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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Why Shri Ram is a feminist

The story of Ahalya

Ahalya was the beautiful wife of much older Gautam Rishi. The original story is that she was seduced by Indra, who came disguised as her husband. She sees through it but accepts his advances. She is cursed by her husband for her infidelity and loses her beauty. In fact, she was totally ostracized by the society, some motifs claiming that she was turned into stone signifying her lonely state. Though, Indra was cursed too, he remained a part of the society and retained his status.

The story has various versions, the later versions absolve Ahalya of blame and Indra is accused of rape. However, every version has the same result, she was ostracised by the society and shunned by the society forced to live a life of a lonely statue. Also in every the version of the story, Ahalya's liberator remains the same: Shri Rama.
It did not matter whether the woman was seduced, raped or was willing. The reason of her ostracism was that she had the misfortune to be born a woman. It wasn't the age where men were loyal.  Why was society so against female indiscretions when it seemed to allow even applaud male indiscretions?
The society took a somersault with the birth of Prince Rama who did not share their prejudices and he was not afraid of opposing the society. Rama, the perfect human knew that alas, humans are not so perfect. He liberated Ahalya and welcomed her in the polite society. There was no question of outcasting their favourite prince, therefore Ahilya was accepted too. That was the rise of a true feminist in the Indian horizon.


We have always read the word pativrata( loyal wife) in Indian literature but never before was an epithet ek (one) added to it. Whenever, a female is considered a pativrata, it is taken for granted that she has a single husband. However, the word patnivrata (loyal husband) is conspicuous by it’s abscence except for used in regards to Shri Rama. Then, too the word is ek patnivrata. Shouldn’t it be understood that a loyal husband would have only one wife? Why the additional ek?

Shri Rama was the only husband who professed loyalty to his wife, at least the only one to claim it openly to the society. He did not feel right that rules of monogamy should be forced on women and not on men.What gave rise to His idea of ek Patnivrata? Maybe, he had seen the harsh treatment met to a disloyal wife. He had the decency to understand you cannot expect loyalty from someone without returning it. He may have thought other men would follow his example, and the men and women would have the same footing in society.

Even Shurpanakha with her enchanting wiles couldn't tempt him, and considering he was an handsome prince, she might not be the only one who tried. His monogamy was by choice not by compulsion or lack of ladies. An additional strange part is that Rama explained his reasons to Shurpanakha but never insulted her. It was his younger brother who did that.

Episode of Sitaharan (the abduction of Sita)

Sita's abduction presents Rama in a new light. After the abduction, he never blames his wife for her infatuation with the enchanted deer. He blames his inability to protect his wife. Rama is grief stricken for her misery and weeps among trees. We seldom come across a weeping hero. Tears are considered to be a female domain. Shri Rama definitely didn’t think so. It proves that he did not venture to defeat Ravana to salve his ego or to bring back his wife, his possession but the woman he loved and cherished.

After the defeat of Ravana, we come across Sita’s agnipariksha(Fire trial). If you are fool enough to believe that any woman (or man for that matter) could come out alive only because she is pure then, please don’t continue reading. Agnipariksha could never be done literally, but Sita did however endure a horrifying trial. The society never forgives a wronged woman though it may forgive her culprit. The Lankans already hated her. They loved their King regardless of his cruelty and misdemeanor, and she was the cause of his downfall. However, no society can succeed in hurting a woman’s character when she has the complete trust of her husband.

The only way such a woman can come unscathed, is with the support of her near and dear ones. And the only people present in Lanka were Ram and his brother Laxman who fulfilled that category for Sita. Shri Ram who had once in his youth considered Ahilya pure, how could he not support a wife whose motives were purer. It is claimed that Ravana did not once touch her to support the idea of her purity but even if he did touch her how can she be polluted? She was the victim in that affair, and the victim is always pure. The victims of injustice are the only humans who have the complete grace of the Almighty Himself. He purifies them because, He was the one who couldn't save them from the evils of this world.

The society strikes back

There are hundreds of versions of Ramayana and most of the versions end with the defeat of Ravana and return of Shri Rama to Ayodhya. The society was stunned with a prince, now the king with impeccable values. His respect for women and men was immense. But in spite of treating women with superiority, he couldn’t be derogated with epithets like hen-pecked or effeminate for he was the mighty hero who had defeated the dreaded Ravana. There was no question of his masculinity. He was treated as an exception and turned into a God. There was no way for any other man to follow his ideals. We can’t all turn into a God, can we?

The problem came much later when some of the intellectuals felt that descend of God on earth must have been to show us the way of life. Now, the male society at that time wouldn’t give away their sense of importance to share their positions with a mere wife. So, it was decided he came for the sole purpose of defeating Ravana. It wasn’t enough, the only way to achieve perfect respectability to a male chauvinistic society was to turn a hero into one of them.

Then, came the additional versions with an epilogue of how Rama heard a washerman insult Rama’s ways and his sensitivity was ruffled. I’ve never understood why a secure Hero and King suddenly felt threatened by the washerman. Couldn’t a King make a washerman treat the washerman’s wife better instead? Oh no, nobody was forced in Ram Rajya. Shri Rama didn’t have any laws? Did he not stop people from thieving and such? Anyways, Rama with his ruffled sensitivities got rid of his wife along with his unborn child (he could not have known about the twins). Even if he decides to get rid of his wife, why didn’t he keep the child? Surely, after a year, there wasn’t any doubt about the parentage. The only reason, I can see is so as to add some romance to this horrible story with the story of Love-Kush comeback.

This is what comes of being a feminist in an era where no one would have dared. They add a distortion to your life and make you a part of the system. Now, no man had to fear the ideals of Rama for the God’s feet were forced to turn into clay.

If you don’t believe that stories of legends change after their death, you don’t know India. Forget the past, you can start watching some of the historical serials now and you’ll be surprised at the easy distortion of history. As time passes, it seldom matters what really happened but what you make people believe had happened.

This article is dedicated to Maryada Purshottam Shri Ram who in spite of having limitless power had the sensibility to draw a limit for himself.


  1. Thank you for discussing the maryada purushotham and giving your perspective

  2. Thank you for the discussion. But I'm still in doubt whether Ram can be called patnivrata as you said. After Sita was "abducted", Ram took a long time seeking out help of Vanars. However, it seems like he had only guessed that she might have been taken to Lanka. Only after the return of Hanuman, he seems to have confirmed. There in Lanka, Hanuman meets Sita and asks her to come back to Ram but she refuses. Did she have a doubt that her husband did not love her? Did she want to test his love? Did she have a doubt that she might be abandoned? All she wanted Ram to do was to fight Ravan for her. Had she left with Hanuman, it is not sure if Ram would attack Lanka. If he ever did, Sita must have feared she might be abandoned in the forest.
    My doubts have been rooted by the actual abandonment. If I could ever make a conversation with Lord Ram, I would ask, "Was it fair to send your wife to an aashram in the forest, that too when she was pregnant?" He might argue that she wanted to see the ascetics and their families in the forest as written by Valmiki in his epic. Why did she wanted to go to the forest then? Why wasn't she happy living with her husband? Why did she not trust him when she was about to beget a child? Without a question, he sends her to the forest and never inquires about her. He does not even care for his children. He remembers her only after the twins- his sons sing the journey of his own. He then goes to Sita- after more than seven years and asks to come back. She then jumps off a cliff. Why did she ever have to do so? What was it that made her make such a decision? When I see Ram responsible for the suicide of his wife, I refuse to believe that he was a feminist. He did not even save his wife from disgrace and from committing a suicide. What sort of King had he become? He had been popular among his subjects but had a miserable family life. Though your arguments seem arguable, I refuse to believe that Ram was a "patnivrata."

    1. That is the exact point I'm arguing. I don't believe that Ram ever abandoned Sita when she was pregnant. The older versions of Ramayana end with the death of Ravana. Let me give an example how stories are modified in India, Have you watched Chandragupta Mourya's serial.. A 10-12 years boy's life is shown. According to historical records, Alexander met Chandragupta who was around 20-22 years old. How did he grow so fast after the fall of Takshashila.
      I wanted to point that the abandonment of Sita was a modified version of the truth.
      As to why Sita didn't return with Hanuman, there are two perspectives, a victim's perspective and the relatives'. Sita wanted Ram to fight for her, and she rightly wanted revenge. Does this mean Ram's perspective was wrong? What if a child was kidnapped instead of wife? Would you call the parents wrong if all they wanted the child back and didn't care about revenge?
      Ram wouldn't have abandoned her but why would he fight Ravana once his wife was back. She mattered more than petty revenge or honour. If she mattered more than his honour, then doesn't it make him a caring husband?

    2. I have not watched Chandragupta Maurya's serial, neither do I know much of his history. I don't even believe that serials show the exact things. They modify the stories time and again to increase viewer's interest. So, you mean to say that the epic has been modified, do you?
      I had read somewhere that Valmiki had written only the six Kandas. The Uttar Kanda was a later addition and had only been implied by Valmiki. If so, who did the later addition? It is really a tedious task to complete the work begun by someone else. If there have been modifications, where is the original document? The Ramayan is the soul of Sanskrit epics and a way of life for the Hindus. If such a great epic can be modified and the original document can disappear, how long can our values sustain?
      Do we know who wrote the currently accepted version of "Valmiki" Ramayan? Unless we find that genius editor, I don't think the doubts will be cleared.

    3. Yes, the original has only six kandas. It is difficult to complete or modify someone's work but its is always done. Like the Rigveda which has the tenth section added later. The reason for doing this is the same, to pacify the society or generate interest by adding twists.
      Everyone blames the books written recently or the serials which modify the story but people forget after 50 or 100 years later, all these will be used for research and considered true. The epics of India try to tell us the truth but it is very difficult to trace the original unmodified work.
      Most of the time, the additions not only influence us but serve to twist the stories too. The doubts can never be cleared. Only I feel it is very strange for a God to be hypocrite. I believe Rama is a God, and he definitely helped Ahalya. Valmiki did not write about the Sita's abandonment. So, logically, it might not have happened. The only people who would be happy to add such stuff were the ones who could treat their wives badly using Rama as an example.
      Thanks for the discussion, our point of view depends on whom we decide to trust.


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