Tuesday, March 12, 2013

RAPE IN THE RAMAYANA

It apparently happens towards the end of the war between ‘good and evil’ in one of the most celebrated epics of India, the Ramayana. To find out if this episode got a clear enough mention in this colossal work of poetry in Sanskrit, one has to delve deeper into the nuances of its different versions (read over 300) existing in today’s day and age.

The abduction of Sita (as portrayed in Raja Ravi Varma’s Jatayu-vadham) which forms the crux of the series of events steering to the bloody end, is certainly vivid in the minds of everybody who is in the know of the epic’s plot development (and the artist’s work). The agony of separation from her husband and hardship she went through in the confines of the enemy turf is rendered in great detail, no doubt, and this administers to drive home the volatility of the adversary in more than convincing terms. But that did not involve any sort of bodily harm to the lady. What if a more heinous violation took place in the epic which in an attempt to glorify the ‘good’ got shrouded over time by the devices of sacred elements?

Jatayu-vadham by Raja Ravi Varma
Ramayana is one of those epics that transformed in time into hundreds of different versions (including the Muslim version and the non-Indian ones), some varying only in minor details while some others contradicting, by leaps and bounds, the main events of what is believed to be the original work by Sage Valmiki, the Valmiki Ramayana from the 5th century B.C. Even the “original” work as it is known today is supposed to have had numerous interpolations from much later dates, including the whole of the first and the last segment.

Of all the variants, one of the most popular and canonical versions is the Adhyatma Ramayana by sage Vyasa which, eulogizing the spiritual virtues in the story, projects it as a divine allegory, and over time became a guide to religious ideologists and soul-seekers. Raising the mortal cast of Valmiki’s work into divinities and ideal characters, this version, more widely accepted than the original, also sets a rather strong line between the good and the evil. This work forming a basis to a number of other versions that followed, the understanding of the essence of the original epic is largely lopsided. The flaws of Ram, the mortal protagonist, are veiled here by “the larger cause” similar to what is done to hide the virtues of the antagonist, the demon king Ravan. In the haste, to paint one side ‘good’ and the other outright ‘evil’, the excuse for the perpetration of one of the unfortunate exploits by ‘good’ on ‘evil’ does not seem to be reasoned enough. It is the breach of the modesty of a woman in the penultimate Yudha-Kanda that is shrouded in ambiguity here. The character in discussion is none other than the chief villain’s chaste wife, Mandodari, Ravan’s stunning consort whose beauty was extensively praised by Valmiki in the original, whom Hanuman takes for Sita at first glance and who in no way contributed to the hostage situation in the epic. 

Apparently it takes place nearing the climax of the battle between Ram and Ravan (the former waging war in an attempt to reclaim his kidnapped wife from the latter). Blood had washed the Lankan shores red. All of Ravan’s key warriors and sons, including the infallible Indrajit, had perished. Lanka grieved for their martyred heroes. At this juncture, Ravan is advised to perform a fire sacrifice to ensure victory. Perceiving the outcome of such a rite, Ram sends his monkey-army, headed by his trusted general Hanuman and the monkey prince Angad, to storm the ritual. What follows is what seems to have loosely inspired the last half hour of THE RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES- a hurricane of monkeys that mob the palace and its surviving inmates, wreaking havoc. They do every thing possible  to hinder the Demon King’s rituals. In the middle of the ruckus, Angad, son of the late monkey-king Bali, turns towards his eldest and the prettiest queens. He yanks at Mandodari’s hair and drags her around before finally crushing her to his will “in order to leave nothing pure in Lanka that could shield Ravan from the impending end that he deserved”!

Now, there are various versions of this incident that could seem like what scarcely survived the “cleansing” of the text. The Valmiki Ramayana stalls the atrocity on the queen where Ravan comes to her rescue abandoning the sacrificial service, scaring away the monkey prince. It stops at the part where she is dragged by her hair by Angad in front of Ravan enraging him. But considering the adulteration that even this “original” went through, the reliability is to be reserved here. 
The Krittivasi Ramayana takes the extent of violation a notch up. Here, there is a more vicious depiction of cruelty towards the helpless woman. It says that it’s not just Angad, but “monkeys” including him, that drag her around and tear her clothes off in front of her duty-crippled husband.
In Bicitra Ramayana and Khmer Ramakerti, the Indonesian version, it’s Hanuman, who was also a part of the breaking and entering, that snatches away Mandodari’s clothes.
In Ramakien, the Thai version, there is an extensively crafted con act that describes the “rape”. Hanuman disguised as Ravan Sleeps with Mandodari maligning her chastity thus weakening the enemy’s spirits.

Mandodari, one of the five holy virgins, Panch-kanya, in the Hindu canon that represents the model wives (the other four being Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Ahalya), was abused for no fault of her own. A similar act in the epic Mahabharata is what triggered the bloody battle of Kurukshetra that ruined an entire race. But here, who was to cry blood for the dishonored? The Man in the family was slain a short while after the assault. And to make matters worse, Mandodari was eventually obliged to marry his brother (Vibhishan) who played every bit in the downfall of her husband. It just did not stop happening to the poor female. She deserved better!

At the end of it all, it seems immaterial as to which one of all the versions that depicts the act of violation, however varying in degree, exactly formed the part of the original plot, because none of them seemed to have a justification, save the convenient “fairness in war”.

It could be understood as to why the preachy Adhyatma Ramayana underplays the details of the atrocity. And perhaps the idea that Mandodari was from the foe’s family reserved the pity that the offense deserved in the other versions as well. But does the chastity of your own woman score above the enemy’s wife? (Stop right when it starts getting preachy as hell. ‘Cause that ain’t selling no more!)
Also from the Ramayana series:
MAYA SITA
MUSLIM RAMAYANA

18 comments:

  1. this is truly a revealation...dint even ever heard such a version of this part of the epic....well told!

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  2. Church! Ain't that the truth. However, the character flaws of our own mythological 'Heroes' is the inherent moral of Hindu parables. Be it Mahabharata or Ramayana. There never was an all out good guy or an all out bad guy... just the slightly better or the relatively worse. The right and wrong was based purely on the right and wrong of the act in question. Never mind the later alterations which edited and re edited the script to clearly demarcate, as you said 'paint one side of the wall ‘good’ and the other ‘evil’'.Interestingly, it was Satan who says 'I can do no wrong, for I do not know what wrong is.'(Not sure if this is a biblical quote or just made up for the sake of this acid tripped banned cartoon- Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=cqi5F5MqqTQ

    The point being, Our stories are riddled with these 'grey' areas. There is a basic plot... but the main purpose of the story is not the underlying moral of the story in entirety but rather the interesting grey areas of each character which makes the argument of what is good or what is evil a lot more interesting. Ergo, the way we lead our own lives is up to us. How WE interpret it. How WE live our lives through the choices WE make.
    All in all, good work. Enjoyed reading it.

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  3. You are so well read. Never knew of these episodes of Ramayan.

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  4. This is quiet a work. As Hindus we have been fed on the populist Ramayana of Ramanand Sagar and the priests who glorify Ram and criticise Ravan. But good and evil are what the author makes them to be, and its generally the winners version, not the loser to support the adage of Goods victory over evil at any cost.. that even Evil acts become an act of cleansing..

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  5. what the hell dude......speechless i am......really Mandodari was raped......:-O

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  6. The only legitimate version is of maharsi valmiki and due to the fact that it was written in ancient Sanskrit and only few could understand it was written in many other languages and versions and hence the story differs. Now valmiki never mentioned of mandodri rape so either believe it true or you are free to learn from any Chinese, thai or american version but tell me one thing how come their writers know what happened in India and sri Lanka when they were living far away from these lands in a age of heavy forests and no water transport

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  7. Because they searched on it..Why Shri Ram left Sita even they won the battle..then you tell what happen with Mandodari after Maharaja Ravan death..Maharaja Ravan is right person..If somebody cut your sister nose then what you will do. Raja took his lady but didn't touch her. Even he wanted then nobody was their to stop him but yes Mandodari was their to always stop him..Read, think, then write..

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  8. Don't spread misunderstanding

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  9. Can you plz translate all this in Hindi and send on my whatapp 8058240565

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  10. Dumb theory...who cares what muslim ramayana or thai ramayana or watever ramayana says...why are muslim people have their own version of ramayana in first place...people always interfere in hindu religion n make dumb theories..lord hanuman is a pure symbol of goodnes n righteousness n u r violating his name...dumb theory

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  11. Ridiculous, stop interfering in other religion. if you cant respect pls dont criticize quoting translated version. Lord Hanuman and Lord Rama are revered by Hindus dont malign our faith by orchestrating false storie, instead concentrate on other social evils.

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  12. Hanuman Vs Mahiravana is the theatrical 3D movie coming soon in cinemas on 6th July'18 - The film showcases the race against time for Hanuman to save Rama and Laxman from the clutches of Mahiravana the king of the underworld, an evil sorcerer and the brother of Ravana

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