Tomorrow is Karva Chauth, the day that North Indian married women keep a fast for the long life of their husbands. God bless them and the it’s great to see the tradition being kept alive … The Mehendi, the dressing up and ofcourse the moon sighting and many modern husbands keep the fast too. Great and welcome change.
Now am looking for a ritual, festival, fast or feast that a husband is supposed to do for his wife’s long life … Haven’t found it yet in any tradition in India or elsewhere in my limited knowledge. So if someone comes across such a tradition/ritual, please do share.
This ritual reminded me of the question that has been plaguing my mind ever since I saw the “Ashok vana” scene enacted at Epicentre as part of the epic Ramayana being enacted. Most Indians are familiar with the epic Ramayana. It’s about a just and noble king Rama who is God Vishnu’s incarnation. He is born as the eldest son of King Dasharatha and marries Devi Sita (considered to be Goddess Lakhsmi’s incarnation). Rama is exiled from the kingdom by his stepmother who wants her son to be crowned. While wandering in the forest with Sita and Lakshmana, Sita is abducted by the demon king Ravana and taken to Lanka. She is held captive in the Ashoka vana. Rama in the meantime takes help from the monkey king Sugreeva in searching for Sita. Hanuman who is a devotee of Rama, flies to Lanka and finds Sita. Sugreeva offers his army to Rama and they set off to wage a battle with Ravana to get Sita back. Ravana ofcourse is vanquished and Sita rescued. As Sita rushes towards Rama, he wants her to undergo the fire test to prove to the world that she was a chaste lady because for so many months she stayed in a stranger’s house (actually park). Sita complies and comes through the fire unscathed and is reunited with Rama.
I have always wondered, what if Sita went through the fire as Rama requested and turned around and had asked him to go through the same test ? He too had stayed alone in the forest and there were other women there. I just feel, it’s this incident that made women a class lower than men …. To walk a few paces behind her husband, to accept lesser compensation, to not give wings to her ambition. Manu may have laid down the rules that favoured men, but somehow his incident helped his cause. I get the religious angle, that Rama is God and is modelling an ideal King’s behaviour, but he should have taken the test too.
In that one action, he would have granted the equality that has eluded women even to this day. But the opportunity was missed. The Ramayana has several such missed opportunities… Urmila, Lakshman’s wife is left alone as he goes off with his brother and sister-in-law for fourteen long years. Sure, Lakshman’s devotion to his brother is commendable, but what’s Urmila’s fault ? And what about his responsibility towards her as a husband ? What about Surpanakha ? King Ravana’s sister who falls in love with Lakshman. What’s wrong with that ? Why cut her nose off ? It’s no crime to feel love for another person…
Ramayana needs to be re-written from a woman’s point of view .. Some amends were made in Mahabharata with Draupadi marrying five men, but there is much more work to be done, before men and women are thought of as equals, treated equally and women think they are equal. Sita was such a strong woman, she finally did leave Rama and raised her sons on her own, but that story is never highlighted. It’s the fire test that is used and showcased. Someday I hope to do some research on the women in Ramayana. Mandodari, Ravana’s wife, Surpanakha, Ravana’s sister who is disfigured by Lakshman, Urmila, Lakshman’s wife, Ahilya, Shabari, Kaikeyi, and ofcourse Sita. What if they got together and told us what they really thought of the men in Ramayana ?
Till then, Sitas out there, walk through the fire, but as an equal, with your spouse/significant other. Burn up together or come through unscathed together !!