#HTKGAF: Arshia Sattar talks about cities, their names and dharma
A city is defined by its dharma, said writer, translator and teacher of classical Indian literature Arshia Sattar, while describing the three cities of the Ramayana — Ayodhya, Kishkinda and Lanka.mumbai Updated: Feb 14, 2015 22:32 IST
A city is defined by its dharma, said writer, translator and teacher of classical Indian literature Arshia Sattar, while describing the three cities of the Ramayana — Ayodhya, Kishkinda and Lanka.
In Ayodhya, Lord Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, follows the dharma of the city when he banishes his wife Sita, whom he suspects of infidelity. In Kishkinda, he ignores his dharma as a member of the Kshatriya caste when he kills the asura king Vali in a surreptitious manner. Taking the idea about cities being defined by their dharma further, Sattar said, “A city is only as liberal as the freedom it gives to its daughters.” Sattar was delivering the third annual Sharada Dwivedi commemorative lecture, dedicated to the late city historian and writer, and organised on Saturday as part of the literature section the Hindustan Times Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.
Before she began her lecture, Sattar, who lives in Bangalore, said that speaking in Mumbai scared her because this was where she was born and went to college. “Right there,” she said, pointing to the imposing building across the garden from the David Sassoon Library, the venue of the lecture. “…in the shadow of Elphinstone College.”
Sattar used Valmiki’s Ramayana to describe the mythological cities. Ayodhya came alive through the descriptions of its people, rather than its buildings — virtuous, well-adorned and healthy. Ayodhya was defined by its restrained nature and virtuous people; Kishkinda, the city of monkeys and the fief of the brothers Vali and Sugriva, as sensuous, its streets redolent of sandalwood and toddy. Lanka, ruled by Ravana, was described through the eyes of Hanuman, who sees beautiful gateways, ramparts, wide roads and palaces with floors laid with crystal.
Renaming a city changes its nature, Sattar said, returning to Mumbai. “This is a city I grew up in. Along with the name, much of Bombay has changed.”