Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik

When I first saw Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana on the “New Arrivals” stand at Crossword, I couldn’t wait to take the book in my hands, partly due to anticipation and partly due to my deep interest in Hindu Mythology. And when I took the book in my hands, I was fascinated after reading the summary at the back cover, it was one statement the hooked me on to the book.

Sita says to Lakshman:

”Ram is God, he cannot abandon anyone. And I am the Goddess, I cannot be abandoned by anyone.”

And when I started reading the book, it was a complete and blissful experience like all other books by Dr. Pattanaik. And the illustrations that accompany the main text are as brilliant as ever.

Dr. Pattanaik does offers more detail about women’s worlds than most versions of the Ramayan: the child Sita entering the kitchen, or Sita and her sisters as newly-arrived brides in Ayodhya spending “all day and all night listening to tales of the sons told by their adoring mothers”. He tries to bring relationships between women to the fore: Anasuya welcoming Sita into womanhood with a garland, a garment and a pot of cream—symbols of shringara (adornment), or Mandodari barring Ravana’s way, taunting him to wait for Sita to come to him willingly. “Only Sita understood what Mandodari had done; she had protected her own station in the palace while ensuring another woman’s freedom”.

Dr. Pattanaik stresses the remarkable fact that has puzzled readers and writers for centuries—that Ravana, having taken the hapless Sita from her forest hut, does not force himself upon her. Unlike Greek and Roman mythology, in which it is unremarkable for Zeus/Jupiter to rape Leda, Europa, and several others, Ravana merely tries to woo Sita with stories and gifts and songs. He becomes, in other words, the most persistent lover. But Sita is unmoved. “This is not love,” she says to his sister Trijata. “He just wants to possess me.” Then Pattanaik puts in Sita’s mouth these transcendental words: “I am not my body. I will never ever be violated.”

Dr. Pattanaik points to the killing of Tadaka by Ram as signalling the epic’s “acceptance of male violence against women”.

Dr. Pattanaik stresses repeatedly over the fact that Ramayana wasn’t merely designed to validate gender oppressions. While many may think of Ram’s refusal of Sita as a negative side of Ram, it should also be considered that Ram was also a king of a large empire. He tries to give a hint that, the humility faced by Sita and Ram would be far greater if Sita had stayed with Ram.

The book also hints, that Hanuman (my favourite character in entire Ramayan) is more or less connected with every story, it also tells us that Shiva is an inevitable part of the Hindu mythology (Hanuman is an incarnation of Shiva). The most fascinating part is that every event that occurs may seem like nothing with a narrower viewpoint, but everything is relative in a broader perspective.

I am going with four out of five stars for Sita. In a balanced analysis, Dr. Pattanaiks Sita is a massively informative book, short enough and organised into short chapters to make it an enriching read.