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

Location: Pan-India

Image details: Wikimedia Commons