The Untold Tale Of Soorpanakha

Posted: June 25, 2014

Sometimes, our stories are told by others, and we have to reclaim them. What would Soorpanakha have said, if she had told her own story?

One of the top 5 entries for June’s muse of the month writing cue, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” (from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings).

Editor’s Note (Added): This is a work of fiction meant to imagine the standpoint of a lesser known character. It does not aim to be an “authentic” or “definitive” account of any events.

june-muse-of-the-month

I am Soorpanakha. My name is synonymous with Sin for many, encased for eternity in the pages of the epic Ramayana. I am not the role model parents would point their daughters towards. Why is that? You may ask. Because I admitted to lust. My name was pitted against Sita, the embodiment of purity and womanly virtues. She was everything I was not and I was everything she was not.

She was beautiful and so was I. Do not believe those terrible sketches of me with sharp fangs and blood shot eyes. I was a peerless beauty with large fish shaped eyes, for which my mother had named me ‘Minakshi’ at birth. A single woman, independent enough to roam the forests alone. I was free.

My freedom was my sin, as was my open sexuality. I dared to invite a man, the exiled king of Ayodhya, to make love to me.

“I am ekam-patni-vrata (faithful to my wife)”, Rama replied smugly.

He was not interested? Fine! There’s no dearth of men.

Laughing, he points at his brother, the youthful Lakshmana. It was kind of humiliating. But I swallowed my pride, and smiled at Lakshmana. He looked like a sweet kid.

Lakshmana however turned out to be a rude brat.

“But she’s almost fifty!”, he huffed. Aaah, the pride of youth! I ignored the insult and smiled sweetly.

“We are not getting married! Just a few laughs”, I mocked. He mouthed a few more insults. (I bet those won’t get written down by the poet sage Valmiki).

The brothers meanwhile were raking me with their eyes. The elder one was fingering his bow and arrow. A woman stood with head bowed a few feet away. So this is Sita? The pinnacle of all ideals a woman is supposed to be. I snorted. The brothers frowned. They were murmuring something, heads close together.

I went to Sita.

“Hello!”

She glared at me. Obviously she had overheard when I was propositioning her husband.

Her veil moved a little. She was nice looking and tall. She slouched a bit, careful to keep her head covered at all times.

“Sorry, didn’t know he was married.” I ventured.

Silence.

So, why is your husband dragging you around the forest?” I was determined to have a conversation.

“He is not dragging me anywhere. It is my duty to serve him and follow him everywhere. Where is your husband?” she replied huffily.

“Murdered.”

She looked contrite, “Sorry for your loss.”

‘Don’t be. I would have killed the abusive b#$%#rd myself one day,” I guffawed.

She stared at me, shell shocked. She had never dreamed a woman could talk like this.

“So, did you and ex-king over there fall in love or what,” I asked amiably.

“He won my hand by picking up and breaking Lord Shiva’s bow.”

“What does that even mean? Did you like him or not?”

Her eyes took a glazed confused look. “Like him?…it is my duty to love and serve my husband till I die and follow all his wishes.”

Sita was like a parrot, repeating lines no doubt fed to her since childhood. I was sincerely filled with sadness for the girl.  Later on, this same husband would force her to walk through fire to prove her ‘purity’ and she would commit suicide by jumping into a pit. She did not know this then, neither did I.

Sita, are you happy with your marriage?”

“Happy? Nobody ever asked me that. I don’t know!”Sita’s veil had fallen over. Her slouch was gone. Now I understood why she slouched, the girl was taller than her husband.

I took her hand. “Listen sister, do you want to get away for a few days maybe. You could come with me, see the world, you know.” A wondrous expression filled her face. I am pretty sure that was a “Yes” on Sita’s trembling lips.

“Hey Soorpanakha, let go of my wife”. Startled I look around to see a furious Rama bearing down on me.

My long hair was jerked with such force I fell to the ground. I looked at Sita. But she was too weak to help.

Lakshmana pinned me down. A long menacing sword gleamed in his hand. His eyes were wild, his mouth salivating at the prospect of stabbing a defenseless woman.

“Do it quick. And no one needs to tell what really happened.” Their laugh rang in my ears as the sword copped off my nose and I could hear no longer. The sword had taken my ears too. The blood filled my mouth and I vomited.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story …” I thought I saw Sita’s lips murmur the words.

Today I, Soorpanakha, tell my story.

Pic credit: Indi (Used under a CC license)

(Edited) New comments are being disabled on this post due to the high traffic volumes we are experiencing. Our server is finding it difficult to cope with the rush, and is taking time to pull up comments! Apologies for the inconvenience. 

About the Author: Drishana Kalita describes herself as a working woman from Assam. She has a keen interest in Indian mythology and often finds herself questioning the staunch patriarchal viewpoints expressed in these and the depiction of women figures.

36 Comments


  1. Preethi Venugopala

    Loved this.. I never thought about such a version to soorpanaka. Yes…history is written by the winner. So why many stories remain untold.

  2. This was interesting. I remember an uncle of mine disparaging Ramayana because they enmity with Ravana was started over this incident. He said, so what if a girl propositioned Laxman! She has a right to make her feeling known.

    • Drishana Kalita -

      Thanks. Like your uncle I too have felt very unsettled over the incident of Soorpanakha, hence this story. The truth sometimes is hidden behind many shades of grey.

  3. well articulated! A coin always has two sides and so do stories. And just as most of them opt for ‘Heads’, many are regaled with narrative versions of just one side of a story. Your take on the other is refreshingly insightful, imaginative and good food for thought.

  4. A brilliant piece of creative writing Drishana; however, since none of us mortals were present in that time so there is always a possibility of the other version which is a part of the epics to be true. Just statistically speaking and open to possibilities..:) Please do not tag me as a chauvinist as I am very well a believer of one free world and gender agnostic equality; however, the epics have there own reasoning and purpose which we may have understood or may haven’t – again open to interpretation…

    • Drishana Kalita -

      Ravikant, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Ofcourse the possibilities are endless…and this is just one out of a million. Stories are always told from the point of view of those who write it and their many interpretation surely boggles the mind. There is no question of chauvinism or feminism here…I am glad you wrote what u felt and I agree with you whole-heartedly.

  5. Manpreet Kaur -

    ofcourse a new dimension of the tale. I would like to ask is it even remotely true?

  6. Great story! To the point & effective 🙂

  7. May i know the original Script which the story has taken from ?Seems 2b very nearer to the book “ASURA” story of Ravana or If Its ur own version then its really Great 🙂

  8. Priya Mani

    I narrated this to my mother-in-law, translating along the way. She loved it too. What a perspective! Superbly written, Drishana.

    • Drishana Kalita -

      Priya Mani, thanks a ton to you. Really happy that you like it and please convey my heartfelt gratitude and regards to your ma-in law.

  9. Lovely story. Enjoyed the other side of Surpanaka!!!

    You might find a different Seeta who does not like the way Rama and Lakshmana treated her (Surpanaka), in Seetayana, a story I have written about Seeta – Ramayana through Seeta’s point of view. You would find the story at umasun1973.wordpress.com.

  10. great effort Drishana and what a narration….beautiful and binding. i just could not resist from reading the entire thing.

  11. I don’t think Seeta would think Like this… If u go through many other narratives other than Ramayana, Swayamvara was a common thing at the time and woman was given the choice of whom to marry… Rama completed the quest which others couldn’t….Do u seriously think Seeta would choose any other men who couldn’t complete the quest?…. So I don’t think there was any doubt in Seeta’s love for Rama and Shoorpanakha was Jealous of her for having such a husband who rejected her offer(The way write up describes Shoorpanakha.)
    I also think whatever written above that laxmana did to Shoorpanakha is really exaggerated….

    Later as we know and we all have problems with…Rama asked for Agneepariksha… there is also a valid reason for that….

    Rama is already playing two perfect roles in his life. A perfect son and a perfect king. we can’t compare him with Shiva whose other Roopa as we know is “Ardhanganarishwara”;as it states his other half is Parvati. they can’t be separated. They can’t live separately as they complete each other.
    Rama is already playing two perfect roles in his life. A perfect son and a perfect king. A body can’t be separated in three parts as Seeta becomes third part of Rama’s life… So if his parents are not happy he is not happy; if one of his subjects is not happy the King is not gonna be happy…. and we all know what happens later when he heard his subjects talking about Seeta.

    And my humble request is, please don’t think about Raam and Seeta like this. We have a very higher place for Seeta in our hearts…even in temples u won’t see Raam alone… He is always with Seeta.

    • Hi Rigved – I believe the reason behind asking Seeta for Agnipareeksha had more to do with a planned inclusion of a flaw in Rama’s character as his was a human avatar and humans can’t be flawless. The broader message thus to the world was even the “Perfect” human is not so perfect and this flaw be never repeated by others of not trusting their wives. So the epics state it the same way – “Even Rama was not flawless” – Krishna in Mahabharata makes it more clear for Bhishma by reminding him of the fact that karma for a oath is no karma but karma for the greater good is what frees you (Like Bhishma never did anything wrong himself but never even stopped something wrong from happening which essentially is not “Dharma”). So ideally, Rama should not have ever asked Seeta for the agnipariksha and he still would have been an ideal king, an ideal son and an ideal husband which basiclaly was not the plan…;)

      I am sure the writer would come here by her own explanation but reading her comments till now gives me a sense that this was more of a creative and fictional piece which should be takes as it is and not in an offensive manner because an incidence between two parties told in a story has always the view of the two parties and the truth which may be totally different from the two views..:) – freedom of expression would only lead us to the path of intellectual enlightenment my friend and the writer here is merely exploring possibilities, asking questions – which truly is a gift of god..:)

    • Hi Ravikant… I agree…freedom of expression would only lead us to the path of intellectual enlightenment… But That’s what happened.
      If you go through the Wikipedia page of Ramayana one will find out that Ramayana was narrated three times in the history.
      After Valmiki between 1300 and 1310 A.D. in Dravidian laguage and in 12th cetury by the Tamil poet Kamban.
      And if you read these later narrations one will find out that Seeta’s character is getting degraded. There are also reasons for that I avoid discussing here and also we can say freedom of expression….
      I find the same thing is happen in the above article(no offence)….
      now as per Rama says to Shoorpanakha in above article…“I am ekam-patni-vrata (faithful to my wife)”, Rama replied smugly.
      Being faithful to once wife is being a smug????!!!!
      Knowing that Shoorpanakha is interested is his elder brother what do you expect Laxmana to do???!!! So he turns out to be a “Rude Bratt”??!!!

      Please I mean nothing wrong…we need to empower the personalities we worship not degrade their character.

    • LOL dude…. out of all that…. We should just stick to the original one…. I have only one question… Y is shoorpanakha being so judgmental?…. just let them be man!!!

  12. Nice story. I have read/heard another version that I can’t recollect anymore, but that basically points to the euphemism of “cutting nose” or “naak kataana” in Hindi, which can be interpreted as losing one’s honour. It is said that Soorpanakha’s nose was not literally cut, but it was merely a euphemism to say Lakshmana violated her honor and refused to marry her taking her to be a loose woman as she was independent and apparently liked Lakshmana. This incident infuriated Raavan and he abducted Sita as a matter of revenge, to take away her honour.

  13. there are probably 17 different versions of Ramayana…and as discussed in earlier comments. .a poet would only ornamentate a victorious king’s achievements and the world never gets to know about the vanquished …the right , the wrong. ..its all perception. Everyone who claims knowledge of ramayana, I believe, knows only about the cause of the war and the war itself but not the after-war scenario…Some versions say that it was lord Ram who passed orders for the execution of his beloved brother Laxmana…n various other such events which have increased the respect for Ravana and lowered it for the deva king Ram…Speaking of women…the Asuras were far ahead of time than the devas. The concept of equality could be seen in every instance of Asura history unlike the treatment to women by the devas. Devas believed women to be objects which could be won in competetions, the Asuras on the other hand gave the woman the right to choose their own partners…
    I believe in the present day, its the knowledge people gain through television programs which creates an impression the way the director wants…similar is the case with an epic/tale written in praise of a king… its all exaggerated, partialy true and protrays only one side of the coin…

    • Sage Durvasa appeared at Rama’s doorstep and seeing Lakshmana guarding the door, demands an audience with Rama. At the time, Rama was having a private conversation with Yama. Before the conversation began, Yama gave Rama strict instructions that their dialogue was to remain confidential, and anyone who entered the room was to be relieved of their life. Rama agreed and entrusted Lakshmana with the duty of guarding his door. When Durvasa made his demand, Lakshmana politely refused. The sage grew angry and threatened to curse all of Ayodhya if Lakshmana did not immediately inform Rama of his arrival. Lakshmana, in a dilemma, decided it would be better that he alone die to save all of Ayodhya from falling under Durvasa’s curse and so interrupted Rama’s meeting to inform him of the sage’s arrival. Rama quickly concluded his meeting with Yama and received the sage with due courtesy. Inorder to fulfill his brother’s promise, Lakshmana went to the banks of the river Sarayu resolved on giving up the world through penance.

  14. does covering your head and face with a piece of cloth makes you look shorter ?….and abt the question of loving ram…yes sita obviously loved ram and that is the reason y she came with ram on the vanvas even thought ram suggested her to stay at the palace but it was her love for ram that she refused bcoz a true lover(man or woman) wudnt want their partner to suffer alone….they first saw each other in a garden where sita was plucking flowers and they liked each other right away…and even during the swayamvar Sita secrectly wished for Ram’s victory…also lakshman attacked surpanakha bcoz she tried to attack sita out of jeaolousy …also sita did not die in the agni pariksha…in some other versions it is mentioned that surpanakha knew about ram’s strength and jus wanted to pit ram against ravana to revenge her husband’s murder by the hands of ravana…she knew only ram could defeat ravana….altering religious txts to fight for women’s liberalisation ….seriously? if u think displaying sexual openess makes a women liberal…ur idea of women’s liberalisation is very wrong ..!I knw this is a imaginitive piece but still considering a women who seduces a married man to fullfil her needs as a liberal women isnt right…can u accept the fact that a man inviting a married women to have a relationship..will u call the man right…no way…if u really wanted to support women’s liberalisation in ur imaginitive writing u could hav taken sita’s example dat though she loved ram she left him when ram questioned about her purity…she proved her purity in the pariksha but then did not accept being wid ram since he questioned her love,purity and all her efforts towards ram..this is wat makes sita liberal,modern,self independent and shows she had the confidence and self respect…i hope u understand 🙂

  15. Hi,

    I personally mean no offence to anyone here. But I definitely would like to question the authenticity of the writing here. I am a woman too and I really think very high of them. But I really dont think being a “pati-vrata” stree takes or breaks your identity in
    anyway for I love my husband and if there is any rationality in anything he is doing I would definitely want to be a part of it.Trust me
    its not that I lack originality nor does it hurt my pride.(I really think I have outgrown that immaturity)
    In whatever I have read few of the interpretations of Ramayana or any other mythological story recently I see that women love to interpret things the way they would like to think for convinience’s sake and also for seeking sympathy which really does not take anyone far.To be honest I think your article is biased and based on some misgivings of the world around you.Its not that my love for Rama or Sita has blinded me. Its just that Rama was not some ordinary “male chauvinist ” human being and Seeta was an immature “feminist”.Sita is so revered that she does not need any of your sympathy for sure.She is believed to be a avatar of Goddess Lakshmi. As for Surapanaka she was supposed to have her nose cut off to have offended Ravana or Rama’s coming on the earth would have no meaning .It was all pre planned Make sure an interpretation is made only after thorough research since it takes the purity off any text and not just some rant based on your worldly experiences.(more so when you are talking of texts which are highly respected).

  16. Very well conceived and narrated. I am not a religious person and have always been open to interpretations. This post clearly enlightens a different angle and sounds much apt.

    In my very humble personal opinion, the epic and other mythological stories, as a matter of fact all the religious texts, have been written to give a single direction to the masses so as to have all of them aligned with each other’s faiths and beliefs. This would have caused least amount of conflict among the already fighting and chaotic communities of those times. What we read today in the holy scriptures were just tools to bring people together and make a socially compatible community and give directions to people.

    Good and Bad have always been relative. One particular thinking, say sexual openness of ladies might be liberation or freedom for some and for others it might be perversion.

    The religions which flourished through the ages and were accepted by masses were the ones which offered flexibility and adaptability to its followers.

  17. you have every right to tell us what you feel like…but I respectfully disagree..

  18. http://gravatar.com/shriiram -

    Nice characterization…my only feedback is, why should Sita utter those words in the penultimate line (or at least her lips tremble in that fashion)…is Soorpanaka was injured then, presumably resulting in her inability to speak, then her uttering the statement, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story …” in the distant future (i.e. present) in the article makes sense….but why Sita of all should utter it…it weakens Soorpanaka’s character in the end (remember, it is narrated in the first person present tense)….

  19. Mythili Prakash, a renowned choreograoher and dancer in the Bharatanatyam style, who is based in Chennai and Los Angeles, created, choreographed and danced in a show titled “Stree Katha” several years back. This idea of telling the story from ‘another point of view’ is not a novel idea. Here is an exerpt from Ms. Prakash’s website: http://www.mythiliprakash.com/choreography.html

    “Stree Katha – The Three Heroines of the Ramayana
    This stellar new work explores the undercurrent of social expectations and implications of the female through the stories of Keikeyi, Shurpanaka and Sita. Music by Debur Srivathsa. Premiered in United States, United Kingdom, Canada and India.”

  20. Pingback: Book Review: Scion of Ikshvaku | Wannabe Humane

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