Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sita in a Bhojpuri Song

An exquisite Bhojpuri folksong on a Ramayana theme:

Dheere chal, ham haaree, e raghubar.
Ek ta chhutelaa mor naak ke nathiyavaa;
Dosar chhutele mahtaaree e raghuvar.
Dheere chal, ham haaree, e raghubar.
Ek ta chhutelaa mor gare ke hasulia;
Dosar chhutelaa jheen saaree e raghubar.
Dheere chal, ham haaree, e raghubar.
Ek ta chhutelaa nagar ajodhyaa;
Dosar chhutelaa mahtaaree e raghuvar.
Dheere chal, ham haaree, e raghubar.
Ek ta chhutelaa mor god ke god-haraa’
Dosar chhutelaa jheen saaree e raghuvar.


Walk slow, Oh Rama, I’m tired.
For one thing, I have left behind my nose ring
And for another, Mother Kausalya.
Walk slow, Oh Rama, I’m tired.
For one thing, I have left behind the hasuli of my neck
And for another, my thin sari.
Walk slow, Oh Rama, I’m tired.
For one thing, I have left behind the city of Ayodhya
And for another, Mother Kausalya.
Walk slow, Oh Rama, I’m tired.
For one thing, I have left behind my anklet
And for another, my fine sari.

No other woman has touched the Indian psyche as deeply as Sita has, nor is any other woman enthroned there with as much love as she has been. While feelings for her are uniformly the same in men and women, women naturally identify with her more easily and feel her joys and sorrows, her pains and sufferings, longings and disappointments, far more intensely than men do. To them, whether they are women of the past or of the present, from among the poorest of the poor or the richest of the rich, from the most advanced communities or from the most backward, educated or uneducated, young or old, her joys and sorrows, pains and sufferings and longings and disappointments are theirs.

While they thus identify with her and relive her life experiences, quite frequently they also transform to her their personal and collective life experiences. Thus we find women giving words to their feelings and emotions, their woes and afflictions, their sense of wretchedness and loneliness and a million other things that are part of every woman’s life, in songs, paintings and dances all over the land. Quite often these giving and taking get so mixed up, it is difficult to find out what Sita’s feelings are and what the feelings of the woman who sings these songs, paint these paintings and dance these dances are. Perhaps it is not necessary either, because Sita is not a woman who lived several thousand years ago in an India that is dead and gone, but is every woman who was ever born in this land, every woman who ever lived in this land, and every woman who lives here today. Or rather, she is every woman who has ever lived anywhere. Sita is, simply put, everywoman.

One of the most moving, one of the most delicate, beautiful Sita songs that I have ever come across is one in which she speaks of her pain as she leaves Ayodhya with Rama to live in the jungle for fourteen years.

In Valmiki’s Ramayana, Sita on this occasion appears as a very strong woman: strong in every sense of the word. That the crown of yuvaraja has been taken away from her husband does not affect her in the least. In fact, when Rama gives her this news, he is shaking all over, under the force of the fury he has suppressed, his body is covered in perspiration, for such is his disappointment at the crown being snatched away from him. She tells him that going to the jungle and living there has always been her dream, and, in fact, when she was a little girl, astrologers had predicted this. Sita is without any doubt the stronger of the two here when she tells Rama that she shall walk in front of him, crushing the sharp blades of grass and the thorns on his way with her feet and thus making his path smooth for him; when she says that she shall expect nothing from him while they are in the jungle, not even conjugal pleasures – for she assures him she is going to live in the jungle as a brahmacharani, giving up all pleasure of the flesh. No amount of persuasion from Rama asking her to stay back in Ayodhya can persuade her. She tells him she knows where her place is, when he goes to the jungle it is with him in the jungle, and nothing in the world can stop her from going with him. The fears of the jungle, the inconveniences that Rama so eloquently paints before her do not affect her in the least. And when Rama still refuses to allow her to go with him in spite of all she says, she questions his masculinity itself, thus forcing him to take her with him. It is indeed a very strong Sita that we see here.

Yet deep inside, we never miss the feeling that behind all this show of bold strength, there is a woman who is tenderness itself, who is vulnerability itself. We feel that along with this diamond-like Sita that we see, there is also a lotus-like Sita, tender and delicate, whom a passing wind can destroy.

In fact, we do not have to wait long to see her. We see this Sita in her helplessness and confusion at the time of the leave taking, which Valmiki paints with superb poetic skill.

Unable to change Kaikeyi’s mind, a frustrated and furious Dasharatha announces that he will send all his wealth, all the grains stored, his army, his priests, all with Rama to the jungle. Kaikeyi objects to this. When further attempts to change her mind fails, Dasharatha, tired and wailing now, announces that he will follow Rama to the jungle, and all the people of Ayodhya too will go with them, leaving the kingdom for Kaikeyi and Bharata to enjoy alone. It is then that Rama announces this will not do, he has already given up all the royal comforts, he has decided to live on the simple fruits and roots of the jungle, like ascetics, and therefore he has no need for the army and other things Dasharatha has been talking about. He then asks for valkalas, cloths of grass or bark that ascetics wear, to be brought in so that he can wear them to the jungle. Kaikeyi herself goes and brings a bunch of these and Rama picks up and wears a set, followed by Lakshmana. Sita looks at the cloths still left for her wearing and gets a fright, ‘as a deer at the sight of the snare.’ She takes two pieces of cloths made of kusha grass and then becomes completely embarrassed, for she does not know how to put them on. With her eyes full of tears, she asks Rama how the ascetics wear them. In her mortification, her mind ceases to work properly, she does not know what do, and she gets vexed repeatedly. Thoroughly perplexed now, she puts one piece of the valkala around her neck and waits with the other in her hand.

If the strong woman who fights boldly for her right to be with her man as he goes to the jungle is Sita, this helpless, vulnerable woman unaware of all life other than the royal life she has been used to from her birth, the woman who gets easily mortified in embarrassment and whose eyes readily fill with tears, too is Sita.

It is this Sita that awakens the fury of a sage like Vasishtha, fills his eyes with tears and makes him shout at Kaikeyi for her cruelty and tell her that Sita would not go to the jungle, but would, instead, sit on the throne in place of Rama and rule Ayodhya.
And it is this Sita that makes every woman in the palace of Ayodhya weep for her in uncontrollable anguish as she prepares to leave for the jungle with Rama.

A tender, beautiful scene takes place in the midst of all chaos, as Sita gets ready to leave for the jungle. Kausalya comes forward and gathers her in her arms and holds her tightly to herself.

For this wonderful woman of unsurpassed beauty, strong and vulnerable at the same time, adored by all, has an equally wonderful place in the heart of her mother-in-law too.

In the Indian culture, as in most other cultures, a woman leaves her home and her people and goes and becomes a member of her new family when she gets married. Because she comes from another home, has often been used to a different way of living, and because she comes to take the central place in her man’s heart, there are frequently rivalries between her and her mother-in-law. Classical literary works as well as folktales and songs are full of such rivalries.

However, in the Ramayana, we see this rivalry totally absent between Sita and her mother-in-law Kausalya. The folksong also sings of the beautiful relation between these two women, one worshipped wherever Indian culture has reached as the mother of the God-incarnate and the other as his wife.

On her way to the jungle, Sita speaks again and again of how she misses her mother-in-law. She is tired and asks Rama to tarry, to go slow. What has drained her of energy, exhausted her, is not the walk really, for it is not about the distance they have covered she talks about, nor is it about the difficulties on the path. There is no talk about the heights she had to climb, nor about thorns on the way, or stones, or other difficulties. What has really tired her is what she has left behind. And of all that she has left behind, what she misses more than anything else is the love of Kausalya. For, she says she misses the nose ring she has left behind in Ayodhya, she misses her hasuli, the neck ornament she has left behind, she misses her anklet, she misses her thin sari, she misses Ayodhya itself, but each thing she misses reminds her how she misses Kausalya, of whom she speaks again and again.

In a land where women dread their mothers-in-law more than anything else in the world, and perhaps rightly too, this Sita song is a tribute to a mother-in-law who lavished her love on her daughter-in-law.

The song is also eloquent about another side of Sita about which Valmiki does not tell us much: Sita as a young woman brought up in comforts, with such a young woman’s, or perhaps every woman’s, love for the fine things of life, particularly for fine clothes and ornaments. A nose ring, an anklet, a hasuli, a fine sari… True, the love for these things that women show often puzzles men, but the love for such things too is perhaps part of being a woman, and is found universally in women, whether it is a result of cultural conditioning or her natural inheritance. The song also tells us that the powerful Sita, who in spite of her total and complete love for Rama, defies him and leaves him behind to enter the earth and disappear from his life forever, unwilling to accept injustice and humiliation at his hands, is also an ordinary woman, with all her strengths and weaknesses.

Perhaps it is this, more than anything else, that makes Sita ‘everywoman.’

0o0

3 comments:

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  3. sita and ramayan are integral part of bhojpuri culture

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