But then again its upto you, O' omnipotent reader.
As a kid, I always hated the Ramayana. I really did. Apart from being arduously boring, it was a laboriously contrived crying-fest from start to finish, or so my 7-year old psyche led me to believe.
But as I grew older, I slowly began to develop a less flippant attitude towards the Ramayana.
Somehow, the nuances in each character began to intrigue me, and Sita in particular piqued my budding interest even further.
Now Sita has forever been represented as an epitome of inhuman virtuousness, wasting away a lifetime of devotion and service to her husband, only to be publicly maligned and exiled by Rama in the name of 'the greater good'. The 'greater good' being a pathetic dhobi and his miserable wife, doing what poverty stricken people usually do to entertain themselves: indulge in malicious gossip (not that people from the higher echelons of society are seraphic angels, but I'm trying to drive a point here). So, their untoward remarks irked Rama to such an extent that he convinced himself that the whole kingdom of Ayodhya was talking about her, and seeds of dissent planted itself in his mind and he ludicrously decided to banish her while she was heavily pregnant with his children, to boot.
And note: Sita had to go through the 'Agnipariksha' right after returning from exile. The above-mentioned incident happened after Sita passed through the Agnipariksha unscathed and Rama and Sita had been ruling Ayodhya as king and queen for a while. So Rama constantly had bouts of extreme insecurity with respect to Sita's character.
So much for the 'ideal' man.
I may be digressing here, but if you wish to argue on the accuracy of the incidents mentioned above, please do so AFTER reading a legit translation of either Valmiki's Ramayana, or Ramcharitamanas by Swami Tulasidas and THEN try to dispute my statements.
Let us move on to a normal Indian woman's disposition. The model of an Indian woman was, and is based on the unrealistic and unrelenting virtuosity of Sita. While it is commendable that Sita is not represented as a wanton harlot, it is disheartening to note that Sita's character is solely derived from her devotion to Rama. Sita has absolutely no identity of her own. Here is a Verse from Valmiki's Ramayana which mirrors the above view:
"Hanuman, the loyal monkey ally of Rama says: For a woman the greatest decoration is her lord and Sita, though incomparably beautiful, no longer shines in Rama's absence."
Ahhh, the seeds of patriarchy, I tell you.
Patriarchy has a way of using the Rama myth to build up the image of an 'ideal male', and unfortunately it has a way of focusing on Sita's devotion, and Sita's selflessness alone to project the image of an 'ideal female'. The common Indian woman is told to bear every preposterous action of her husband, because a 'good' Indian wife does not speak up, does not complain, her place is with her 'Lord'.
If she harbors thoughts of leaving him then she is 'fallen', and anyway an Indian woman has no personal identity, she belongs to her parents before marriage and she belongs to her husband and his family after marriage.
If shes unhappy in her marriage, it becomes her cardinal duty to stay in the marriage, even more so, because she can 'prove' what a good wife she is. Thereby throwing her happiness out the window for the 'greater good' of staying with her wastrel of a husband.
And the most deplorable aspect of this is that, the women themselves do not leave their husbands for fear of being ostracised by the society. Divorce in most parts of India is considered a shameful admission of a womans failure as a wife and daughter in law.
Food for thought: In a 1998 study, divorced women made up a miniscule 0.08% of the total female population in India.
Now doesn't this remind you of long suffering Sita? Patriarchy has cleverly pulled yarn over our eyes by glorifying Sita's suffering as exemplary, because of Rama being the perfect man, Sita must be blessed to bear with his 'occasional' transgression as well.
If patriarchy can use the character of Sita to suppress women, it can also be used more creatively to highlight the tribulations of women as a whole. Thereby focusing on the trails of Sita as a warning , instead of justifying her suffering.
I think women or anyone for that matter, should read a version of the Ramayana written by a WOMAN. Yes, I said 'woman', and yes it may sound blasphemous to you, but dont you know that most epics in the world are relative, told strictly from the eyes of the poet or the scribe?
Here are some versions to help you along the way of opening up a new perspective on the Ramayana:
1. Chandrabati's 16th century Bengali Ramayana.
2. Ranganayakamma's 'Ramayana Vishabriksham'.
3. Molla's 16th century Telugu Ramayana.
Or you can read these books if you find it hard to get a hold of the aforementioned versions: "Many Ramayanas; The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia" edited by Paula Richman and "Questioning Ramayanas: A South Asian Tradition" again by Paula Richman.
Sounds very dull and blase' I know, but if you've been observing my sidebar, you would know that Ive read these books and it is ANYTHING but dull, I guarantee it.
Personally, I would have loved to have Draupadi as a role model, what with her agressiveness, her frank and beautiful friendship with Krishna and her five husbands. But I cant aspire for the stars can I?
I can fathom that Sita will forever remain a role model for the Indian woman, and my only plea is to look at her selfless sacrifice and wasted virtuousness as an injunction, not as an example to emulate.
As the blemishless Sita will forever be the vagabond, the stray waif, insecure, unvalued, and shunned.
And that is why as a mark of respect to the unsullied Sita, I think that the Ramayana should be re-christened as the Sitayana.
For it is only fair.
Post Script: On a totally unrelated note, my post on the stigma of menstruation, has been featured in the XIth carnival of feminists!
So be sure to check the carnival out peep's, as there is some super-fantabulous (God, I sound cheesy! But what the heck :D) writing out there!
And thanks a ton to 'Angry for a reason' to feature my post!
Spread the 'chalu-ness' sistahs!
P.P.S: Gosh I cant seem to stop updating!
Karthik has brought to my attention, an intriguing article in the Hindu about a retelling of the Ramayana from a woman's perspective.
More info on how to procure the book can be found here.
Many thanks to Karthik for bringing it to my attention, and to you folks out there....TAKE heed of the plug, and be sure to check the book out!