In Assam, we find a version of the Ramayana known as the Durgavari Giti Ramayana. It is a lyrical composition (giti) by a poet named Durgavar. His work was first published in 1915 by Bisay Chandra Biswasi of Hajo, an ancient place of pilgrimage near Guwahati (Assam).Since then the work has been published by a few others who have primarily drawn upon this text and in 1972, Prabin Chandra Das found a manuscript of one of Durgavar’s cantos (the Ayodhya kanda) which was believed to have been missing until then. Das retrieved it from an Oja family in Hajo.

This story was sung along with the other songs of the Durgavari Ramayana during ojapali performances which are today preserved only among the people of Hajo. Ojapali is a quasi dramatic performing art form where a group of 4-5 singers, besides their leader and chief assistant, recite lyrics from the epics and puranas. The oja leads the performance and Durgavar, most believe, was an oja or leader of an ojapali troupe.

The song begins at the point when Bharata goes back to Ayodhya after informing Rama about Dasharatha’s death. Rama, Sita and Lakshmana set out for Gaya to offer oblations to the deceased king. The brothers ask Sita to wait as they go out to collect fruits for the rituals. Sita whiled away her time playing with sand but, as she sat lost in her thoughts, Dasharatha appeared before her and asked her to offer him an oblation of san (balir pinda). Sita was reluctant but Dasharatha was adamant so she asked the sun, air, the earth and river Phalgu to be her witness. When Rama returned, he did not believe the story. So Sita asked the sun, air, the earth and the river to reveal the truth to her husband. But the devas present in nature refused to do that. However Sita was saved because Dasharatha came down to tell Rama that he had forced Sita to give him balir panda.

Infuriated by the behaviour of the gods, Sita cursed them – the sun, she said, would be devoured by Rahu and the moon by Ketu (both demons) and the river Phagu was banished to flow below the earth. She also cursed the basil plant, the kusha grass and the plantain tree.

A version of Sita’s sand oblation is found in the Garuda Purana, Shiva Mahapurana, the Oriya version of the Mahabharata and the Bengali version of the Ramayana and the Ananda Ramayana. These versions differ slightly from the Durgavari story but they all talk about Sita’s sand oblation to Dasharatha.

Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta

Location: Pan India

Text Source: Prabin Chandra Das, Dugavari:An Assamese Version of the Ramayana; Rama Katha in Tribal and Folk Traditions of India Edited by KS Singh and Birendranath Datta