I have always enjoyed reading mythological re-tellings. Sita- from Ramayana is one of the most revered women in Indian mythology- the epitome of feminine and spousal virtue. Sita has been popularly portrayed to be a simple, submissive and innocent character. But there are varied portrayals of Sita in literature, and reading some of these re-tellings made me feel there is more to Sita than what we read commonly, see or hear.
I read these 3 books in 3 consecutive years- Liberation of Sita by Volga in 2017, Sita- The Warrior of Mithila by Amish Tripathi in 2018, and Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Diwakaruni in 2019. While Amish has shown Sita as a Warrior and Leader, Chitra B Diwakaruni has shown her as a Healer. Volga, on the other hand, has portrayed her anguish and as a voice of other wronged women.
In Volga’s interpretation, we see Sita’s anger and her suffering. We see her transforming from a young, gullible girl to a wise, experienced woman. In her journey of self-realization, she not only learns from her own life experiences but also begins to understand other wronged women. She becomes the voice of anguish for Urmila, Ahalya and even Surpanaka. I remember reading this back in 2017, and thinking that this is an important book that should be read by everyone.
In 2018, I read Sita by Amish Tripathi after reading Ram. I was earlier, highly impressed by his Shiva Triology. While the Ramchandra series has received lukewarm responses from many readers, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed reading Sita’s story as told me Amish. I really liked her portrayal as a warrior and the Chosen Vishnu. Amish’s Sita is a strong woman, adept at warrior skills. She is an equal partner in her marriage with Ram. She is also a Princess and a Minister who understands state matters and knows how to lead. As Amish’s story is still to be completed, I feel there is more of Sita to be discovered in the coming books. The relationship between Ram and Sita has been portrayed beautifully. I have always thought that to support Sita, you cannot be supporting Ram, but this book managed to change that thought. Also, the story borrows from the current social milieu and is therefore, relatable.
In the Forest of Enchantments, which is Sitayana in the truest sense- depicting her from Birth to Death, one gets to see many sides of Sita. Sita as a child, feisty teenager, love struck young lady, wife, companion, captive, queen and a mother. But most importantly she is a healer throughout.
This Sita was the most believable one for me, because she is flawed. She has her strengths and weaknesses and her moments of regret. But she rose above it all and endured. Endured- as women have always done- her captives, her people as well as her husband’s decisions. This Sita also explores and understands various forms of love. She understands the depths of relationships and how they can become your strength as well as your weakness. She loves her husband, despite never understanding the wrongs he subjected her to. she hates her tormentors, despite understanding the feelings behind their actions. Above all, this Sita understands forgiveness. She willingly bestows this forgiveness not only upon her Husband but also Kaikeyi, Surpanaka and even Ravan.
She silently endures her hardships and banishment, but is also dignified enough to emerge strong and make the most of her forest life- a forest she loves dearly. She raises her sons with the humility of hermits, but with the skill fit for the Princes that they are. She doesn’t let Love weaken her, but respects her love’s decision towards her. But when the time came, she spoke against the injustice. For she knows, that if she doesn’t, no one will and her women will forever be subjected to judgment for their every action.
What I love the most of mythological re-tellings is that they show each character in a different light and force you to see the same story in someone else’s perspective. Something we must all strive to do in our daily life. Surprisingly I read each of the three versions of Sita when I was in three different emotional states. I read Liberation of Sita when I was perpetually angry at things happening, may be that compelled me to see the anguish within Her. I read Sita-the Warrior of Mithila, when I had a rebellious attitude within me, so I was drawn to the Warrior and Leader within Her. I read Forest of Enchantments, when I had developed an attitude that I will face all that life throws at me calmly and patiently, thus drawing me to the Sita that endures. Although I did not pick up the books with any preconceived notions in mind, I would like to believe that, I too, have grown up a little bit more by reading each of these versions.
Does it often happen to you, that you’re drawn to books that echo with your state of mind? Which other re-tellings would you recommend? Which is your favourite?