During the exile in the epic, Ramayan, Ram rushed away chasing a golden deer for Sita. When Ram seemed to be in trouble, Sita urged Lakshman to go and see if he was in trouble. Lakshman was not sure if it was right to leave Sita alone in the forest, but on Sita’s insistence decided to go and see. But before leaving he drew a line, with instructions that under any circumstances, she should not cross the line. This line came to be referred to as Lakshman Rekha (i.e. the line drawn by Lakshman). The story goes on that Ravan comes in the guise of an ascetic asking for alms, but is not able to cross the line, till Sita herself decided to cross it to give alms to Ravana, and in the process gets abducted.
So what was this line drawn by Lakshman? Was it some sort of a magical line which no outsider could cross or did it have some other implication? As I have always said, that nothing exists in Mythology for the sake of existence. It always has a meaning which needs to be explored and most important – in context, and that too in context of its times and milieu. In modern parlance, the phrase means that it is the limit (moral, ethical or even physical) which if breached could lead to dire consequences.
Lakshman Rekha is also sometimes referred to as Maryada rekha (limiting line). Many scholars refer this line to be a line which sets limits for women. It sets a boundary of the feminine existence and their influence. This is something akin to the threshold of the house. A woman’s influence and her limits were within the threshold and her stepping out of that zone was a strict no-no.
Many see the line as a cultural divide. Inside the line was the cultured household of a family, and outside was the zone of a jungle which had no rules and no civil norms of behaviour. To be within the confines of the line was to be safe under the umbrella of one’s husband or the patriarch, but once outside, one loses the comfort of respect and support. Outside the line, a woman could not command the same status and could thus be susceptible to the vagaries of the laws of the jungle, which was different from that of a civil society.
It was both the prerogative as well as the responsibility of the men-folk to save their women from this jungle-raaj and in this context the line could both be either a limiting-line or a safety-zone. The liberal would see this as a forceful curbing of feminine power and a chauvinistic expression of the male dominated society. The others would see this as a form of protecting the weaker sex and taking charge of their duties, albeit in a rigid fashion, which probable curbs more than aids the personality of the ones within the line.
For want of a better outlook and definitely in the absence of the modern western-influence and its impact, this was probably the best that people then could think of. In the process, there is a possibility of curbing a few flowers from blooming differently, but then was this a smaller price to be paid or was it a gargantuan error on the part of a society – again in the larger context of societal norms?
To conclude, nothing is out of context, and also from the angle of the eye-sight. You get to see the seven colours distinctly, only if you are in the right side of the prism, not otherwise!