Review: Sita: Warrior of Mithila by Amish
Unlike in more traditional retellings of the Ramayana, Amish’s Sita is a warrior princess who proves herself as an able administrator and strategistbooks Updated: Aug 23, 2017 21:30 IST
Sita: Warrior of Mithila, the second book in the Ramchandra series, was my introduction to Amish Tripathi’s work, and I can now see why it’s so easy to read him. He successfully creates a world that is much more than mere mysticism or magic; it is a world that is intricate and dramatic and most of all, infused with humanity. At this point, as a reviewer, I feel compelled to warn readers not to mistake this for a retelling from Sita’s perspective.
As every avid Amish reader knows, the preceding volume was on Ram and the subsequent one will be on Raavan, and all three converge at the moment of Sita’s abduction and will further give way to a common narrative in later books.
Drawing from the multiple versions of the Ramayana available throughout India and South east Asia, including the Valmiki Ramayana, Kamba Ramayanam, Anand Ramayana, Adbhut Ramayana, Gond Ramayan, and the Ramayana Darshanam, among several other regional avatars, Amish imbues the lead characters with attributes that might surprise a readership more familiar with the north Indian mainstream Tulsidas version.
In Amish’s book, Sita is a warrior princess, abandoned as an infant,and adopted by King Janak and his wife Sunaina as their heir. Sita’s marksmanship surpasses the skills of her male peers. A precocious child, she goes on to prove herself as an able administrator and strategist.
The book discusses the need for a feminist force to fight the perils that plague the country and resurrect the glories of the subcontinent. Also, strong precedents have been set by queens within the book. Sita’s pragmatism has been credited to her mother, who ran the kingdom while Janak was immersed in philosophy with no real concern for his kingdom. Another important force in the story is Samichi, an orphan rescued from the slums of Mithila who saves Sita’s life and becomes her companion and caretaker.
Much of the plot is woven into an elaborate tale crafted out of the friendship and subsequent animosity between Vashishtha and Vishvamitra, who are leaders of the Vayuputra and Malayputra tribes respectively. They are tasked with finding the next Vishnu or saviour who will chart the country’s path to safety.
Light is thrown upon matters of governance, leadership, equality, freedom and justice in Sita’s conversation with Vishvamitra. They deliberate on matters of dispute resolution, money hoarding and the caste system, all of which Raavan exploited to conquer trade and dominate the Sapt Sindhu region.
Amish pulls off a clever trick by getting sages and other revered characters of Hindu myth to provide a running commentary on India’s contemporary social landscape. In this way, even the more radical ideas (like Vishwamitra suggesting the surrender of children for state adoption by all birth parents) go unquestioned by the readers.
Ram enters the story much later and a partnership of equals between him and Sita becomes necessary to carry out their duties as the chosen Vishnus. It is rather satisfying to see a Sita who is not submissive or overtly dependent on her husband for the validation of her existence!
There is a consistency of theme to the Ramachandra series, and whether it’s the Scion of Ikshvaku, in which Ram is an ostracised prince, or in Sita, where the eponymous character is an abandoned child, the author drives home the point of merit being the greatest equalizer. Even the title of the next book -- Raavan: Orphan of Aryavarta -- reinforces this.
The multilinear narration does justice to the author’s storytelling but an entire 360-page book focusing on a single character’s back story feels a bit overstretched with certain portions coming across as repetitive.
Still, quite honestly, I prefer the saga conjured by the author to the traditional version that has been consistently fed to us. Indian mythologies are dynamic and every generation has the right to interpret and retell these epics. Amish is doing the job for us.
Aishwarya Gupta is an independent journalist.
First Published: Aug 23, 2017 21:30 IST