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Sita : An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik

Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 9780143064329
Pages: 328
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Even though Sita plays a pivotal role in the Ramayana, when you actually seek her out you realize she is but a prop, appearing and disappearing, with her marriage, her abduction, her rescue and finally her banishment. Who is she really? There are tantalizing clues in classical as well as subaltern literature and in folk traditions, but nothing else.

And then, of course, there is the attempt of modern writers to portray her as a helpless, hapless victim, shaped both by the tragic state of women in many parts of the world and by modern political prejudices against all things religious. So you wonder if you really know Sita at all. And this enquiry made me seek Sita.
The journey to discover Sita makes you realize that the Ramayana is not a book, as most people assume, but a vast tradition manifesting itself in written, oral and visual traditions. And for some reason, children of India have been kept away from it. Yes, we are told of the Valmiki Ramayana, but we are not told that there are several versions of this original story itself a northern version, a southern version, an eastern version, which have barely a third of the verses common between them. Then there are Sanskrit plays written by dramatists like Bhasa and Bhavabhuti where Ram is a great hero, not necessarily God. Then we find Ramayanas of the Jains, the Buddhists as well as from South East Asia, which retell the same story but with a very different emotion. From the tenth century onwards we find the Ramayana in each and every Indian language, written by several authors, in different scripts, with different styles, all deeply immersed in bhakti. It is through these regional narratives, not the Sanskrit ones really, that ideas related to love, valour, fidelity and wisdom spread to every corner of India.

Besides songs and stories, there are also the visual narrations in the form of carvings and murals on temple walls, paintings on cloth and paper such as the Mewari and Rajasthani miniatures and Kalamkari and Patta-chitra and Chitrakathi artworks. In some of these we find Ram with a moustache, in others with a six-pack. All these amused and inspired me and I wanted to share them with the world.

And in this storm of ideas stands steadfast the quiet Sita, very different from the fiery and vengeful Draupadi. Her silence has been taken to mean submission by those who forget she is the daughter of Janaka who was the patron of the Upanishads, the body of work that captures the essence of Vedic thought. Through her silence she conveyed her serenity and sagacity, unflustered by the restraints of culture, demands of morality and the rage of villains.

We today are too busy wanting to be heard. We do not bother with listening. This book is written so that we listen to Sita and through her discover a uniquely Indian approach to justice, fairness and most importantly, love.