#Opinion

Reciting Ramayana To Kids: Don’t Gloss Over The Women And Greys Of The Epic

Re-Interpreting Sita

Reciting Ramayana to kids: When I was a kid, I read stories of Ramayana from children’s books and comics. The books were usually titled after Lord or King Rama emphasising that the story was just about Lord Rama, his morality and conquests. It mainly started with his birth and ended when he was reunited with Sita after defeating Ravana. But today, I have realised that there is much more to Ramayana than Lord Rama himself. Apart from being a scripture on religion, it is a commentary on social issues that prevail even today. But while reciting Ramayana to kids, all these intricacies are glossed over and the epic is simplified into moral stories about the victory of good over evil.

But is it right to simplify Ramayana for kids in a way that they miss out on so many perspectives that the epic offers? Is it right to portray Lord Rama in good light throughout the story and Sita as a victim? Was Ravana inherently a villain? Was Ramayana a story about the black and white world or it had its greys too?

Let us remember that the way we choose to retell a story speaks a lot about our own biases and perspectives. The things that we exclude and those that we highlight plays an important role in changing the entire meaning or moral of the story. So rather than offering a biased version of Ramayana to kids, parents/adults must recite the epic with all its goods and evils, multiple perspectives and complexities. So here are a few reasons why children should know both the good and evil of Ramayana

Reciting Ramayana To Kids

1. Ramayana is not all about Rama

Even though Ramayana etymologically means the journey of Lord Rama, there is much more to it. Ramayana is also the story of Sita, her love and devotion towards Rama, her sacrifices and her choices. It is also about the love and hatred between brothers and sisters (stories of Rama and brothers, Sugreev and Bali and Ravana and Surpanakha) and about devotees’ devotion towards God (especially Ravana and Shabari). Ramayana is also about injustices, war, bloodshed and the presence of evil in the world. And these are some of the themes and topics that will find relevance in the present and future in every generation. Then, why shouldn’t kids understand Ramayana from these perspectives?

2. Sita should be highlighted as a woman and not just as a consort

Sita is mainly known as the devoted consort of Lord Rama whose abduction by a demon king Ravana led to the great war of Ramayana. But how many children or even adults would know about Sita’s birth story? How many children are told that Sita herself had “playfully” picked up the prestigious Shiva’s bow which many strong kings who participated in her swayamvar couldn’t?

Sita was a rebirth of Goddess Lakshmi, the most revered Goddess of the Hindu religion. She was raised by a father who was the first feminist father of Indian mythology. Sita embodied a woman who made her own choices and who survived as one of the first single mothers in our tradition. She might also be the first woman to condemn the injustices that society practices against women and decided to leave the world where she was not valued. So rather than making Ramayana a story of Rama’s birth and conquest only, retellings should give equal focus to Sita’s birth and contribution in making Ramayana a memorable epic of Hindu religion.

3. Stories of other women in Ramayana has often been glossed over; they suffered in silence literally

Whenever we come across Ramayana, the major women characters that strike our minds are Sita and Rama’s three mothers. Even their stories are narrated only when they add some value to Rama’s journey on earth as a rebirth of Lord Vishnu. But many women characters of the epic find no mention while reciting Ramayana to children. For instance, how many kids are told about the sacrifice and pain of Urmila, Lakshman’s wife, who spent her life alone for 14 years when her husband chose to accompany his brother on his vanvas?

How many kids know about the dilemma of Mandodari, Ravana’s wife, who knew Ravana had ventured on the wrong path which would lead to his death but, as his wife, it was her duty to support him? Moreover, not many children or adult readers dive deep into the life story of Surpanakha as a woman and beyond her identity as an demoness who tried to seduce Lord Rama? Is it fair to choose to gloss over the role of these women in Ramayana?

4. Ramayana was not black and white; it had its own grey too

Many retellings of Ramayana have denied that Ravana was outright evil and demonic as many children perceive him. Ravana was an embodiment of one of the greatest devotee of Lord Shiva and, as per some retellings, of Lord Rama too. Moreover, he was an excellent veena player, wrote commentaries on Vedas and medicines and is revered as a God in many places even today. In a way, Ravana was a man of both virtues and flaws which is close to the humanity that resides on earth today. So rather than portraying Ramayana as a plain story of good and evil, children should be told about the significance of what lies in the middle.

Ravana

Image of Ravana, Picture Credit: Pinterest

5. Comprehensive knowledge of what is right and wrong

If children are taught about both the goods and evils of Ramayana, they will get a more comprehensive idea of what is right and what is wrong. It will encourage children to question and reason rather than internalising a particular narrative of the epic. For example, Sita’s decision to spend her life alone in a forest should make them think about why society questioned Sita’s purity rather than condemning Ravana’s act of abducting her? Why should any man feel free and entitled to abduct or attack a woman in order to revenge the man of the house?

Ramayana For Kids: Don’t Gloss Over The Women And Greys Of The Epic

6. Retellings of epics should offer perspectives and knowledge to kids not opinions

Whenever kids are told about Ramayana or any other epic, it is important to provide them with multiple perspectives- caste, religion and feminism- and not opinions. Children should be open to formulate their opinions about the epic after reckoning different perspectives. In this way, they won’t miss the important narratives in the epic and have thorough knowledge about it.

Views expressed are author’s own