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While we all know the stories of the Ramayana, can we look at them from a fresh perspective, a feminist one, that does not go by patriarchal stereotypes?
I was recently watching the 1992 Japanese animation version of the Ramayana ‘The Legend of Prince Rama’, with my daughter.
There is a scene in the movie when Ram, Sita, and Lakshman are standing on a boat which is taking them away from their beloved city Ayodhya for their 14 years of vanvaas. While Ram and Lakshman are standing steady without any visible expressions, Sita is overwhelmed and cannot stop her tears. Ram is looking in the opposite direction towards the wilderness, standing like a rock.
While watching this, I just casually mentioned to my mom, “Sita was lucky. At least she had a strong and dependable husband to rely on in times of personal grief and tragedy”.
My mom, was quick to respond – “What lucky? What is dependable in a man who left her only because of the accusation of a dhobi?” I was really surprised to get that response from my mother, and it really made me rethink a lot of things we Indians assume to be a certain way.
We call Lord Rama ‘Maryada Purushottam‘, ‘Ekvachani’, ‘Ekbaani‘, ‘Ekpatni‘. He is brave, he is strong yet he is humble, he follows rules, he behaves according to his ‘dharma‘. He is considered the ultimate example of honesty, loyalty, bravery and love, and an ideal king and the perfect husband.
But, can we for once, ‘humanify’ him? Can we for a little while bring him out of the mythical and religious closet and think of him as a man of flesh and blood? After all he was indeed a man of flesh and blood if we believe Ramayana actually happened. So where does that leave his beloved wife Sita?
One of the major threads that binds the entire Ramayana together is Rama’s love for Sita. It was only because Ravana kidnapped Sita that the entire Ramayana happened, isn’t it? But, was Rama’s love for Sita the only reason for all that happened?
Firstly, Rama went all the way to Lanka and destroy Ravana because he kidnapped Sita. But when Rama realized that Ravana had many innocent people trapped and imprisoned inside Lanka, it gave his quest a wider and greater objective. It then became the fight of right against wrong, the fight of good against evil.
Why didn’t the great Rama think of saving the innocent people of Lanka earlier? Why did he have to wait till his wife was kidnapped? Or was he finding some moral reason to kill Ravana which could fit into his definition of Dharma? If he had said that he wanted to avenge the kidnapping of his wife and kill Ravana then what was the difference between the perfect Deva and the mortal Asura?
Secondly, Sita was kidnapped when Rama went into the forest leaving his wife alone. Ravana tricked Rama. The bravest and wisest of the kings was made a fool. So was it the pure and true love for his wife that made him go after Ravana or was it in fact wounded the male ego?
“Someone kidnapped my ‘property’ and that too by fooling me?” That sounds like the ultimate embarrassment. Doesn’t it? He loved Sita I am sure. But was it the only motive behind crossing the entire Indian subcontinent and reaching Lanka? No. It was completely about his wife, his ego, his kingdom, his pride – his Dharma.
Finally, no one has yet answered this one perpetual question – why did he leave his wife only because a stranger questioned her ‘purity’? Rama was a true and honest emperor and answerable to his kingdom. But wasn’t he equally answerable to his wife? He had, by all means, a power to silence the dhobi but instead he chose to leave his wife. He wanted to strengthen his image of perfect king more than fight for the feelings of his wife. And in doing so, he got stamped as the greatest emperor of India but failed as a husband.
But Rama is after all Lord Rama – the infallible, the unconquerable, the one who is never wrong – the God.
And poor Sita – we explain her plight by leaving it to ‘Her Fate’.
What did she feel living in Lanka – scared, vulnerable, insulted and alone? How did she faught Ravana’s advances? Everyone applauded the great warrior Rama when he defeated Ravana – though he had many great fighters, soldiers and the entire army to his service. He was always with friends and family and in the position of power.
But what happened to Sita when she was alone in a treacherous foreign land amongst all the unknown Asura women? How did she fight her inner confusions and demons? Was she even sure if her husband would come to rescue her ? What if she would have had to spend her entire life in the dark recesses of Lankan fort? What was her saving grace which helped her preserve her sanity and uphold her faith throughout? Do we ever ask such questions?
Even today, our Dadis and Nanis tell their daughters and granddaughters in all their wisdom that women will never get away without facing the Agnipariksha. Even if the women are morally right, they will have to face the wrath of the men. They will be accused; they will be questioned about their characters. And if they want happy lives, they better not cross the ‘lakshman rekha’. The grand old ladies mean well for all their girls. Because they have seen it all.
But will we ever have the Dadas and the Nanas asking their grandsons to believe in their Sitas, to ignore the public, to consider their women more important that the dhobis, to think beyond their lives and egos and put their women high on their priority list? Will anyone tell our sons – don’t draw the Lakshman Rekha, just take your wife along. Make her strong. And even if she fails, don’t leave her.
My intention is not to doubt the Ramayana – I am too small and inconsequential to do that. But my intention is to dig out the loopholes in the way we see our Gods. I have my questions. And I want to find out my own answers.
I believe in Lord Rama and I pray to him. But I now also want to pray to Sita – to her womanhood, to the eternal ‘Stree’.
And I wish to bring her out of her husband’s aura and pray to her individually like I do to the other forms of womanhood – Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati.
Every society has Gods – perfect, extraordinary men and women who take people on the path of truth, honesty and progress.
But every society also need some extraordinary humans – who are imperfect, open to accepting their mistakes, are accessible and willing to change.
What the society chooses – makes all the difference.
Image source: a still from The Legend of Prince Rama
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