In Search of Sita: Revisiting Mythology

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From the Jacket

Sita is one of the defining figures of Indian womanhood, yet there is no single version of her story. Different accounts coexist in myth, literature and folktale. Canonical texts deify Sita while regional variations humanize her. Folk songs and ballads connect her timeless predicament to the daily lives of rural women. Modern-day women continue to see themselves reflected in films, serials and soap operas based on Sita’s narrative.

Sacrifice, self-denial and unquestioning loyalty are some of the ideals associated with popular perceptions of Sita. But the Janaki who symbolized strength, who could lift Shiva’s mighty bow, who courageously chose to accompany Rama into exile and who refused to follow him back after a second trial, is often forgotten.

However she is remembered, revered or written about, Sita continues to exert a powerful influence on the collective Indian psyche. In Search of Sita presents essays, conversations and commentaries that explore different aspects of her life. It revisits mythology, reopening the debate on her birth, her days in exile, her abductions, the test by fire, the birth of her sons and, finally, her return to the earth-offering fresh interpretations of this enigmatic figure and her indelible impact on our everyday lives.

MALASHRI LAL is a professor in the department of English, and the current joint director of Delhi University, current joint director of Delhi University, South Campus. She has written and lectured extensively on women’s sociocultural positioning and women’s writing. her publications include The Law of the Threshold: Women Writers in Indian English and the co-edited volumes, Interpreting Home in South Asian Literature and Speaking for Myself: An Anthology of Asian Women’s Writing.

NAMITA GOKHALE is a writer. Her first novel, the critically acclaimed Paro: Dreams of Passion, was published in 1984, followed by A Himalayan Love Story and The Book of Shadows. Her other works include The Book of Shiva and Shakuntala: The Play of Memory; and most recently, she retold the epic The Mahabharata for young readers. She is also co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Back of the Book

This popular print of Sita, based on a painting by Raja Ravi Varma, depicts the abducted goddess, alone and brooding, yet with a flash of fire in her eyes. It is evocative of both past and future exiles, of her loneliness and strength. The passion and reverence with which Varma depicted his iconic mythological and religious figures, and the power of the new print technology, created a new, composite archetype of Indian womanhood for the Indian masses. - Aman Nath.

 

Contents

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS xi
Sita: A Personal Journey xiii
Namita Gokhale  
COMMENTARY  
SITA AND SOME OTHER WOMEN FROM THE EPICS 3
Meghnad Desai  
VALMIKI’S RAMAYANA 10
Arshia Sattar  
SITA AS GAURI, OR KALI 18
Devdutt Pattanaik  
JANAKI: THE FIRE AND THE EARTH 21
Tarun Vijay  
R.K. NARAYAN’S RAMAYANA 27
Ranga Rao  
CHITRANGADA NOT SITA: JAWAHARLAL NEHRU’S MODEL FOR GENDER EQUATION 34
Reba Som  
SITA: NAMING PURITY AND PROTEST 55
Malashri Lal  
THE JUSTIFICATION OF RAMA 62
Ratna Lahiri  
MATRILINEAL AND PATRILINEAL 71
Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy  
DRAUPADI’S MOMENT IN SITA’S SYNTAX 76
Karen Gabriel  
IN DIALOGUE  
SITA’S VOICE 83
Malashri Lal and Namita Gokhale  
SITA’S LUMINOUS STRENGTH 89
Sonal Mansingh and Rina Tripathi  
RAMAYANA: THE HUMAN STORY 95
Indira Goswami and Manjeet Baruah  
TRIAL BY FIRE 101
Madhu Kishwar and Rina Tripathi  
THE DIARY OF SITA 112
Nilimma Devi and A.K. Ashby  
LAYING JANAKI TO REST 118
Madhureeta Anand and Rina Tripathi  
SITA SINGS THE BLUES 124
Nina Paley and Malashri Lal  
VERSIONS  
THE ESSENTIAL ORPHAN: THE GIRL CHILD 131
Navaneeta Dev Sen  
THE PORTRAYAL OF SITA IN TWO BENGALI RAMAYANAS 141
Mandakranta Bose  
SITA IN PAHARI LOK RAMAIN 147
Meenakshi Faith Paul  
VERSIONS OF RAMAYANA STORIES IN TELUGU FOLK LITERATURE 155
D. Rama Raju  
SITA’S TRIAL BY FIRE AND BHOJPURI WOMEN’S SONGS 173
Smita Tewari Jassal  
SITA IN THE ORIYA RAMAYANA 180
G. K. Das  
CREATIVE INTERPRETATIONS  
READING PICTURES: SITA IN VICTORIAN INDIAN PRINTS 191
Aman Nath  
THE DAY OF THE GOLDEN DEER 201
Shashi Deshpande  
JANAKI 209
Vijay Lakshmi  
SITAYANA 218
Mallika Sengupta  
Translated by Sanjukta Dasgupta  
SITA’S LETTER TO HER UNBORN DAUGHTER 224
Chandra Ghosh Jain  
SITA: AN EXCERPT FROM A NOVEL 230
Ramnika Gupta
Translated by Rajul Bhargava
 
SITA IN MY DREAMS 233
Anamika
Translated by Rajul Bhargava
 
LETTERS FROM THE PAIACE 239
Kumudini
Translated by Ahana Lakshmi
 
POEMS 242
Nishi Ghawla  
AN INFEATUATION (FROM THE RAMAYANA) 246
Amit Chaudhuri  
NOTES 250
REFERENCES 254
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS 255
COPYRIGHT ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 261
INDEX 263