Sita’s Ramayana

It showcases the female gaze, as opposed to the clichéd male gaze

Amit Sengupta Delhi 

Sita’s Ramayana

AUTHORS: Samhita Arni and Moyna Chitrakar

PUBLISHER: Tara Books Pvt. Ltd     

PAGES: 152

PRICE: 550

YEAR: 2011 

For a thousand years the Dandaka forest slept.

Until, one day, the daughter of the Earth came.

At her touch, the flowers, creepers and trees of the Dandaka awoke from their long sleep.

The forest watched her, with great interest. She was no hermit’s wife – beautifully dressed in priceless silks and ornaments, worth a king’s ransom. She walked with pain, her belly huge with child, her ankles swollen, her delicate feet bruised by thorns and brambles. 

Who was she? The Forest wondered.

What was she doing here?

And why was she crying? 

I am Sita, Daughter of the Earth, sprung from the same womb that nurtures this forest. I am the pricess of Mithila and the last queen of Ayodhya… The world of men has banished me… 

And then the forest spoke: Tell us, sister, how you came here… 

If you want to enter Sita’s epical narrative, written with the north wind, orange leaves, blue sunshine, the silvery layers of the ocean, the whispered green grass, the dark, forest sighs, the sounds of the forest night, the colours and silences and white spaces, you have to enter this visual, oral, sensuous, sensitive picture story of classical innocence. The synthesis of robust folk and modern feminism. A work of superb art by Patua scroll artist Moyna Chitrakar from the village of Nirbhaypur in West Bengal with young urban writer Samhita Arni from Bangalore. Moyna’s version remains committed to the Sanskrit original of Valmiki, mostly, but injects a certain magic and genius, not possible to imagine in the ritualistic narrative of the epic. It dislocates and subverts the gaze and makes it cinematic. It is an amazing pictorial journey, through time and space, of poetry and craft, anger and angst, story-telling and image, myth and bitter realism. The roots are rooted, like the gutsy colours, and non-conformist shapes and figures, the lines which don’t follow a line, the eyes which speak. 

Sita’s Ramayana does a rainbow epic of Ramayana, with finesse and refinement, despite the raw vitality oozing on every page. It showcases the female gaze, as opposed to the clichéd male gaze. It turns the gaze inwards and outwards. As you refuse to be blind, you only get to see a new kind of liberation. A graphic re-telling of Three Hundred Ramayanas, perhaps many more hidden between the lines and the scroll. In many ways, this too is like the end of Sita’s exile and condemnation. 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2012