Review: Sita : An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana

November 28, 2013

Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Penguin
Year: 2013
ISBN: 9780143104254
Rating: ★★★★½
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In his latest offering, Devdutt Pattanaik retells the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective, in his well-established narrative style, making this book a must read for all Indian mythology geeks.

Being smitten with Sita ever since I read C. Rajagopalachari’s Ramayana, I have been eagerly waiting to get my hands on this book since its release. Maybe it was the long gap since my last read of the epic or the novelty of reading this author’s version of the story. Having read Sita: An Illustrated… I now have a whole new perspective on this epic.

The book is a retelling of the Ramayana where Hanuman narrates the story of the itihasa of Ramayana to the King of Naga-lok, Vasuki. It starts with Janaka’s childlessness and ends with Ram joining Sita after handing over his kingdom to his sons.

Most Indians of our generation have a passing familiarity with the story, but not with the nuances of it. The author complements certain stories with the element of pathos, especially for Ram and Sita, and makes you understand why they did what they did. He gives reasons for the events leading to what might be misconstrued as Sita’s victimhood and justifies Ram’s actions, pointing out that even though he abandoned Sita in the forest (an event that pricks the modern mind), he never remarried. Given the times he lived in, he married just one wife, not several, as was a masculine privilege of the times that he could have taken advantage of. Also, contrary to the weak, submissive version of Sita portrayed by the TV serials and movie versions, Pattanaik draws Sita as an independent, intuitive, intelligent, calm and courageous woman who argues with Ram constantly, stoically waits for Ram to rescue her and raises her kids as a single mom. Since this book is structured around Sita’s life, we get a deeper peek into the feminine thoughts, perspectives and ideas which are striking and a needed difference from the other versions of Ramayana. The stories tell you a lot more about Sita than you would know. For example, I didn’t know that she was a great cook or that she was the only person, apart from Ram, who could effortlessly lift Shiva’s bow – the bending of which was the challenge to win Sita’s hand in marriage, or that she invented a lot of board games that are still played in rural India. I find the portrayal of Ram and Sita’s relationship during the exile to be heartwarming and gratifying, thanks to the romantic in me!

Similar to his narration style in Jaya, the author maintains his simple and lucid story telling tactics and complements it with beautiful illustrations and informative footnotes. He also compares folklore from across India and Jain and Buddhist versions of Ramayana to show how different religions use this epic to justify and teach their morals and values. He describes how the change in portrayal of the different characters and stories reflects the evolving society and its cultural principles and beliefs. But he doesn’t retain the character nuances he presented in Jaya, thus giving you a feeling that this book doesn’t give a complete picture.

This book is on how Ram was a better son and king, than husband. It is about Ram’s perspectives and choices and its consequences. For people who want a detailed read on Ramayana, this book might not be helpful as it leaves out many stories but for first timers or light readers, this book is one of the best options available.

You can check out other reviews of this book here and here. Also, read IndiaBookStore’s interview with Dr. Pattanaik here.

We have also written about Dr. Pattanaik’s other books and his recent U.S.A tour– we hope you enjoy them!

Vanathi Parthasarathi

Vanathi Parthasarathi

Writer at IndiaBookStore
Love to read and have been reading since 5. Amatuer photographer and experimental cook! One of the best things in the world, according to me, is the smell of the pages in a book!
Vanathi Parthasarathi

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