In search of Sita by Malashri Lal & Namita Gokhale
Sita, the central character in Ramayan. She is not just the consort of the main protagonist of the story, but she is a subject in herself. If we look at the life of Sita in Ramayan, there are countable events that describe her life story. Her being found in field by King Janaka, her marriage to Ram who won her by breaking the bow, her insistence of accompanying her husband to forest, her stepping out of the limit set by her brother-in-law, her abduction by Ravana and living in Ashoka Vatika, her Agni Pariksha in Lanka, her leaving the palace of Ayodhya and giving birth to her sons in forests and finally her return to earth.
Sita’s character is etched more out of a perception of her being an ideal wife than her strong character that takes some firm decisions and is willing to go any length to live those decisions. She is an enigma. She is womanhood personified, but hidden in her persona are the traits that every woman would love to have. Her strength to handle the kind of pressure with as much dignity is something we all crave for.
This book is an anthology of collections of commentaries, essays, poems, and paintings and talks around the persona of Sita as a character. There is also a good account of different sub-stories from various regional versions of Ramayan.
One Ramayan talks about Sita being the daughter of Mandodari, who abandoned her, and King Janaka found the same baby in his field. There is another interesting take on why Rama asked Sita to leave his palace after coming back from Lanka. The popular story is an accusation by a Dhobhi that led him to take this decision, but this version says that on persuasion by her co-sisters ad sister-in-laws Sita drew the picture of Ravana on a wall. They all wanted to see how the Ravana looked like. This picture when seen by Ram made him envious and he asked Sita to leave. Another explanation that makes Sita’s character more pious is that she drew only his feet as she had seen only that, but through Maya Saroopnakha, the estranged sister of Ravana completed the picture.
There is a detailed analysis of various forms and interpretations of Sita, as a woman and as a Goddess. There is a comparison between her and other women in the Ramayana and Mahabharat. There is a contemporary look at her through fiction, through imaginary letters and through putting her in new media like animation. Editors Namita Gokhale and Malashri Lal have explored various mediums to explore the myth of Sita and have done that quite successfully. The voices in the book are of various people, making it a multi-dimensional analysis.
Such subjects can never be complete, but this is a pretty comprehensive attempt to look at the Sita from various angles. I think most women would find many resonances with various life events of Sita. Sometimes these would guide today’s women into taking decisions and sometimes they would provide some insights. You would be amazed at the fact that a story that is as old as humans can still echo the same ethos and pathos. We continue to face the similar dilemmas in our lives. Can you imagine how deep-rooted our conditioning would be and probably this is what makes it very difficult for us to change them?
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I would recommend this book to those who are intrigued by Indian mythology and to women who would love to see the reflections of their own lives in Sita’s life.