Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sita the Bitch

Laxman, Ram and Sita

For someone venerated in popular hindu tradition and culture as the most perfect of women, the very ideal and epitome of feminity and womanhood, the best of wives and the best of daughters, an inspiration and example for all women to aspire to, an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi to be worshipped and respected, for someone who is considered all these things, at times that Sita was one dirty-minded untrusting aspersion-casting foul-mouthed bitch.

Allow me to remind you of a certain incident. In those days, Sita was living in the forest along with her husband, Ram, who had been exiled from his kingdom. Laxman, Ram's devoted younger brother, was also living with them.

One day, the demoness Shurpnakha happened to see Ram and was very attracted towards him. But when he (and subsequently Laxman) rejected her offer of marriage, in jealousy she tried to attack Sita, only to be stopped by Laxman who cut off her nose.

Shuurpnakha, noseless, a woman spurned, went to her brother, Ravan, the ten-headed demon-king of Lanka, with visions of revenge. She persuaded him that he should kidnap the beautiful Sita and make her his own wife. Ravan agreed, and a trap was laid.

Time passed, and one day Sita saw a golden deer playing in the forest. She was so captivated by its beauty, she asked Ram to catch it for her. Ram, ever obliging and considerate, told Laxman to guard Sita, and went in pursuit of the golden deer. But the deer was just a lure; it was in reality the demon Mareecha in disguise, who led Ram further and further away from his forest home. Now Laxman and Sita were alone.

Suddenly, they heard cries of anguish in Ram's voice coming from the distance. Laxman was unmoved. He reminded Sita that Ram was invincible, the greatest of warriors, this could not therefore be his voice, it must be someone pretending to be him. And so they should be wary of these cries.

But Sita would not listen. She begged, pleaded, and implored Laxman to go to his brother's defence. He insisted he must stay there and guard her as his elder brother had instructed.

Sita became silent, and eyed him thoughtfully. When she spoke again, her voice had venom in it. I see now what is happening, she said.

You lust for me, and because of your desire, you wish to see your brother dead. It is clear now. That your brother is in grave trouble gives you much pleasure. You don't want to defend him, you don't want to help him, no, you want to stay here to be with me. You are debased and condemnable, you bring shame to your ancestors and find pleasure in your brother's suffering. You came into exile with Rama. When he is not here, with what intention and legitimacy do you stay here with me now? It is not unsurprising that people like you, would-be-rivals with concealed desires, commit such terrible sins. You have followed Ram into exile only because of me. But I will not touch any other man than Ram. I will take my own life first.

Under this onslaught of rage and fury, Laxman succumbed, and left Sita alone to go in search of Ram. In his absence, Sita was kidnapped by Ravan and taken to Lanka. Ram raised an army and headed to Lanka to wage war on Ravan. Eventually, Ravan was defeated and Sita rescued. The defeat is marked by the festival of Dussehra (literally ten heads), where Ravan's effigy is burnt, and Ram and Sita's safe return to Ayodhya is celebrated as Diwali. But the relationship of Ram and Sita was over for good. On her return, Ram would express doubts over Sita's fidelity, and require proof of it from her. Sita went through a trial of fire to give him the proof he required, but humiliated, she then left him and returned to be with her mother.

Maybe I judge Sita harshly, but then falsely accusing your brother-in-law of wanting to have sex with you and wishing to see his own brother dead, indeed being complicit in his murder through willing negligence, doesn't fit in with my ideal of womanhood.

Also, should you think I am being sexist and picking on Sita alone, I hasten to add that she is not the only flawed character to be found in the Ramayan and Mahabharat epics. From Ram's own behaviour towards Sita after rescuing her to Yuddhistara's addiction to gambling to Krishna's adulterous sex-crazed ways, the heroes of the epics also have their failings and flaws. Maybe more on them another day.

photo source