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Eternal Dimensions of An Enigma

Hema Ramakrishna

Edited by Malashri Lal & Namita Gokhale
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2009, pp. 270, RS.399.00


Like manna from the skies or the well-timed appearance of an oasis to a thirsty wanderer in the desert comes this publication, heralding a critical moment in the study of Indian mythology. And I speak as one with a stake in the venture, who happens to be not only a Hindu, but also a writer with her own views, having published Sanctuary!, a play, in Sri Lanka in 2005. For someone in my position, then, this anthology of Commentary/Dialogue/Version/Interpretation (the four divisions in which the contributions have been arranged by Lal and Gokhale) could not have come sooner. Here, for the first time is to be found collated a wide selection of views and opinions on Sita’s predicament, ever since Valmiki first presented his controversy-creating Adikavya around almost 2500 years ago. Along with his problematic Adi-Nayika, portrayed as an icon of virtue who returns without so much as a scratch upon her skin from the hands of the villain, her abductor, only to face a lifetime of sorrow and humiliation with the sufferings inflicted on her by the hero, her upright, moral husband! The editors’ invocation is ‘to all the incarnate goddesses and to Bellisima, the lady of the waters, at Bellagio,’ while acknowledging ‘gratitude to the Rock feller Foundation for the fellowship at Bellagio which provided time and space to work onSita.’ And the cover painting by Raja Ravi Varma ‘depicts the abducted goddess, alone and brooding, yet with a flash of fire in her eyes . . . evocative of past and future exiles, of her loneliness and strength . . . (creating) a new, composite archetype of Indian womanhood for the Indian masses’ (Aman Nath). This sets the tone for the anthology, and Gokhale in her brief foreword, situates her search for Sita in the botanical gardens of Peradiniya, Sri Lanka, with the question: ‘Why do I picture her weeping?’. . . . And further: ‘Indian myth is morally ambiguous. . . . (however) The diversity of India encourages the depiction of many Sitas. . . . We (Lal and Gokhale) wish to foreground Sita’s voice and her subversive authority'. And it is just that, Sita’s voice with all of its stoic silence and enduring suffering that is discussed, debated and amplified in the 36 contributions from academics, activists and social workers, artists and dancers, creative writers, poets and translators, film makers andfeminists, mythologists and anthropologists, not excluding a member of the British peerage and a Jungian therapist. (Without ...

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