservient wife who put up with the acts and deeds of her husband.
    But, this view of Sita is new and interesting. I will go back and re-read Ramayana with these views. Maybe then, my love for Ramayana will come back?

    Blog hopped from IHM! Loved loved your writing and your posts.

    1. Hey Pixie; glad you liked this interpretation. I think if we remove the 'god' angle and just read it as if we are reading about the life of a man or a woman - we will be able to relate better (at least that is my experience). Also have to keep in mind that the social norms of that age, and today are marginally different.

      Will look forward to what you think after you've re-read :)

  12. I am speechless.. Great piece! Hat's off to you!


  13. Wow!! That's the first time I am reading an analysis of this kind - humanising them and looking through the frame from their eyes, their to-be and not-to-be moments. But ultimately I agree with the fact that the wife-abandonment sticks out like a sore thumb. I feel he failed to stand up for the very principles he believed in, no matter how much one tries to justify it by adding the concept of 'king' 'dharma' etc.

    1. Yes...there can be no justification. I was just trying to analyse his situation and thoughts :) And I also believe he had his punishment - that of a lonely life, and missing out on the childhood of his twins.

  14. Hey Moonbeam,
    Reading this post brought back my own pet peeve against the "maryada Purushottam" = how could he banish Sita after everything. TIll date haven't got a satisfactory justification for that.
    Anyway, the main reason I'm writing this is to ask you if you've read Ashok Banker's Ramayana series. He's depicted Sita not only as a brave, independent woman but also a fierce warrior, bold lover and a strong character in herself. If you haven't read it yet, plase do. Even his characterizition of Rama is close to what you've described in this post.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation!I'm always on the look out for new books by unread(by me) authors :)

  15. Hi there! In one of the books I read or the discourses I listened to, am not sure which one it is, a mention has been made that it was never the real Seetha who was abducted by Ravana but that it was Vaidehi (Vaidehi is not another name of Seetha, but a completely different entity). Given that anyone who even laid a finger on Seetha would be burnt to ashes due to her being such an immensely chaste woman, Ravana would not have survived touching her, let alone carry her away. That all through it was Vaidehi who was in Ravana's capture and also the one who entered the fire. Now, where Seetha was during this entire time, I don't know. Maybe she went back to Bhumi and returned at the time of Agni Parikshe to exit the fire after Vaidehi entered it. I think it had something to do with a curse on someone to take the form of Vaidehi during the time of Shri Rama and experience all that pain of vanavaasa, Ravana's abduction and separation from the Lord an finally attain salvation through Agni Pareekshe. I wish I could remember where I read / heard this piece of information!! Effects of age catching up fast! :)

    1. this is something new! i know that Sita was Vedavati in her previous life. Weekend investigation!

    2. Aah! I guess you might be right about it being Vedavathi. I might have mixed up the names. Would love to know what your research showed. :)

  16. naavu channaagi harikathe maaDbahudu ansathe, alwa, ee yella kathegaLannu itkonDu? :)

  17. Hi there! Trust all is well. Here's an interesting write-up I came across, about RavaNa. Thought of sharing with you. :)
    It was a refreshing read for me. In almost all places whenever RamayaNa is mentioned people almost always talk about Rama, Sita, LakshmaNa (to some extent Hanuman) & their greatness and the other characters are sort of sidelined.

    It's also interesting to note that in Bangalore-Mysore Kannada, people invariably say "oLLe ramayaNa nindu" whenever there is any sign of trouble, alwa? :) No one refers to Mahabharatha in that way, though Mahabharatha is full of "ramayaNa", alwa? :)

    1. hi! sorry for the sporadic responses...have a submission coming up. nandu yavaglu exam ramayana LOL!