Lakshman stopped the chariot in the middle of the forest, Sita got down, revealing the beauty of the nature.

“The scion of Raghu Clan wants you to know that the streets are filled with gossips about you. The king’s wife must be above all doubt. You may go wherever you please but know that you are never to return to the palace” Lakshmana’s nostrils flared as he said this.

Sita looked at him, smiling, as she saw the rage in her brother in law’s voice.

“You think he has abandoned his Sita? He is a god, he can abandon no one and I am a goddesses, I can be abandoned by no one.” Smiling, Sita unlocked her braid of hair, a sign of a married woman, now free and turned to the forest.

 

Devdutt Pattanayak, serenely manages to captures some of the most critical moments in India’s favourite retelling epic. Retold over the years, divided by regionalism, far reaching is its effects of being in retold with regional and regional twists even in far reaching countries like Indonesia. Ramayana has the certainly come a long way from being narrated by Sita to the thief turned poet, Valmiki to be being described and transcribed into local folklore to even Jain and Buddhist versions. The most beautiful part about this retelling is that Devdutt actually manifests to seize the essence of even the other versions of Ramayana. He does not seek to explain why or how these indices came about to being but merely states them for the reader to believe what they think well. This book also seeks point out the two sects that are present in Hindu culture, one which worships Ram, one which worships Krishna, both yet being forms of the god Vishu. Yet Sita, is a brilliant attempt to break free from the shackles of showcasing women as inferior to men and offers a chance to understand the events of Ramayana from the goddess’s preview, signifying why her name is before Ram’s when Hanuman and we all chant “Jai Siya Ram”.

Sita is gone, swallowed by the earth in an attempt to prove her purity to Ram, Lakshman has gone to the forest and beheaded himself, while the god of death, Yama, looms large on Ayodhya, afraid only of the monkey god Hanuman who stands watching the gates of Ayodhya, letting no one in or out. Ram, lost in thought, somehow manages to lose his ring in a crevice on the floor. He calls out to Hanuman to fetch it, and Hanuman, always eager to please his lord, shrinks to the size of a fly and flies into the crevice. Deeper and deeper he goes, till he reaches the centre of earth, home to the dreaded creatures called Nagas. They surround him, eager to know about the speaking monkey who demands to know where his beloved master’s ring is. An agreement is reached after the nine headed serpent, Adisheeshnath, the king of the nagas agrees to show the path to Hanuman, provided he tell them the story of Ram and Sita.

Hanuman’s story starts with the advent of a scholarly king who while ploughing the field finds a baby girl and on the other hand a warrior king who is pining for a male heir to help his ancestors be reborn from the swarglok. In the beginning only, the Ramayan thus manages to show a distinct lean towards the differences of the scholarly Janaka and the warrior Dashratha. One welcomes the gift from mother earth and raises her to be a fine princess and the other shuns his daughter in the want of a son, a scion to take the family name forward.

Dashratha decides to conduct a yagna which would bless him with sons and from this yagna a fertility potion emerges, of which Kaushalya and Kaikei take a part and both of them give half of their portion to the third queen, which results in the birth of twins. Ram, Bharat and the twins Laxman and Shatrugun are thus born. Their guru, the warrior turned yogi, Vashitha takes up the task of training them and making kings out of them.

One day, the revered rajguru, Vishvamitra calls upon Dashrath’s sons to keep guard of his hermitage as performs a yagna. It is here important to note that in the Ramayana, the dwellings of the cities are the places where culture and morals are upheld, where humans live, while in the forest where the Rakshashas reside; there is no value for culture or morals. The Ramayana clearly goes on to show that the in the jungle, truly the laws of the survival of the fittest are well placed, much before someone known as Charles Darwin came to call it his own. The asuras or rakshashas as they are called

In Devdutt’s narration, Sita and Urmila (to be Lakshmana’s wife) are present in the ceremony, and that Sita is already smitten by the courageous youth who fights like a warrior yet who manages to match up with her even in knowledge of the worldly matters.  A swayamvara, the ritual of choosing her own husband is held, but just for the sake of it as Sita had already chosen Ram. In the Swayamvara though, the challenge is taken up by many, even the king of a place far south known as the city of gold, Lanka. He huffs and manages to almost string Shiva’s bow, but he slips and becomes the laughing jest of the court even as a woman, Sita has to lift the bow which has fallen upon him. Ram manages to not only string the bow, but also breaks it, emerging as the winner of Sita’s hand.

Both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are constructed on the principles of Karma. Janaka finding his daughter in the earth, Dashratha’s yearning for sons, Ravana being humiliated at Sita’s swayamra, the exile of the prince and his wife, the wife’s demand to be able to follow her husband into the forest, Suparnrakha’s arrival, her fascination and erotic desires for Ram and Lakshman, the crossing of the Lakshman rekha,  The curse of Vali’s wife, revenge on Ravana and finally the King’s test for his queen. Karma is an embodiment of the both the past and the future and the repercussions one actions bring. Be it a Tapasvi Yogi, a king or even a mere tribal woman who feeds Ram berries.  Karma is just a probability triggered in the future of an action taken today.

Ram himself implores this, Had Sita never followed him into the forest, she would not have been involved in Suparnrakha’s punishment, nor would she have crossed the Lakshman Rekha and nor would she have allowed herself to be taken prisoner thus causing a blot on the Raghu Clan. The Maryada Purushottam, as he is called, here forgets that his wife is the meek housewife Gayatri, also the battle ready Durga, and the destroyer in Kali. He does not take into account that Sita could have easily overpowered Ravana in the form of Kali, but does not do so as she knows it would cause a further blot on Ram, who already failed to protect Sita.

The Ramayana’s similarity with the modern world is quite stark. Here the power of gossip, which brought down a queen to a mere woman living in the forest and the ego of Ram, for whom family’s honour and rules are the upmost.

 

So how does Sita end up in the forest after passing the Agni Pariksha, Why does Ravana seek revenge on Ram, Why does the Marayada Purustottam, order his own brother to behead himself and does Hanuman find the ring in time with the God of death, Yama lurking outside the gates of Ayodhya, beckoning Ram he’s waiting for him ?

 

This is one retelling of the mighty epic that will change the way you know Ramayana as it and bring you face to face with a whole new perspective of a Ramayana which truly celebrates the essence of why Sita is the ideal for any Indian woman.

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