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Looking at the women in Ramayana with new eyes


The Ramayana is neither about glorifying the past nor does it portray the prevalence of good over evil. It is an age-old saga that talks about the choices that people make to follow the path of dharma,” says author Anand Neelakantan whose latest book looks at female characters in the epic beyond the familiar goodevil paradigm.

Discussing ‘Valmiki’s women – The Tales of Five Women’, at a virtual session of the Times LitFest, Neelakantan asked, “Characters like Manthara and Soorpanaka are mostly criticised for their choices, for protecting what they believe in and their ugliness is called out as evil. But would Ramayana even be possible without them?”

“Society has always been unfair towards women. Even Sita had to pass a test. These women are tough, sassy and enduring at the same time. Taraka (Ravana’s sister) didn’t come to Ayodhya to attack anyone. Her duty was to protect nature and stop animal sacrifices. While from one side she was evil, from another perspective she was a protector,” pointed out Neelakantan.

It was a challenge being a man and writing about the dilemmas of women, and thinking about how they would have thought, he admits. “These characters are very contemporary. Shanta (Dasaratha’s daughter) is like any Indian girl in a loving household where she is pampered now but to be given away later. She sits beside her father even as Dasaratha asks only about the wellbeing of his sons,” he says.

Valmiki, Neelakantan says, was not preaching through Ramayana. “Valmiki shows us life and society. He doesn’t hide one’s flaws or highlight another’s goodness. If we go deep into his mind, we realise Ramayana is more about Sitayana,” he adds.


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