“This impudence of a widow to fall in love cannot be tolerated by any man. He punished Soorpanakha by mutilating her nose and ears.”

Indian brothers (and neighbours, elders, uncles, fathers, random strangers etc) are expected to ensure their ‘sisters’ remain ‘pure’ until they are ‘married off’. Once married, then no matter how pained the brothers (and others) are – they understand that the sisters would want to stay in the abusive situation. [Example: The marital rape in Bhag Milkha Bhag] This changes if the sister is widowed, then once again everybody becomes responsible for ensuring that she doesn’t become sexually active. 

How did it all begin?

I just finished reading Asura – Tale of The Vanquished by Anand Neelkantan

And it seems Anand Neelkantan’s Ravan is not the kind of brother described above. 

I had instantly reacted to the sight of a breastless, noseless and screaming Soorpanakha, at my durbar, the previous evening. T… She had been hysterical and in a state of shock, …

Initially I had been amused at the number of men she bedded but was later disgusted. It was not a crime according to Asura social law, but the times had changed. Some Deva-like tenets of morality had brushed onto me as well. It had probably been while chasing a man, that she had come across the two men and the woman, who I was quite sure, were my daughter, son-in-law and his brother. Soorpanakha was, of course, unaware of the relationship, else she would have told me a different lie… 

He wasn’t that kind of father either.

“I called for Mandodari and told her my decision. It was not easy. She was not happy when she heard what I planned to do. But I told her that I could not leave our daughter with men who cut off a woman’s ears and nose. I was concerned about her safety. Then Mandodari advised to declare war and capture Sita. I laughed at the idea of waging a war against two insignificant men. It was too much trouble and too expensive. I knew what I was going to do and there was no turning back.”

Vibhishan’s ideas of what ‘good women’ do seem to have become the norm today.  Cultures and morals are ‘saved’ by the ideals of those who ‘win’ wars.

I am ashamed to say, Soorpanakha, my own sister, started this war. She cannot be blamed completely. She was a product of our culture that allowed women the freedom to lead a loose life. She tried to seduce the handsome Lakshmana. This impudence of a widow to fall in love cannot be tolerated by any man. He punished Soorpanakha by mutilating her nose and ears. Ravana, instead of accepting what God had ordained for our immoral sister, decided to wage war against Lord Rama. Such arrogance, such false pride. See what happened to him. I have banished Soorpanakha out of the country. She is my sister but I wanted to set an example and prove my master that the Asuras have decided to shed their old ways. My friend Varuna ensured that she was banished to land of barbarians across the seas. She is now a beggar and a destitute, eking out a living with her begging bowl. I am sad at the fate of my sister, but she deserved nothing less. [location 6806]


Sounds like Taliban? But Neelkantan’s Ravan would have offended Taliban sentiments.

2013-08-14 11.52.43

II

Since brothers and fathers are expected to keep women ‘safe’ for their future husbands – sometimes what should be seen as obvious and common sense might look Radical. This awesome post went viral yesterday.🙂 What do you think?

Also note how different this message is from: She doesn’t feel any attraction or liking or even friendliness for the guy. No ‘Connection’

Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex

I’ve held you, sobbing, after your boyfriend cheated on you, and it tore me in two. But you know what would tear me in two even more? To see you in a glass cage, experiencing nothing but cold emptiness at your fingers, as Dear Old Dad ensured that you got to experience nothing until he decided what you should like…

I refuse to perpetuate, even through the plausible deniability of humor, the idea that the people my daughter is attracted to are my enemy.
I’m not the guard who locks you in the tower. Ideally, I am my daughter’s safe space, a garden to return to when the world has proved a little too cruel, a place where she can recuperate and reflect upon past mistakes and know that here, there is someone who loves her wholeheartedly and will hug her until the tears dry.
That’s what I want for you, sweetie. A bold life filled with big mistakes and bigger triumphs.
Now get out there and find all the things you fucking love, and vice versa.

The post went viral – Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex

And here’s is his response to those who think, (like Delhi cops and many others) that the only thing that makes a woman say No to them is that she is not sexually active.

Some follow up thoughts on “Dear Daughter”

Some of the comments involved people saying, “Oh, man, so you wouldn’t mind if I had sex with your daughter? Mind giving me her number?”  Which completely misses the point.  Would I give you her number? No, because – as mentioned – I don’t own her.  If she wants to give you her number, then she can.  Because I don’t think it’s bad that they have sex with people.

do think it’s bad if they have sex with idiots, which is why I try to encourage them otherwise.  But I’m also not sold on my own infallibility.  Maybe you’re not as much of an asshole as I think you are.  I’ll suggest, but ultimately she has to come to her own conclusions.

But, you know, I’m pretty sure she’ll spot you as an idiot off the bat.  And if I have taught them one lesson, it is in fact not to fuck the terminally stupid.

III

Basically it seems everybody is trying to save the institution of marriage – and they all believe it can’t survive unless women are forced to ‘save it’.

Here is another family trying their best to control yet another Indian daughter’s sex life.

Press Release-Sangama wins Lesbian case in Kerala High Court

Related Posts:

A tag: But when a woman sees a hot man, nothing happens in her brain?

“There is so little conversation about a woman’s desire for sex that a lot of people simply assume it doesn’t exist.”

“In my own company in a cosmopolitan city, I know women who were horrified on the First Night.”

“let me ask – how many girls in city remain pure till marriage ?”

“why not marry them first and then have sex ? What prevents you from doing it ? Deep within YOU WANT JUST SEX and nothing more”

Where Consensual Sex is Rape, and Forced Sex a legal right.

“A clandestine, and irresponsible, affair may prove dangerous. A city girl learnt it the hard way,”

Live in Relationships: The man gets a temporary disposable wife?

Here’s why I think the society should not obsess over a woman’s virginity.

“…if this thing comes out my husband will think my wife is after all not that ‘pure’ or is not that ‘untouched flower’”

What would Taliban say to Juno?

Romanticizing innocence, chastity and related taboos for women.

The coroner concluded that she was ‘sexually active’.

An email: Also this is a genuine question and not a pornographic mail.

13 things Indian Misogynists believe about men’s mothers and sisters.

Delhi Belly: Indecent, immoral, abusive language. Permitted everywhere except on screen.

Practical Paro Artless Chandramukhi (Dev D)

88 thoughts on ““This impudence of a widow to fall in love cannot be tolerated by any man. He punished Soorpanakha by mutilating her nose and ears.”

  1. I read Asura last year. Amazed by how ‘just’, ‘modern’ Ravan’s rule is laid out to be. And he truly seemed to be ahead of his time.
    Sad, really sad, that it was Ram & Vibashna’s story that propgates and teaches us “culture”. History is written by the winner. I have never been able to figure out what’s so great about Ram. Or why he’s “purushottam”.
    All through the book, I’m awed by the way the role, place, life of Asura women.
    How different do you think Indian history would’ve been, if Ravana had won?
    Would it have given women a better standing in Indian society?

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    • Well Rama is not as much of the ‘hero’ in the parts of India closer to Sri Lanka, where Ravana is revered.
      Also, I think I’ve read (perhaps on Desi Girl’s blog (?)) that there are folk songs berating Rama’s treatment of Sita.
      Obviously the dominant narrative has been one of respect and devotion to Rama. But in no way is it the only narrative, plenty of subversiveness out there.🙂

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  2. Thank God Radha has set different example and People Worship Krishna and Radha together.We people miss this and go behind Ram , I really dont know for what , Yeah he is a purushottam (only for purush , not mahila-uttom)

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  3. Hmm!See there are two interpretations of Ramayan and I prefer the one where Ravan is portrayed as a good man and who guarded his kingdom against invasion. He is a wise man and depend on interpretation of scholars. Having said that, I respect both interpretations:) I concede i respect Ravan:)

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  4. Rama was a character nowhere close to reality. He was anyway portrayed as a true king to his ‘praja’ and not a true husband to his wife. The only character in Ramayana, which was acceptable to me was that of Sita. The way she decided to leave Rama with his sons when ordered to prove her fidelity and chose to find solace in her mother’s lap. That was commendable. A lady of high self-respect. Ravana was reality. He was supposedly a very learnt man of his times, a great artist, astrologer, a great scientist and a very well accepted king for his ‘praja’. He did kidnap Sita but never tortured her for once.

    Some of our epics have some really noteworthy and realistic characters like Ravana and Krishna, and some really unrealistic characters like Rama and Yudishthira.

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  5. Very intrigued by this, thanks for sharing. I have long ignored all things Ramayana because I detest Ram’s actions in the epic and the ‘culture’ that it seemingly propagates. Never came across this version. I am going to read it and I suspect I am going to like it much better than the Ramayana that I am familiar with. Except for the bit where it says that ‘morals’ had brushed off on him.. sounds like he was much better off without such ‘morals’.

    How true that the victors write history and what a shame that their ideas can go on unquestioned/ by force for a long time. We parrot the glorification of Surpnakha’s assault and then wonder at the acid attacks and mutilations of women in our culture by men ‘putting them in their place’.

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    • In this version the Deva armies used horses and came from the Himalayas, while the Asuras used elephants. Everybody was allowed education, women married, lived in or changed partners without stigma, Asura were dark, Deva were light skinned and violent.

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      • “Everybody was allowed education, women married, lived in or changed partners without stigma, Asura were dark”

        If this war was real, I wish the Asuras had won. For all the above reasons and also because then there would be no ‘Fair and lovely’ ads!

        The vedic people describe themselves as a warring and fighting tribe in the vedas. From what I have read, horses and the chariots might both have been things they brought with them and not native to the subcontinent. They describe fighting the asuras in the vedas and do refer to them as dark/ bad and themselves as light/ good (ofcourse they thought highly of themselves).

        What’s amazing is that this asura culture described in this book doesn’t seem to exist anywhere on the sub-continent. Even in parts of the south of India where hinduism has been practised in the same way for eons, there is deep patriarchy attached with ‘honour’ and women’s sexuality. Did the vedic people reach all the way? I guess assimilation happened at some point. A recently published genetic study found that the indian gene pool mixed up loads 5000 years ago to about 2000 years ago.. and hasn’t mixed up much at all since then. This would show that the establishment of caste was about 2000 years ago.. http://www.nbcnews.com/science/indias-caste-system-goes-back-2-000-years-genetic-study-6C10874609.

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    • I have read the book. Even when he says that such morals have brushed off on him it’s not difficult to understand the sarcasm. Anand Neelakantan is a very talented writer and has provided a different perspective on an age old piece of fiction. Do read it !

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  6. Read the book a couple of months back. Neelkantan’s view s quite powerful and interesting and now I think I would not feel good seeing the Ravan’s effigy being burnt on Dussehera. Ravan came across as very non traditional, fair and a man who valued science and technology over age old traditions. There are many instances where he considers women as human beings and not conquests. What touched me was when Hanuman and his men kidnap Mandodari and leave her naked in public. She feels disgraced but Ravan embraces her inspite of his misogynist servants whispering amongst themselves. Compare that to Ram who wants his wife to go through a purity test because she had lived In Ravan’s palace. Even before reading this I had always wondered why Ram is given such a high status when he disrespected his own wife just because she is a woman.

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    • The Kindle shot that I have shared is the same episode, and I understood both Bhadra’s respect for Ravana, and his wondering why the ordinary act of standing by ones partner was deserving of special respect.

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      • IHM there are certain acts which are ordinary but are rare. I know that should be the only way, for him to support his life partner but it generally was not the norm with the kings. Women were always vied as conquests. Rama ‘won’ his wife in a competetion, waged a war with Ravana to avenge his honour and conquer her back only to ask her to go through purity test. Ravana did not consider his wife as a conquest and he waited for her willingness before they consummated their marriage though he was extremely sexually aroused. Ofcourse he had his flaws as with Vedavati

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      • Can you give links to this reference, IHM? Bhadra? Just ordered Asura, btw, after reading this post. I have seen discussions of the book floating everywhere on the blogosphere, but never felt I should pick it up. Thanks for the pointer.

        As for Sita, I’ve mentioned elsewhere in a comment on some other post of yours, that In Search Of Sita was a good book to read to study this enigmatic character. It is an anthology of stories and essays, edited by Namita Gokhale and Malashri Lal.

        About Ravana himself, I was a bit put off by his portrayal in Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series – as a sort of mythological Voldemort. I liked Sita there, though. She is a woman who knows her mind, not the namby-pamby person popularised by the TV serial.

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  7. In context of feminism and history it has to be understood that women are doubly colonised, by the victors in wars and conquests and by their own men.
    when we say a Dalit woman or an Aboriginal woman or even a female god we are attributing two barriers of perception, one of social strata, race or power that she has in common with men and the second more intensely laid one of her gender.
    What would this story be if Sita narrated it for herself? or Sarupnakkha spoke her mind.
    The notions haven’t changed much sisters/daughters/wives in popular films and media are still depicted as raped, kidnapped, killed to justify the violence by men against each other, or to give the hero a motive of revenge.
    Again all of this is intricately linked to the notion of “honor” in our societies.

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  8. Id love to read the ramayana from SIta’s side of the glass. what she feels and what she sees. I’ve mentionedonce before long ago, but one of our non-indian friends was not imprssed by ram and said with the way he behaved with his wife it’s no wonder he ‘s ‘ EK PATNI’ he highly doubted any sane woman would marry him.
    although it hurts me to hear that — I’m a well conditioned on epic’s indian .. i agree 100% percent with him.
    i dont know if ravana was any better, I’ll stick to sita and my vision of her as a power woman.🙂

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  9. when i first read the ramayana and the mahabharta, i was a child. and with childlike sense of natural justice, i wondered how Ram was a hero and Ravana a villian. To create a swarna lanka, speaks much of the administrative prowess of the Asuras. Was Bali vadh fair and just? It was so disgusting that i stopped reading the story there. The Sita controversy is oft repeated.

    Likewise, in Mahabharat, i HATED the character of Yudhishthara, and asked questions like, how can a man who is a gambler be the finest among men? According to the rules of patriarchy, The Kauravas get the empire, not the Pandavas, so what was their claim to the kingdom at all? In the war, all the learned men and the gurus fought for the Kauravas. Only one local cheiftain(not particularly known for his honesty) fought for the Pandavas. Does that not tell you something? I asked why the Pandavas killed their own guru by deceit by screaming “ashvatthama is dead.” Did they have no sense of propriety or honesty? Kans was relieved of his protective gear by deceit too.
    Is this how you want me to become?
    My grandmother had no answers, so i made my peace with the fact that the victors wrote these stories.
    And these victors were .. well, the words are unparliamentary.

    Obviously, i keep these views to myself on most days, given how venerated these stories are in India.

    On the specific feminist perspective, Amrita Pritam writes about tribes in Central India where women enjoy considerable freedom of partner and sexual independence too. I have not seen these groups, but have heard of them.

    The Aryans had it all wrong. They came with concepts of morality that were based on ownership of assets and people, particularly women. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, they took these ideas everywhere with them and made these the prevelant social ideas. I wish they had learnt from the local population instead of the other way round.

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    • “how can a man who is a gambler be the finest among men” — I don’t think he was referred to as this, at least not in the versions that I’ve read? I always thought Mahabharata discussed the flaws in people quite well. Yudhithira’s fatal mistake and propensity for gambling was never glossed over, and the horrific results of it were blamed solely upon him. To me, reading it as a kid, it was eye opening. Even the people we hold in high esteem can have massive faults that lead to terrible repercussions.

      “In the war, all the learned men and the gurus fought for the Kauravas.” — Again, when I read the epic, the learned men and the gurus fought for the Kauravas because their loyalty remained with Hastinapur, irrespective of who was ruling over the kingdom. In the discussions I’ve had with people, the learned men and the gurus were severely criticized for this, because their loyalty should not have been to an earthly kingdom, but rather to higher ideals of what was just. You CAN make the argument, however, that the Pandavas were perhaps not as righteous as people want to believe.

      “I asked why the Pandavas killed their own guru by deceit by screaming “ashvatthama is dead.” ” — The whole quote was, “Asvatthama is dead,” and Yudhisthira then whispers, “I meant the elephant.” In the melee, Drona does not hear the rest of the sentence. That was kind of the point. Yudhisthira strives to do what is right, but he is still hemmed by the necessity of winning a war (that is being fought for what is right). He refuses to tell an outright lie, so it is very much up for debate as to whether or not he actually was being deceptive (in which case he can’t exactly be called Dharma anymore), or if he ought to be commended for striving to keep with his ideals, even though not with perfect intent. Again, that was the point–to show human complexity.

      Anybody who attempts to view the Mahabharata through black and white glasses are going to have a very difficult time of it. And to me, that was what I took away from the story. “Hey, this is humanity. Some of us are more good than others, but we still have faults. Some of us are less good than others, but we still have our virtues. But above all, at least /try/ to do the right thing.” It’s a multiheaded monster of a story, and you can’t simply slice it one way and be done with it. Unfortunately for most Indians, this doesn’t agree with our simplistic views on life, so of course you’re going to run into some morons.

      That is not to say your questions aren’t valid though! You raise a lot of good points, which many many people have also noticed. You definitely aren’t alone in your interpretations.🙂

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      • I agree about the Mahabharatha. The story is so complicated, and the characters so complex. We can find good and bad in everybody and they all have their own reasons for what they do. Just like life, I guess. All that it ends up proving is that it is sometimes pretty hard to figure out the right thing to do. And people can be prone to emotion and can disagree. The only thing differentiating Yudhishtira (at least in my mind) is that despite having all kinds of flaws, he really wanted to do the right thing. He blundered, made mistakes, but apparently he tried. And apparently that’s why he deserved to win.
        Also, no one venerates any of the characters as a god, except Krishna.Besides the Mahabharata story line does’nt seem to glorify patriarchy like the Ramayan, It seems to deal with it as an existing system and the problems in that family. And a lot of those big guys appear to have been illegitimate.🙂
        By the way, Kunti slept around and got pregnant, Madri virtuously jumped into her husband’s funeral pyre. Fortunately, “Indian culture” doesn’t seem to have been around. So no one criticized Kunti and seems like she was highly admired. Just sounds like a confused, messed-up world. Just like today!

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      • Loved this comment.Would like to save it somewhere and tell my kid when she comes across Mahabharata.Nobody explained to me so beautifully when I was a kid and was confused by the epic.I was told, it is something an indian must know, so read it/hear the stories. Thats it!
        Thanks again for posting this.

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  10. I know this is off the topic..but can you please tell me this? Is it over-thinking and giving out negative energy when one talks or discusses about the crimes and suppression of human rights in this society? Because when I started talking about this perspective of Ravana and how people blindly follow those Deva-like tenets of morality and force their family and the rest of the society to fall in the same category, my husband asked me not to think or discuss such things unless it is happening to me or those close to me. And I should ignore such incidents and should not spoil his mood discussing them. So should I pretend everything is fine and just sunshine and rainbow, and everyone around me is very very happy? He says this is what “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” means. Is it really? Yes, I admit that I am highly sensitive(HSP), and I get emotional and frustrated when I read about people of this Vibhishana’s mentality, is it bad? No, I don’t argue or fight with my husband unless he too supports that mentality. Please help me, I soak up the emotions of people around me and at present I’m too emotional to think straight.

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    • No K you are perfectly normal. I too get very agitated when I hear people saying these misogynist statements. Lately I have been in a lot of bad mood because of the rise in rape/sexual assault cases happening in india. And obviously you just can’t pretend that everything’s fine. Sometimes you just have to let it out.

      Yesterday there was a news that two policemen raped a women at her own home. I was infuriated. If this is the condition on my country then I really don’t see any hope.
      No country for women!! huh.

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    • You are giving out negative energy when you turn a blind eye to the crimes in society and refuse to air them out in open like they deserve. By not talking about these things, and by not calling attention to them, you may be saving your husband’s mood, but you are costing countless people who suffer their lives, their future, and their happiness. Which is the bigger issue here, do you think?

      I’m not saying be negative all the time. But as the quote goes, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Does it have to personally affect you, or your family, in order for someone to talk about it? Imagine if everybody operated under that impression. Would doctors treat patients then? Their patients are not personally affecting them, and if they avert their eyes, the problem should magically disappear, right?

      Please don’t think that because of my tone, I am blaming you for your predicament. I’m not, but you should never censor yourself when something bothers you, just to make other people happy and comfortable. If your husband wants to live in a bubble where he “sees no evil, speaks no evil, hears no evil” that is his prerogative. But it should not be yours if you do not want it to be.

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    • Perhaps your husband feels a little defensive. He shouldn’t, but he probably does. I think you have every right to speak openly about your feelings. And since your husband has chosen to spend his life with a woman, I think he should definitely be ready to understand how women (esp his wife) feel about things. Otherwise he should live in a monastery or with other men.
      But I am not sure that you should make yourself too miserable. We can’t change everybody overnight. All we can do is to say what we think and support and encourage other women in our lives. And, you are not alone. Plenty of women feel just like you. You should keep up your spirits even if your husband is being defensive. After all, you are concerned about the security of women and children and you are wishing for their protection. That is the most positive thing in the world. Every time you feel helpless, just try to wish with all your heart for all women to be safe. Then you will feel positive and if he tries to avoid the subject, tell him that he is blocking your positive energy for safety and protection.🙂

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      • Thanks Mol..yes I’ll say that to him next time😀

        I too think he feels defensive though I’m not sure why..when I asked him the reason, he just said I’m supporting the wrong side..he kept on preaching me, said it was all their ‘karma'(victims’ and abusers’)..and if one does wrong, their ‘karma’ will take care that they suffer..so what about an innocent infant who gets abused? is it his/her ‘karma’ too?

        he lives in denial and expects me to do the same..when I don’t, he says I’m spoiling everyone’s happiness..even when his parents call me nasty names behind my back (I happened to hear what they were saying to him about me) he just pretends they are saying the nicest words about me and tries to convince me too..he always polishes his parents’ sarcastic and abusive comments and tell me the exact opposite..when they abuse me directly, he tries to convince me that was not what they meant and I am the one who misunderstood them since they could not even utter such words as they are the nicest people on this earth..yes there are times he stood up to them and asked not to say such things about me, but immediately he comes and scolds me for making him to say that to his parents..it’s my fault, since I wasn’t being a good DIL and made them angry enough to abuse me..it’s my fault because he had to hurt his parents’ feelings when he stood up for me..

        When I read or hear of abuse of any kind, I get frustrated for a while, wonder when this will stop and think if I can do anything..I feel helpless and emotional sometimes when I hear of some incidents, since they remind me of the similar incidents in my life..but that’s it..I don’t dwell upon it the whole day..but his reaction in such times is what hurts me..may be I should stop discussing these things with him..sometimes he is so loving and sometimes he becomes an entirely different person(mostly when his parents are involved)..

        @IHM..sorry for taking up so much space with an irrelevant topic..haven’t discussed this with anyone till now and it’s all pouring out..

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        • “sometimes he is so loving and sometimes he becomes an entirely different person(mostly when his parents are involved)..”
          Sounds so familiar.🙂 Have you tried asking him point blank about his behaviour and showing your displeasure without getting emotional? When he is loving, just tell him that you don’t trust his love, he is going to change color like a chameleon anyway. Be loving when YOU want it, not when he wants it.
          I am afraid I have developed a pretty sharp tongue and a bit of a thick skin. That helps. I don’t believe in hurting anyone unnecessarily though. Just some short, sharp honesty. Some silent disapproval. And lots of emotional immunity.🙂 And love when I am in the mood.

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        • K,
          What do you expect him to do? Pick up fights with his parents? He knows the kind of people they are, had he not married you he wouldn’t have to confront them is his logic but the truth is no mater who his spouse was they’d have acted the same way because that is what they want to do. Desi wives are expendable and replaceable whereas, parents are not look at the discussion about the epics- Pandavas had to honor their mother’s word so they prefer polyandry; Rama had to honor is father’s word so gives his wife and option to stay back or follow him and Laxmana just ordered Urvashi to stay back and serve his parents.

          Now that DG is out of drama house and if she had to do it all over again she’ll develop some thick skin and say it upfront that is your truth and your feelings I am not responsible for them. You could try this too:
          http://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/all-about-relationships/feeling-and-expressing-your-emotions/
          http://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/all-about-relationships/dealing-with-in-laws/

          Pick and choose your battles.
          Peace,
          Desi Girl

          Like

    • Wow, your husband is trying to brainwash you into how to think, care and interpret the world around you with his own attitude. Tell him you are not a child, you are an adult woman who can think for herself and decide how to react to injustices around you and towards you (i.e all the inlaw insults you mentioned below). He has absolutely no right to trivialize your emotions and dictate how you should view the world. Refusing to even acknowledge evil just shows he is an unkind and callous human being. Just because he pretends there is no evil in the world doesn’t mean that is the reality. He is just a coward to bury his head in the sand and pretend everything is fine and dandy. What if tomorrow your neighbor is beating his wife, would your husband just shut his eyes and make himself believe they are happily singing and dancing? He can do that, but it will not change the reality. Even then he has no right to tell you to do the same. Next time he tries to sugar coat or twist your MIL’s criticism and insults, tell him you very well understand the language your MIL speaks and know exactly what she meant, You don’t need his twisted false interpretation, she obviously insulted you and not him, what does he know? Your husband is not the translator, you have brains for logical reasoning and every right to react based on how YOU feel, not what the husband tells you.

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  11. Which version of the Ramayana is it based on? Or is it just his interpretation of the epic? As far as Surpanakha is concerned, I guess she couldn’t take no for an answer, thus she was patriarchal! I wonder what the feminists would have said if the genders were reversed.
    Cheers.

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    • ” I guess she couldn’t take no for an answer, thus she was patriarchal”

      How did you reach that conclusion? Do you even know what patriarchal means?

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  12. I have not read this book so cant comment on that. But from this, Ravana seems a better character. Rama was maybe the best king but definitely not a good husband. If Sita was staying away from him and he had to ask her for purity test then I feel the same thing applies to him too. Even he was away from home and his wife. He should have given one too.

    Regarding mahabharata, I concur with how do we know. Also, I never understood how can 5 husbands be a boon for anyone🙂 Poor draupadi.

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  13. I always thought Ramayana described an impossible ideal. No human being could possibly live up to the “maryada purushottam” trope that is described in that epic. And the ironic thing is that all of the virtues that humans are supposed to live up to are foisted upon us by other imperfect human beings. The reality is that, unfortunately, people use these epics (which, to be fair, do impart /some/ things of value) as a means of control and power over others. That is hypocritical, and utterly despicable.

    I’d always liked the Mahabharata though. There was something about it that was much more open to interpretation, and to me it was always a fair portrayal of human triumph as well as human vices. I don’t know where people got the impression that Yudhisthira, or any of the Pandavas, are supposed to be “perfect” human beings. They strive for it, yes, as I think everyone does, but they fall short an awful lot and this is acknowledged quite a bit (Dharma’s gambling issue which costs him a kingdom, Arjuna, Drona and the Eklavya story, Karna’s decision between his loyalty to a friend and his loyalty to what is right, Bhishma’s loyalties to his father’s kingdom over what is right, Karna’s suffering under the caste system, even though he was better than the Pandavas, etc.). The Mahabharata was much, MUCH more relatable for me as a human being, because we all suffer from the same short comings and it was actually talked about and discussed in a relatively fair manner.

    The Ramayana always felt awfully one dimensional. It was always, “Do the right thing, or else you’re completely wrong.” The way it was taught to me was the very black and white. It wasn’t until I was much, much older that I realized that nothing is ever as black and white as it is portrayed. And the idea of Rama being the “ideal man” is something that is quite laughable. We’re talking about the man who was fair to everybody except his wife. He was fair to his father, his step mother, his brother, Hanuman, Sugriva, but he made Sita, his wife, go through agni pariksha because she had lived in another man’s backyard. He wouldn’t trust his own wife, and ultimately gave the opinion of his subjects higher precedence and reduced Sita’s voice to nothing. That is not what an “ideal” human being does. Rama was just to all the men, but never the women.

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  14. Hmm, reminds me of the book ‘The Red Tent’ by Anita Diamante (love other books too by this Jewish American author) – biblical stories retold through women’s voices. All the ‘bad women’ in the Bible come to life as ordinary flesh and blood women. Haven’t read Asura, will do so. Another book (although more commercial, this one) is the Da Vince code which talks about how the female part of the divine was systematically removed through the ages turning the Church increasingly male-centric.

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  15. Ravana was a highly respected king, ascetic and renowned scholar. His shiv tandav strotam is among the most popular ‘hymns’ to Lord Shiva, it is a poem that renders beautifully to recitation and used to be popular among poetry recitation competitions (perhaps when not all schools were english medium). Mythology also depicts Ravana as a cursed doorkeeper of Vishnu to be born on earth, to be relieved of the curse he had to gain nirvana by dying at the hands of vishnu-avatara Ram. He is by no means depicted as an all black villain. Lanka and asuras were known to be prosperous, rich kingdom worthy of highest praise. Devas are criticized often in these books too, it is not devas are great and asuras are bad. Please read dialogues of Yudhistar with the yaksha of the lake — questions on life, truth and human existence.

    I am disappointed at the shallow discussion in the comments. One should read these books on their own and use our own mental faculties for interpretation and understanding, not go by what perhaps bajrang dal is professing these stories to be. Or hear some tales and start discussing.

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    • Why do you think is the discussion shallow? Such discussions are based on the understanding of an average follower or reader or devotee – the fact that the average follower/reader/devotee had/has shallow information is also because deeper understanding was reserved for a few. These few who had deeper knowledge frequently interpreted as convenient. I think shallow discussions reveal exactly how these mythologies were understood and how they influenced those who saw them as guidelines, sometimes with questions which they were not allowed to ask.

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      • I would consider myself an average reader, not even a follower or devotee. Deeper understanding does not require much more than actually reading it yourself, ramayana originally in sanskrit was rendered in the spoken language of people by people like tulsidas (awadhi), bhavartha ramayana (marathi) several centuries ago, these are just 2 examples from many. An average follower or devotee does have much better appreciation than I have certainly, what I lamented is that discussion here highlights that no one has even read them. In this internet age with most translations easily available, the argument of non-accessibility does not hold.

        I agree with Shail’s point that these stories are used in real life to control people/women and thus if someone is trying to manipulate you using these stories, one has the freedom to either outrightly reject or counter using better understanding.

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        • I don’t think reading something yourself necessarily leads to deeper understanding, especially a translated work. Even translations can be, and are, biased. They represent the translator’s interpretation of the words, which may or may not be what the author intended. And more importantly, there is no guarantee that what the author wrote down himself (because most of them were men) was not a biased view. So yes, reading it yourself may help, but most of us have been hearing and seeing these stories for much longer than we would have been able to read them ourselves. A cousin of my tells his son (6 years old) these as bed-time stories. That little boy is incapable of forming his own opinion about what he hears, and will take what is being told to him at face value. Of course, once he is older (and if so inclined) he may read the stories himself, and things may be different.

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    • It is in a “shallow” way that these stories are used in real life to control people/women. So the discussion here is very much relevant.
      Scholarly discussions are for those interested in such things. This discussion is for people who are affected by the “shallow” way these stories are used to oppress/control them.

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    • The average Indian has not read the texts directly or even come across faithful translations of the (multiple) ‘original’ versions. TV serial and the Amar Chitra Katha series have succeeded in making these works more accessible than in the past (when they existed as books or oral traditions). This has resulted in-
      1. the ‘reduction’ into a relatively fewer number of ‘versions’
      2. the disappearance of the more philosophical aspects of the works, and a reduction into simplistic stories with ‘morals’.

      At the end of the day, most people (at least those born in the 70’s and 80’s onwards) are wont to treat these epics as quasi-historical stories , and not as their primary source of philosophical ideology. So the discussion will remain at the level of-to put it bluntly- ‘plot points’ and ‘character traits’. I myself belong to this club, Hindu by way of comic books, and am not capable of more erudite discussion. Either way, doesn’t matter.

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  16. Actually, I love classical songs and a lot of them are about Rama. Yet I can’t stand the Ramayan. I used to agonise about this quite a bit, wished that they had sung about someone else.. But now, I just look at the book as just another story. Personally, I think there is little to choose between Rama and Ravana. Of course Rama was hardly fit to be called a husband, but I don’t think much of Ravan’s behaviour either. “Collecting” beautiful women as spoils of war, forcibly kidnapping a woman etc, The problem is that when we hear Rama with his cold, indifferent attitude to Sita extolled as a “perfect man-god”, almost anybody seems better.
    The problem is that the story is viewed through a strong patriarchal prism. I think that in the original Valmiki Ramayana (my grandfather’s version was from that), the women characters were a lot stronger and the dialogues and characters were more realistic even though it was poetical. Things seem to have got a lot more patriarchal since then. In the Tulsidas version, it is practically a devotional hymn to Rama, not even a real story. Of course the TV series with those brainless women puppet characters has sealed the public image.
    My view – Indian culture is much bigger than the Ramayan. If you really want to base it on something, you would have to base it on the Upanishads which are really about the inner quest for Truth. No god, no maryada purushottam, only the human spirit. They refer to the Inner Truth as “I” or “it”. (No gender). Apparently, the Bhagawad Gita is based on the Upanishads. The patriarchal bureaucrats interpret dharma in their narrow-minded way, but really, I think it’s about trying to do the right thing. Maybe, that’s what so many people admired about Rama. That he was willing to give up all his money and power to do what he believed to be right. I still think he was a lousy husband, but hey, it was his life, and he was convinced that he was right.
    I can understand that it was the existing system, that Rama was doing what he thought was right, that Sita was working within her constraints. What I can’t understand is why “Indian culture” is asking all men to be like Rama and women like Sita. Instead of asking them to just try and do the right thing. Use their intelligence and be compassionate.
    Actually, I think,real Indian Culture is on the side of the women’s rights people. After all, they are trying to speak up and do the right thing, not blindly following the system.

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    • Three Hundred Ramayanas
      The essay Delhi University deemed unfit for its students
      http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/art-culture/three-hundred-ramayanas

      How many Ramayanas! Three hundred? Three thousand? At the end of some Ramayanas, a question is sometimes asked: How many Ramayanas have there been? And there are stories that answer the question. Here is one.

      One day when Rama was sitting on his throne, his ring fell off. When it touched the earth, it made a hole in the ground and disappeared into it. It was gone. His trusty henchman, Hanuman, was at his feet. Rama said to Hanuman, ‘Look, my ring is lost. Find it for me.’

      Now Hanuman can enter any hole, no matter how tiny. He had the power to become the smallest of the small and larger than the largest thing. So he took on a tiny form and went down the hole. He went and went and went and suddenly fell into the netherworld.

      Then the King of Spirits asked, ‘Who are you?’ ‘Hanuman.’ ‘Hanuman? Why have you come here?’ ‘Rama’s ring fell into a hole. I’ve come to fetch it.’

      The king looked around and showed him a platter. On it were thousands of rings. They were all Rama’s rings. The king brought the platter to Hanuman, set it down, and said, ‘Pick out your Rama’s ring and take it.’ They were all exactly the same. ‘I don’t know which one it is,’ said Hanuman, shaking his head. The King of Spirits said, ‘There have been as many Ramas as there are rings on this platter. When you return to earth, you will not find Rama. This incarnation of Rama is now over. Whenever an incarnation of Rama is about to be over, his ring falls down. I collect them and keep them. Now you can go.’

      So Hanuman left.

      This story is usually told to suggest that for every such Rama there is a Ramayana. The number of Ramayanas and the range of their influence in South and Southeast Asia over the past twenty-five hundred years or more are astonishing. Just a list of languages in which the Rama story is found makes one gasp: Annamese, Balinese, Bengali, Cambodian, Chinese, Gujarati, Javanese, Kannada, Kashmiri, Khotanese, Laotian, Malaysian, Marathi, Oriya, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Santali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan—to say nothing of Western languages.

      * * *

      Obviously, these hundreds of tellings differ from one another. I have come to prefer the word ‘tellings’ to the usual terms versions or variants because the latter terms can and typically do imply that there is an invariant, an original or Ur-text—usually Valmiki’s Sanskrit Ramayana, the earliest and most prestigious of them all. But as we shall see, it is not always Valmiki’s narrative that is carried from one language to another.

      (IHM: emphasise mine)

      * * *

      JAIN TELLINGS
      When we enter the world of Jain tellings, the Rama story no longer carries Hindu values. Indeed the Jain texts express the feeling that the Hindus, especially the brahmans, have maligned Ravana, made him into a villain. Here is a set of questions that a Jain text begins by asking: ‘How can monkeys vanquish the powerful raksasa warriors like Ravana? How can noble men and Jain worthies like Ravana eat flesh and drink blood? How can Kumbhakarna sleep through six months of the year, … They are lies and contrary to reason.’ With these questions in mind King Srenika goes to sage Gautama to have him tell the true story and clear his doubts. Gautama says to him, ‘I’ll tell you what Jain wise men say. Ravana is not a demon, he is not a cannibal and a flesh eater. Wrong-thinking poetasters and fools tell these lies.’ He then begins to tell his own version of the story (Chandra 1970, 234). Obviously, the Jain Ramayana of Vimalasuri, called Paumacariya (Prakrit for the Sanskrit Padmacarita), knows its Valmiki and proceeds to correct its errors and Hindu extravagances. Like other Jain puranas, this too is a pratipurana, an anti- or counter-purana. The prefix prati-, meaning ‘anti-’ or ‘counter-’, is a favourite Jain affix.
      Vimalasuri the Jain opens the story not with Rama’s genealogy and greatness, but with Ravana’s. Ravana is one of the sixty-three leaders or salakapurusas of the Jain tradition. He is noble, learned, earns all his magical powers and weapons through austerities (tapas), and is a devotee of Jain masters. To please one of them, he even takes a vow that he will not touch any unwilling woman.

      * * *

      In Kannada, the word sita means ‘he sneezed’: he calls her Sita because she is born from a sneeze. Her name is thus given a Kannada folk etymology, as in the Sanskrit texts it has a Sanskrit one: there she is named Sita because King Janaka finds her in a furrow (sita).

      * * *

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      • Thanks, that was very interesting. I didn’t know that there were counter-religious texts in Jainism. It is a pity that Jainism is considered a different religion. Wish the counter-texts were honored equally like the originals to bring balance and put things in context. And sorry to read that the university deemed it “unfit for students”. There was nothing disrespectful of the Ramayana in there. If anything, it brought out how influential it is in so many cultures. Does the Ramayana belong exclusively to male patriarchs? Women (even Hindu women) are not allowed to think or talk about it from their point of view because they are “unfit”? Unless they agree with the patriarchs, of course.
        Many people (Christians included) find a lot of things in the Bible that they don’t agree with. That doesn’t mean that it is not holy any more.
        This is really about the male ego and power, nothing to do with the Ramayana.

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  17. Hmm, I added this book to my reading list now. I was reading the Genesis the other day and I could draw so many parallels to that and compare it our Indian epics. I felt that all these stories belong to the past. they are history. Yes, some of it may be true but they have changed over time. They reflect that time. But to hold it as an ideal, absolute truth and preach it all the time to the present generations is stupidity.

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  18. Now I am sure I am going to steer clear of our epics during bed time story-telling sessions.I want to spare my child the confusion I went through, growing up, as to how and why Ram was to be worshipped when he caused so much heart-ache to Sita, who was supposed tobe Goddess Lakshmi incarnate.
    Off topic totally IHM, but a friend asked me over the phone yesterday whether she should tie a Rakhi on her brother’s wrist.Her argument is that she is perfectly capable of looking after herself and anyways, there are no more battles he is going out to fight, so neither does it make sense for her to tie a rakhi and ask him to protect her, nor does it seem logical for her to pray for his safe return from the battlefield. So why should she tie a Rakhi?
    I did not know what to say to her🙂.

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  19. A little off topic. In Rig Veda Deva and Asura are both sons of Aditi,..they r both supernatural beings and in the struggle of power Devas won.Infact in ancient India some asuras were worshipped along with Devas.Potraying them as demons with dark skin came in later literature and text. As its said history is written by winners. Deav and Asuras r just diff names given to two warring groups.
    As for Ravan. He was not an Asur. He was actually a Brahmin.His father was a sage and mother an asura.Till now Mudgal Brhamins of Gujarat do shraadh for him.They consider themselves his descendents.

    In original Valmiki Ramayan.Ravan is potrayed as a great learned king. His vice was arrogance.His arrogance and Ego grew so much that he started misusing his poer hence God had to come in to kill him.He was never potrayed as a demon….Ramayan has been written in so many diff versions that the original essence has been lost in translation.

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  20. You certainly need to re-read the Ramayana. Are you saying that Surpnakha’s conduct was worthy of any sort of kindness/compassion?
    She cast her lustful gaze on Rama and captivated by good looks, asked him out for marriage. Rama politely declined her offer saying that he is already married and is completely devoted to his wife. Well, she should have immediately backed off after being a recipient to such crucial information; however she persisted.
    She then turned to his brother, Lakshmana and tried to work her charms on him too but her efforts proved futile.
    When she realised that none of the men were interested, she got enraged and indignant and leapt with full force to attack Sita and kill her (as she realised that Sita was Rama’s wife and she could take her place by killing Sita)
    As she ran with fury to attack Sita and tear her to pieces using her claws (hence her name Surpanakha), Lakshmana guided by his quick reflexes sprung to action and cut her nose in order to protect his sister-in-law from that fatal assault.

    Who’s wrong/evil doer in the incident.

    Rama who said that he won’t think of any other woman other than his wife Sita and politely declined her proposal inspite of Surpanakha’s persistence.
    or
    Lakshmana who safeguarded his sister-in-law from the FATAL attack which could have claimed her life by severing the nose of Surpanakha; I think he was quite merciful as she just got away with a severed nose.
    or
    Surpanakha who believed on making an indecent proposal to a married man even after she acquired knowledge about Rama’s marital status and and then proceeded to brutally kill Rama’s wife after her failed attempts at persuading Rama to marry her.
    Did she have sympathy for Sita whose husband she was lusting after?

    She was a demoness, not because she was born in a demon-clan but by the virtue of her own despicable actions and nature.

    Are you trying to say that a woman no matter how evil she is, can & should never be punished for her actions in a society?
    Are you trying to say that such a woman will & should go unharmed and deserves compassion in what you the so called ‘UN-patriarchal’ society?
    Do you think that a man in such similar situations should be excused? (I personally feel he shouldn’t be)

    So, I hope that Surpanakha will NOT be a recipent of your misdirected sympathies in future.

    You can also seek solace from the fact that he protected his elder brother’s wife and not his own mother.

    I am saying so because many here would believe that a guy has no right to protect his own innocent mother from any attack by any woman (who could be anyone including his own wife)

    And, I believe and hopefully others too (& if they don’t, then I don’t care) Lakshmana should have followed the same plan of action (yes, it was quite impulsive since that was the need of the hour), had Rama been attacked in place of Sita since men do have an equal right to protect other innocent men from attacks by such women (the severity of crime perpetrated by a woman won’t decrease just because a man instead of a woman is now at the receiving end)

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    • Samar, this telling of Ramayana is popular, but there are –

      Three Hundred Ramayanas

      http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/art-culture/three-hundred-ramayanas

      “Obviously, these hundreds of tellings differ from one another. I have come to prefer the word ‘tellings’ to the usual terms versions or variants because the latter terms can and typically do imply that there is an invariant, an original or Ur-text—usually Valmiki’s Sanskrit Ramayana, the earliest and most prestigious of them all. But as we shall see, it is not always Valmiki’s narrative that is carried from one language to another.”

      Like

      • I am well-acquainted with the various tellings of Ramayana.

        Now, this is how Ramayana was originally written and recorded. The later tellings can well be twisted distortions of facts or mere imagination.

        Take for example – Thai Ramayana or Ramakien has a happy ending in strong contrast to the original one. The way it portrays many characters can be extremely offensive to many Hindus.

        And, even if we were to believe that the later ‘tellings’ are true, then how can we selectively pick those to sympathasize with ‘Surapnakha’ to prove misogyny who doesn’t deserve an iota of pity.

        There’s a later version (or telling) that says it all happened by design, a part of the larger conspiracy hatched by Surapnakha herself who wanted to extract revenge from her brother, Ravana for having killed her husband.

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        • Hi Samar,

          I believe everyone are entitled to their opinions. That applies to you too. So if you want to discuss my comments I would prefer that you reply where I have mentioned something that bothered you. I can take that. But it does not mean that you have to come to my blog and reply on some totally unrelated topic. I am totally against it. If you want take it offline or away from this blog then you can mail me. You can find my email address on my blog.

          Thanks.
          AIG

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  21. Interesting portrayal of Soorpanakha as a woman exercising her right to pursue her desire (without harming the object of desire of course, otherwise that pursuit becomes no different from molest), contrasted against a punishing masculinity that seems to revel in physical mutilation…

    I couldn’t help comparing this with a totally unconnected but contemporaneous event of NDTV’s Nidhi Razdan attempting to interview a white male British MP and getting chided in the process ( http://youtube.com/watch?v=zy6Ba434nfk ). There is no exact loud-crying-out similarity yet; but, as another feminist, you might see it different !

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  22. Pingback: Who is afraid of awareness about menstruation, and open letters to all Gynaecologists? | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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