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The Sita Who Smiles

Wife as Goddess in the Adbhut Ramayana


 Ruth Vanita

smiles in icons, this paradox perhaps a strong residual tendency to


points to her dual status as woman identification remains, in such
and Goddess. In this paper, I examine practices as the naming of children
Sitas smiles and laughter in the and in some rituals. In examining the
Adbhut Ramayana, arguing that Adbhut Ramayans representation of
while this text focuses on her Sita, I consider the ways in which her
Goddess aspect, it simultaneously human womanhood functions in
Prem Singh foregrounds the paradoxical conjunction with her divinity.
dynamic inherent in the normative Shakta Rewriting of Sita
human husband-wife relationship,

I
n Ramlila performances in India The Adbhut Ramayana,
and in most retellings of the Rama where the wife plays the role of composed in Sanskrit around the
story, Sita is often depicted social subordinate even while acting fourteenth century, in North India, is
shedding tears. These tears as an autonomous agent. Unlike the a Vaishnava Shakta text. 4 By
emblematize her virtue and her many Ramayanas wherein Sitas representing Sita as simultaneously
suffering, the one represented as agency consists primarily of her herself, the incarnation of Vishnus
almost inseparable from the other. resistance to injustice, the Adbhut consort Lakshmi, and also as Kali and
Emulating Sita as ideal woman and Ramayana presents Sita not as Parameshwari, thus inseparable from
victim (whether suffering or Shiva, the text attempts to reconcile
ideal wife, many modern heroines in
resisting) but almost entirely as Vishnu, Shiva, and Shakti, whose
Indian cinema and fiction also weep
copiously. 1 This stereotypical agent. 2 worshipers at this time had divided
weeping that characterizes the In the debate about whether into the three mainstream trends in
virtuous woman is often seen as Goddess worship traditions empower Hinduism, still existing today. Shakti,
stemming from some deep-rooted or disempower women or have no in a general sense, refers to female
effect whatsoever on them, I agree power and thus to any Goddess;
Indian patriarchal misogynist
with those who argue that Hindu however, in a more specific sense,
tradition. One may modify that view,
Goddesses and women (like Hindu Shakti is associated with Parvatis
however, by pointing out, first, that
Gods and men) are not seen as many forms and is thus linked with
the modern convention derives as
completely distinct entities, either in Shiva and his worshipers. The text
much from a Victorian paradigm
life or in texts, and that Goddess develops the idea of Vishnus consort
(Men must work and women must worship may and often does function Lakshmi, and her incarnation Sita, as
weep) as from a pre-modern Indian to empower women, although it does Shakti associated both with Vishnu
one, and, second, that traditional not necessarily always function in and with Shiva. Thus, in chapter 24,
Indian heroes, from Rama onwards,
this way.3 the gods eulogize Sita as Vaishnavi
like pre-modern European heroes, also
Sanskrit texts routinely refer to Shakti.(24:5).5
weep a good deal. heroes as being like (iva) Gods in The Adbhut Ramayana
In icons, however, Sita, like most general or a particular God, and to celebrates Sita and Rama but, like
Gods and Goddesses, is represented heroines as being like Goddesses many Puranas, is heavily influenced,
not weeping but smiling. The Gods (thus Damayanti in the Mahabharata structurally and philosophically, by
ever-open eyes and calm smiles is repeatedly described as being like the Bhagavad Gita. Its adbhut
indicate that they radiate light, bliss, the Goddesses Shachi and Lakshmi). (strange, unique) quality lies in the
and beneficence. If Sitas tears tend Although the gap between divine and way it recounts the glory of Sita and
to predominate in narrative and her human widens in modern perception, writes a virtual Sita Gita into the story

32 MANUSHI
of the Ramayana. This quality has that the glory of Sita has not so far chapter 15 with Hanumans eulogy of
led commentators to read it primarily been narrated on earth. In the rest of Rama and his request that Rama take
as a Shakta text, with Sita becoming the chapter, he eulogizes Sita as on his human form once again
Kali. Prakriti and Shakti, creative principle (paralleling Arjunas eulogy and
My argument, however, is that and cause of all causes request to Krishna in the Gita).
Sita throught the text remains (sarvakarana karanam) (1:15). He The story of Ramas exile and
recognizably the Sita of the also praises Rama, saying that there years in the forest is entirely missing.
Ramayana, even when she takes on is absolutely no difference between No details are given of Sitas
a Kali form. Hindu Gods and Rama and Sita. abduction or her residence in Lanka.
Goddesses may take on many forms, The next seven chapters recount In chapter 16, Rama and his army
even each others form, but this does the various reasons why Vishnu and defeat Ravana and rescue Sita. This
not erase their identity. The way the Lakshmi were compelled to incarnate astonishing compression makes
text shows Sita taking on the form of as Rama and Sita. Chapter eight is sense in context Bharadvaja is not
Mahadevi is not as surprising as the interested in a repetition of the
way it reconfigures the ideal Valmiki Ramayana story, with which
husband-wife relationship, by an everyone is familiar; he wants to hear
ingenious combination of Vaishnava the parts that were supposedly left
and Shakta paradigms. out of it. In the last chapter, Valmiki
Some Bengali Ramayanas, such explains that for fear of repeating
as Rammohans eighteenth-century himself he did not recount the whole
Ramayana, imitate the Adbhut story (27:12).
Ramayana in this respect, In chapter 17, when Rama returns
recounting Sitas exploits in the same triumphant from the war, the sages
way. Bengals Shakta traditions praise him for having slain the ten-
facilitate the process. Bengali headed Ravana, king of Lanka. Sita
Ramayanas also rewrite womens smiles in amusement when she hears
roles in other ways. The idea of the this praise and, when questioned,
female principle as autonomously remarks that the ten-headed Ravana
productive, central to the story of was nothing compared to his twin
Bhagirathas birth to two mothers, is brother, the thousand-headed
Prem Singh

also found in the Adbhut Ramayanas Ravana, king of Pushkara Island, who
account of Sitas birth. is a much more powerful demon.
Downplaying Sitas Abduction Rama immediately utters a war cry
The Adbhut Ramayana is and sets out to battle this new Ravana
structured to shift the focus of the devoted to Sitas birth (there is no whom he has never heard of before.
story away from Ramas exile, Sitas parallel chapter on Ramas birth). The This battle occupies five chapters and
abduction, and Ramas battle with next seven chapters are occupied by ends with the routing of Ramas army.
Ravana. These events, which are Ramas glory. Rama displays his Ravanas arrow pierces Rama and he
central to most Ramayanas, occupy universal form to Parashurama and falls down in a faint, seemingly
only one chapter (sarga) out of a total his four-armed form to Hanuman. In lifeless.
of twenty-seven in the Adbhut three verses in chapter 10 we are Sita then gets aroused and
Ramayana places these events in a briefly informed that for some assumes her divine form as a terrible
larger context, but here the context reason (kenapi hetuna) (10:1) Rama, Goddess. She destroys hundreds of
itself becomes the main story. Sita and Lakshmana went to the demons, severs all of Ravanas
In the first chapter, sage forest, from where Sita was abducted thousand heads with one stroke, and
Bharadvaja asks Valmiki whether the by Ravana. Addressing Hanuman, proceeds to play with the heads like
legend is true that he, Valmiki, Rama discourses at length on balls. At that moment, a thousand
composed the Ramayana in a Sankhya Yoga, the Upanishads, and mothers or divine female beings
hundred crore verses, of which only Bhakti. This portion of the text is spring out of the pores of her body.
twenty five thousand appear in the modeled on the Bhagavad Gita, with The names of over two hundred of
Valmiki Ramayana known on earth. many verses directly echoing famous these females (who, in a sense, are
Valmiki says this is indeed true and verses from the Gita. It concludes in aspects of Sita) are catalogued,

No.148 33
following the convention of As there is no description of Sita Indian womens movement also tends
recounting the names of a divinity. being abducted or residing in Lanka, towards the same type of focus.
Their various forms are also we never see her weeping. The effect The Adbhut Ramayana develops
described. of this is a complete shift of focus these neglected areas in its
Sita, now in the form of Kali, away from Sita as victim. representation of Sita. It omits Ramas
performs a dance of destruction that Her victimization, however, is mistreatment of Sita, and represents
terrifies the Gods, who try to mentioned in the sages praise of her as amused by the sages needless
appease her with prayers but are able Rama in Chapter 17. The sages concern for her sufferings at the
to do so only when they bring Rama perceive Sita as having suffered and hands of Ravana. Here termed
back to life. Rama, who was not they are grieved when they recall this. sadhvi (woman ascetic), devi
aware of her true identity as a Praising Ramas victory, they say, O (Goddess), and Janakanandini
Goddess, humbly asks her who she lord, the great Goddess Sita has (daughter of Janaka) (17:17), Sita,
is, whereupon she shows him her suffered a lot. Remembering this, we simultaneously Goddess, woman and
universal form as Parameshwari, just get agitated. (17:16). When they ascetic, tells the sages that their
as Krishna shows his universal form keep repeating this sentiment praise of the killing of ten-headed
to Arjuna in the Bhagvad Gita. The Ravana amuses her, because this
Gitas model is explicitly evoked killing is not particularly praiseworthy
through the use of near-identical in context. The sages are thrown into
language and imagery. Rama then confusion by Sitas odd behavior,
praises her by reciting her one and offended by her laughing at them.
thousand and eight names, all of She apologizes for having offended
which are listed in the text, starting them, and then tells them about the
with Sita and ending with thousand-headed Ravana.
Akasamurti. Sitas smile is next mentioned
In the next chapter, at Ramas during the battle with the thousand-
request, Sita resumes her human headed Ravana. After many of Ramas
form (just like Krishna resuming his and Ravanas followers kill one
human form at Arjunas request), and another, Ravana himself appears.
he then eulogizes her as the supreme Disdaining to kill Ramas followers,
principle, the creator, protector, and he sends a mighty wind that blows
destroyer of the universe. Rama them back to their own lands. All the
recites twelve verses, all of which warriors and sages are bewildered at
express adoration and worship. Sita this turn of events. The gods are
then returns to Ayodhya with Rama worried and Rama is surprised, but
and performs her wifely role by Prem Singh Sita remains next to Rama with her
remaining at his side. pure, bright smile (shuchismita)
Rama Weeps, Sita Laughs (punaha punaha 7:16), Sita laughs a (21:13). This epithet is conventionally
Conventional retellings of the little and speaks smilingly to them applied to heroines in Sanskrit texts.
Rama story are punctuated by Sitas (17:17). Here, however, it suggests Sitas
tears she weeps when Rama is exiled, The sages reception of Sitas divine serenity.
when she is abducted, throughout her suffering is analogous to the popular Soon after, Rama is struck by the
stay in Lanka, and when Rama tests Indian reception of Sitas sufferings. thousand-headed Ravanas arrow and
and repudiates her. In the Adbhut Several feminist commentators have falls down unconscious. Seeing Sitas
Ramayana, Sita is not shown examined Sitas sufferings, mainly at still smiling face (23:2), the sages
shedding a single tear. Instead, this Ramas hands but also in general, as reproach her for having told Rama
story of the thousand-headed a site for Indians concern for about Ravana, and point out to her
Ravana is framed by her variously womens sufferings. 6 Valuable the misfortunes that have ensued.
nuanced smiles and laughter. Rama though this concern is, it leads to a Sita then utters loud roars, takes on a
weeps twice (chapters 10 and 16), due near-exclusive focus on womens ferocious form, and begins tearing the
to his separation from Sita his tears victimization and resistance, to the demons to pieces with great ease.
create the river Vaitarani and also fill exclusion of womens pleasure, joy, Finally, after Sita has killed
up the depleted ocean (10:5; 16:15). and effective power. Interestingly, the Ravana and shown Rama her

34 MANUSHI
universal form, he requests her to divine pronouncement constitutes theological Vaishnava-Shakta
resume her pleasant form. She then her final speech in the book. The significance of this dynamic is
appears in her two-armed, that is, sages weep for joy when they meet suggestive; I am interested in how it
human form. In this form, she has a Rama and Sita again. might also work to modify the ideal
divine smile on her lips and her Rama as Sitas Devotee husband-wife relationship.
smiling, pleased face has a divine, The Adbhut Ramayana contains The section I refer to as the Sita
infinite splendor (prasannavadanam two sections modeled directly on the Gita begins with Brahma, the creator
divyamanantamahimaspadam ) Bhagavad Gita, which I shall refer to God, telling Rama that he needs to
(26:7). Her initial smile of amusement as the Rama Gita and the Sita Gita recognize Sitas importance: Rama,
has given way to the standard iconic respectively. In the Rama Gita, you are not able to do anything
smile. Hanuman is the disciple and devotee, without her. To make you realize this,
This iconic smile is, however, not parallel to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Sita, who is beyond criticism, has
entirely distinguishable from the type Gita. He asks questions, receives done all these actions (24:42).
of pure, bright smile (shuchismita) answers from Rama, obtains a vision Brahma then tells Rama to actually
conventionally attributed to heroines. of Ramas divine form, eulogizes look at Sita: Look at Janaki, Rama,
Thus, even while weeping, Rama, and asks to see him again in give up fear, great-armed one (24:43).
Damayanti in the Mahabharata is The husband is here asked to
characterized as brightly smiling. recognize aspects of his wife that he
The Gods do not weep, but they do has not noticed although or perhaps
smile. Smiling, not weeping, thus links because he is so used to seeing her.8
humans with Gods.
There is a mild irony in the injunction
Sita in All Humans to Rama, the great-armed one, to give
Towards the end of the Adbhut up fear (tyaja bhitim mahabhuja).
Ramayana, Sita points out this non- Although mighty, the husband is
difference between Gods and afraid when these unnoticed aspects
humans. Having adored her, Rama of his wife surface.
takes refuge in her, and she then, In order to give up fear, Rama has
smiling (sasmitam), says to him, to go through a process which begins
Listen to one speech of mine - O king, when he acknowledges that he does
I reside in all human beings in the not really know Sita and asks her to
same form that I assumed to kill reveal herself: Who are you, large-
Ravana. (26: 39-40).
Prem Singh

eyed Goddess, crowned with a


Her next statement amplifies this
crescent? I do not know you, great
important point: Your form is
Goddess. Asked by me, speak
naturally blue but being troubled by
accordingly.(25:3). After Sita has
Ravana, you have turned red. I reside
his original form. In the Sita Gita, described herself she gives Rama a
with you in a blue-red form. Ramas
Rama is the devotee. Sita inspires vision of her universal self as
blue complexion refers to his divinity,
his devotion by saving his life. Parameshwari. Once again, we hear a
colored red by his human suffering.
Sita shares with him this simultaneous The conventions of the husband direct echo from the Bhagavad Gita:
divinity and humanity. Equally protecting the wife, and the wife Rama saw that form which was like
important, she also resides in all worshipping the husband as God, are crores of suns (25:8). Rama recites
humans, specifically in the ferocious, entirely reversed here.7 The reversal a thousand and eight names of the
violent, but creative form in which she places Rama and Sita on an equal Goddess. Many, though not all, of
kills Ravana. plane, since the same epithets and these names are identical with those
Sita then tells Rama to ask for terms of description appear in the in the Shakta text, the
boons, and he asks that her divine eulogies of both. However, Sita Lalitasahasranama. 9 Sita then
form always dwell in his heart, and retains an edge, because of the way resumes her human form at his request.
also that his destroyed companions the plot is structured, and because Although he now sees her in the
and army be restored to him. Sita, while Rama is represented as her form he is used to, that of his wife,
laughing (prahasya) as she looks at devotee, she is not represented as his Rama continues to address her as a
him, says, So be it (26:47). This devotee in the same way. The Goddess. He tells her that his life and

No.148 35
his austerities have borne fruit today resides in all human beings in her from life and literature, suggest a
(adya me saphalam janam adya me Goddess form emphasizes this. social awareness that Goddesses
saphalam tapam, 26:9), since he has Second, Sitas connection to reside in women and may be
seen her normally invisible form. He other females is found in the aroused at any time. Modern Indian
eulogizes her at length as the thousand mothers or female beings films often represent an ill-treated
absolute creative force, the supreme she produces out of herself in battle, and submissive wife who, pushed
light, and the ultimate cause. Again who proceed to play ball with her. beyond endurance, prays to a
following the pattern of the These females, while independent Goddess and imitates or embodies
Bhagavad Gita, he describes her as entities, are also aspects of Sita. The the Goddess, either by taking a
the best in each category (Indra text lists two hundred and eleven of terrible revenge or by performing
among the Gods, Shiva among the their names. While some of these miracles. Women may use this
Rudras, Ananta among the serpents, names are uncommon, many are social expectation to their own
Saraswati among speeches, and so common names of Indian women advantage; for example, in the
on). He repeatedly says that he even today (for example, Jaya, Prabha, 1980s, while working at MANUSHI, I
prostrates in reverence to her Madhavi, Kamala). Reading this list conducted an interview with a
(pranato asmi nityam 26: 27-28, 30- provides one with the unsettling and woman activist in a slum, who
32), and bows to her (namami 26: 29, described how she decided to
33). become possessed by a Goddess,
Towards the end of this eulogy, Rama thus compelling both her mother-
describes Sitas universal form as in-law and her husband to stop
without grief (prahinashokam, mistreating her, and also gaining
26:37). This epithet reminds the reader social respect.11
or listener that whatever sufferings a In this text, Sita does not
human may endure, the divine reciprocate Ramas gestures of
element in the human remains adoring and eulogizing her. This
untouched. Sita immediately tells him non-reciprocity represents a Shakta
that she resides in all humans in the reversal of the convention of
divine form in which she killed Ravana women touching their husbands
(26:40). feet.
Goddesses and Women Sitas status in this text as
Does an emphasis on Sita as a woman and Goddess is not so much
Prem Singh

fierce and powerful Goddess reflect ambiguous as simultaneous. At


in any way on ordinary womens different junctures, various aspects
lives? I suggest it does first and of her being are foregrounded, but
foremost, just because she is Sita. other aspects are kept in play by
The Adbhut Ramayana follows the pleasurable experience of reading a the language. Thus, when the
standard pattern of Goddess texts. Its list of the names of ones friends and sages reproach Sita for laughing at
effect, however, is different from that acquaintances. This is an experience them, she reacts with fear as any
of the Devi Mahatmya or the provided by most Goddess texts, human would, and excuses herself
Lalitasahasranama, because other since they tend to list the Goddesss by bowing to them and explaining
Goddesses like Durga and Kali do not names. Ramchandra Gandhi has her actions. She bows to her
have the same human status and pointed out that many Indian mens husband, brothers-in-law, the sages
intimate appeal to women and to men names have something to do with and the other warriors, and tells her
that Sita has. Sita has a unique place Rama.10 One folk etymology of the story respectfully. At this stage, her
in the Indian popular imagination as name Rama connects it to all- humanity is foregrounded.
the ideal but unjustly treated wife. pervading; similarly, Goddess names Yet, even here, in addition to
Young brides are told to emulate Sita pervade Indian society in the form of being termed devi and Janakas
and Savitri. Therefore, to identify Sita womens names. daughter, she is also termed
with Kali or Parameshwari is in one That a woman has a Goddesss sadhvi. This term adds a third
sense to thus identify with all with name may not improve her social element to the duality of divine and
wives. Sitas statement that she status. But many Indian narratives, human. Although she is a

36 MANUSHI
laywoman, asceticism is an kinds of emotion such as erotic or In the Adbhut Ramayana, she is
important dimension of Sitas motherly love. Thus, in the Padma born from two female principles - the
being. She endures suffering Purana, Vishnu, disguised as the Earth and a womans emotions. We
without complaint and is amused by demon Jalandhara, seduces are told that Mandodari, Ravanas
the sages agitation on her account. Jalandharas wife Vrinda. While they wife, neglected by her unfaithful
Female sages do not appear often are engaged in love play, Tulasi, a husband, tries to commit suicide by
in Hindu scriptures, but they do purifying nymph, arises from Vrindas drinking the blood of sages that he
make some very important sweat. Tulasi (identified with the sacred had collected and told her was
appearances. One female sage is plant, holy basil) represents Vrindas poisonous. But the blood
Sulabha, who, in the Mahabharata, pure erotic desire for Vishnu. 13 The impregnates instead of poisoning her.
debates with Janaka and decisively plant is still worshiped today by Afraid she will be accused of adultery,
proves that gender difference is devotees of Vishnu. she aborts in a field. The foetus
apparent, not real, and that women Parvati produces Ganesh from her develops into the baby Sita, who is
therefore need not be socially body rubbings merely from maternal found and adopted by Janaka. Thus,
constricted by gender roles. The longing - she wants a son of her own, Sita is the product of a neglected and
figure of the sadhvi may thus be suicidal wifes despair. The male
seen as bridging the gap between element in her birth is an ascetic one
woman and Goddess, just as the the blood of the sages.
figure of the sage does the gap In the Adbhut Ramayana
between man and God. structuring of the plot, Sita reverses
Feminine as Creative Force the neglected wife syndrome with a
Gods and heroes in most vengeance. She completes the divine
mythologies are conceived and born plan by being the cause for the death
miraculously - from virgins, from of both Ravanas, thus avenging
human-divine intercourse, or from a Mandodari; she also publicly
single parent, male or female. The produces many female beings from
miracle functions to signal the heros herself, something Mandodari was
innate difference from other mortals. afraid to be found doing. In her fierce
Thus Sita, in the Valmiki Ramayana, Kali form, she behaves in an
is termed ayonija (not born of a unconventional and unwifely manner,
vagina). Like Krishna and Shakuntala, roaring, sticking out her tongue,
Prem Singh

she is raised by adoptive parents. As dancing and playing with skulls and
Boswell has shown, heroes in many other body parts, and frightening all
cultures are raised differently from the males present, including her
other children by adoptive or foster husband. Both in her birth and in her
parents, human, divine, or animal.12 who will be devoted only to her.14 In actions, Sita represents the
This may signify that they belong not the Krittivasa Ramayana, autonomously creative female
Bhagirathas mothers, although they principle.
to one family alone but to the whole
society; it also serves to mark them are humans, not Goddesses, are Sita as Cosmic Agent
as different from others. enabled to imitate Goddesses when Sita in the Adbhut Ramayana is
In Hindu texts, one of the most they produce a child from desire identified with Prakriti (Nature or the
common forms of miraculous birth is desire for a child and desire for each universal creative principle). She
a God, demon, or Goddess producing other. takes on the form of Shiva, and Rama
other beings from the self. When this The ability to produce fully says that Purusha is one of her forms
happens in the heat of battle, these formed beings from the self appears (26: 29). She kills mercilessly and
beings are born of wrath and are in ancient Hindu texts to be related to creates prolifically. She also preserves
terrifying. They aid the parent in the idea, also found in ancient Greek the universe and acts for its welfare.
fighting. Goddesses usually, but not texts, that the Earth (also represented The sense of a larger cosmic plan,
always, produce females rather than as a Goddess), produces certain types present to different degrees in all
males in this manner. Sometimes, of life, such as worms, from herself. Ramayanas, is geared in the Adbhut
however, a female produces another In the Valmiki Ramayana, Sita is born Ramayana to explaining why Rama
being not from wrath but from other of the Earth. and Sita had to be born as humans

No.148 37
and had to suffer. The first seven instance, when Janaka finds Sita in a Lakshmi aspect a fierce Kali aspect.
chapters place them in a cosmic furrow, a divine voice tells him that Just as Rama, though an incarnation
context, recounting stories of faults this girl will be responsible for the of Vishnu, the preserver God, must
committed by Vishnu and Lakshmi, welfare of the world (8:40).15 engage in violent destruction, so
which result in their being cursed to It is because of this cosmic plan, also Sita has a ferocious aspect.
incarnate as humans. They gracefully wherein Sita is primary agent, that she The text represents this
accede to this necessity, which is also is the only one who obtains revelation as adbhut, or strange and
linked to the need to curb violent and information about the thousand- a great surprise that has been kept
cruel demons. headed Ravana. As a girl, she serves secret (ashcharyamascharyamidam
In chapter one itself, the narrator a visiting Brahman with devotion; in gopitam 1:12). This idea of a secret
rewrites a famous verse from the return, he tells her all about the being revealed structures the entire
Bhagavad Gita, ascribing to Sita, thousand-headed Ravana. She text. Sita surprises the sages,
who is Prakriti, the need to incarnate retains this memory and reveals it to warriors, the Gods, and her own
so as to uphold dharma and destroy her husband and the male warriors husband by her revelations about
evil on earth: Whenever dharma and sages only after the ten-headed Ravana, and even more by her
declines, Prakriti appears on earth Ravana is destroyed. None of the actions. Rama does not recognize
for the destruction of men have ever before heard of the her and has to be let into the secret
adharma(1:18). In this formulation, thousand-headed Ravana. of her identity. When he tells his
Sita and Ramas sufferings are As Sally Goldman has pointed brothers and the monkey army about
undertaken for the purpose of out, in the Valmiki Ramayana, Sita it, they are all astonished.
destroying adharma. Sita, identified has the power to destroy Ravana and These surprised reactions mirror
with Prakriti, is represented as an save herself but she chooses not to the expected reader response. The
agent, not a victim. This formulation, use it, because demonstrating her Adbhut Ramayana shows an
replacing Sri Krishna with Prakriti, own power would diminish Ramas awareness that its intervention,
can be interpreted to mean that nature altering the conventional image of
power as husband and king.16 In the
or the universal creative and Sita as submissive, subordinate and
Adbhut Ramayana, Sita uses her dependent, will be received as
causative principle itself takes on power not to save herself but to save
different forms to rid the universe of amazing, and almost unbelievable.
Rama. Like Valmikis Sita, she first The text frames this intervention as
evil and restore balance and harmony. allows Rama to rescue her from the
Placed in this context, Sitas authoritative by attributing it to
ten-headed Ravana. The difference is Valmiki. At the close of the text,
actions, apparently motivated only that she then goes on to rescue him
by wifely devotion, are in fact aimed Valmiki explains to Bharadvaja that
from far greater danger. Her rescue he had earlier not narrated these
at universal welfare. Thus, in the
of him puts his rescue of her in ironic astonishing episodes of the
Adbhut Ramayana, Sita gets aroused
perspective. Ramayana because Brahma had kept
to battle only when her husband falls
unconscious, and is appeased only
Surprising Secrets them hidden (27:11-12).
when the Gods bring him back to life. A number of manuscripts of the In chapter one Valmiki says that
In this respect, she seems similar to Adbhut Ramayana are found in all whoever hears it will prosper a
heroines like Savitri whose agency is parts of the country, attesting to its Brahman will attain perfection in
directed towards saving their fairly wide popularity. 17 Itself speech, a Kshatriya will become a
husbands lives. However, Sita is influenced by the Adhyatma king, a businessman will succeed,
different from those heroines Ramayana, it influenced Tulsis and a Shudra will achieve greatness
because her actions have a larger Ramcharitmanas, and also the (1:24). In the last chapter, he
purpose. Unlike Rama who kills the Sitopanisad. It contributed to the amplifies this statement, insisting
ten-headed Ravana only after the evolution of the idea of Sita as that the Adbhut Ramayana is the
latter abducts Sita, thus giving Rama synonymous with Shakti, and thus best of all Ramayanas. Residual
a personal reason to kill him, Sita having an identity much larger than anxiety is expressed in his remark
initiates Ramas battle with the simply that of Ramas wife and that all the episodes narrated by him
thousand-headed Ravana for no devotee. In South Indian Shrivaisnava form part of the Rama story, and by
personal gain but simply to rid the tradition, Sita, as Mahalakshmi, is reciting it, one achieves devotion to
universe of his demonic activities. herself ultimate reality.18 The Adbhut Rama; therefore doubts regarding
This idea appears repeatedly in the Ramayanas different approach to this should not arise in
text, at every important juncture. For Sitas divinity adds to her serene anyone(27:30).

38 MANUSHI
Endnotes 2001). All citations are to the Sanskrit
chapter and verse from this text.
1. For an account of the mainstream view
Translations from the Sanskrit are by me,
of Sita as ideal wife, dependent on, and
unless otherwise indicated.
subordinate to Rama around whom her life
revolves, see Chapter 5, Sita, in David 6. See footnote 2.
Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the 7. As Kinsley points out, Sitas role as
Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious devoteecasts her in a subsidiary position
Traditi(Berkeley: University of California vis--vis Rama. Wifely devotion has
Press, 1986), 65-78. here become a metaphor for ideal
2. There is a vast literature on Ramas devotion to God (80). The Adbhut
testing of Sita and on different texts Ramayana reverses these terms.
portrayal of her resistance or protest 8. On the importance of sight as insight
against this injustice. See Linda Hess, in Hindu tradition, see Diana L. Eck,
Rejecting Sita, Journal of American Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India
Academy of Religion March 1999, 67 (1): (3 rd edn. New York: Columbia University
1-32; The Sita who Refused the Fire Press, 1998).
Ordeal, MANUSHI (1981) 8: 22-23; Madhu 9. See The Thousand Names of the Divine
Kishwar, Yes to Sita, No to Rama: The
Mother: Sri Lalita Sahasranama with
Continuing Popularity of Sita in India, commentary by T. Narayana Menon (San
in M A N U S H I 98 (Jan-Feb 1997) 20-31;
Ramon, Calif.: Mata Amritanandamayi
David Shulman, Fire and Flood: The Center, 1996).
Prem Singh
Testing of Sita in Kampans
Iramavataram, in Many Ramayanas: The 10.At a symposium at Hindu College,
Misleading Polarites Diversity of a Narrative Tradition ed. Paula Delhi University, some time in the 1990s.
Despite the impressive work Richman (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1 1 Ruth Vanita, Sumitra: One of Many,
1992); Anne Murphy and Shana Sippy, MANUSHI No.14.
done recently on Sita by some
Sita in the City: The Ramayanas 12.John Boswell, The Kindness of
feminist commentators, there is still Heroine in New York, in MANUSHI 117 Strangers: the Abandonment of Children
a dominant tendency to posit village (March-April 2000), 17-23; Questioning in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to
womens oral representations of Sita, Ramayanas ed. Paula Richman (Berkeley: the Renaissance (New York: Pantheon
University of California Press, 2001). Books, 1988).
in local languages, against male
3. For essays debating the question, see 13.Padma Purana, V. 15. 42b-46,
Brahmanical textual representations,
Is the Goddess a Feminist?: the Politics translated Deshpande, page 2371.
in Sanskrit, with the former of South Asian Goddesses ed. Alf
14.See Shiva Purana: The Birth of
supposedly being always more Hiltebeitel and Kathleen M. Erndl (New
Ganesha, in Vanita and Kidwai, Same-
positive than the latter. According York: New York University Press, 2000).
Sex Love in India, (Palgrave, 2000; New
For the view that Goddess-worship has
to Nabaneeta Sen, the patriarchal no positive effect on womens lives, see
Delhi: Macmillan, 2002), 81-84.
Brahminical system uses the Sita also Sukumari Bhattacharji, Women and 15.Shantilal Nagar s translation. See
myth to silence women, while in Society in Ancient India (Calcutta: footnote 5.
the womens folk tradition of India Basumati Corporation Ltd 1994), 86; for 16.Sally J. Sutherland Goldman, The
an opposing view, see David Kinsley, Voice of Sita in Valmikisn
village women speak out, expressing Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Sundarakanda, in Questioning
the sentiment that all women are Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition Ramayanas: A South Asian Tradition ed.
sisters in sorrow.19 This type of (Berkeley: University of California Press, Paula Richman (Berkeley: University of
formulation homogenizes both the 1986), and Samjukta Gombrich Gupta, California Press, 2001), 223-238; 231.
The Goddess, Women, and the Rituals in 17.See V. Raghavan, op cit., 3.
textual and the oral traditions, Hinduism, in Faces of the Feminine in
wrongly identifying the former Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India, ed. 18.Pointing this out, Ramchandra Gandhi
entirely with Brahman males and the Mandakranta Bose (Delhi: Oxford also identifies her with aboriginal earth
University Press, 2000), 87-123. mother Goddesses. See Ramchandra
latter with women; it also glorifies Gandhi, Sitas Kitchen: A Testimony of
the notion of women as sisters in 4. V. Raghavan, in Sanskrit Ramayanas
Faith and Inquiry (New Delhi: Wiley
Other Than Valmikis: The Adbhuta,
suffering. Texts like the Adbhut Eastern, 1994), 4, 16.
Adhyatma and Ananda Ramayanas
Ramayana demonstrate that (Chennai: V. Raghavan Centre for 19.Quoted in Linda Hess, Rejecting Sita,
canonical Sanskrit texts can surprise Performing Arts, 1998), 71, notes that page 22, footnote 32, from a paper
the Adbhut Ramayana is not popular presented at Columbia Universitys 1998
us with their secrets, one of which is Sita Symposium.
among Shrivaisnavas, in the South or
that the textual and oral, Sanskrit and elsewhere. The author is a Professor in Womens
local language traditions are much 5. Adbhut Ramayana {Sanskrit, Hindi, Studies, University of Montana, USA.
more intertwined than may at first be and English texts] ed. Shantilal Nagar She was co-editor MANUSHI from 1978 to
apparent. (Delhi: B.R. Publishing Corporation, 1990. 

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