Indians Rewrite Role of Women in Sacred Scripts

Friday, December 30, 2011

Religious epics in India are chock-a-block with patiently self-sacrificing women. In the past year, however, a trend has been accelerating for writers and artists to revise those characters in blockbuster novels, essays, films and theatrical scripts.

(WOMENSENEWS)--For generations, Indian women have been reared on religious epics, filled with patiently suffering, self-sacrificing women. But a new breed of writers--many of them women--are rewriting sacred scriptures.

But not without setting off intense protests from Hindu groups objecting to the new characterizations of women featured in ancient epics.

One of these modern versions, a retelling of the Ramayana by 27-year-old writer Samhita Arni with graphic artist Moyna Chitrakar, has just spent two weeks on the New York Times bestseller list for graphic novels.

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The Ramayana is a sacred epic first written by the sage Valmiki in 500 B.C. that spawned hundreds of variations across India, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Arni's acclaimed "Sita's Ramayana" retells the epic from the point of view of Sita, wife of the earthbound deity Prince Rama. Kidnapped by the demon Ravana, Sita is eventually rescued by Rama, but not until she has gone through a trial by fire to prove her purity. Arni's novel portrays Sita as a strong, powerful woman who takes fate into her own hands.

Meanwhile writer Arshia Sattar, a self described feminist, has also released a new book called "Lost Loves," which looks at Rama and Sita as humans rather than gods and dissects Rama's actions dispassionately.

This September, Indian-American filmmaker Virali Gokuldas premiered a play called "Janaki: Daughter of Dirt" in San Francisco, which features a modern Indian woman using Sita's tale to make sense of her own life.

American filmmaker Nina Paley used the Ramayana as a parallel to the story of her own failed marriage in her 2008 animated film "Sita Sings the Blues."

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Excellent article. The re-writing of mythology to include women as equal partners in the conceptualization and manifestation of cultural reality is a necessary activity. And, as noted in the article, its effects are profound - as evidenced by the anger, violence and censorship of such activities. One of my favorite pioneers in the field is Ursula LeGuin, who has, through her long career, contributed enormous amounts to women's narrative in patriarchal society.
The Indian women who are actively taking the stories of humanity's storytelling and including the feminine voice are examples of spiritual bravery and warriorship that are part and parcel of all women's abilities, though they have long been buried and hidden under the narratives of male culture.

Thank you for the article as, in my own writing project, it arrives and serves as a beacon of inspiration and support in taking risks and revealing my (our) own true nature as a woman. Though far away on another continent, such women belong to me and are part of the weave of my own life.