Since long, Indian women have tried to live up to an epic ideal, a lady who earned the designation of a goddess in all Hindu homes, an ephemeral queen named Sita. As Vayu Naidu tries to paint Sita to be more than a Helen in The Illiad, it makes one to reflect on the true role of women in our great epics and indeed in our society. As Sita and Urmilla discuss the very same issue in her novella, Sita challenges the present concepts and says that it is unjust that wives are considered to be adopted into their in-laws’ homes. It works in a diametrically opposite fashion- a girl adopts a man as her husband and entwines a home and a family about him. Sita though considered an epitome of endurance and perfection is also weak and unassertive, vulnerable and insecure at the multiple desertions by the love of her life, a man whose name she breathed in and breathed out, Ram. Though Sita’s ideals clash with that of Ram on some level, she remains compliant and the couple choose to ignore it forging bridges after bridges between them which cannot be crossed. It is not the case that Sita was incapable, physically or otherwise, it was her unfailing conformation to the norms of the society that shaped her destiny.
On the other hand, there is another protagonist in one of our great epics, Draupadi (rendered alive in a compelling retelling by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni). A character so inauspicious in India that no girl is named after her. She is a colossal reminder that even if you have five husbands, you can still be lonely; that even if you are a princess, you may never be one with your love; that you could be just as insecure and jealous; that you could easily be surrounded with men who are weak, indecisive, dogmatically self-righteous, brave but disappointing; and unfortunately these could be the men by whom you are led or must conform to. Under such a case, Draupadi exercised powers to mould her destiny by weilding the thoughts of her husbands as often as she could. Draupadi, however was hardly submissive to her husbands. She probably would have been a lot more yielding had she married Karn (do all women have the weakness to be servile to the ones they love or is it hardwired into them during their upbringing?). Though she is considered a woman who incinerated a home, the truth is, she only fought for justice that belonged to her.
Sita and Draupadi are two epic characters- one rebellious only in thoughts, other in actions. Both women were wronged repeatedly but obstinately refused to be victims, both were defined initially by their husbands but then created empowering identities beyond them, both women had a better sense of judgement than the men who surrounded them, both women started regarding social conformity as a delusion, both women were after all- women, struggling against the society’s dogmatic dispositions in their own unique ways.
Their dichotomy of perfection and insecurity, godliness and weakness, opulence and austerity, fulfillment and yearning is their tragedy and indeed the tragedy of all human beings.
The reason why one is worshiped as a goddess and other is considered inauspicious is because most probably, Draupadi sought a more so-called masculine way to acquire justice through war than Sita’s method of self-sacrifice. It is a stigma on our very perceptions should we judge the ideas of righteousness based on genders.
This yearning and idea for universal equality protests not only the rapes and mental molestations but prejudices stemming from one’s sexual orientations; bias at work; unjustified expectations, doubts and servitude in relationships; and the social ostracization of unique individuals born to the Earth and who seek to preserve it.
Acknowledgements: The ideas were inspired by the novel “The Palace Of Illusions” by Ms. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and the novella “Sita’s Ascent” by Ms. Vayu Naidu. I express my gratitudes to them.