Saturday, March 14, 2009



It was another tranquil evening in Dankaranya. After the sunset, birds were quiet…. the forest did not betray any movement. Mild fragrance of wild flowers hung heavy among the trees . The river Godavari was flowing as usual. Stars were shining on the sky above. Neither the river nor the sky betrayed any fore-bidding of an epoch of the millennium which would have its first act unfolding next morning in this forest .

This evening , a young woman was reclining on a flower decorated divan. placed on a raised platform adjacent to the river’s bank. Her supple athletic body betrayed slight tension. Her companions had lit up the platform with decorative lamps and placed incense sticks in its four corners . One of them was playing a stringed instrument softly. Her favourite masseur was ready with lukewarm oil, mixed with herbal ingredients and bowls of warm water, waiting slightly impatiently for the touch of her sensuous body his deft fingers would get during this chore and the pain of his ever-unfulfilled arousal. Her favourite snacks and drink were ready on a silver platter placed near her divan. A perfect set-up for relaxation of this special woman who spent the day riding through the forest on horse-back and hunting.

One of her companions came near her with slow-burning camphor, soaked in aphrodisiacs. She informed her that three young satraps of this forest were waiting in her pavilion .......invited to join her for a sumptuous dinner and later a session of
wild revelry and dance to the tune of orgasmic drum-beats .

But, her mind was wandering far away from this set-up and another evening of heightened pleasure. She was staring at the flicker of light coming from a distance through trees of this forest. She was intrigued by the dwellers of the sprawling cottage where the light was coming from. This cottage came up after she last visited this favourite hunting place of hers. She was , therefore, naturally curious about the dwellers of this cottage. She found there were three persons in this cottage. Two young men, one practicing archery and the other repairing the thatching of the cottage….. and a veiled beauty, humming and watering the creepers on the fencing. One thing she noticed : They were so different from all the people she knew in the power circle she belonged to.

This woman was no ordinary person. Her father was a very respected sage, her eldest brother a very powerful king, dreaded for his exploits of kingdoms and women, and her half-brother the richest person of the universe. Enlightened and sophisticated woman she was, with huge resources placed at her disposal. Her prowess has attracted many virile men to her inner circle. But, for the first time in her life, she felt attracted to a man, in a way she could not fathom herself.

These three persons staying at the distant cottage were no ordinary persons either. But, they were busy with their lives, having no idea what would befall upon them the next morning , when their neighbour would walk into their cottage with an unexpected request. The course of event would change not only their lives for ever but those of thousands whose existence they were not yet aware of.

This was the night before the start of a war Gods would watch with trepidation. One of the greatest poets of India will write an Epic based on this war . Can you guess who this woman is ?

She is Soopananakha, grand-daughter of sage Pulastya, daughter of Visrava and Kaikasee, sister of Ravana and half-sister of Kuber. Next morning, she would put on her best dress, jewelry and demeanour , and offer herself to the archer she saw from a distance. The other young man , the archer’s younger brother, would jeer at her dark skin , taunt her for her amorous advances and throw her out of their cottage . Losing her cool, she would turn blind with rage and create a ruckus. In a cruel act of retribution by the younger brother, she would be disfigured permanently.Her bodyguards would be killed. Soon, her eldest brother Ravana would abduct the veiled beauty to avenge this insult. A devastating battle would engulf her country bringing in immense tragedy into the lives of the all the valiant relatives of Soorpanakha as well as to the person she wanted to allure into her life.

This is a tale of India millenniums ago. To-day , Anurag Kashyap finds her heroine carrying a bed-roll to the shade of a tree and inviting her lover Dev D to have sex with her. Dev D disappoints Paro and the audience . Tragedy follows but, of a different kind and scale !

A conventional portrayal of Soorpanakha under attack - Jorbangla temple ,Bishnupur



It is interesting to note how other writers have seen Soorpanakha's story.

First of this series is someone whom scholars of Tamil literature deem as the greatest Tamil poet of the twentieth century :C. Subrahmaniya Bharati (1882-1921). A quote from the internet about this story:

“Horns of the Horse” appropriates the narrative format of an animal fable, depicts Surpanakha as an ally of Sita, and reverses standard expectations about gender. Bharati designed the story for a collection that he envisioned as an updated version of an ancient anthology of Sanskrit animal fables. Although “Horns of the Horse” bears some generic markers of didactic fables that provide an etiology for the appearance of a certain animal, satire is its primary motivation. For example, instead of explaining how horses got horns, the story recounts how horses lost their horns. Similarly, in the fable’s frame story, which explains how the story came to be told, the narrator is identified as Pandit Crooked Face, a name in Tamil that suggests doubt about the narrator’s unreliability.

Most central to Bharati’s satire, however, is turning familiar events on their heads and reversing dichotomies. For example, most of the major roles in the plot are reversed. Rama tries to usurp the crown from Dasaratha, flees to Mithila when his father drives him and Lakshmana from the kingdom, and then Rama abducts Sita to the Dandaka Forest. When Surpanakha Devi, ruler of the region learns Rama is harassing the local forest people, she commands her troops to capture Rama and Lakshmana bring them to her court. Gracious and compassionate, she cautions them never to perform such actions again, then allows them to stay as her guests. Sita then draws her aside and reveals she has been abducted, asking to be returned to her father’s house. Sympathetic Surpanakha sends her to nearby Lanka, so her brother (Ravana) can arrange an escort for her back to Mithila. Thus, Bharati portrays Surpanakha as saving Sita from Rama’s clutches.
“Horns of a Horse” forcefully satirizes the peculiar logic of stereotypes about romantic love through Bharati’s acutely depicted portrayal of the famous mutilation scene. While authoritative tellings of Ramkatha portray Lakshmana disfiguring Surpanakha at Rama’s command, Bharati depicts Surpanakha disfiguring Lakshmana and, thus, mocks gendered notions of male prowess and female sexual attraction. The mutilation results when Surpanakha tells the two princes that she has sent Sita to Lanka. Hot-headed Lakshmana rudely reprimands Surpanakha and, affronted, she slashes off Lakshmana’s ears and toes with her fruit-knife. Bharati describes Rama as “[i]nfatuated by her heroic act.” Rama interprets Surpanakha’s act as courageous, is filled with desire, and asks her to marry him. When Rama demonstrated his prowess with Siva’s bow, he won Sita as bride; here Surpanakha demonstrates her prowess with a fruit-knife and Rama wants her as a bride. The scene prompts the reader to consider why one should fall in love with someone because he or she performed a violent act? By reversing gendered expectations, Bharathi makes visible the “macho” assumptions that drive the construction of Sita and Rama as the perfect couple. The satire lampoons the normative heroic “script” with its gendered expectations about capability with weapons and sexual attraction. Long before feminist writers began critiquing constructions of gender through portrayal of violence and sex, Bharati highlighted the process in this story. ”


2nd of the series is :

Kandula Varaha Narasimha Sarma (1939-) has made the most extensive use of contemporizing the characters. A retired professor of Civil Engineering who writes under the nom de plume of “Kavanasarma,” he has won recognition for the humour and satire in his short stories and novels.
His 1984 Telugu short story written titled “Surpanakha’s Sorrow” could be mistaken for a piece of social realism: its details about business corruption and legal scandals sound as if they were right out of today’s headlines. Yet the fact that the characters’s names and plot echo Ramkatha so closely reveals its Ramkatha subtext. Kavanasarma’s portrayal of the suffering that Surpanakha and Sita experience as a result of Rama’s “macho” attitudes functions as a commentary on sexist attitudes in today’s society.

According to Kavanasarma, both Surpanakha and Sita suffer as a result of the conflict between Rama and Ravana. In the modern Telugu author’s telling, unlike in the authoritative ones however, the competition between the two men plays itself out in the realm of business, rather than kingship. Ravanarao, who owns a long-established business in town, resents the efforts of newcomer Ramaraju to muscle his way into Ravanarao’s market niche. After gaining proof of Ramaraju’s crooked transactions, Ravanarao reports the irregularities to the income tax office but Ramaraju’s uncle, who has political clout, gets the court to dismiss the case. Still rumors begin circulating about Ramaraju’s corruption, so he puts distance between himself and his business affairs by building and moving to a hermitage at the edge of town.

The forest provides the backdrop against which the two men play out their anger towards each other by abusing women. Ravanarao vows to take revenge on Ramaraju for evading legal punishment, so he disguises himself as a holy man and comes to dwell in Ramaraju’s forest. As soon as Rama leaves on an errand, the holy man abducts Sita. When Ramaraju discovers what has transpired, he worries not about his abducted wife’s safety but that “people might laugh at him for being so effeminate and doing nothing while his enemy had a good time with his wife.” Ramaraju decides to retaliate by mistreating Ravanarao’s sister for, “[o]nly then would his manliness have any value.” Ramaraju now invites her to visit him. When she arrives, he locks her inside the house, has his brother mutilate her, and then sends her to her brother. Ravanarao files a complaint with the police and gets Ramaraju arrested, but Ramaraju is acquitted.

The climax of Kavanasarma’s story comes when Surpanakha perceives a larger pattern emerging out of Sita’s experience and her own: men too cowardly settle their own grievances man-to-man perpetrate violence upon each others’ women. Surpanakha then applies her insight about patriarchal abuse of women to current affairs:

When Harijans revolt, unable to face them, these heroic men invade their homes when they are not around and the brave policemen, who go ostensibly to protect the weak, violate their women. When the police come and arrest the rogues, the rest of the rogues come, and instead of doing anything either to the men who had tipped off the police or
to the police themselves, they rape the women of the town. Whoever wants to settle an account with the other targets only the women.

Here Surpanakha draws explicit parallels between Lakshmana’s treatment of her and today’s atrocities where high caste men rape women. Laws exist to punish such crimes, but the accused find ways to work the system and evade imprisonment. The story portrays Surpanakha as coming to espouse feminist critique and depicts Surpanakha’s assault not as an isolated event but as part of a systemic oppression of women.

“Surpanakha’s Sorrow” ends with a call for change: Supanakha asks God, who created the world, to make it possible for women to conceive children without the involvement of men or at least allow them to give birth to courageous men rather than cowards who oppress women. One cannot dismiss Surpanakha’s words as just the anger of a scorned woman, since Mandodari, Ravana’s faithful and devoted wife, confirms Surpanakha’s analysis, saying: “That’s how it is, our life as women.” Surpanakha’s sorrow is actually that of all women who experience sexual violence at the hands of men. Kavanasarma shows that an ancient story still expresses truths about women’s situation today, a situation shared by both Sita and Surpanakha.”

This story was noticed around 1995 and translated in English 2001.This translation has been part of an anthology of contemporary writings on Ramayana…...’Stories of Ramayana in Modern South India’, edited by Paula Richman.


Comment of my friend Satyendu Sanyal, whom I requested to read the blog and the two comments replied :
My dear Shyamal,
Read your piece and enjoyed it. The linked comments were also very interesting."Osti Godavari-tirey Vishaala Shalmolee-toru" is a fragment of Sanskrit that has
remained in the mind. Your invoking the tranquil setting of Godavari brought that back.
And Shuvo Nabobarsho to you and your family