Chandrabati Ramayana

Chandrabati Ramayana, a woman’s re-telling of the Rama-tale is a Rama-story, without singing Rama‘s glory, retold by a Bengali Hindu woman who suffered under patriarchal structure in the sixteenth century rural East Bengal. The text had been dismissed as an incomplete or fragment one and silenced for centuries by “the male, urban custodians of literary history.” Because, it was different from the traditional pattern of story-telling, or, it was only a woman’s story narrated by a village woman.

Chandrabati Ramayana signifies a complete expression of a woman’s sufferings and experiences in a patriarchal society. In this version of Ramayana, tagged ‘unusual’, Chandrabati does not tell us about Rama’s journey, instead she tells us about the journey of a woman, Sita. The story tells us about the complete biological life cycle of a woman- Sita’s birth, her marriage, pregnancy, child-birth, maturity and death. It also narrates Sita’s sufferings- experiences as an abducted woman by Ravana, her return to Ayodhya, betrayal and exile, humiliation and voluntary death (or entry to Mother Earth). To simply put, Chandrabati Ramayana is a woman’s text highlighting and detailing intimate female experiences. The story ends with the death of Sita.

In a very interesting note, in Chandrabati Ramayana, the writer is silent about Rama’s valour, his goodness, wisdom or battle skills which are found in the original Ramayana text or other mainstream texts on Ramayana. In this version of Ramayana, Rama is a lover who turns out to be a traitor, and an inhuman, merciless coward who banishes his pregnant wife unjustly. In this Ramayana, he is a poor husband, a poor king, a poor brother and a poor father. His act of unjustly sending Sita into exile is also interpreted as partly due to his jealousy of Ravana.

Chandrabati Ramayana is a narrative about a woman, narrated by woman, meant for women audience. “Ramayana” is a misnomer for such narrative. It should have been more rightly called “Sitayana”, the route of Sita or Sita’s journey. In this Ramayana, Rama is not at the centre of the narrative; Sita is. Rama here is only a foil against whose false steps Sita’s actions and character are highlighted.

Chandrabati Ramayana is a text that challenges the dominant ideology of patriarchy of the time. Chandrabati openly questions, challenges and attacks the ideology of her times in her personal intrusions. In her story, everything is attributed to women- suffering women. Beside Sita’s agonies, there is Mandodari who felt neglected by her husband Ravana. Heartbroken, Mandodari drank poison to commit suicide, and out of this, she gave birth to Sita as an egg. The same egg was thrown into the ocean and was found by a fisherman who brought the egg home to his wife who had nothing to eat, nothing to wear and nothing to complain about. Again, it was the fisherman’s wife who presented the egg to king Janaka’s wife. And, it was king Janaka’s wife who took care of the egg which produced Sita- king Janaka himself did not play any significant role.

Thus, throughout the story of Chandrabati Ramayana, it is women who suffer- Sita, Mandodari, Urmila, to name a few- and it is these women who are playing major roles, not their male counterparts who are in fact responsible for their sufferings.

Chandrabati Ramayana is a personal interpretation of Rama-tale from the ‘wronged woman’s point of view.’Chandrabati Ramayana is less of a Rama-tale and more of a Sita-tale. The story nevertheless gives a voice and agency to women especially those who have suffered their lives because of a conservative and patriarchal structure of the society.

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