The brothers Rama and Khena (Lakshmana) were twins in their mother’s womb. But even before they could come out, they sensed the danger waiting for them in the world outside. A demoness had heard about their impending arrival and was standing guard near their mother to eat them the moment they were born. The brothers having got wind of her evil plans decided to trick her. And instead of coming out through the usual birth canal, they came out of their mother’s feet.
When they grew up, one day they were in the forest hunting for barking deer and they heard a pair of bulbuls tell them that the gods were in great danger. The brothers decided to help them out and so they went to heaven and resolved the problem to the great joy of all parties. This won the two the lasting affection of the gods.
However soon thereafter, the two brothers were back in their homes by then, they ran into some serious trouble. They were on a hunting expedition for barking deer, when accidentally, they shot a god’s daughter. For a crime so heinous, the twins were taken captive and sentenced to a life of servitude. They were asked to live in the home of the god whose daughter had died and serve at his beck and call.
The god had another beautiful daughter named Sita. She was kept in a locked iron box and the god had announced that anyone who could lift the box, would win her hand in marriage. Rama tried and very easily lifted the box. The numerous gods who had come to claim their rights over Sita were aghast but they could not do anything. And so Rama walked away with the iron box with Sita and soon the two were wed.
Coming soon: Rama and Khena and the seven headed Lusariha
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta
Source: The Rama story in Mizo tradition by Lalruanga and Birendranath Dutta; Rama katha in tribal and folk traditions in India
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
We all know about Sita’s abduction by Ravana, but what is not so well known is that Sita was abducted once earlier in the epic too. This incident was used as an act of foreshadowing, which is an important narrative device in epics and plays.
In the aranya kanda, i.e. soon after Rama, Sita and Lakhsman left Ayodhya, the three of them come across a demon in the forest of Dandaka. He had a huge face, a horrible belly and quite a horrifying appearance. He made himself even more grotesque, clad in a tiger skin, with blood smeared all around and fat hanging from the skin. He had a spear, with animal heads pierced on them.
Wadars are a wandering community found on the border area of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh (Today’s Telangana) and Karnataka. Every year during Dasara and Gudi Padva they gather near the river bank at Pune, to perform a ritual called Jaladi or Gangasthal.
Dasara and Padva being a Hindu new year, it is also an occasion for the members of Wadar community to come together and recite oral tales of their clan. This annual ritual is an important reunion for the Wadars as it consists of many important rituals such as repainting of traveling shrine they carry with them. The mobile wooden structure or shrine, measuring two feet by one and half foot is called ‘Gudi’ meaning temple in Telgu. These shrines are in shape of palanquin covered with painted images in ‘patachitra’ style of Andhra Pradesh. The tradition of narrating stories through these patachitras is known as jatipurana or clan stories. Jatipuranans are particularly significant to wandering Wadaries, since it helps them to identify with their history and provides a unique identity to the clan.
The narratives of the Jatipurana invariably establish a link with Ramayana and Mahabharata. Here is a story about a curious custom followed by Wadari women to identify themselves with the plight of Sita.
That Sita sat under an Ashoka tree (a- shoka : without sorrow) in the Ashoka grove during her stay in Lanka is commonly known episode of the Ramayana. Not so well known however, is an interesting myth from the Bhavishya Purana that adds a precursor to that tale. As it is seen with other Purana stories, it is plausible that this tale too was an attempt at acculturation and social synthesis.
Years before the abduction of Sita by Ravana, there lived a cannibal among the Bhil tribe named Sashoka. He roamed the forests of central India and lived by killing passers-by and consuming them as food.
While traditional Ramayanas have shown Sita to be the daughter of Janaka, who found her while he was tilling the land, there is an interesting and an unusual birth story that we find in Chandrabati’s Ramayana, written in Sita’s voice. Unlike other Ramayanas, Chandrabati’s epic even begins with the birth of Sita, as against majority that begin with the birth of Rama.
It is said that Ravana had become invincible after getting a boon from Lord Brahma. This invincibility also gave him lot of powers and freedom of spending time with divine women, often forcefully and otherwise. Ravan’s wife, Mandodari felt neglected and decided to end her life, by consuming poison. The poison is stored in jars inside a large vault in the palace, or so she presumes. But this is in reality the blood of sages who were tortured and killed by Ravan.
The poison converts into a child in her womb, and soon she delivers an egg. Astrologers predicted that the daughter born out of the egg would cause the destruction of both Ravana and the rakshasa clans. Ravana was outraged and wanted to destroy the egg immediately, but Mandodari was unable to do that and she handed the egg to a trusted minister and asked him to float it in the ocean.
The minister put it into a golden casket and set it afloat in the Bay of Bengal. This landed up in a fisherman’s net. The fisherman was called Madhab Jalia who took it home to his wife, who was believed to be extremely religious. She was named Sata and she received the egg with great ritualistic fervor. Goddess Lakshmi who was in the egg, in the form of the unborn Sita blessed her and the poor fisherman became rich. Meanwhile the goddess appeared in the dreams of the fisherman’s wife and asked her to deliver the egg to the wife of King Janaka.
Sata, the wife of the fisherman delivers the egg to the queen with only one request, that may the child born out of the egg, be named Sita, after her (a slight interplay of vowels). Soon Sita is born and bears the name of a poor fisherman’s wife. Unlike other versions, she was not found by King Janaka and nor does he seem to have any role to play.
Interestingly, Chandrabati spends a lot less time relating the birth of Lord Rama and his brothers! The entire epic has been written from the woman’s point of view and does not even focus on Rama and his heroic deeds. To quote Nabaneeta Deb Sen, “This narrative technique enables Chandrabati to subvert the patriarchal hegemony over the text. By shifting the limelight from Rama to Sita, events that were of central importance in the canonical versions, become marginalized here, thereby subverting the male code.”
Story by – Utkarsh Patel
Source – Chandrabati’s Ramayana
Location – Bengal