(Before you start reading, I’d like to clarify the meaning of the word ‘Sitayan.’ Sitayan is Sita’s telling of the Ramayan.)
Sitting in front of the TV sharp at 9 am and 9 pm became the new normal. We enjoyed watching the Ramayan all over again bringing back a slice of the 90s. We loved it so much so that we created a world record for it-
And we all sobbed when Sita decided to leave this world and take refuge in her mother- the earth.
But what that episode failed to show, is what made Sita leave her beloved husband and the thoughts that went on in her mind. It is something that every woman needs to know to unlock Sita’s message for all of us women, her daughters.
WHY SITAYAN AND NOT RAMAYAN
Why listen to Sita’s story from Sant Valmiki (the one who wrote Ramayan)? Why not from Sita herself?
Sita was asked to give the agni pariksha again and prove her innocence and purity. (The word AGAIN is the key here.) When asked to give the agni pariksha yet again, she decides to take a stand for herself. When she decides this, she feels betrayed by her husband for he chooses his kingdom over his wife, and she feels the agony of going away from her beloved children- Luv and Kush.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, in her book- The Forest of Enchantments (Sitayan) has very beautifully expressed this. I am quoting some lines from the mentioned book that will take you through Sita’s most difficult journey.
When she realizes that Ram is going to make her give the agni pariksha so that people in his kingdom are sure of Sita’s purity:
1. Suspicion is a terrible disease, a canker that can totally destroy a relationship.
2. People will always talk. Should an elephant turn around and run away because dogs are barking?
3. In my agitation and ignorance, I walked in the wrong direction, away from Valmiki’s hermitage, deeper into the forest, into the night. It was only by luck that I wasn’t attacked by a wild beast or perhaps it was fate. It’s hard to tell them apart, what we bring upon ourselves and what destiny determines. They are as difficult to disentangle as love and sorrow.
4. ‘Pull yourself together,’ she said sternly. ‘You aren’t some weak-willed wench. You can control your emotions. Remember all that you’ve survived. Behave like the queen you are. No one can take your dignity away from you. You lose it only by your own actions.’
5. Endure, they seemed to say. Endure as we do. Endure your challenges.
6. All the way back, what it means. It didn’t mean giving in. It didn’t mean being weak or accepting injustice. It meant taking the challenges thrown at us and dealing with them as intelligently as we knew until we grew stronger than them.
7. But perhaps guilt keeps us from seeing things that are otherwise as clear as a cloudless sky.
Sita’s thoughts and teachings to her sons:
8. And this is one of the final things I learn about love: it’s found in its purest form on this imperfect earth, between mothers and young children because there’s nothing they want except to make each other happy.
9. Anger and self-pity are useless emotions, so I push them away and speak calmly even though my heart is breaking all over again.
10. But I don’t agree with you that private life must be sacrificed for the public one. And that is the final advice that I leave for my children. My dearest boys, balance duty with love. Trust me, it can be done.
And her final words to King Ram before leaving:
11. O King of Ayodhya, you know I am innocent, and yet, you’re asking me to step into the fire. You offer me a tempting prize indeed- to live in happiness with you and my children. But I must refuse. Because if I do what you demand, society will use my action forever to judge other women. Even when they aren’t guilty, the burden of proving their innocence will fall on them. And society will say, why not? Even Queen Sita went through it.
12. And finally, I bless my daughters, who are yet unborn. I pray that, if life tests them- as sooner or later life is bound to do- they’ll be able to stand steadfast and think carefully, using their hearts as well as their heads, understanding when they need to compromise, and knowing when they must not.
13. ‘I forgave you a long time ago’, I say to Ram. ‘Though I didn’t know it until now. Because this is the most important aspect of love, whose other face is compassion. It isn’t doled out, drop by drop. It doesn’t measure who is worthy and who isn’t. It is like the ocean. Unfathomable. Astonishing. Measureless.'
I’ve loved and learned from Sitayan. It helped me realize that we all have struggles including the Queen. What matters is how we react to them and how to sail through them with dignity.