lived realities, deeds, and participation in human affairs have been neglected
or undervalued in recorded histories. Women have been spoken about extensively
since times immemorial, she they been spoken for, but it is in the recent times
that attempts to listen to their real voices, their trials and tribulations and
their innermost voices have been made with all sensitivity and objectivity. Be
it Iravati Karave, Anupama Niranjana, Shashi Deshpande, Vaidehi, Volga and very
recently Dr. S. L. Bhyrappa have all questioned the stereotypical presentation
of women characters that flood our Indian Mythology. These writers have all
tried to rewrite the stories of Draupadi, Kunti, Amba, Madhavi of Mahabharata
or Urmila, Sita, Mandodari of Ramayana, who are frozen either as ideals of
perfection or demons of transgression while their real experiences have
remained muted. Among the most popular mythical images of women, ‘Sita’ has
been cast as an icon of self-effacing, pure Indian woman, who has had a lasting
impression on the psyche of Indians over the centuries. Though her desertion by
Rama, the Purushottama has been condemned by many with sympathy for the
victimized Sita, not many have tried in earnest to crawl into her mind and
voice her silences, as her silence is glorified as her valued virtue. This
paper analyses the feminist presentation of ‘Sita’ in Dr. S. L. Bhyrappa’s Uttarakanda where Sita’s inner mindscape
gets revealed overcoming the passivity of narratives in which she is subsumed. The
manifestation of Sita as thinking, feeling individual as emergent in Uttarakanda where she has found a
release from the entangling patriarchal formulations is analysed.

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Stereotype, Mythology, Re-write, Patriarchy, Transgression


          The world of letters over centuries of human civilization
testifies that women’s voices have been muted and their experiences, opinions
and perspectives lay stifled amidst the hegemonic dominance of male world
view.  This obliteration of the authentic
expressions of almost half of human population has probably led to a partial
understanding of the universe, leading to the fractured and incomplete
understanding of their interior mindscapes. The mythological narratives also
have multifariously projected many women characters, but most of them have been
presentations of male perceptions of women. But with the feminist awakening of
the politics of representation, many writers have consciously recast the
mythical women recharging them with feminist interrogations that rupture the
hegemonic gender relations misconstrued in society.

archetypical image of ‘Sita’ is by far the most renowned ideal of an Indian
woman. She is hailed as a perfect match to Rama, the ‘purushottama’. (The Best
among Men) Her matchless beauty, her devoted duties towards her husband, her
submissive demeanor, self-effacing and sacrificial nature and above all her
silent suffering and forbearance of unjust treatment meted out to her makes her
icon of perfect Indian woman, as these are the idealized qualities of Indian
womanhood.  But, for many feminists
Sita’s silence and composure even when she is deserted by Rama, has remained
unpalatable. Her unperturbed silence over the violence of Rama is considered more
violent as her anger, resentment, feelings of humiliation and bitterness has
been muted.  Many writers have tried to
provide voice to the repressed questions that logically any thinking woman
would naturally have posed, saving Sita from the throes of passive
victimization to providing her agency to emerge as a woman with her own
personality. Among them the most recent novel Uttarakanda of Dr.
Bhyrappa successfully has reinstated ‘Sita’ as a woman capable of taking
control of her life. The second half of Sita’s life at sage Valmiki’s ashram
after her desertion by Rama has been portrayed in the novel thereby exploiting
the context of her solitude enriched with her introspective analysis of her
life which provides ample scope for projecting the violence of her silences she
had to suffer. The novel explores the inner world of Sita using the technique
of interior monologue, laying bare her innermost dilemmas, conflicts, and all
that has been covered under the veneer of respectability. The human in Sita has
been allowed to break up the golden image of eternal feminine and emerge as an
individual in quest of her identity.


             Dr. Bhyrappa’s ‘Sita’ in Uttarakanda is a demystified and demythified Sita, who emerges
completely as a daughter of Earth.  She stands
tall as a spokesperson of all the inner turmoil, rage and frustration that any
woman in her situation may very naturally experience. Dr. Bhyrappa has freed
Sita of all the allegations leveled against her silences in the Valmiki Ramayana. Contrary to her image of being
a meek and docile virtuous wife and being a shadow of Rama, Sita in Uttarakanda has emerged as a woman of
strong mind who is capable of designing her life and taking decisions to
protect her self- respect. She does not blindly eulogize Rama, but assesses the
qualities of Rama and also forms her opinions about his actions and their effects.

             The novel Uttarakanda   begins
with Sita trying to decipher her identity and reformulate her life by
ruminating over the past events of her life in the shelter of Valmiki Maharshi
ashram after her desertion by Rama. The entire second half of Ramayana is recreated centering Sita’s
perspective, enabling the strength of her personality to manifest in all its
dimensions. The reminiscence of the fourteen years spent by her in the forest
with Rama and Laxmana reveal the innermost feelings of Sita. Her sincere
acknowledgement of all the service rendered to her and Rama during their exile
by Laxmana and her feelings of gratitude towards him pictures Sita’s humaneness
and modesty. She in fact helps Laxmana in his farming experiments so that they
could survive in the deep jungles, where even fruits were scarce. While Rama
devotes his time in meditating about rights and wrongs, of adhering to strict
disciplinary living in the forest, it is Laxmana who practically makes the aims
of Rama palatable. Sita very early recognizes the worth of practicality of
Laxmana in comparison to the sterile idealism of Rama. However, the femininity
already conditioned in her does not allow her to openly declare her thoughts to
anyone and she is always conscious of Rama’s feelings being hurt if she spends
more time with Laxmana in order to help him. So the fear of being misunderstood
by her beloved husband lurks in her right from the beginning, which however comes
true later in her life. Her soliloquy about her accompaniment with Laxmana in
the forest for aiding him is poignant:

“My mind doesn’t approve of leaving
Rama alone everyday……Moreover, I am worried of what Rama will think if I roam
alone with Laxmana in the forest every day. One can’t be sure about the
changing minds of others.”(P.
144. Trans mine)



            Dr. Bhyrappa here very realistically
and subtly lays bare the fears and insecurities that lie submerged in any
woman’s psyche which determine her behaviour and control all her actions. The
chains of patriarchal controls are the inner ‘laxman rekhas’ that are etched on
any woman’s inner mindscape.

            Sita’s dilemmas between her desire
of asserting herself and religiously following the values imbibed by her father
find expression throughout the novel, which show the patriarchal clutches that
troubled Sita in the early part of her life. However her abduction by Ravana
and her sufferings thereafter at the hands of the demonish people at Lanka
which she bravely endures illustrate the invincibility of her personality. Of
course many times she contemplates suicide in order to finally free herself
from the throes of tortures she experiences, but her love for Rama is so strong
that she cannot imagine Rama’s agony after her death. She does not wish to do
anything that may cause slightest pain to him. When Ravana’s demon guards in
her captivity in Lanka force her to eat, she refuses and plans to starve
herself to death, but then immediately is frightened at the thought of the
plight of Rama after her death. She thinks-

“If I die, and if Rama also dies sorrow
stricken, I felt like crying…. give me some food, I said.” (p. 220. Trans mine)

            This line indicates Sita’s intense
love for Rama, who tolerates Ravana’s humiliations just to be alive for Rama,
not wanting to cause slightest pain to him. But the profundity of her love for
Rama does not find its reciprocity, because although Rama defeats Ravana in the
fierce battle, his attitude towards her at their reunion disillusions her
completely. When he meets her after winning the war, he addresses her as “The princess of King Janaka”, (p.
271.Trans mine) she is surprised that he didn’t call her ‘Sita’, or ‘dear’, not even ‘wife.’ And then he proclaims that he
fought with Ravana not for her, but to keep his family ‘Ikshvaku’ name
untarnished. He further adds that-

“I do not have faith on you as you were in
the custody of a notorious womanizer like Ravana for a prolonged period. You
are independent now. You can live wherever and in whatever way you wish……..your
choice.” (p. 271.Trans mine)


            These words of Rama that she may
choose to do whatever with her life, most unexpectedly is like a bolt from the
blue to her.  She helplessly tries to convince
him of her chastity by asking him to countercheck with Vibhishina’s wife
Suramey. But when Rama cold shoulders all her appeals, she offers to undergo
the fire trail as a test of her purity in order to reinstate her image in
Rama’s heart, which shows Rama’s heartless lack of trust on Sita. And, it is
this heartlessness of Rama that ultimately taints Sita’s love for Rama, which
finally snaps off when he deserts her after heeding the words of a washer man. However,
at that crucial time, it is Laxmana who emerges more humane when he dissuades
Sita from falling prey to the fire and drives sense into his brother Rama, by
arguing that even Sita has equal rights to doubt his chastity as he too was
away from her. So throughout the novel, there are several instances where Sita
recieves Laxman’s support, so much so that after her desertion by Rama, Laxmana
along with Urmila, also leaves Ayodhya and settles in a far off district that
is a part of his mother’s dowry, and aids Sita throughout her life, sending food
grains and other necessary household requirements with Urmila who visits her
often in Valmiki ashram. Hence Bhyrappa’s Laxman emerges as a foil to Rama,
hinting the lacunae in Rama’s personality. Bhyrappa’s Rama is drunk with
self-love and wants to keep up his image as an ideal king sacrificing his
humanity.  Although Rama is a perfection
of all the ideals of a king, he fails in his duties for his wife and therefore justifiably
comes out as a lop-sided personality.

            Rama’s ceremonious conduct of ‘Ashvamedayajna’
with the golden image of Sita placed next to him only shows the shallowness of
Rama who is incapable of evoking love from real beings. It is sage Valmiki’s
efforts to unite the couple, which ultimately brings out Sita’s strength of
character to the fore. When sage Valmiki sends for Sita, she is reluctant to
meet Rama at Ayodhya. She ponders-


“It is disrespectful even to step into this
land. My mind is intensely indicating that it is awkward to see the face of
that husband. But how can I disrespect the words of the sage who has given me
shelter in my difficult times, has consoled me whenever I was troubled and has
showered grandfatherly love on my children? (p. 303.Trans mine)


             It is to keep the words of sage Valmiki that
Sita comes to Ayodhya after many years. But after her arrival, she refuses to
even enter the palace and seeks shelter at the homes of ordinary subjects,
asserting her sense of self-respect. Also, she very firmly rejects Rama as the
father of her children stating that Rama had deserted her along with the
children in her womb, which leaves no filial connections intact, which comes as
a shock to all the people gathered in Ayodhya. Her conviction of her presenting
her independent identity free of any reference to Rama, and owing up with pride
the responsibility of her twin children in front of the citizens of Ayodhya is
what makes Bhyrappa’s Sita, a self- consciously gritty woman of strength and character.

            Unlike the archetypal Sita of
Valmiki’s Ramayana, she does not seek
shelter and sink in the womb of mother Earth after giving her children to the
care of Rama, but returns to the ashram after firmly rejecting the proposition
of uniting with Rama. The abrupt and unwarranted elimination of Sita from the
surface of Earth, after she hands over her sons to the custody of Rama, makes
her presence redundant and extraneous in Valmiki Ramayana, which reeks of the patriarchal yardstick of measuring
women in terms of their relevance to the man’s life only.  On the contrary, Dr. Bhyrappa’s Sita ends her
life later, after returning to ashram. Her clarity of perception of herself and
her guilt–free conscience is evident when she is unruffled even at the receipt
of the news of Rama’s death by drowning due to heartbreak. It is Rama who
suffers from guilt and lays down his life.

            Bhyrappa has given a glorious ending
to Sita’s dignified life. She is found all decked up in jewelry gifted to her
by Anasuvya, lying in a pit that she had got dug in her farm, which shows that
she had the agency to decide on the kind of death she willed and fulfilled it
on her own. Thus Bhyrappa’s Uttarakanda
through voicing Sita’s deep-rooted thoughts in the recesses of her mind and
heart has unveiled the violence of the silences that she had to suffer all
through her early life till she comes on her own after the unfair desertion by

        Thus, as Nayantara Sahagal says -“Through such re-writing .
. . new Sitas and Savitris will arise, stripped of false sanctity and crowned
with the human virtue of courage. Then at last we will know why they did, what
they did”. Dr. Bhyrappa has released Sita from the shackles of her muted
existence and echoed her silences to reverberate the inherent multiple violence.




S. L., Uttarakhanda. Sahitya Bandar.

Nayantara. Point of View. New Delhi: Prestige.


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