Retelling mythology can not only open it to new interpretation but also put new light on how we perceive gods and goddesses. P Lalitha Kumari aka Volga, the author of the ground-breaking The Liberation of Sita, speaks to SheThePeople.TV. Excerpts from the interview:
What led you to write The Liberation of Sita — why was it important for you to think and imagine what happened from Sita’s point of view?
I wrote Liberation of Sita with two concepts in my mind. One is feminist sisterhood and a discourse on power. Alongwith Sita, other characters like Surpanaka, Ahalya, Renuka and Urmila are very important in these stories. These characters help Sita to rethink about her life and take her final decision, i.e. liberating herself from Rama. To have power on ourselves and not operating it on others, will bring fraternity, liberty into this world. This is extremely difficult process. I tried to explore in my stories.
You bring in Surpanaka and Ahalya in a very moving way — tell us a little bit about that?
Surpanaka is a neglected character in Ramayana. No one thinks about her life after the mutilation. What a suffering it would be! To come out of it and to reconstruct her life is not a small task. I want to explore Surpanaka’s suffering and imagined how she made her life beautiful with a lot of maturity. Ahalya — she is a wise woman for the questions of chastity and purity, she found answers in her own way. Enquiries on women’s bodies and mind about chastity and purity are violences practised for many centuries. Ahalya warned Sita about these enquiries and asked her not to oblige. From ages, woman are being disciplined and punished in the name of chastity. But women are rising from these patriarchal practices. Surpanaka and Ahalya are two examples.
There is a strong feeling of sisterhood, of solidarity that you leave Sita and the reader with… What is the relevance for modern society?
Yes — After reading these stories, Sita along with other characters would become a friend, philosopher and guide to the readers. The complex situation these women face are continuing even today. The context is as old as Ramayana, as new as Nirbhaya. Acid attacks, stabbing, chastity test, honour killings, suspicion are becoming everyday reality for the women of today. So violence is common in mythology and the present social situation.
Finally, a question on why mythology is important even in present times. And what are some of the reactions you have gotten for readers?
Mythology like Ramayana is well-known to many readers. They can easily identify with these characters. If we retell the mythology from a different perspective, they can relate and debate. Ramayana not only a mythological text but also a tradition and a way of life for many people in our country. To review and reanalyse those traditions from time to time is a necessity for society to progress, Along with changing times, traditions should change. Literature will play its part in changing traditions and society. In that process, retelling of mythology plays an important role.