kiskiKAHANI (the Ramayana Project)

300 Ramayanas and Counting . . .
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The Foundling Princess of Mithila: KR Srinivasa Iyengar’s Sitayana

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There’s a mysterious force, a movement

or wafture of consciousness,

an elemental cohesive power,

a grace that rules and pervades.                    (1:50)

It is love that keeps the world going, preserving the world for ‘were it not for this force this orchestrated universe would have gone to blazes long ago’. There are different kinds of love and the ‘miserable of the earth find it no great effort to surrender to God’, a luck that is denied to the ‘wise, learned and clever’. The discussion goes on about the problems besetting mankind, and then Narada says:

It may seem paradoxical, O King,

but a new incarnation,

the grace as feminine incandescence

may yet redeem the wide world;                   (1:96)

He then tells Janaka that it was time he initiated a Sacrifice and gave ‘shape and substance to the anguish of the race’.

Janaka prepares for the Yaga. One early morning, the hour of dawn, before the sun awakes, he turns over the soil using the consecrated plough. He had not moved far when his eyes fall on a wondrous golden child. She appeared ‘a visitant from Heaven’. Thus, Sita’s arrival on earth. She was no ordinary child:

In a glint of intuition he could see

this was no conventional

nativity, but was vitally touched

with an aura unearthly.                                              (1:260)

Janaka completed the Sacrifice that had been begun, and soon Sita’s companions arrived – Urmila, the daughter of Janaka and Sunayana, and Mandavi and Srutakirit, daughters of Janaka’s brother. She and her cousins made a marvellous foursome as they grew up.

They were the marvel feminine indeed,

but Sita excelled even

the shy Urmila, the wise Mandavi

and the smart Srutakirti.                                (1:291)


Comrade and leader at once, Sita gave

her sisters, and all girlhood

in Mithila, an accession of hope,

faith, courage and holiness.                           (1-292)

The focus on Sita’s childhood and girlhood in ‘Sitayana’ is quite unique especially because so little importance has been given to this important part of her life. The four sisters grew up together:

From their close involvement in the daily

drama of Nature and Man,

Sita and her sisters gained mastery

of the native arts and crafts.                          (1:308)


Sita was a little different from the others. She was the earth-born and sometimes they would tease her. She would retort “We’re all earth-born, aren’t we” and ask why such a fuss was made. But she did not deny that:

There are times when my whole being – my soul

and heart and body’s nerve cells

and all the aggregates that comprise me –

chime with this dear Earth-Mother.               (1:324)

The sisters and their friends discussed their feelings about the earth-mother, seen differently by each of them. It was reticent Mandavi who said:

“Dear Earth is for me the Supreme Giver,

the Goddess Sakambari.                     (1:343)

Sita engaged with scholars in discussions and listened to myths and stories; there were even special occasions where they were part of the audience where great thinkers debated. It was not all study for the girls – they played board games like chess or snakes and ladders. Iyengar describes the ‘Paramapada sopaanam’, the traditional game of snakes and ladders that represented life’s journey:

The ground plan was a complex geography

of the ethical cosmos,

ladders and spiralling hill-climbs above,

snakes and abysses below.

Sita felt half-frightened half-edified

by the naming and ranking

of the sins and virtues, and the sequent

punishments and promotions.

And for every rise however steep

there lurked near an abysmal

fall, and these criss-crossed teasingly, and one

learnt humility and hope.                                           (1: 383-383)

A play-way activity that built, right from a young age, emotional strength that would enable one to carry through life’s difficulties and triumphs.

Like any person, she too had vivid dreams. Scary at times, she woke up bathed in sweat; at other times, so joyful, suffused with ecstasy. Not surprising then:

Why did the mind, Maithili asked herself,

get wholly out of control

the moment the body sought rest, the lids

closed, and the night took over?                                (1:405)

One night she had a petrifying dream and woke up screaming. With her father’s permission, she visited Rishi Yagnavalkya’s wife Maitreyi. Describing her dreams and apprehensions, she sought to understand and find reassurance. The Rishi-patni answered her in her own way and tried to tell her that she was asking questions that were too profound for her years. Sita was not satisfied and probed further till Maitreyi said:

yes, even the dreams you see must project

the substance of Truth alone,

and you are being prepared unconsciously

for the still unborn future.                                          (1:460)

Life’s no series of monotonous notes

for the magician-artiste

varies the stops and sweeps o’er the octaves

and makes entrancing music.                                     (1:464)

One day, as the girls were playing, a ball escaped from them and rolled under a box of monstrous size. Without a second thought, Sita ‘raised the box a little with her left hand, while the right rescued the ball’.  Janaka came in at this moment and realized that he would need a bridegroom extraordinary for this amazing maiden who could lift the Great Bow of Shiva. Such a bridegroom was found in Rama and thus Book One ends with Sita’s Marriage.

Book Two is Ayodhya. As the bridal procession – four couples now – wended its way back to Ayodhya from Mithila, a sudden cyclonic storm created chaos and the palanquin that bore Sita and Urmila appeared to move on its own to a specific destination. Here all was clear and they decided to seek the blessings of the inmates of the hermitage they could see. This is where they meet Ahalya, redeemed by Rama. Ahalya tells the young brides that one needs a guardian-spirit all the time. In future it is going to be worse for women as man would be stooping lower than the Asura and the Beast:

can a time ever unfold when woman

will be able to resist

the thousand varieties of violence

to her body and psyche?                                 (2:115)

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