In the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the respective heroines Sita and Draupadi are feminist icons, though different in situation and character.
By Kavita Kane
Mythology is full of stories of women and their small struggles against the patriarchal world they lived in, but each story and each woman rose above their status in society to show free will and courage to stand up against injustice. In the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the respective heroines Sita and Draupadi are feminist icons, though different in situation and character.
Sita knew what she wanted!
Sita is shown as a woman who always knows what she wants and is not just known as the wife of King Ram and daughter of King Janak. She falls in love with Ram, the prince of Ayodhaya and hopes to marry him and he wins her hand in a swayamvara held by her father.
Making difficult choice
As a young bride, Sita is made to face a difficult choice—to remain in the palace as her husband leaves for a 14-year exile or accompany him to the forest. She takes the harsher road and in spite of severe opposition, accompanies him in his 14-year exile as his companion, friend and wife, sharing hardship and troubles.
Strength of character
When abducted by the demon king Ravana of Lanka, she stays strong and never succumbs to either fear or grief, sure that Ram will free her. Ram does what Sita hopes and knows only too well, vanquishing and killing Ravana. But the fact that she had been in this man’s custody, leads to doubts on her character and her credentials to become the queen of Ayodhya. In anger and in defiance to prove her innocence, she goes through the “agnipariksha”. She passes through this trial by fire to prove to the world and any doubting mind to return to Ayodhya as a triumphant queen.
A single mother
Very soon, she again becomes a victim of social censure and Ram is forced to banish her, as is expected from him by his citizens as an ideal king, who sacrifices self for society. Sita is left in the forest to give birth to twin sons, who she raises as a single mother, providing them with the best education meant for the princes of Ayodhya. Years later, when Ram comes to take his lost family back, he returns with his sons and not his wife. Sita, when she asked to prove herself again, refuses and prefers to return to her mother Bhumi, to suffering further ignominy.
Many often do not see the steel in Sita. She is staunch and steadfast, never submissive; she is deferential but not docile, having an inner strength to carry out her convictions with immense courage and dignity.
Draupadi, a unique woman
Draupadi in the Mahabharata, as the wife of the five Pandavas, occupies a strange place and is considered an exceptionally strong woman and exemplary wife. She brings upon the great war of the Mahabharata for the sake of her honour, as she swears revenge for the “vastraharan”, when she is stripped in an open court.
A force to be reckoned with
She is the single force who takes the action to a bloody battlefield for justice and righteousness. She wins but loses her all — her five sons, her father and her two brothers in the war she started. Throughout, she suffers intense pain and grief, fury and humiliation, but her extraordinary strength is in her final act, where she forgives Ashwathama, the killer of her sons and her brothers, showing the entire range and scale of strong emotions and grace a woman is capable of, rising high above all, battling for her rights and pride till the very end. That is what makes her exceptional.
(Kavita Kane is the author of Karna’s Wife: The Outcast’s Queen, Sita’s Sister, Lanka’s Princess and Menaka’s Choice.)