A graphic novel written by Samhita Arni and illustrated by Moyna Chitrakar, Sita’s Ramayana retells the epic from a deeply ‘feminine’ perspective.
Review by Aparna.V.Singh
When I received my copy of Sita’s Ramayana, a graphic novel from Tara Books, five minutes of reading was all it took for me to experience a visceral sense of delight. There are books that appeal to you at an intellectual level, and there are books that do that, but also utterly captivate you with a certain something that is difficult to explain to a second person. Sita’s Ramayana is one such book and the reason I am mentioning this is that no one should mistake this piece for an objective review! It is the work of an unabashed fan who was touched to the core of her heart.
Sita’s Ramayana follows in the Indian tradition of innumerable retellings of the Ramayana, be it by accomplished poets or grandmothers at a child’s bedside, with each retelling drawing colour from the imaginings of the storyteller and the regional culture they belonged to. More specifically, as the publishers inform us at the end of the novel, it follows in the tradition of female retellings of the Ramayana, which have brought unique perspectives to the story, and looked beyond the themes of male heroism and honour.
This novel is a collaborative effort with text by Samhita Arni and art by Patua artist, Moyna Chitrakar. Patua art involves a form of storytelling through panels shared with an audience along with music, and this format has been adapted to the telling of the Ramayana – in Sita’s words. The panels in this graphic novel manage to make palaces, jungles, hills and even the ocean come alive with just a few artful lines suggesting the background and the use of vivid, primary colours. Unlike the “pan-Indian” characters that many of us have grown up with thanks to Amar Chitra Katha, the human figures here have a distinct regional character in their looks, clothing and ornaments.
Being Sita’s telling of the Ramayana story, at the heart of the novel is of course the episode that has always deeply troubled many lovers and devotees of the epic, namely, the unjust banishment of Sita in response to doubts on her chastity. Despite this focus, Sita’s Ramayana is not a feminist novel in the sense that one would expect. What deeply touched me was that the Sita of this story feels injustice not only in the treatment meted out to her. This is the story of a woman whose sense of righteousness is accompanied by an equally strong sense of compassion. Even as she despairs in the Ashoka grove and waits anxiously for her captivity to end, this is a Sita who can empathize with the suffering of others, including the Rakshasis who must lose their men in the war. In this compassion and empathy, ultimately, she emerges as a stronger character than Rama, an unhappy man torn between love for his wife and a sense of duty towards his subjects.
Sita’s Ramayana is not a feminist novel in the sense that it does not explicitly pronounce judgment on the banishment of Sita. Yet, it is a deeply feminist novel if one agrees that heroism is not restricted to the conventionally male values of anger or bravery on the battlefield. It celebrates other, ‘feminine’ virtues such as sisterhood, justice, dignity, patience and solidarity with all beings.
If being able to live with one’s choices is a worthy goal, the heroine of Sita’s Ramayana is indeed deeply heroic. Samhita Arni and Moyna Chitrakar deserve much credit for helping us reimagine a heroic Sita far from the ‘damsel in distress’ of popular imagination.
Publishers: Tara Books
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