The Forest of Enchantments
The Forest of Enchantments
Author:Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Type: Romance Novel, Sentimental Fiction, Religious Fiction
“Forest of Enchantments” is a novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni that retells the epic of Ramayana from the perspective of Sita. The book explores Sita’s journey, challenges, and reflections, offering a unique and feminist interpretation of the ancient Hindu myth.
Characters : Sita, Amar Chitra Katha, Ramlilas,
Draupadi, Ahalya, Mandodari, Gandhari, Shurpanakha , Arshia Sattar, Namita Gokhale, Volga,
The novel begins at Valmiki’s Ashram where Sita is living with the twins Lav and Kush after being banished by Ram from his kingdom. Valmiki has just finished writing his magnum opus Ramayana and hands over the tome to Sita and entreats her to read early. Once finished reading, Sita is asked by the sage for her opinion. ‘It’s very good’, Sita said. ‘But’. ‘But what?’, asks Valmiki.’You don’t either know my despair of what occurred when I was alone in the darkness under the sorrow tree – or my exhilaration when I was the most beloved woman in creation’. Taken aback, Valmiki says: ‘I wrote what the divine vision showed me’. ‘It must have been a god that brought it to you, then, and not a goddess’, Sita quips. The great sage then implores her: ‘You must write that story yourself, Ma, for you only know it’. She agrees and comes up with this Sitayana, which proves to be a fascinating re-telling of the epic from Sita’s perspective.
The story of Sita and Ram is one of our greatest and most tragic love stories. Valmiki’s Ramayana, being the most authentic version, portrays Ram as noble, earnest and devoted to his wife, but beset by challenges of righteousness. Ram is forced to choose between his public role of king and his private role of husband and lover.
It’s Ram’s righteousness that allows him to accept his fourteen years of banishment despite being aware of his step mother Kaikeyi’s ulterior motives. Later, Ram refuses to take back Sita, the queen, after winning the war in Lanka because he believes that the citizens of Ayodhya might not accept a queen whose chastity has been under scanner. So, for the sake of righteousness and the sacred duties of kingship, Ram is willing to let Sita throw herself in fire. Ram’s ultra sensitivity to his kingly duties also sees Sita banished for life in deep jungles, after some people gossiped about her betraying Ram during her long captivity under Ravan.
Right conduct indeed is most important to Ram, as is his word. But what of his family, his wife? Would Ram ever consider Sita to be as important as his dharma? True that he’s adored by the citizens he protects, but hasn’t his family to bear the brunt of sacrifice.Sita raises here many hard questions, specifically every time she’s distressed by her husband’s conduct.
Sita scarcely believes the way Ram capitulates without any protest to Kaikeyi’s unfair demands. She’s is later justifiably angry too when he refuses to take her back to Ayodhya doubting her innocence and purity: ‘If you reject me now, word will travel across Bharatvarsha, and men everywhere will feel that they, too, can reject a wife who has been abducted.
Or even been touched against her will’. ‘Ravan stole me away forcibly’, Sita continues, ‘but even he didn’t insult me as you have done.He respected me enough to not violate my body.But you, you’ve violated my heart, which I had given to you in love’.Sita doesn’t find Ram as just and compassionate after he sends her away to the forest knowing well she was innocent of what gossip- mongers whispered.
The novel reaches its climax when Ram asks his wife to go through a test of fire one last time in his Ayodhya courtroom so that the attending dignitaries could witness the fire-god vouching for her virtue and the citizens be satisfied for good.Sita is furious:
‘O king of Ayodhya, you know I’m innocent, and yet, unfairly, you’re asking me to step into fire. You offer me a tempting prize indeed to live in happiness with you and my children.But I must refuse.Because if I do what you demand, society will use my action forever after to judge other women.Even when they aren’t guilty, the burden of proving their innocence will fall on them. And society will say, why not? Even Queen Sita went through it’.
Divakaruni’s poignant Ramayana re-telling reveals that Ram was Sita’s greatest joy, and her greatest sorrow too.Perhaps Ram didn’t really understand the complexity of the female existence.Because while he may be the incarnation of lord Vishnu yet, having taken a mortal body, he’s human too, with human failings.And so is Sita.But her protestations appear rather well-founded at critical junctures of the story.
The book is an engrossing read all through trying to bridge the disconnect between the truth of Sita and the way Indian popular culture thinks of her.