The Ramayana is sung as much as it is narrated and read in different parts of the country. The songs cover a large number of issues but rarely do they retell the entire epic. They try and capture a moment from the story, or raise questions about a relationship or interpret events differently from the main narrative.
Many songs are about Sita and her trials and tribulations. They talk about her life as a child, as a child bride, her banishment and the years she spent bringing up her two sons. Through the songs, the women who sing them, put themselves in Sita’s shoes and suffer the same humiliations that she did. They tell her story as they see it.
For example, a song from Bangladesh is about Sita getting ready to become a bride. But she is still a child who can barely take care of herself
Alpo alpo dhailo re jal,
Sitar hoiba sardi jar
Gamchha diya tuilo kesher jal go
Little by little pour the water
Let us dry her hair with a towel
Or Sita might catch a cold!
A Telegu song expresses similar concerns
The tiny girl is only as tall as seven jasmine flowers
She can stand neither the heat nor the rain
…Such a lovely child is being given away in marriage, to Rama, today
Another song in Telegu tells Sita how to behave at her in-laws house
Never leave your hair open in the street
Don’t laugh showing all your teeth
Don’t look around when you are in a crowd
Keep your eyes lowered in public
And it adds
Never offer flowers to any man other than your husband
Some songs show Rama in rather poor light. Like this Marathi song where Rama is lamenting the absence of Sita from his palace after he has sent her off to the forest.
Where can I find a queen like Sita now?
Who can sprinkle the floor with water as well as she can?
Who will give me my dhotis?
And who can serve me good meals as Sita can?
Sita is in exile, who will make a fine royal bed for me now?
And make the sandal paste?
Brother Lakshmana, let us shut down the pleasure palace
A Bengali song redeems him however.
Sita amar jaaner jaan
Sita amar praner pran
Sita bina banche na jiban
Bhaire lakshman, tor paye pari Sita aina de
Ki kariya dilam bisarjan
Sita is the life in my life
Sita is the heart that beats in my heart
Without Sita, there is no life
O Lakshman, I fall at your feet, bring her back
How could I send her away
Many songs show Rama to be a heartless husband, sending his wife away when she was pregnant and thereby committing an unpardonable sin. And then there are songs that make Sita a part of every pregnant woman’s life.
A Marathi song says
Sitabai has given birth
Where will Sita find nourishment?
There is no one to cook her a meal
Sita is in exile
There is no cradle for her babies
Sitabai has given birth
The hills and the forest are rejoicing
She has no one else to call her own
In such songs the women and Sita are all sisters in sorrow.
Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Source: When women retell the Ramayana by Nabaneeta Dev Sen
Image details: Wikimedia Commons