A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Unsung Women of Ramayana

Though Ramayan is the story of Ram, the epic is also well knows for some of its female characterisations like that of Sita, Kaushalya and even Kaikeyi. But there have been some lesser known ladies who have not found much mention, even when characters like Manthara and Shabari find some mention and attention.

Let us discuss two of them here, Urmila, Lakshaman’s wife and Trijata. Did you say, Trijata who? Well then, let’s keep Trijata for later.
Lakshaman and Urmila from the
teleserial by Ramanand Sagar
Urmila is considered to be the most tragic characters in the epic. What might not be known to many is that Urmila was the daughter of King Janak and was thus the sister of Sita. Why this has not been mentioned often is not known. Urmila is tragic as she is supposed to have spent vanvaas (stay in the forests) without going to the van (forest)! When Ram, Sita and Lakshaman were leaving for the forest, she too wanted to accompany her husband like Sita. But Lakshaman is supposed to have said that he is going to serve his brother and sister-in-law and likewise she should stay back to serve his parents. Urmila stayed back to serve her father-in-law (who died soon) and three mother-in-laws. While all the brothers (Ram, Bharat and Shatrughan) had their wives with them, she was the only one who did not have her husband by her side for fourteen long years. Some versions mention that she did not step out of her room for fourteen years and some say, that she slept for fourteen long years. This seclusion is viewed by many as leading a life of extreme deprivation of worldly life in the absence of her husband.  A number of scholars have attributed small episodes to her, but they all depict her as a person whose existence was to follow instructions and not opine.  She probably lived like a nun, a life of servitude in solitude at the peak of her youth.
The famous Hindi poet, Maithili Sharan Gupta was so disappointed with Valmiki’s treatment of Urmila, that he wrote his own epic by the name of Saket, based it on Ramayana, whose heroine was not Sita, but Urmila! The Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore too is supposed to have lamented this treatment (or mistreatment) of Urmila by Valmiki. According to Tagore, Valmiki had shown Lakshaman as the ideal brother, but completely forgot Urmila who was left all alone in Ayodhya for fourteen long years. Truly an unsung heroine of the epic.
Sita and Trijata from the teleserial by
Ramanand Sagar
Trijata was one of the demoness who were guarding Sita after Ravan kidnapped her to Lanka. However, that is not Trijata’s only introduction. She was also Vibhishan’s daughter and thus Ravan’s niece and was blessed with the power of foresight. She was the only one who was sympathetic to Sita during her plight and while the others were coaxing Sita to give in to Ravan, she was the only one who kept consoling Sita about Ram’s definite visit to Lanka to save her. Her faith in Ram’s victory in the battle was reinforced after she had a dream where she sees Ravan on a donkey, his head shaved off and his face blackened heading southwards (the direction was associated with doom and/or death).  She was a good hearted demoness and would scold the others whenever the others harassed Sita. She is supposed to have warned even Ravan against the war as she could foresee that he would lose, but Ravan obviously did not listen to her. It is said, that she soon became a confidante and a shoulder to cry upon for Sita. During the battle between Ram and Ravan, with her powers, she used to relate the events of the battle to Sita (something similar to what Sanjay was supposed to have done for Dhritarashtra during the war of Kurukshetra in Mahabharata).
Popular depiction of Trijata is an ugly ogress; however, Vibhishan is not shown as a demon. This is probably because not many are even aware of this relationship. Also, as mentioned earlier the depiction of rakshasa and rakshashi was always dark, red-eyes, disheveled hair, horns, et al. The same depiction has stayed on with Trijata too, though Vibhishana is never shown as one. Again this can be attributed    to popular perceptions.
Finally, why were characters like Urmila and even Mandodari (Ravan’s wife) not given their due attention? Many a times it has been seen that at the beginning of the plot, a number of characters are drawn which gives it a feel of an epic. Like in all epics, besides the main plot, there are sub-plots and many side-plots. This is like the tributaries of a main river, all converging into the main river. Though the author sets these characters with a set of ideas, in due course, ends up focusing only on the main characters or future characters and leaves a few by the side. This leads to some well-begun but half-baked characterisations in due course of time. Urmila was definitely one of them.
Another reason could be that these epics belonged to an oral tradition, where the stories were related orally over generations. As it happens many a times, the narrator ends up focusing on some and at times neglecting some characters, till they end up being part of the cast with no major contribution in the epic. The narrators perceptions take precedence.
However, Urmila’s contribution in terms of her ‘sacrifice’ (a virtue in Indian culture) is of epic-proportion and thus warranted a discussion. As far as Trijata is concerned, she is mentioned for her strong characterization (remember she warned Ravan about the impending disaster) and her staunch belief that Ram would come to save his wife and her interpretation of her dreams. She was also a strong support-system to Sita during her most trying times in the epic.

1 comment:

  1. It is true that Urmila and also many others are not given due consideration in the epic.My view is that scholars who give ramayana discourses in temples and elsewhere can give special mention of these charactors.