If Valmiki Had Been A Woman, Would Women In The Ramayana Be Different?

So how would the Ramayana be if Valmiki had been a woman? A feminist look at the themes that speaks of strong women in the Ramayana.

We all know the epic written by Valmiki glorifying the life of a king named Ram. But the characterization of women in the Ramayana makes me uncomfortable sometimes.

Many people insist that the Ramayana would not have happened had there been no Kaikeyi, Manthara, Sita or Surpanakha. While the jealousy, vengeance, lust of a few women has been cited as the basis of Ramayana, the thoughts and opinions of others are never expressed.

Women are symbolized as the epitome of sacrifice who accept their fate and bear the consequences humbly. I agree that Valmiki being a learned man of high wisdom must have done his research well before writing this story. But I often imagine what would have ‘Ramayana’ been, had it been written by a female author who could portray the emotions of women as if it was happening to her.

This led me to write this set of different situations in ‘Ramayana’ with the women being vocal about their thoughts and views. With no intention to hurt anybody, this version is totally a figment of my imagination and I believe, things would have been different for women today had they spoken out at that time.

The first bold and confident single mom

The story begins with Koushalya, wife of Dashratha King of Ayodhya. The couple was blessed with a daughter named Shanta but the queen was unable to conceive again. The king then married another princess Sumitra as he desired for a son, a heir to his throne.

Furious at this disgraceful act of Dashratha, Koushalya confronted him and demanded the rights of his daughter. Dashratha was willing to keep both of his wives happy and loved his daughter. But bigamy was a crime and that too, for a son. Koushalya could not accept that and decided to end the marriage. The King gave half of his kingdom to his daughter as her birthright being the first born. Thus, the story moved on to how Koushalya single-handedly brought up Shanta to be a bright and confident crowned princess who later on ruled her kingdom and was known as a just and kind queen. Ram was never born.

The first girl to reject a not-so-comfortable marriage proposal

The story states how a young prince named Ram went to the swayamvar of Sita where famed kings and princes gathered to compete with each other for King Janaka would marry his foster-daughter to the one who could lift Lord Shiva’s bow. Of all the royal men present, Ram was the only one who could not only lift the bow but break it too. The winner was declared and Sita was supposed to marry Ram.

But Sita was in turmoil. How could she decide just by the strength of somebody’s arms that he is the right person for her to spend the rest of her life with? She shocked everybody wishing to have a conversation with Ram before accepting him as her husband. Ram being the charming, good-natured person agreed to Sita and they had a talk.

Sita asked Ram to give three reasons why she should marry him. Ram replied saying he would provide for her, protect her and take good care of her. Sita said she could do all that herself. Why does she need him for that?

She then asked why he wanted to marry her. He didn’t have any answer other than to say that she was beautiful and well-known as the daughter of King Janaka. Were those reasons enough for him to marry her? What if their frequency never matched? What about her life after marriage? What if she didn’t want to be just the sweet queen of the king? Thus, the story ended with a baffled Ram hurriedly leaving the court. The marriage never happened.

The first nuclear family due to unresolved family issues

The story narrates how trouble started when Kaikeyi, instigated and aided by her wet nurse Manthara, forced Dashratha to declare her son Bharat as the future king instead of Ram. She also wanted 14 years of exile for Ram lest he overpowers Bharat and reclaims the kingdom.

The ever-obedient Ram accepted her decision and was happy to get a chance of standing on his own feet without the support of his father’s wealth. He had Sita’s full support for they could make a life of their own away from the chains of royalty.

Ram, however, suggested Sita not to accompany him to the forest as life would be hard and he didn’t want her to suffer for him. Sita, on the other hand, was looking forward to an adventurous life together pursuing their dreams.

Lakshman, Ram’s brother, wanted to accompany them for the exile but the couple declined his request saying Lakshman should also try to build his own life with his family. And, both newlywed couples were entitled to have their own respective honeymoons. Lakshman never met Surpanakha.

The first crush-turned-friend saga   

The story introduces Surpanakha, the beautiful princess of Lanka, who was besotted by Ram and how her proposal of marriage was rejected because Ram was loyal to Sita.

Surpanakha accepted his decision praising his honesty and on hearing his story, her heart filled with admiration for all three of them. Ram introduced her to Sita and Lakshman and thus, Surpanakha became a very good friend of the trio often visiting them in the forest. She couldn’t fathom when she fell for the charming Lakshman and the friendship transformed into love. Aware that Lakshman too was married and would never marry her, she confided in Sita about her feelings.

Good friend Sita advised her to think about her own life and that a relationship with Lakshman would not lead to happiness. When Lakshman got to know about this, he was quite distressed as he could not fulfill her wish nor did he want to spoil their friendship. For the sanity of all, Surpanakha decided to move to Lanka and start life afresh. Thus, the story ended with each of them treasuring their friendship and the beautiful moments spent together as wonderful memories in their hearts. Ravan never knew about all these.

The first out-of-the-box challenge to win independent wife’s heart

The story describes how Surpanakha was insulted by Lakshman and she went to her brother Ravan, King of Lanka, asking him to avenge her humiliation. Ravan was furious to see her sister’s bleeding heart and when none of his tactics worked, he planned to kidnap Sita. He thought she would fall for the golden deer and ask Ram to fetch it for her. In his absence, he could abduct vulnerable Sita.

When Sita saw the golden deer, she loved it and Ram said he would bring it for her to keep as a pet. Horrified Sita requested Ram not to do so. Animals in captive are not happy animals and the golden deer was better off free in the jungle than tied down in her lawn. And moreover, if Sita really wanted the deer, she was capable of getting it herself. She didn’t want the deer as a gift from him. To win her heart, he ought to think of some out-of-the-box ideas. Ravan never got a chance to kidnap Sita.

The first voice against female harassment

The story turns to how Ravan disguised himself as a hermit and came begging to Sita’s door in the absence of Ram and Lakshman. As Sita stepped out of the Lakshmanrekha, he grabbed her hand and showed his real face.

Spontaneously, Sita reached for her saree pallu and blew the pepper powder tied in it into Ravan’s eyes. Taken aback, he loosened his grip on her and taking advantage, she kicked him so hard he fell on the floor moaning. By this time both Ram and Lakshman were back with Sita. On cross questioning, Ravan told Surpanakha’s story and Sita was so moved that she confronted Lakshman to find the truth.

She stood up against the injustice done to Surpanakha and vehemently opposed such inhuman act against her. She rightly cited that such cruel act from members of royal family would pave way for similar reactions in common men. She saw to it that Lakshman paid for the crime he committed so that no man would ever dare to disrespect a woman either physically or mentally under any circumstance. Sita gained Ravan’s admiration and friendship.

The first wife to stand up against husband for his unjustified behaviour against her

The story revolves around how Ram with the help of Hanuman and Sugriv fought a ferocious battle against Ravan to rescue Sita. On meeting Sita, Ram asked her to give the agnipariksha as a proof of her chastity.

Sita was shocked and refused to do any such thing and that it was an insult to her. If she was to go back with Ram, it would be without question or doubt. If not, there was no point in continuing the relationship. Moreover, she wanted to know how Ram would prove his purity for all the time he stayed away from her. The rules were same for both of them.

With no sane answer, Ram just stated that she should comply with her husband’s wish without any question. Disgusted with such act of injustice to humiliate her, Sita filed for a divorce and parted ways with Ram who was adamant not to take her back with him unless the test was done.

Later, she started a new life on her own, living with her head held high. Abandonment was out of question.

The first voice of feminism

The story unfolds how Ram abandoned a pregnant Sita because a washerman reinstated the doubt on her chastity. After the initial shock and disbelief, Sita took shelter in Valmiki’s ashram where she gave birth to twins Luv and Kush.

A single but confident mother, Sita brought up her sons to become sensible gentlemen and never shied from telling her children about their father nor did she hide them from Ram.

While Ram pined not only for Sita but also his children, Sita went on to become a wise and learned Rishika under the guidance of Valmiki. She devoted her life towards betterment of women in the society especially victims of marriage. She even led the campaign to institute laws abolishing harassment and violence against women which was supported by Mandodari (wife of Ravan), Surpanakha, Koushalya, Urmila (Lakshman’s wife), Tara (Vali’s wife), Ruma (wife of Sugriv) and Ahalya (Maharishi Gautama’s wife). The feminist movement began in India.

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Comments

10 Comments


  1. These thoughts always wandered in my mind when I thought of Ramayana and this article of yours has been expressive in bringing out the feminine approach towards injustice.Nice write-up !

  2. Interesting read!Ramayana in a totally different persepective!

  3. Sounds so much similar to present day TV soaps. Single mother, separation etc. The way of expressing a king called Ram is hurting the sentiments aa he our Lord… Next women are shown all powerful with Site as the woman whose birth was to finish the evil that’s Ravan.
    I dislike it.

  4. Pingback: Who was Ram’s Sita ? | that which i am

  5. Sumit Agrawal -

    Hello ,

    Just trying to more elaborate on the interesting Ramayana’s version , please respond to my queries

    How could she decide just by the strength of somebody’s arms that he is the right person for her to spend the rest of her life with?
    Can’t it be a personal choice ??Rather she should oppose his father for swamvar on the basis of strength rather by a question answer round .

    Sita asked Ram to give three reasons why she should marry him.
    It would be much better if both ask each other question’s , any reason why Sita is having liberty to ask question and Rama is only responding in your version ??

    Sita said she could do all that herself.provide for her, protect her and take good care of her?

    Wouldn’t it be better if Sita would reply : Even i willl Protect you , will take good care of you etc. Rather cross questioning to make Rama think of something else , and secondly what’s wrong in justifying beauty as one of the reason to marry ?

    What if their frequency never matched?
    how will be decide if frequency matches prior to marriage ?is there an equation for that ?
    What about her life after marriage?
    Life after marriage can only be seen post marriage , what if a girl likes someone and he chages post marriage ?
    I agree Sita should decide whether to marry Rama or not , but you seems not have justified this .
    What if she didn’t want to be just the sweet queen of the king?
    Let’s say , she didn’t want , then all were the kings in Swamwar , it’s illogical to organize such an event ?Isn’t it ? She should have told it to Janak in your version .

    For rest other point , it doesn’t make sense for me to Argue rather i would wait for the answer below

    Yes , with your thought “Women are symbolized as the epitome of sacrifice who accept their fate and bear the consequences humbly” this would be perfect . But Unfortunately, Ramayana’s not only about the women’s Sacrifice but men’s as well .

    As clearly , depicted by yourself Laxman who was brother lover has sacrificed his life for his brother ( clearly you don’t want that , because you are more worried about his wives life ) .

    Rama has to Sacrifice his happily married life as he was a king post winning of Ravana

    Ravana has sacrificed his kingdom even though he knows Rama was God and so the other characters , even Jatayu sacrified his life ? So many people sacrificed their life ?? Mother’s sacrificed their love for Son’s daughter’s . So , can you please justify how is it only the Sacrifice for women ??

    ————
    Having said above , yes i agree there are some questions on women sacrifice that can be raised , if you really want to recify those in your version of Ramayana please don’t be women -centric rather try to be logical 🙂

    Waiting for the response !!

    • First of all, thank you for reading my article and for your elaborate comment. Although my initial response to your comment was to just tell you that these are just my thoughts and may not be “correct” from someone else’s point of view. Ramayana has been read, described and taken according to the perception of the reader. You are welcome to differ or agree with my thoughts. But since you asked me to respond to your queries, I will try to address them one by one. But, again, I must say that you may not agree with what I have to say.

      1. Can’t it be a personal choice ??Rather she should oppose his father for swamvar on the basis of strength rather by a question answer round .
      I agree that Sita should have talked to her father instead of questioning Ram. But here I carry the story from Ram’s side, if you see, right from before his birth and the events that followed and the characters were introduced as he grow up. Had I started from Sita’s side, that would have been a very different write-up altogether.
      About the personal choice, I assume you are saying it from Sita’s point of view. In that case, it will differ depending on who is borrowing Sita’s shoes. I can think as myself even if I stand in her position. Similarly, the opinion may differ for someone else. Here it is my view, as an individual woman, that without meeting a person and talking to him/her, just on the basis of his strength and skill, it is difficult to decide on marriage. There was a recent advt where the girl asks her father “sirf samosa khilake kaise decide kar loon ki zindagi isike saath bitani hai?” So, here is your Sita asking her father and not the groom-to-be.

      2. It would be much better if both ask each other question’s , any reason why Sita is having liberty to ask question and Rama is only responding in your version ??
      I agree, it would have been better if both had talked with each other instead of just Sita asking him questions. I took the liberty of giving Sita an edge here. May be if I intend to write again on this topic, I will keep your suggestion in mind.

      3. Wouldn’t it be better if Sita would reply : Even i willl Protect you , will take good care of you etc. Rather cross questioning to make Rama think of something else , and secondly what’s wrong in justifying beauty as one of the reason to marry ?
      Sita could have replied to that provided girls were brought up like that. Till date, all we teach our girls is either the father, brother, husband or son will do that. With changing times, we are teaching our daughter to be self-sufficient, independent and take her own responsibility. I belong to that group where my parents taught be to be self-sufficient and not depend on anybody to provide, protect and take care of me. If lucky, the girl will get a boy who shares similar views and then, things can be as you suggested. And beauty can be one of the reasons to marry but not a deciding factor.

      4. how will be decide if frequency matches prior to marriage ?is there an equation for that ? Life after marriage can only be seen post marriage , what if a girl likes someone and he chages post marriage ?
      Frequency match cannot be planned in black and white. Two completely different person may fall in love and agree to stay together despite the differences. The frequency which matches in this case will be the will to fight all odds and let love win. Most of the arranged marriages work out because people are willing to move with the flow and be together any ways keeping each other’s happiness in view. If a girl/boy likes someone and he/she changes after marriage, I assume you are not saying that the person will change altogether from basic. The true character will remain, it is the layers that may wear off. A loving, caring and understanding person will remain so forever but his/her ways of expressing may differ. About materialistic things, people change and that is accepted from both the partners. If a person changes to the extent that you cannot recognize him/her, then he/she must have put forward a fake face before marriage. I let you decide what should be done in that case.

      5. then all were the kings in Swamwar , it’s illogical to organize such an event ?Isn’t it ? She should have told it to Janak in your version
      I think you misunderstood my statement. Sita did not say she doesn’t want to be a queen. What she meant was that she may not just be a queen, but would want to pursue her own dreams along with being a queen. That was the age when queens were expected to be a worthy queen of the king which in itself in a great responsibility. But my Sita wanted to do something more, something of her own. So, she just asked.

      6. But Unfortunately, Ramayana’s not only about the women’s Sacrifice but men’s as well .
      My article says at the beginning “I believe, things would have been different for women today had they spoken out at that time.” Expected sacrifices of most of the women in today’s age do not differ much from that of Ramayana’s times, often citing Sita as an example. True Lakshman sacrificed for his brother, how many brothers today are expected to do the same? True Ram sacrificed and let Bharat be the crowned prince, how many brothers are expected to do that today? Ram sacrificed his marital life for his kingdom, he put kingdom first and personal life as secondary. How many men are expected to do that today? Raavan’s sacrificing his kingdom is a topic of debate again. Jatayu’s sacrifice cannot be compared in today’s times though you will find examples of animals putting their life at risk to save human. Still, it is not expected of them. About all the above examples, there are men who do sacrifice even today, but there is no expectation or they are not taken for granted. When I wrote about sacrifice of women, I meant women till date are expected to sacrifice and mould themselves according to the situation or requirement. For example, after marriage, she is expected to adjust according to the job of the husband. If they are well to do, many times she is expected to take care of the home and not think of a career. This is just one example. The fact is that it is taken fro granted from the woman’s side whereas the man sacrifices as his own choice, nobody expects him to do so. Even if he doesn’t, nobody will question. But if it is the woman refusing to sacrifice, Sita will be held up for her to show as an example. I hope you get my point.

      7. yes i agree there are some questions on women sacrifice that can be raised , if you really want to recify those in your version of Ramayana please don’t be women -centric rather try to be logical
      Thank you for agreeing that there are questions. I do not want to rectify anything in Ramayana. I will tell the story as such to my daughter but let her have her own perception. I will however, make her capable enough to see through and learn what lessons are to be learnt from the epic. My mother did phd on Ramayana but she told me the original Ramayana as it is. The above is my own views because my mother never told me to follow what is said. She asked me to follow my heart.

      I hope I answered your queries. Thank you once again. Best wishes.

  6. Hi again,

    Thanks so much for your response to my queries.

    It all makes sense to me now however, sorry i have few more.

    When you say women are taught to be self sufficient,
    Independent. I completely agree that you must possess below things in your life, however that’s not how our ecosystem is designed, we have some dependencies on others. Self-suffient is a strong word and has limitations vary from person to person.
    Recently someone has qouted ” We need men just for babies“ and she was a famous celebrity. Both men and women should be independent but they should keep in mind that they are incomplete without each other. There is nothing wrong to care a person and get care from them. Over expectations is something that creats the differences. So, my suggestion’s for Sita to tell same to Rama was considering same.
    I strongly believe a single women should be really very strong from inside to live her life being self sufficient, not depending on other and taking care of herself. It’s hard for her to be happy and somehow I feel there is a natural depndency of men to women and women to men that is beyond being self sufficient.
    self-sufficient and not depend on anybody to provide, protect and take care of me

    I completely agree with your point of view on other responses.

    Yes, women are expected to sacrifice all today. And things are changing slowly. The problem is since ages.
    Can’t expect it to change all of a sudden.

    What are your thoughts on women leaving parents home post marriage. Isn’t it a sacrifice?

    What are your thought’s on women carrying a child for family happiness and herself. The pain to give birth to a child is so immense that its unbearable. Still women have only privilege to do so.

    Just want to divert your attention that this could be the reason women are expected to sacrifice as they are far more capable than men. That’s what make them far more better than men, where any men can’t even reach even if they try to. Bring self sufficient is inherent quality of every women, all they need to is think that they have these embedded.
    Caring a women protecting her, should what every men must do. It’s their duty, still they can’t meet the sacrifices made by women.

    Yes, some sacrifices done are not actually asking women to sacrifies rather imposing a personal decison without considering women’s perspective, assuming that has been the tradition.

    Women shouldn’t be forced to relocate according to men. Rather they should be asked, their perspective should be taken care and a mutual decision should be made which makes both happy.

    It’s same for all other problems.

    Men are never taught to think about women’s perspective, her thoughts, her wishes. This should be changed in every aspect.

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