The state of Uttarakhand is planning to construct a temple dedicated to goddess Sita in the Phalswari village, where she is believed to have taken ‘bhoo samadhi’. A Times of India report says that Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat has made the announcement regarding the development of Sita circuit in Pauri district of the state. There aren’t many temples dedicated to Sita in our country, where she is revered sans lord Rama. While Sita is considered an ideal when it comes to devotion and dedication towards one’s husband, she is seldom seen as an empowered mother and woman that she truly was. In fact, girls are rarely named after the goddess, in order to protect them from the so-called tragic fate she had to endure. So does Sita need a temple or a change in our gaze towards her story?
- Uttarakhand is planning to build a massive temple for goddess Sita.
- Sita temples are pretty uncommon in India.
- Do we look at Sita with a gaze of sympathy, since she had to spend later years of her life in forest, along with her two sons?
- Wasn’t she an empowered single mother, looking out for herself and her kids?
It seems easier to empower a deity in our country, rather than living, breathing women of flesh who continue to face discrimination on basis of their gender every day.
It is ironic that Sita is getting a huge temple in her name in a state which has been in news recently for gender discrimination. Just last year, news reports revealed how girls from Rautgara village, Pithoragarh were being forced to skip their schools during periods, as a temple dedicated to a local deity fell along their way. The locals feared desecration of temple, were menstruating women and girls to even pass from the said area. It seems easier to empower a deity in our country, rather than living, breathing women of flesh who continue to face discrimination on basis of their gender every day. Something as natural as their periods is considered impure, limiting their lives, from a ban on entry into kitchens and places of worship, or as in above mentioned case, access to education.
Having said that, it has been a long journey for Sita to finally have a temple in her name. Seen and known as the wife of Maryada Purushottam Ram, a man of supreme honour, what is our perception of Sita? Doesn’t the majority see her as an obedient wife, who was kidnapped by a villain, who proved her piousness by walking through fire, and quietly went away to live in the forest when her husband commanded her to. Be obedient and devoted like Sita, women are told in our country, all the while wishing that the fate she endured isn’t conferred on them.
We do not wish to see any woman, who is separated from her husband as an empowered one. She could be earning her own paycheck, raising kids on her own, and living life on her terms, but if her marriage hasn’t worked out, we ought to look at her with pity.
I carried a similar perception of Sita until I read Devdutt Pattanaik‘s book on her, which challenged the gaze of pity that we bestow on her, especially when it comes to how she spent the later years of her life, cast away in a forest, with her two young children. But was Sita indeed a sufferer? Wasn’t she living as per her will, albeit modestly? Wasn’t she raising two children on her own, fetching food and necessities for them? Where else would she be at home, if not the forest, being the daughter of mother earth?
The problem is that we do not wish to see any woman, who is separated from her husband as an empowered one. She could be earning her own paycheck, raising kids on her own, and living life on her terms, but if her marriage hasn’t worked out, we ought to look at her with pity. Women are said to be suited for life in homes, caring for their family, obeying social norms and passing on the stereotypes to the next generations. It is no wonder then that we even look at a goddess from this gaze, and pity her for being “abandoned.”
Will the construction of a huge temple devoted to Sita change this gaze? Will we finally begin to see Sita and the like of her who take patriarchal setbacks in their stride and carry on living as empowered women? One can only muse.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.