Let us take our minds to the scene from Ramayana where Rama is summoned to his father’s presence the day before his coronation. Kaikeyi has demanded the boons promised to her by Dasaratha; she wants her son Bharata to be coronated and Rama to be exiled. Dasaratha is devastated but obliged to keep his word.
सप्त सप्त च वर्षाणि दण्डक अरण्यम् आश्रितः |
अभिषेकम् इमम् त्यक्त्वा जटा चीर धरः वस ||
“You have to leave this coronation function and dwell in the forest of Dandaka for fourteen years, with matted hair and clothed in animal skin”
So says Kaikeyi to Rama, when Dasaratha finds it too difficult to utter the words. How shocked Rama would have been to be exiled thus! Yet he takes it manfully, seeing it as his duty to fulfill his father’s words to Kaikeyi. Bidding farewell to his mother Kausalya, Rama comes to inform Sita of his imminent departure. He bids her farewell, advising her of her duty towards Bharata, who is to be king in his stead, towards his father Dasaratha and his mothers. Sita, quite unlike herself, does not take this meekly.
एवम् उक्ता तु वैदेही प्रिय अर्हा प्रिय वादिनी |
प्रणयात् एव सम्क्रुद्धा भर्तारम् इदम् अब्रवीत् ||
“Sita, who speaks kindly and deserving of kindness, after hearing Rama’s words, became angry out of love alone and spoke thus to her husband.”
She is upset and demands to go to the forest with Rama, saying that the destiny of a wife is tied to her husband. Her words are strong; she says that she cannot be prevented from her intention.
Rama explains to her the many discomforts, difficulties and dangers faced by forest dwellers. He speaks of dangerous animals, the lack of food, bed and comforts; he tells her of the rigours of the life of a hermit.
तत् अलम् ते वनम् गत्वा क्षमम् न हि वनम् तव |
विमृशन्न् इह पश्यामि बहु दोषतरम् वनम् ||
“Therefore, do away with the idea of your coming to the forest. The forest is not indeed bearable for you. Reflecting now, I perceive the forest as having too many disadvantages.”
Sita tries to convince Rama in many ways. She talks of her duty to be beside him, she talks of soothsayers predicting her stay in a forest. She even threatens suicide! When he tries to dissuade her, she demands to know why he is afraid of taking her, going so far as to ask-
किम् त्वा अमन्यत वैदेहः पिता मे मिथिला अधिपः |
राम जामातरम् प्राप्य स्त्रियम् पुरुष विग्रहम् ||
“What will my father, the king of Mithila, think of having a son-in-law such as you, a woman having the form of a man”
Strong words indeed!! I was surprised when I read the word to word translation of this chapter; I had imagined Sita as a softer character, who goes quietly with whatever is demanded of her.
Curious to see what Goswami Tulsidas writes in his Ramcharitmanas, I looked it up. In this, it is Kausalya who advices Rama that Sita is too gently brought up to survive the forest and she advices him to leave her behind. Sita is described as अति सुकुमारी , exceedingly delicate; as being timid चित्रलिख कपि देखि डेराती – frightened even to see a picture of a monkey. Rama then dissuades Sita by demonstrating her unfitness for the forest in many ways.
मानस सलिल सुधाँ प्रतिपाली । जिअइ कि लवन पयोधि मराली ।
Can a swan brought up in the nectarean water of the Manasa lake live in salt water of the ocean?
Sita’s reply is much softer than in Valimiki’s dialogue. Her main argument is that a wife should be with her husband, and that she could not bear to be separated from him.
बन दुख नाथ कहे बहुतेरे । भय बिषाद परिताप घनेरे ॥
प्रभु बियोग लवलेस समाना । सब मिलि होहिं न कृपानिधाना ॥
You have mentioned many hardships and perils, woes and afflictions attendant in forest life; but all these put together will hardly compare with an iota of the pangs of separation from my Lord, O fountain of mercy!
She offers herself in service of her Lord, she begs and pleads in her distress.
सबहि भाँति पिय सेवा करिहौं । मारग जनित सकल श्रम हरिहौं ॥
I shall render all sorts of service to my beloved Lord and shall relieve him of all the toil occasioned by the journey.
Tulsi’s Sita is more gentle but comes across as rather servile, calling herself a दासी or handmaiden.
Arunachala Kavi’s (1711-1779) representation of her is more like what I had imagined her to be. This great Tamil poet wrote the musical-drama called Rama Natakam which is based on the Ramayana. My song choice of today is set to the scene above. In contrast to Valmiki’s Sita who angrily demands her rights or Tulsi’s Sita pleadingly offering her services, Arunachala Kavi’s Sita is distressed but aware of her rights, as she reminds Rama of promises made.
“How can you even bear the thought of leaving me?” she asks. She reminds him of his promise to never separate from her in any birth and asks if he is breaking his word to her. She speaks of her distress; “By distressing me again and again, you kill me without killing me with your words” she says. There is pathos in her pleas and it is well expressed in the Raga Huseni. I believe it was set to tune by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. For lyrics and translation, see footnote.
My favourite rendition is by Sanjay Subrahmanyan who is extraordinarily talented in showing bhava, expression, in his music. I have just listened to at least fifteen renditions and for me, none come close to the expression he portrays! I am a fan!
Alternate link : Click here
I also like very much K.V.Narayanaswamy’s rendition which is beautifully enunciated.
Alternate link : Click here and download song 4
Footnote (Lyrics) :
எப்படி மனம் துணிந்ததோ, சுவாமி
வனம் போய் வருகிறேன் என்றால்
இதை ஏற்குமோ பூமி?
எப்பிறப்பிலும் பிரியேன், விடேன் என்று கை தொட்டீரே
ஏழையான சீதையை நட்டாற்றிலே விட்டீரே
கரும்பு முறித்தாற் போலே சொல்லல்லாச்சுதோ ?
ஒருக்காலும் பிரியேன் என்று சொன்ன சொல்லும் போச்சுதோ?
வருந்தி வருந்தி தேவரீர் வெல்ல (alt: சொன்ன ) வார்த்தையால் கொல்லாமல் கொல்ல
இரும்பு மனது உண்டாச்சுதல்லவோ?
என்னை விட்டுப் போகிறேன் (alt: பிரிகிறேன்) என்று சொல்ல
eppaDi manam tuNindadO, swAmi
vanam pOy varugiREn enDRAl
idai ERkumO bhUmi
appiRappilum piriyEn, viDEn enDRu kai toTTIrE
EzhaiyAna sItaiyai naTTATRilE viTTIrE
karumbu muRittAR pOlE sollallAchchudO ?
oru kAlum piriyEn enDRu sonna sollum pOchchudO?
varundi varundi dEvarIr vella (alt: sonna) vArttaiyAl kollAmal kolla
irumbu manadu uNDAchchudallavo?
ennai viTTup pogirEn enDRu solla
How (eppaDi) can your mind (manam) even bear the thought (tuNindadO; literally dare), O Lord (swAmi)? If you say (enDRAl: if so) that you will leave (pOy varugirEn) for the forest (vanam) (implied: without me), will the earth (bhUmi) bear it (ERkumO)?
Did you not hold (toTTIrE: literally touch) my hand (kai) and say “I will never part with you (piriyEn), I will never leave you (viDEn) in any birth (eppaRappilum)”? (Refers perhaps to pANigraha ritual in a wedding). And yet (implied) you leave ((viTTIrE) this wretched (EzhaiyAna) Sita mid-stream (naTTATRil)?
So there is to be (AchchudO) this harsh (karumbu muRittar pOlE: literally like a sugar cane being broken) proclamation (sollall) ? Are the words (sol) “I shall never (oru kAlum) separate from you (piriyEn) that you spoke (sonna) forgotten (pOchchudO: literally gone)? By distressing me again and again (varundi varundi), you kill me (kolla) without killing me (kollAmal) with your winning/subduing words (vella vArtayAl) O Lord (dEvarIr)! Have you become hard-hearted (irumbu=iron, manadu=mind, uNdAcchu=come into existence) enough to say (enDRu solla) that you will leave me behind (ennai viTTu pOgirEn)?