‘The Forest of Enchantments’ – A Sitayan

“Sita’s story haunted me. Because it was one of the first stories I was told, and because I sensed there was a disconnect between the truth of Sita and the way Indian popular culture thought of her. I sensed that Sita was more than what we took her to be. But who she was I didn’t yet know.”

   Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has made a well-written Author’s note right before the prologue to the novel begins. She tells us one big truth which is to a great extent a commonality among three-fourth of the world’s population who is familiar with the great epic ‘Ramayana’ – who real Sita is, is untold.

      Despite Sita being considered as the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi herself, she is often regarded as a meek woman who is an epitome of sacrifice and unending love, with no temper or hatred. The ‘ideal-woman concept’ idolizes Sita for she is considered the perfect wife with silent stoicism and the ability to long endure without whimpering. This is of course a prominent reason why many name their daughters ‘Sita’ and asks them to look up to the goddess to learn subservience, sacrifice and ‘perfection’. Sita is indeed to be idolized but not in a way most people perceive.

                     ‘The Forest of Enchantments’ is brilliantly feministic in writing. It retells Ramayana through Sita’s eyes, making us analyse the story through a gynocentric perspective. Thus, it indubitably makes Ramayan a ‘Sitayan’.  The author sets to bring out the version of Sita nobody knows, a Sita who is much more than a mere daughter, a loyal wife and a loving mother, a Sita who is a woman, an equal to Ram, one who refuses to give her dignity away even for love. Chitra Banarjee also tries to sympathize with some of the other female characters of Ramayana, who we consider evil, flawed or obnoxious, through Sita. We see Sita musing about whether Shurpanaka had deserved to get mutilated by Ram just for declaring her love for him. Similarly Sita chats with Ahalya asking her a question that most of us would’ve asked if gotten an opportunity to meet Ahalya in real- ‘why did she forgive Gautam?’. Sita is left answerless by Ahalya but it is quiet clear from her countenance that it is what women are supposed to do, forgive and endure.  Sita herself had to go through a similar situation, when Ram refused to accept her, doubting her chastity after Ravan abducted her, she performed the agni-pareeksha and the gods itself declared her innocence. Sita got the answer as to why Ahalya forgave her husband when she found herself forgiving Ram inspite of how cruel he had been to her. The author draws a picture of how women are taught to endure and forgive when men are never blamed for their actions. She also points out how love can be blinding. Ram’s consecutive injustices to Sita like abandoning her while she’s pregnant and making her do fire test is often celebrated by people as the spirit of kingship and the duty of a husband but ‘The Forest of Enchantments’ questions Ram on how he’s going to pay for his actions. The epilogue to the novel is heart-wrenching, especially for the female audience, for it shows how extreme a woman can get insulted, how her dignity is at stake and her indecisiveness whether to choose love or self-respect. Sita lets go the love of her life and chooses to be dignified and decides not to settle for anything less.

             Chitra Banerjee’s ‘Sita’ is what every woman should be. Loving, caring yet resilient and dignified. The author walks us through every little detail on ‘How to be a Sita’, not the stoic one but the strong one. The book is indeed a must-read if you are ever asked to be like Sita.