For the longest time, I have been on a journey of discovery of the Hindu epics, specifically the Ramayana. My efforts have been towards connecting it to our modern lives so that the lessons derived are more relevant to my children. While I grew up watching the recorded episodes of Doordarshan’s Ramayana, it was re-ignited with the relaunch of the same at the beginning of Lockdown 1.0 in March earlier this year.
This led to me revisiting the 2008 version of Ramayana (Gurmeet Chaudhary version). Then I watched the version of Ramayana as from Sita’s point of view, Siya Ke Ram (on Hotstar). And then, I came across this tiny gem in the form of a short film called #EpicFail on Hotstar (also available on YouTube).
#EpicFail is the story of a young aspiring writer, Siya, who works for a magazine. During a presentation once (mentioned in passing in the film), she spoke strongly against considering the mythological character of Sita as a role model. She feels that Sita is a meek and submissive woman who did not live life on her terms, and always did what others told her to do. Impressed with this novel point of view, her boss asks her to write a well-researched article, hinting that this could be her key to promotion. However, the more she researches Ramayana, the more she finds herself confused, and also tensed because she is fast approaching a deadline and has not written a single word.
Out of desperation, her subconscious calls out to her namesake, the original Sita to seek some clarity. As they start discussing, Siya expresses her frustration at Sita for leading a very docile life and not having an opinion of her own. But Sita calmly encourages her to revisit the various versions of Ramayana and read through them carefully to understand them clearly.
And Siya learns two things:
Nobody asked Sita to follow Ram to the forest. It was HER choice – On the contrary, everybody stopped her from doing so. King Dasharath, and the entire family pleaded with her to not go, but she chose to follow her husband.
Nobody asked Sita to enter the fire to prove her chastity. It was HER choice – Her presence, which was instrumental in starting the Ram-Ravan battle, was a mere illusion of Sita. The real Sita was safe with the God of Fire as she was too strong for Ravan to handle.
The film ends with an interesting note which makes you revisit the epics and check your facts. At the risk of a spoiler alert, let me give you the following hints. These are excerpts from two of the most revered versions of the Ramayana – Valmiki Ramayana and Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas.
Both these excerpts described the same situation: The conversation between Sita and Lakshman where, in a fit of panic, she persuades him to go after Ram when she hears Ram’s cry for help (which was fake anyway). Lakshman is completely aware that the cry of help is fake and make-believe, and nothing can happen to Ram. He tries to convince Sita of the same, but Sita is too panicked and emotional to understand the logic. Finally, he leaves with a sense of guilt for disobeying his brother.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Hint 1: From the Valmiki Ramayan, we have the following shloka:
तया परूषमुक्तस्तु कुपितो राघवानुजः।
स विकाङ्क्षन्भृशं रामं प्रतस्थे नचिरादिव।। 3.46.1।।
Meaning: Lakshman, the younger brother of Ram, was hurt by Sita’s harsh words and left to look for Ram with his well-being in mind.
Hint 2: From Tulsidas Ramayan, we have the following chaupai:
मरम बचन जब सीता बोला। हरि प्रेरित लछिमन मन डोला।।
बन दिसि देव सौंपि सब काहू। चले जहाँ रावन ससि राहू।।
Meaning: When Sita uttered few harsh words, Ram-inspired Lakshman was also influenced and started worrying. He prayed to the forest deities and the guards of all the directions to protect Sita from danger and left for the forest where Ravan was like Rahu.
Did you spot the common thread in these two events? Keep thinking. Think about what we know about this event through television but is not mentioned here.
My thoughts on the film
Coming back to the short film, a little background information, #EpicFail is a Pocket Films production which has a vast range of short films covering a range of interesting subjects in various languages. I must commend the way the protagonist Siya (Nivedita Pohankar) expresses her confusion either through harsh words or through silence. This 24-minute long film covers the discussion between Siya and her divine alter ego, interestingly through different human emotions – frustration, anger, exasperation, resignation, confusion, and finally understanding.
Siya’s calm face at the end of the film shows clearly that she has calmly resolved her issues about Sita. The actress playing Sita, Nishi Doshi, portrays the confidence with which Sita led her life with her choices. Her beauty lies in her confidence which says, “Think what you like. I don’t care. Because, I am not subject to your judgment. I never was. Neither, will I ever be.”
This film provides a point of view towards an eternal question, Is Sita a good role model? But it doesn’t force its view on us, the conclusion is for us to make. It is a personal journey that everyone must make to discover Sita – not judge, discover.
My views about Sita
As I sit collecting my thoughts and views about Sita, I find myself as confused as the protagonist of this short film, Siya. But unlike her, my confusion lies in how much to write about her. There was a time when I did not understand Sita as much as I do now, but I did like her enough to name my daughter Maithili (which is also a name of Sita). But this name was faced with a lot of objection because Sita didn’t have a happy life, did she? Exiled, abducted, condemned, banished and finally surrendered to earth. But now that I have pondered upon her choices and read extensively about her, I wish I had stuck to my choice of name (not that I don’t like my daughter’s name now).
So let’s walk through the process of exploring the personality that is Sita. I might finally be able to sort out my thoughts with your help. While we are at it, let us revisit the two excerpts I mentioned above.
Were you able to spot the common point?
There was no Lakshman Rekha.
Yes, in the two versions that are known to be the original versions, Valmiki Ramayana and Tulsidas Ramcharitmanas, there is no mention of the famous Lakshman Rekha which Lakshman is known to have drawn to protect Sita from the dangers of a forest full of magical beings. This means that Sita allowed herself to be abducted by Ravan to trigger the events that led to the destruction of Ravan and his tyranny, at the cost of her reputation and life. She was aware that having to live in another man’s home for a long time could tarnish her reputation and make her unfit to be the future Queen of Ayodhya. But she accepted the risk because ridding the world of Ravan was a more important cause – it was the greater good. As a human reincarnation of Vishnu, Ram needed a personal cause to fight with Ravan, and Sita’s abduction provided that.
Every choice she made – right from following her husband into the exile for fourteen years, allowing herself to go through the test of fire, and exiling herself during her pregnancy – only proved her strength of character and dignity. As a modern woman, it was definitely a concern to me that if a divine and chaste woman like Sita had to undergo a test of fire, then what happens to us?
But I see it this way: the test of fire was not her character certificate. It was an insight into the rapidly increasing misogyny and short-sightedness of the society even back then. Everybody revered Ram for destroying Ravan and ‘rescuing’ Sita. In fact, I think Ram is not free of blame here. He did not give Sita due credit and allowed her to be labelled the damsel in distress. He did not present the bigger picture to the society and expected them to automatically understand. Clearly, he gave too much credit to the empathy of the society. But, the fact remains that Ram did not acknowledge her contribution beyond her company in the forest during the exile, and what happened after that is history.
Maybe that’s why she chose to leave Ayodhya. So that her husband, the King of Ayodhya, would not have to question her on behalf of the public and the society. She knew that the people of Ayodhya loved and adored Ram. They were protective of him and he basked in their protection. When he was exiled instead of coronated as promised, the public went berserk and almost staged mutiny against the King Dasharath. The very king who had looked after them and cared for them years before Ram was born. Such love can only prove to be destructive because it does not come with trust. It comes with the belief that the person who is being loved does not know what they are doing. They loved Ram but they did not trust him enough to accept Sita as their Queen. They made him choose because they knew he was duty bound to place the people over his family.
Let me ask you a question: Do you know why a mother is the most revered form of a woman? Because it is her strongest form. As a mother, she is a protector and she is at her powerful best. A woman can take on any insults and stones hurled at her person; but when her children are at risk, you better beware! Sita is no different. Sita chose an exile and allowed an abduction while risking her reputation, because it affected nobody else but her own self, and she was strong enough to handle it. But when her children sought their rights as princes and they were questioned, she just could not take it anymore. She was indignant and furious, and she finally snapped, “When it comes to following the path of duty, why is the woman to be sacrificed first? Why is she considered a hindrance in the path of salvation? Whereas it is the woman who performs every duty at great risk to personal well-being and happiness; it is the woman who gives birth to the society. Yet, she is discarded first in the name of the greater good, salvation, and righteousness. Why?”
Sita cannot find it in herself to return to the society, who will discard her again at the first sign of doubt. She quits the society. She may not have regretted her choices, but she was definitely fed up of making them.
What should we learn from Sita?
Times have changed but the roles of man and woman in the society haven’t changed much. Yes, the men are more aware of women’s contribution to society other than home management and procreation. In fact, we are at a place that men probably need that contribution. But they are still not able to let go of the sense of entitlement they are conditioned to have. Still, it is the woman who has to choose. To have a career or a home, to be a hands-on mother or the top boss, to accept the promotion she worked hard for or to quit your job at the peak of your career and resent yourself for the rest of your life.
While we may not have to make extraordinary choices like Sita’s, the one thing we must learn from her is to examine all the consequences of your choice and only then choose your path. Once you do choose your path, stick to it proudly and face even the unforeseen consequences of your choice – good or bad. Don’t fret over the bad and don’t fuss over the good. Keep your mind steady.
Do this and glory will seek you out, even if you don’t seek it.
Deepti Dani is a work-from-home mother of two kids. She is a freelancing content writer and always looking for a new writing milestone to pursue. She hopes to write her own book someday. Other than writing, she enjoys binge-watching TV shows and embroidery. She is very active on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Currently, she is working as a Content Manager for an overseas company.