“Sita's Ramayana” is the epic re-told through the eyes of Rama's abandoned queen

Not everything is a shade of grey in “Sita's Ramayana”, except, of course, the asuras who hold her captive. The graphic novel, with its art dipped in traditional patua style, tells the epic from Sita's point of view allowing the reader to mull the trials and emotions of the central character.

In panels of rich red, yellow and dusky, earthen colours, “Sita's Ramayana” begins almost at its end. Sita, the daughter of the Earth, roams Dandaka forest, banished by a world of men. The forest asks her how she came there, and the story begins.

Breaking the stereotype

“The Ramayana is an over-interpreted epic where Sita is usually a stereotype of a perfect Indian wife. Everyone has positioned her character in that manner. We asked ourselves if there was something else we can do with Sita's character. We realised that among the epic's many versions, the Chandrabati Ramayana was very women-centric and also that in many places, Sita was the hero of the story,” explained V. Geetha, director, Tara Books, at the book's recent launch.

Samhita Arni, who has woven the text to fit traditional patua folk artist Moyna Chitrakar's illustrations, reveals that it was difficult to look at the epic from Sita's point of view. “At times it was difficult — particularly when you realise that during the battle in Lanka, Sita was imprisoned in Ashoka Vana and didn't see what was happening,” she explains. “The difficulty I faced was how to recount the war, and yet preserve Sita's perspective. Trijatha, Vibhishana's daughter, occupies a prominent place in Kambhan's Ramayana — she's Sita's friend and confidante, despite being a demoness. So in ‘Sita's Ramayana', her role is a little like Sanjaya in The Mahabharata — she describes the war to Sita.”

A story that must be retold

While Sita is central to the book, it explores how she responds to other women in the epic — such as Trijatha, Kaikeyi and Surpanaka, making The Ramayana a ‘civilisational epic'. “The Ramayana is everywhere — it's not just in text, it's found in oral performances, traditions, puppet performances, temple paintings and sculptures. Each version of The Ramayana has some differences with what came before and what came after. I believe, for a story such as The Ramayana to remain alive and relevant, it has to be retold, constantly, in new ways,” explains Samhita.

The book took two years to complete, with the script being modified to blend with the patua illustration. “Scripting was on and off — there was a lot of going back and forth. It's a collaborative project, and there were a lot of conversations. Everyone — the publisher, the editor, the designer and, of course, Moyna — has brought something to this project,” says Samhita.

“Sita's Ramayana” is available for Rs. 550 at leading bookstores and on http://tarabooks.com.

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