20 December 2016

Review #574: The Liberation of Sita by Volga

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it. ”

----Roseanne Barr

Popuri Lalita Kumari, who writes award-winning Telugu poems and stories under her pen name Volga, has penned yet another terrific and feminist tale revolving around India's most popular mythological tale Ramayana, called, The Liberation of Sita. In this book, the author meticulously weaves a story about the characters from Ramayana with their struggles, hardships and challenges that they underwent through during their life times and how that made them the way we see them now. Mostly revolving around Sita's life after abandonment with her husband and her ordeal with the test of chastity, among with other notable characters like Surpanakha, Ahalya and many more.


Valmiki’s Ramayana is the story of Rama’s exile and return to Ayodhya, a triumphant king who will always do right by his subjects.

In Volga’s retelling, it is Sita who, after being abandoned by Purushottam Rama, embarks on an arduous journey to self-realization. Along the way, she meets extraordinary women who have broken free from all that held them back: Husbands, sons and their notions of desire, beauty and chastity. The minor women characters of the epic as we know it – Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila and Ahalya – steer Sita towards an unexpected resolution. Meanwhile, Rama too must reconsider and weigh out his roles as the king of Ayodhya and as a man deeply in love with his wife.

A powerful subversion of India’s most popular tale of morality, choice and sacrifice, The Liberation of Sita opens up new spaces within the old discourse, enabling women to review their lives and experiences afresh. This is Volga at her feminist best.

Sri Ramachandra's wife, Sita endured a lot of pain and challenges all through out her life time, even though being the queen of Ayodhya and the daughter of Mother Earth. In this book, the author strikingly brings out the inner soul of the most popular female mythological characters whom people pray and follow till this day. Sita is an epitome of beauty and purity, but she is so much more than just a beautiful and law-abiding wife to Rama. This book traces her journey through motherhood, abandonment, salvation, kidnapped days and womanhood. Her sacrifices for herself as well as for her kingdom sets her apart from being a mere human being, thereby making her divine and immortal in the eyes of the common man.

This book not only revolves around Sita, but also around a Gautama Rishi's wife named, Ahalya, who was blindsided by a wretched man to make her think that the man is her husband in order to make love to her. After which, her husband abandoned her, but this incident never once deterred her immense beauty and grace that made many great men go weak in their knees. shunned by the society as a characterless woman, Ahalya grasped the knowledge of nature and enlightening herself with deep wisdom about life, which after meeting Sita in Valmiki's forest, she helped Sita see the inner meaning of life and nature without the support of any man. Though Sita initially never found any meaning to Ahalya's words, but at a later stage after her separation from her husband, it made Sita believe the words of Ahalya strongly be heart.

There's another lesser known character, whom the readers barely get to see or explore while reading the Ramayana and she is Surpanakha, the younger sister of the evil and ten-headed kind of Lanka, Ravana. Disfigured by the Kayastha brothers, Rama and Laxman of Ayodhya, Surpanakha, the proud woman of her beauty and charm, was left heart broken and depressed, but gradually she herself uplifted her spirit and learnt to embrace whatever beauty she is left with as well as with her fate too. She too came across Sita while Sita's stay in Valmiki's forest with her two sons, and Surpanakha's journey through self-realization gives Sita the much-needed strength and hope to lead her life alone.

There are also other two characters, Renuka and Urmila, the wife of Laxman, who too guides and enlightens Sita with their lives' struggling paths carved out by themselves. In the beginning, the readers will get an innocent image of Sita and gradually this character endures a lot of experience and pain, that ultimately turns her into a mature, thoughtful and self-enlightened woman. And most surprisingly, the Ramayana depicts Sita mostly as a damsel in distress with her prince and prince's brother always saving her from harm and danger. But in this book, she is the exact opposite of that damsel instead her thoughts and approaches her laced with feminism and bravery that makes her look inspiring in the eyes of the readers. Here she faces her challenges alone and boldly, unlike in Ramayana.

This book gives a partially flawed characterism of the great Lord Rama, whose each act during the 14 years of Banawas was to provoke the Lanka king in order to empower his kingdom. This provocation of his becomes his own enemy when Sita is abducted and never ever returns to him truly in a free body and mind. Rama's distress and fight to get his wife back will make the readers realize about men's basic nature to use women as pawns and to dominate over them.

In a nutshell, this is a compelling book surrounding the life and time of Sita along with some notable characters from one of the greatest Indian mythological tale, Ramayana.

Verdict: Thoroughly enlightening and poignant account of a woman who is worshiped even to this day.

Author Info:
Popuri Lalita Kumari, popularly known by her pen name Volga, is Telugu poet and writer well-known for her feminist perspective. She was born in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India. She won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015 for her short story compilation 'Vimukta Kadha Samputi' in Telugu. Along with being a writer, she has also been a professor and head of scripting division in Tollywood. Her work initiated debates across the country about feminism, in times when the idea was hardly accepted. The Library of Congress has a collection of her most popular published works, including the English translations of selected short stories.
Visit her here

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