Sita's exile

The most striking event from the epic Ramayan in which the singers in their songs on the grindmill mainly recognise Sita as Sita bai, viz., one of their kind, is her stay in the forest in a lonely exile, vanavas. They consider this episode as the most significant event of Sita's destiny and they project it as the symbolical medium through which they freely express the most striking dimension of their own experience as woman, their sasurvas, viz., their stay in the in-law's house, in a forsaken solitude.

Sita goes off to live in the forest, a calf harnessed to the chariot,
In a thick forest, in-law's house of mother Sita.

The cognition of oneself takes place through the epical event which, while revealing and exemplifying the everyday feelings and hardships in store for women in real life, gives the latter as a result the glimmering sheen of myth and destiny. The calf of the song tells women's innocence and the thick forest the intensity of their suffering. Vanavas means loneliness and absence of support at the in-laws'. "In such a huge forest, Sita weeps alone... No light in that jungle... Sita feels lost." Sita's plight brings to light the difficulty of being a woman and carries to them the message that this is a lot inflicted by the dharma. On the whole, the distichs on Sita show the singers' bewilderment. Some kind of misdeal and shakiness inevitably thwarts the slightest moments of legitimate joy: why on earth should women deserve misfortune as their share. This is indeed the destiny sent to all of them, faithful wives, by Sita, their elder sister, The Faithful One. Myth is reason and hardship an inescapable necessity.

The singers explicitly state the enigma which puzzles them. On the one hand, Sita is the most subdued and faithful spouse in the world, unlike women of the present age who may "abuse their husband" and have "become fiery" when Sita spent twelve years in the mountain. To the question : "How many faithful pativrata women are there on earth?", the answer is simple: only two women, "O Ram, your Sita", and either Anuseya, wife of the rishi Gautam, or Mandodari, wife of Ravan, or Draupadi, or Rukmini.

On the other hand, Sita, the one forsaken and exposed to hardship in her lonely forest-exile, sends her vanavas on a leaf of tamarind to all her women friends, in every country and in every house, in the form of their sasurvas. Singers liken so completely Sita's vanavas to their sasurvas that they even refer to Sita's exile in terms of her "hard sasurvas." The linguistic form suggests that Sita has been made to suffer vanavas as they are made to suffer various sorts of harassment at their in-law's place. Sita is even seen sending her message at the girls' native place to warn tear.

Sita suffered immeasurable sasurvas,
She sent it to mother's house in each village.

Not satisfied with sending her message on a leaf of tamarind, Sita in a more symbolical gesture sends, wrapped in a slip of paper, roots of a quitch grass, harali. This is a weed. Although cut clean to the ground and removed in appearance altogether by being rubbed up with its roots, the fibre of the root still continues to shoot up from the few remaining ramifications and at length flourishes as at first. A standard Marathi dictionary explains: the term harali is used for a race, an individual or a deeply seated disease that howsoever repressed is again and again showing itself under some or other form.

These are roots of harali wrapped in a slip of paper
Sent to us by mother Sita, sent from house to house.

Kega the mother-in-law has harassed Sita, countless torments
Roots of harali, for us, her friends, from country to country.

The allusion to the mother-in-law leaves no doubt about the purpose of the symbolic packet. Sita's vanavas is the most characteristic feature of the portrait of Sita that the singers entertain in their mind because their crucial worry is their sasurvas and this has found in Sita's forest life its mythical counterpart, viz., its substantive referent.

Sita has got sasurvas, countless as hair
The woman Sita has shared it out as a present from country to country.

According to the epic, Kaikayi was a queen who suddenly and quite unexpectedly got into a fit of jealousy for the sake of her son, Bharat, who did not oblige her and refused to rule. She is never shown as a cruel mother torturing Sita, Ram's wife. Yet, in the grindmill songs, she plays the part of a mother-in-law harassing her daughter-in-law, Sita. Sita's exile, vanavas, dimension of her condition as daughter-in-law, sasurvas, refers to her harassment by her in-laws and specifically by her mother-in- law. In identifying with Sita and her fate, the singers do turn Kaikayi too into the typical symbol of their harrying mother-in- law. An analytical account of the sequence of songs on Kaikayi gives a concrete idea of the projective procedures characteristic of the thought process of the singers.

Five levels of antagonistic relations may be distinguished.

1. Ram's frustration

Ram is bluntly blaming his mother Kaikayi: "You, my mother, have sent her in exile!" Such is the leitmotiv of his grief. He holds his mother responsible for his present predicament and sharply addresses her: "It is because of you that for the last twelve years, Sita is no more to be seen in your town, in the temple..." Ram is missing her, spending sleepless nights in his empty bed. When he returns from hunting, he cries and laments over Sita. The thought of Sita staying helplessly alone in the forest makes Ram desperately weeping. He beseeches his mother to tell him on which road he should go and look for her. The singers have no doubt about the culprit:

Sita has got sasurvas because of Ram's mother,
Vanavas for Sita, Ram then was not at home.

They imagine Ram proclaiming Sita's righteousness -- their own righteousness.

2. Kaikayi, a castrating mother

Kaikayi has absolutely no pity for her son. She did not let Sita stay with him and enjoy the pleasure of an amorous relation with Ram. Sita was made to desert Ram, such a good husband. Kaikayi is a bitch. She does not let Ram enjoy the company of Sita, his wife. As a result, there is no husband-wife relationship. Kaikayi is enraged to the point of practising black magic: she has waved in front of Ram a lamp made of cow-dung. Ram surreptitiously listens how his mother ill treats Sita and helplessly weeps, hiding his eyes full of tears under his shawl. To snatch Sita from Ram and prevent any Ram's embrace, Kaikayi brands Sita as scraps thrown away on garbage with the filthy leaves after meal. How could Ram approach such a woman who gave herself to Ravan's embrace and came back as defiled as refuse after meal?

Kaikayi knows the people's uproar: the whole population holds Sita to be a woman who misbehaves. This is a good reason to expel her as the victimised scapegoat wanted by the population. All women consider her guilty: she joins with the public opinion in voicing their reprobation.

3. Mother-in-law's harassment

The songs relating to Sita's sasurvas viz. Sita's torment and harassment at the hands of Kaikayi her mother-in-law, may be disposed in an order staging a short symbolic sketch where Sita features the character of a young daughter-in-law harassed by her mother-in-law at her in-laws' place. A weary Sita wonders how long and how much she should bear in silence in order to avoid that her in-laws put the blame on her parents were she remonstrating. No doubt should be raised about her perfect submission and faithfulness.

Sita suffers sasurvas , to what extent maintain the honour!
Women, let me tell you, cool is the shadow of jambolona

Woman Sita retorts : "Don't accuse me wrongly,
I tell you, women, I am the child of Janaka."

Sita washes her head in the river as she is not given water for her bath. Her hair has become dry and stiff. Kaikayi goes and fetches bark of acacia to dress her with and gives her no pad to put on her head when she sends her to fetch water. Meanwhile, the hardheaded and unmindful mother-in-law enjoys herself:

Women, let me tell you, she tortured her daughter-in-law,
Mother Kega, her mother-in-law, eats rice with milk.

Sita fosters one hope and expectation: her husband will definitely welcome her confidence and understand her sorrow:

Sita tells her happiness and sorrow -- Ram reads a sacred book,
Kaikayi, her mother-in-law, was standing at the door.

A possessive mother-in-law would not see without anger her son taking notice of the confidence of his wife. Ram, the son, fearful and inhibited, instead of paying attention to Sita's words, explicitly even though with an ambiguous gesture which may convey embarrassment as well as contempt, shows that the words of his wife are of no concern for him, to the delight of his heedful and castrating mother. Subdued to his mother, he is incapable of and unwilling to, entertain the least affective relation with his wife:

Sita relates her sasurvas, Ram turns a page,
Kaikayi, her mother-in-law, is all ears at the door.

As a matter of fact, the singers' viewpoint is unambiguous: Ram is a spineless chap turned macho, powered by the glance of his mother.

Sita, tell your happiness and sorrow! -- Ram does not let her talk,
Happiness and sorrow of Sita boil out in her heart.

This absolutely solitary suffering with no confident seemingly defines the actual import of the symbolic representation associated with the life in the forest, vanavas, of Sita, lonely exile exposed to hardship, equated for this reason to the sasurvas of any woman and "friend like Sita" in the world:

Exile in the forest for Sita, Ram does not let her talk,
Exile in the forest for Sita, her heart is boiling out.

What should Sita do, now? As her husband is unable to respond to her need of exchange and communication in the middle of her exile, the mother-in-law, "a slut", is bound to torture her at ease with impunity. In contrast to this wickedness, Sita is simple. "The Sita of Ram has spent her life in innocence."

Eventually, only one moment of respite is occasionally granted to Sita when she may seek after temporary relief:

Mother Kega, her mother-in-law, she has gone out,
Sita, Ram's wife, folds hands towards the god.

4. Kaikayi is a murderess

Kaikayi, back home, finds Laxman, her son too, returning from hunting. She then gives him the order to take Sita to the forest and kill her in the jungle.

Mother Kaikayi says: "Laxman, my child, prove yourself worthy of my womb.
Sita the woman, Ram's wife, take her away and kill her!"

Sita departs and leaves a blouse as an evidence of her departure for Kaikayi. This one is so happy that she sets guzling stuffed pan cakes and milk out of satisfaction. Her tense anxiety is over: she was restlessly waiting for the implementation of Sita's execution as per her order:

When he murdered Sita, he placed her face towards the sun,
"You, Laxman! Kill! Kill! On your Kaikayi's oath!"

Laxman brings back the head under a cover and shows it to Kaikayi who bends to have a look and ascertain herself. Laxman is invited to eat and rejoice. The songs envisage all sorts of evidences of the murder brought by Laxman to Kaikayi (hair, leg, blouse, etc.) only for the singers to have a rhyme allowing them to show how the mother-in-law is particularly delighted. For instance, when an arm is brought, Kaikayi sets gobbling rice and milk.

5. Kaikayi is indicting Sita

To show that Sita is to be blamed for her sinful conduct and rightly punished for the same, Kaikayi draws the Ravan's picture on the wall, that yogi (gosavi) whose queen she has been! As a consequence Sita should not bring water home to the thirsty Laxman who is asking for it, as she is polluted. Nobody should accept water from her.

See also:
I tell you, woman
A performance capacity reactivated
Grindmill songs and animation
Unfettered Voices

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