in search of sita …..

sita 2

“Sita is one of the defining figures of Indian womanhood, yet there is no single version of her story. Different accounts coexist in myth, literature and folktale. Canonical texts deify Sita while regional variations humanize her. Folk songs and ballads connect her timeless predicament to the daily lives of rural women. Modern-day women continue to see themselves reflected in films, serials and soap operas based on Sita’s narrative. Sacrifice, self-denial and unquestioning loyalty are some of the ideals associated with popular perceptions of Sita. But the Janaki who symbolized strength, who could lift Shiva’s mighty bow, who courageously chose to accompany Rama into exile and who refused to follow him back after a second trial, is often forgotten. However she is remembered, revered or written about, Sita continues to exert a powerful influence on the collective Indian psyche. In Search of Sita presents essays, conversations and commentaries that explore different aspects of her life. It revisits mythology, reopening the debate on her birth, her days in exile, her abduction, and the test by fire, the birth of her sons and, finally, her return to the earth—offering fresh interpretations of this enigmatic figure and her indelible impact on our everyday lives.”

” …………. We are used to thinking of Sita as someone who deserves our pity and sympathy, a woman buffeted by the storms of circumstance – first, the innocent object of Ravana’s desire, then, the equally innocent victim of her royal husband’s honor and ultimately, the abandoned wife. What we fail to see is Sita’s courage and defiance in her final act on earth when she refuses to live with a continuing falsehood. It could be that she held her dreams too closely, that she did not grow into the life that lay ahead of her as she proved unwilling to bow to the dictates of being Rama’s queen. Perhaps she could have done more to understand the man she had loved so wholeheartedly who surely deserved more than that final disdainful dismissal. But the Ramayana is a story about love – how it can sustain us, how it must live in the shadow of public lives and commitments, and how it can become the basis of personal truths that need to be lived out. While Rama chooses to place his love in the penumbra of his luminous public life, Sita chooses to place her love squarely in the glare of Rama’s shining glory. As it turns out, neither the shadowed love nor the illuminated one was able to survive.

The tragedy of the Ramayana is not simply that there is no happy ending with Rama and Sita finally reunited. Sita disappears into the earth and Rama is left to his private grief in the company of his young sons. The greater tragedy is the death of their love for each other, which cannot renew itself in the changed (albeit for the better) circumstances of their lives. For all that Rama may still feel for his gentle wife, he cannot or will not express it after the war and their return to Ayodhya. For all that Sita has loved her husband during the trials and tribulations of the exile, that love could not sustain itself when Rama banished her to the forest for a second time.

Sita’s heart-broken departure can be seen as a rejection of a life made less by the absence of love, as an act of personal truth and public courage. Rama is left with a public truth and little else. “When the sacrifice was over, Rama was very depressed that Sita was no longer with him. The entire world seemed empty to him and overcome by his grief, he knew no peace of mind. He rewarded the brahmins suitably and sent them away along with the kings, the raksasas and the monkeys. When they had all left, he went back to Ayodhya, carrying Sita in his heart. He did not marry again and for every sacrifice after that, he placed a golden statue of Sita by his side.” (Sattar, p.679) Rama is left to live with his loss, boldly represented by the golden statue, a constant reminder to himself and his people of what he has sacrificed for the public good. (Sattar, Untitled, Forthcoming, Penguin, 2010)

Rama and Sita’s final separation, after she is asked to prove herself again (this time for the people of Ayodhya) is at Sita’s initiative. She disappears into the earth without even a glance at the man she has loved and it is Rama who is alone, abandoned to his public life and duties. At the very end of the story, we are left with the man – hero, husband, king, divine reflection – and his emptiness. Glorious Rama, destined for greatness and success from birth, ends up alone and lonely – that should be enough reason for us to read the text anew. For our sake, and not his.”  (arshia sattar)

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Wonder, silence, gratitude

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