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Sita’s Ramayana, a collaborative graphic novel by Patua artist Moyna Chitrakar and writer Samhita Arni, is a retelling of the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective.
Interview by Anjana Basu
In this 2-part interview with Moyna Chitrakar and Samhita Arni, we spoke to the artist-writer duo on how they found the collaborative process of working on Sita’s Ramayana and what Sita means to them. This interview is with Moyna; you can find here our interview with Samhita
Anjana Basu (AB): Did you find any difference between your scroll art and the book?
Moyna Chitrakar (MC): No, I found no difference at all. It’s the same thing actually. As chitrakars, we visualize the Ramayana when most people are used to reading it in words and that visualization was transferred from scroll to book form. And yes, the words were translated into English after I had written the words of my song down for them on the back of every picture.
AB: You described everything from Sita’s point of view. Why is that?
MC: This is a tradition that has been handed down from our forefathers. I have not heard of Chandrabati’s Ramayana (note: a narrative tradition dating from the 16th century which is mentioned at the back of Sita’s Ramayana). I learnt this story of Sita’s endurance from my mother and drew it accordingly.
It is very relevant to us here in the village because village women go through a great deal of suffering. They are abused by their husbands who beat them when they are drunk, they undergo many kinds of torture both mental and physical. As a result, the rate of suicide in the villages is high.
Sita was married to a hero king who nonetheless did not rescue her because he loved her but because he was worried about his honour.
So I talk to them about Sita, who started out with everything and ended up with nothing at all. Despite everything that she endured, exile, kidnapping, separation and then rejection from her husband, she did not take her own life. It was only at the end, when she was asked to face another test of her virtue that she asked the earth to swallow her up.
I tell the groups of women I speak to that their sufferings are nothing when you take Sita’s into consideration. Sita was married to a hero king who nonetheless did not rescue her because he loved her but because he was worried about his honour. If Sita could endure all the disappointments and cruelty that she had to suffer with humanity and compassion, so can the women of the villages in Bengal.
AB: What is your favourite part of the book?
MC: Most people concentrate on the golden deer episode, but my favourite part of the Ramayana is the section where the monkey, Hanuman comes to Sita in the garden of Ravana’s palace. She does not recognize him, but he gradually gets closer to her and begins to tell her that he comes from her husband. She is forced to listen quietly because she is surrounded by sleeping rakshasas.
We women in the villages are surrounded by many dangers. We have to learn to survive in the face of it all and to find our own internal peace.
AB: Are you handing your art down?
MC: I have 10 or 15 girls under me whom I’m teaching. They will carry on the work of bringing hope to village women and spreading the message through stories from mythology and the great epics. Women have an important role to play in this world and they must learn, as Sita did, how to survive in the world of the villages where the odds currently seem to be stacked overwhelmingly against women.
And of course, in English, Sita’s message of endurance will I hope reach many more women apart from making them see the Ramayana through different eyes.
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