As if it wasn’t enough to take The Ramayana and present it in images, this volume retells the ancient epic through the eyes of a woman. This is Sita’s Ramayana.

House of Anansi, 2011 Artwork by Moyna Chitrakar

The original Sanskrit text is attributed to the poet Valmiki, and it is comprised of 24,000 verses which tell the story of Rama, whose wife was kidnapped.

She, his wife, does not have a voice in that version. It is not, however, unusual for there to be other versions of the story; different regions do put their own spin on thing, imbuing them with local custom and culture.

And it’s not a new idea to afford Sita a more prominent role; the publisher draws attention to the Chandrabati Ramayana, Bengal’s version of the legendary tale, for Chandrabati was one of the few female re-tellers and she, too, focussed on Sita rather than her husband.

Chandrabati’s version dates to the 16th century; Samhita Arni’s was published last year and was produced to mesh with Moyna Chitrakar’s artwork.  Tradition and innovation conspire to produce something familiar and fresh.

What is unusual about this work, however, is affording Sita not only a voice, but a primary position in the narrative. Even when she is not present for events, she recounts them as she believes them to have happened.

Sita’s Ramayana belongs then to a distinctive female narrative tradition. Kept alive by folk songs and memories, this tradition continues to leaven the epic world of heroes and war and the virtues of nurture, compassion and tolerance.”

There are also two other female characters who are introduced into the chain of events in Sita’s Ramayana, who do not appear in the original story. (There is also, apparently, more magic in this version of events than in the original.)

And one other remarkable aspect of this retelling is that Sita takes a position of feeling remorse for all of the losses in the war which results, following the chain of events after her abduction; she feels compassion even for those who are on the “other side” of the conflict.

She is capable of recognizing honour in her “enemy” and betrayal in her “ally”, ultimately condemning the act of war itself.

“Her sense of what has befallen her renders her open to what other women endure. And rather than divide the world up into good and bad, right and wrong, Sita’s vision encompasses all those who suffer, endure and ultimately bear the consequences of what kings and wars do — and this includes not only women, children and ordinary people, but also animals and birds.”

Project Notes:
Day 36 of 45:
This is another example of a work that I wouldn’t have stumbled upon were I not browsing in House of Anansi’s catalogue; not having read the original text, I have a somewhat limited appreciation of what Samhita Arni and Moyna Chitrakar have produced. But I enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad on first reading, without having read The Odyssey too. (And, yes, new theme!)

Do you enjoy retellings like this one? Any favourites?