Book Review: How Sita's Story Shows The Power Of Mind
Sita’s story is the power of the mind, says author and singer Bhanumathi Narasimhan.
Sita – A Tale of Ancient Love. Bhanumathi Narasimhan. Penguin eBury Press. Pages 304. Rs 340.
Sita and Rama are both real and metaphors for life's deepest love and wisdom, says Bhanumathi Narasimhan, author of the new Penguin India release, 'Sita – A Tale of Ancient Love.'
The book was officially launched on 15 October. Bhanumathi's foray into Sita's strong mind was after she undertook a profound study of Sita's resolute inner self as recorded in classic versions of the epic.
But why this abiding interest in the character Sita? "Sita's story is the power of the mind! She may have breezed through a see-saw of emotions while encountering mountainous, awkward stumbling blocks of emotion and event, but nothing gets lodged in her consciousness except for her immaculate feelings for Rama," says Bhanumathi.
"Sita's subtle strength, the way she made her choices and faced challenges and positioned herself as a rock with implicit faith and unconditional love mirror her as a woman of strength. Sita chose acceptance and grace over self-pity," she adds.
Bhanumathi Narasimhan, who is also the sister of founder of the Art of Living, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is an author of bestselling books that have been translated into twenty-two world languages. She holds a Master's Degree in Sanskrit literature from Bangalore University. She has also created soulful albums of sacred chants and melodious bhajans.
There are umpteen original and fresh perspectives sprinkled in the narrative spread over 25 chapters. The book, her serious lockdown project, speaks of the author's investment in time and research. "The research and writing went hand in hand, not one after the other. Reading through the scriptures was a delight as it offered so many flavours of devotion," says Bhanumathi.
The book itself takes off with Sita being at the Ashoka Vatika.
These were the same stars, and remained with her still in Ashoka Vatika, as she lay on the platform under the canopy of trees, staring into the night sky.
“Ashoka Vatika is a beautiful garden and Sita finds a deep connect with nature. The book flows as a series of reminiscences while Sita is in the garden, tucked away in the secret part of the Lankan Palace. When you look back at events in your life, you see them from a more complete perspective, with greater maturity,” feels Bhanumathi, whose work is also illustrative of the 'Ancient' and 'Eternal' love that Sita and Rama share.
Why does the story unwind through Sita's memories? “Her father Janaka was a Brahmagnani and she was known for her refined intellect. Many saints and seers would visit Janaka that helped Sita absorb and internalise the finest values to get worldly wise. When you are anchored in wisdom, even a storm cannot toss you about. This is why the story from her standpoint gave me a new approach,” says Bhanumathi.
Sita and Urmila’s sibling affection; Urmila and Lakshmana’s lesser talked about romantic occasions; Sita’s cooking skills that Rama prided on, the advice that Sita received from Anusuya for being an understanding partner in marriage, are some charming inclusions. Consider a slab of
teenage amusements the sisters have had in this excerpt.
Sita eagerly awaited the winter months of Mithila. The skies were clearer and countless twinkling lights bejewelled the night. Sita and Urmila would huddle together in bed under the skylight in Sita’s room. They tucked their feet into the soft silk coverlet and their hair lay loosely scattered on the plush cotton pillows as they waited for a fleeting glimpse of shooting stars. Those celestial streaks would appear out of nowhere and arch across the sky, leaving a momentary trail of light, disappearing into nothingness, all in a matter of seconds.
If the sisters managed to get over the excitement of seeing the shooting stars, they would remember to make a wish. ‘Didi, what did you wish for?’ asked Urmila. Sita’s fingers wrapped themselves around Urmila’s as she disclosed, ‘I wished that we could be together even after our marriages, Urmila. When you are with me, I never feel alone.’ Urmila rolled over and hugged her elder sister fondly, saying, ‘I wonder which star can make that happen! We should ask Guru Shatananda tomorrow in our astrology class.
The broader understanding one gains is Sita’s affiliation with the world of nature, her role in leading Rama to his task on earth, and how the metaphors of fire and earth, wind, wisdom and ignorance wrap up in the bigger battle at Lanka.
“You know Sita chose everything that she wanted to? Why is it that Sita or Rama could lift the bow that hundreds of others could not move even an inch? Shiv Dhanush was used as a perfect compatibility test while choosing her partner," says Bhanumathi.
"What was Sita’s understanding of the world around her, what did agnipariksha mean to ‘the Bhoomija’ the way she faced it? She chose to go to the forest because she placed her worship and adoration to Rama above comfort. She could have won over Ravana herself, she was so powerful, or she could have left with Hanuman too. But she waited for Rama, and she knew the role she had to play to perfection,” she explains.
The prologue and epilogue, for example, sets a new kind of lyrical flow with poignant romantic verses, mirroring another dimension, not just to the descriptive storyline but of the author’s poetic potential obvious in many chapters.
Once when Sita is consumed by the twinkles in the sky at Ashoka Vatika, her memory drifts to her stay at Panchavati during the exile when Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, relaxing in the open sky, are in a mood for quizzing! Rama had lovingly turned to Sita and said, ‘You have to pose a question that I can also answer, Sita!’
‘This one is just for you!’ says Sita, smiling.
Smaller than the smallest, Larger than the largest, Finer than the finest, the self-luminous sun of all!
Lakshmana could not help laughing aloud. ‘What is so funny, Lakshmana?’ asked Rama. ‘Bhabhi has just described you and called it a puzzle! Of course your ways are most puzzling, but the thought of you trying to solve a puzzle to which you yourself are the answer is quite hilarious!’ said Lakshmana.
Although it is common understanding that it was a life filled with sacrifice for being Rama’s life partner, the book reiterates that wherever Sita was, there was abundance and constructive wisdom accentuating her spirit, in only what seemed to be a battle.
While the events of the Ramayana and those impacting Sita directly are quite well-known, very little is understood about the state of her mind, explains Bhanumathi.
“When I was young my father used to tell me many of the stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the other Puranas. As I later grew up in the company of learned, motivational personalities, the wisdom behind these stories and the dimension of understanding opened up. I have come to learn that Rama is the soul, Sita is the mind, Lakshmana is the awareness, Hanuman is the prana or breath, Ravana is the arrogance or ego,” she says.
However, the balanced interpretation in Bhanumathi’s book of the powerful Ravana again defies popular conception and is an eye-opener. Ravana’s visionary powers laced with yogic energies that could summon Gods to earth, his artistic propensity and his wisdom (gyana) to envision and execute his destiny gets etched as a positive persona that flashes across in several exchanges in this book. Although Ravana is known for being indestructible and a conceited autocrat.
Everlasting epics with never-ending meanings! It is to the power of our storytellers like Bhanumathi that will help open up layers of connotation and significance, like the one about Ravana taken from an excerpt from this book:
The rakshasa women bowed to Ravana and exited the room with jewellery, silks and other gifts to be presented to Sita. They had a task at hand.
'Trijata, wait!’ said Ravana. Trijata was his niece (Vibhishana’s daughter). He could speak to her a little more freely than he could to anyone else at the moment. He knew that Sita had softened towards Trijata. ‘Yes, my lord,’ said Trijata and retraced her steps into her uncle’s chamber. ‘Trijata, does she still yearn for that mortal husband of hers? Does she believe that he is actually going to find her?’ ‘Yes, my lord. Though separated physically, her heart knows no other. Whoever Rama may be, he is fortunate to have such a wife. I cannot imagine an ordinary man inspiring this kind of resilience and love.’
‘He is not ordinary, Trijata,’ said Ravana with a distant look in his eyes. ‘I went to Mithila when Sita’s swayamvara was announced. Her father had declared that the one who wielded the bow of Rudra and strung it would be her suitor. The bow did not allow me to lift it even one inch. But this mere mortal broke the bow into two pieces. I was not there when it happened, but I heard the news. The bow allowed him to do this, Trijata.
It was not a test of strength. You know that there is no one stronger than me. It was the will of Rudra. My Lord chose that man over me. I have not seen him. Yet his formless presence fills my mind. Lanka is not easy to find. Yet I want him to come to me.’ Ravana’s voice was like a slow rumble that resembled the movement of the plates below the earth. The silence that followed was like the calm before the storm. He walked over to the window and looked at the moon. He was reminded of Sita and his voice softened again. ‘I feel like I have known her for many lifetimes, Trijata. I feel like my purpose is to do her bidding. She is my queen. I can destroy the three worlds for her. Nobody has ever ruled over me like this. I cannot bear the love that she evokes. Yet I cannot touch her. There is no one to stop me, but my own mind fails me in her presence. She is delicate as a flower but has an impenetrable aura.’
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