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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sita's Ramayana

Sita's Ramayana
text by Samhita Arni
art by Moyna Chitrakar

I was bowled over by Mahabharata - A Child's View by Samhita Arni. She was just eight when she wrote it. And illustrated it.

Having read many versions of the epic through the years, by various scholars, in English, as well as the miscellaneous abridged and interpreted versions in my mother tongue, I have a special fondness for this tale. Bhagavad Gita, which forms a part of this tome, has been a huge influence in my formative years.

The other famous epic tale from India, The Ramayana, has always taken second place in my hierarchy of beloved ancient tales, right from childhood. I did not like the way Sita was treated. I did not like the way Raamaa used trickery to help Sugriva. I did not like the wasteful war and death over a woman who simply wanted to live her life. Again, having read various versions of it in a couple of languages, not to mention the distilled child-size doses in picture books and Amar Chitra Katha graphic books, it was something I took for granted.

But, when I came across Sita's Ramayana, I loved it! It is a graphic novel where the illustrations take the center stage, with crisp minimal text. The story is told from Sita's point of view - the main female character in the story who has often been sidelined in other presentations.

It is a quick read, if one excludes the time spent in poring over the gorgeous pictures. But, well-told from Sita's perspective - what she probably knew, what she saw, what she felt, what she suffered. Finally, Sita simply retires into the womb of her mother - Mother Earth - unable to take the callous treatment of her by her husband, the impeccable Raamaa.

"Chandrabati Ramayana"/"Molla Ramayanamu" pioneered by two 16th Century women poets took this unique perspective of retelling the tale from Sita's point of view. Possibly deemed a "feminist Ramayana", it is easily ignored or condemned. I am yet to read their translated versions as I am not proficient in the languages they were written in - viz., Bengali/Telugu respectively.

[image source: Author Samhita Arni's website]

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Blogger Kay said...

Sheela, this is why I don't like our Ramayana and Mahabharata ... Why did they 'have to' treat women like thAt? Some might say it was done to drive a point (or 100) but honestly, can't they do it by treating women extra nice to drive yet another point for men to treat women with respect. I cried for draupathi and Sita when my mom told me these stories ..

So many questions ... It will always remain unanswered...

The book sounds very impressive. .. I'll try to get a copy. It would be fantastic to read the book written by those 16rh century poets..

5:47 PM  
Blogger Sheela said...

Kay, I agree with you... even accounting for the times and societal structure then, it is rather one-sided in the treatment of women. Sure, there were exceptions, that rarely get written about anyway... the fact is - I don't know much about that society except through such interpreted works and am not sure how exactly balance of power flowed in those times... but, knowing Humans, it couldn't have been all that different from today's society...

9:27 AM  

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