Ravana’s sister, Surpanakha, the brazen and deformed, demonic figure — a character from the epic Ramayana whom we are accustomed to vilify and dislike. For most, she’s responsible for manipulating the events which led to the war between Ram and her brother. Author Kavita Kané, in her book, Lanka’s Princess, brings a new perspective on the figure.
The story goes that Surpanakha was attracted to Ram, and tried to approach him. Since he was married, he advised her to approach his brother Lakshman, instead.When Lakshman refused too, she threatened to harm Sita. In retaliation, Lakshman mutilated her. About her punishment, Kané clarifies, “They were not used to a woman approaching them directly. Lakshman reacted violently because she insulted Sita.” It remains debatable, however, whether she deserved such cruel punishment or not.
About the subject of the book, Kané, who has previously brought characters such as Urmila, Lakshman’s wife to life in one of her books, says, “I was curious about her, and I wanted to see how as a writer, I could handle her. I needed to understand why there was so much negativity surrounding her.”
Before forming her opinion, Kané did extensive research to understand her subject. “Society has always ridiculed her. We take her role in the Ramayana so lightly, when in fact she’s such a crucial character. And then she has been sidelined through the rest of the epic, whereas her brother Ravana is more fleshed out. I wanted to humanise her and make her real to people,” she adds. However, Kané concludes by saying that she’s not trying to justify Ravana or Surpanakha through her book. “I’m not saying they were heroes. They were people with flaws. That’s the beauty of mythology. Every character has shades of grey, and they make you think and question,” she adds.