Week 35: Sita by Devdutt Pattanaik

Sita, the second book by Devdutt Pattanaik that I read this year, is a re-telling of the Indian epic Ramayana, from Sita’s point of view. For the unversed, Ramayana is a story about the triumph of good over evil and is centered around Rama, a young Prince who is destined to kill Ravana, a powerful rakshasa (demon). On this journey he is accompanied by his loyal brother Lakshmana and his dutiful wife, Sita.

Coming from a family that loves a heated debate, the intersection of Feminism and Hinduism is something that has been discussed over many a meal. And we have never been able to reach a consensus. Take the story of the Ramayana itself. Our protagonist, Rama is projected as the perfect man yet on rescuing his wife from her kidnapper he expects her to prove her purity. He later goes on to banish his wife from the kingdom because one of this subjects doubted her virtue. All this while Sita, is actually an avatar (human form) of Lakshmi, one of the most powerful women in Hindu mythology. Anecdotes like these make some parts of the Ramayana uncomfortable to read, because it clashes with our modern day sensibilities.

Devdutt Pattanaik’s re-telling adds a completely different spin to these tales because we now see the story through Sita’s eyes. While every other re-telling of Ramayana places Rama firmly at its center, this one celebrates Sita. Because I grew up on the Ramayana, I was already familiar with most of the subplots of this epic. But I was pleasantly surprised at the interesting new perspective which it presented. This book is a compilation of hundreds of different versions of the stories we all know, taken from thousands of varied cultures across India. Each chapter, as in Jaya (his retelling of Mahabharatha) is complete with footnotes at its end listing where he found the story and charming illustrations that add so much to the narrative.

I honestly did not think that a retelling of the Ramayana could surprise me. But this one managed to do so. Devdutt Pattanik has brilliantly retold this epic, making a thousand year old tale relevant in this day and age.

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