Monday, December 2, 2013

Devdutt Pattanaik's "Sita - A Retelling of the Ramayana"

The chariot stopped far from the city in the middle of the forest. Sita alighted, eager to walk amongst the trees. The charioteer, Lakshman, remained seated. Sensing he had something to say, Sita paused. Lakshman finally spoke, eyes to the ground, your husband, my elder brother, Ram, king of Ayodhya, wants you to know that the streets are full of gossip. Your reputation is in question. The rules are clear on this: a king's wife should be above all doubt. The scion of the Raghu clan therefore has ordered you to stay away from his person and his palace and his city. You are free to go wherever else you please. But you may not reveal to anyone you were once Ram's queen.

Sita watched Lakshman's nostrils flare. She felt his embarrassment and his rage. She wanted to reach out and reassure him, but she restrained herself.

You feel your Ram has abandoned his Sita, dont you? she asked gently. But he has not. He cannot.

He is God; he abandons no one.
And I am Goddess; I cannot be abandoned by anyone.

A mystified Lakshman returned to Ayodhya, while Sita smiled in the forest and unbound her hair.

It will require immense amount of resistance for someone like me who is crazy over mythology to not grab a book with such a blurb. The above text is from Devdutt Pattanaik's Sita - A Retelling of the Ramayana.

Many months before the book released, Devdutt disclosed in interviews that he was working on a retelling of the Ramayana (named Sita) which was based on the similar lines of his retelling of Mahabharata (named Jaya). I had pre-ordered the book on Flipkart (for 33% discount) two months before the release but instead bought it from Delhi airport (at M.R.P.) one day before Flipkart was going to deliver it. Waiting is such a waste of time when it comes to certain things. Isn't it?

This is the second book review on my blog. You can read the first one here. By now, you must have realized that I do not write book reviews regularly and there is hardly any professionalism involved in my writing. This is only for one reason. I do not read many books.

Also, of the few books that I read, there are fewer that I genuinely feel like discussing about. Only when a book succeeds in giving me goosebumps multiple times (or at least once), do I think of writing its review. And "Sita" is one such book.

Anyway, let's move from my story to that of Ram's Sita or Sita's Ram.

When I started reading the book, it was typically Devdutt talking, beginning with a prologue and setting a mood where one of the characters enters into a situation where he is made to narrate the entire tale. In Jaya, it was Vaisampayana and in Sita, it is none other than Hanuman.

The book begins with the story of Sita's birth in the kingdom of Janak. Tales of other characters of the epic like Shanta (Ram's sister), Parshuram and others appear at relevant points adding data and interest to the main tale. However, Sita is quite a bit different from other retellings of Ramayana because here the epicenter is not Ram but Sita.

The life of Sita has been captured in different phases - the lessons in vedas and upanishads with the sages in the court of Janaka, the forests of adjoining cities where Ram and Lakshman were trained by Vishwamitra, the discussions of Sita with her mom-in-laws and sis-in-laws after she gets married to Ram, Sita's life in forest during Ram's exile, her plight in the palace of Ravana marked by her hopes that her husband will come to her rescue, her stay in Ayodhya after she returned from exile and the exile that later came for her as a result of the rumors among the citizens.

For details, kindly read the book. This post is to tell you why you should read it.

In the first place, why I feel this book is different from any other retelling of Ramayana is that Pattanaik has certainly not written this book from a commercial point of view. By this I do not mean that it hasn't been marketed well or is not reader-friendly. It definitely is. Why I say this is that making money through this book was certainly not his objective.

If you have followed Pattanaik's books and articles before, you will realize how passionate he is about certain ideas and how strongly he believes in making the world aware of them. His ideas about beliefs (subjective reality in his words), becoming empathetic, expanding the mind and his notion of Dharma have always made me more inquisitive about the wisdom in our epics making me read and re-read them. When you read Sita, you realize that he is not just trying to generate cash by retelling an epic in his narrative style; he is actually trying to bring forth his ideas and wisdom through the medium of this epic. The conversations between the different characters in the epic are so well crafted and insightful that while they narrate the story of the epic, they also provoke you to think like never before. After almost every paragraph you will be motivated to pause and think, then think a little more and then introspect heavily on your own life, behavior and personality.

And Devdutt does not do it in the conventional manner by focusing the tale on Ram, rather his epicenter is Sita. Indian audience, who has for long seen the devoted Sita as a victim of patriarchy will be amazed to see how she was the Goddess in her own right, a confident and self-dependent woman who even when abandoned by her husband and his subjects led her life with self-respect. One realizes that on abandoning Sita, Ram faces a more difficult time in the palace than Sita faces in the forest.

Note: I challenge you to read the chapter on Sita's second exile where just before leaving for the forest she explains the palace staff on how to take care of her Ram when she's gone. If you have a blood-pumping organ in your body, you'll be overwhelmed and not getting lachrymal would just be impossible.

Sita is worth a serious read and is one such book that uncovers more and more layers on consecutive readings. Devdutt has done something on the lines of what he has done before, yet he has done it so differently that except for the publisher and the text fonts and size, everything else is unique about this book.


  1. Interesting.. very interesting, you made me pick this book. I will read now. Seems like something I will appreciate :)
    thanks for your review on this book.

  2. I totally agree to the NOTE you posted. That part especially tells everything about their relationship.

    Nice review. I actually had to read twice to understand the ideas conveyed through conversations. Devdutt had certainly made the understanding of Ramayana much easier.


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