Saturday, May 30, 2009

Being a Woman

It is very quiet, there is soft cool breeze stirring the dry leaves in the darkness. I am going through the interviews and articles of the anthology 'Sita'. As I do this my own life comes to me with a stark clarity. Now, who was Sita?

In brief I will narrate you the story. Sita was a princess. She was found in Mother Earth in a furrow. There are many tales about how and why she reached there, but her birth is considered divine. Now, she grew up to be a very beautiful woman, she was divine as once she had lifted Lord Shivas bow while swabbing the floor of the room. Her father saw that and decided that since her daughter had lifted the bow that was so heavy that most valiant of the warriors could not even lift it, he would marry his daughter to a man who could string it and break it.

In those times there were 'swayamvars' for the royal princesses, the kings would arrive from all over and the princess would garland the one who she liked. In this case the suitors had to break the mighty bow of Lord Shiva.

Rama, the prince of Ayodhya achieves this and takes the beautiful bride home. The bliss is short-lived as soon his step mother asks Dashrath, Ram’s father to grant her a wish she had earned before. She asks for Rama to be exiled and her own son to be throned as the king.

Rama is a man who honors his words, he leaves for a fourteen year exile. Sita follows him into the forests. She is advised to not leave, but she is adamant and she loves her husband so deeply that she threatens to kill herself if he abandoned her.

Once in the forests they live like ascetics, surviving on the fruits and the forest products. The forests are governed by Surpnakha, sister of Ravana, the king of Sri Lanka, she falls in love with Rama’s brother and he cuts her nose when she pursues him, the learned Ravana sees Sita as he visits the forests to revenge her sister’s dishonor and falls in love with her. He creates an illusion of a golden deer and Sita asks her husband to fetch it for her. When Rama does not return she asks her brother-in-law to go help his brother lest he is falls into some trouble. Laxmana, the brother-in-law draws a line around the hut and asks her not to step across this line.

Once he is gone Ravana comes dressed as a monk asking for alms. He refuses to take the alms from across the line saying that would be an insult. Sita crosses the line and is abducted by him. Now, he takes her to Sri Lanka and keeps her in a place called Ashok vatika, this place still exists in Sri Lanka. He can’t touch her against her will as he has a curse that if he molests a woman he will die.

Rama gathers an army of monkeys and all the forest dwellers and wages war on Ravana. Ultimately he frees Sita. The irony is that he rejects her and asks her to marry any one of her choice since she had been under the protection of another man. Sita berates him and in anger enters a pyre to prove her chastity. This makes Rama accept her and she accompanies him to Ayodhya, their kingdom as the exile is over. There is joy and Rama is made the king. He is a very righteous king and believes in setting right examples.

He has spies to know about the state of his people and one day a spy tells him of a washer man throwing his wife out saying I am not Ram to accept a tarnished woman, a woman who has lived under the roof of another man and is an adulteress. Rama is grieved by this incident but as he is the ideal king he asks his brother to take Sita, who is pregnant and abandon her in the forest.

Sita is clueless about her fate, when she is abandoned, she waits for her brother-in-law and she is shattered when she realizes this betrayal. Sita wanders to a saint’s hut and he and his family nurtures her. She gives birth to twins and brings them up. She is strong-willed and does not revel to them their father’s name. Later when Rama has a horse sacrifice ceremony, these two boys hold the horse and defeat his army. This is how he comes to know of their existence and then he tries to ask Sita to go through another fire test and prove her chastity. Sita refuses and she asks the Mother Earth to open up and take her in its womb. This happens and Rama is left calling her name and weeping for his beloved companion.

Now, here I am introspecting. Are not these threads so familiar? I questioned the dependence. Sita leaves Rama and never seeks another man; she is complete in her self. Today, the feminist would jump from one abusive relationship to another. That is not empowerment. Many questions are confronting me about the way I have lived my life as a conformist, never questioning the authority and always and blindly accepting the traditional mold of mother and dutiful wife. At this point I am looking at self-reliance and asking myself, Do you want to undergo this at every step and then treat my self like a grown up human, with respect. Time to stop giving unconditionally and create a boundary. I guess this is called growing up as a child I vowed that I will not become like the dry and serious mothers I saw all around, and now the circumstances are me to grow up and leave the ease of not taking myself too seriously. Seems that says to all-trample me!

Picture: Raja Ravi Verma's Sita's exile. She is shown sad in the forest.

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