Author Topic: Letting Go - Mandodari's Quest for Sita - Neera Kashyap:  (Read 2024 times)

Subramanian.R

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Letting Go - Mandodari's Quest for Sita - Neera Kashyap:
« on: March 26, 2016, 02:28:26 PM »
(The article is from Mountain Path, October - December 2015)


In Valmiki's Ramayana, Ravana's wife Mandodari surfaces with a single soliloquy only when her husband
has been slain by Rama - his body clothed in yellow garments and dazzling bracelets like a dark blue cloud
once riven by lightning  -- now riven by so many arrows that she cannot embrace it.  Her address to her dead
husband is a rich mixture of grief, attachment, horror, regret, awareness and acceptance.  It also echoes
the recognition of a woman -- a chief queen - who felt she was invincible through protection of her father-
King of danavas, her consort - the Lord of the Titans, and her son -- the conqueror of Indra, but in end must
stand alone, stripped of all protection barring the strength of her awareness as witness to the implacable turn
of Destiny. 

In her soliloquy, Mandodari swings between grief and pride, disbelief and objectivity, nostalgia and awareness,
-- an acute awareness of the salient causes that led to a tragedy so colossal that it wiped out an entire race.
She had taken pride in the boons that her husband won through hard penance from Brahma, the Creator
himself.  But she also displays pride in her husband's excesses, protected as he was from the power of these
boons: to instill terror in the great sages and illustrious Gandharvas, to use magic in battle, to utter insolent
threats in the presence of enemy, to rob the Gods, Asuras, and men of their daughters, to plunge the widows
of foes into mourning.  All this she tolerates because she believes in Ravana's unlimited valor and strength
-- as unsurpassed conqueror, as a support of family and attendants, as guide of the people, as savior of
the Titan race.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                     
« Last Edit: March 28, 2016, 11:19:09 AM by Subramanian.R »

Subramanian.R

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Re: Letting Go - Mandodari's Guest for Sita - Neera Kashyap:
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2016, 01:05:22 PM »
When Brahma grants boons to Ravana as reward for his great penance in subduing the senses, Ravana
seeks immunity from devas, danavas, and rakshasa, not bothering to include the meek human race.
Mandodari echoes the same dismissal.  She cannot believe that her husband could have been defeated
by  'a mere mortal, a mere man, a wanderer in the forest.'  But she is no fool.  She has heard of the feats
of this 'wanderer' in Janasthana - shades of things to come. Rama first kills mountainous demon Viradha
who dares hold his wife Sita in his lap, then Ravana's brother Khara along with his commanders Dushana
and Trishira and 14,000 Titans. Then on his way to the kingdom of the monkey kings in search of Sita,
Rama kills the demon Kabandha, then the mighty monkey king Bali himself, re-instating Bali's unlawfully
exiled brother Sugriva to the throne of Kishkinda.  And Sugriva's army chieftain Hanuman audaciously
enters Lanka, in accessible to the Gods themselves.

She counsels her husband.  There is only the briefest of references to Mandodari counseling Ravana
not to foster enmity with Rama.  But the suggestion is that she counsels him constantly and unrelentingly:
"How often did I address you, saying, 'Have we nothing to fear from Raghava?' but you did not heed me.
These are the consequences," she says.

That her husband who attained inconceivable power by subduing his senses should be conquered by his senses, in turn, is obvious to her in her address.  There is a foreshadowing of this in the lamentations of
the women who gather to mourn the death of their menfolk after Mandodari's invincible son Indrajit
is killed and Ravana's army routed. 
     
contd.,

Arunachala Siva.               
« Last Edit: March 27, 2016, 02:03:56 PM by Subramanian.R »

Subramanian.R

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Re: Letting Go - Mandodari's Quest for Sita - Neera Kashyap:
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2016, 11:39:59 AM »
The women refer to Ravana's arrogance on account of the boons he received, his not heeding the wise
counsel of his brother, Vibhishina and Kumbhakarna to return Sita whom he forcibly abducted, and
his unawareness of the omens that presaged complete destruction by a force called Rama.  Mandodari
gets a clear glimpse of this force.  First she considers her husband's death by Rama, a human being,
as destiny and then dismisses this. Next, she considers him being killed by Indra, the Lord of the gods,
but dismisses this again - her husband being more powerful than the celestial beings.  Then with
riveting awareness, she pronounces, 'Assuredly it was that great Yogi, the Supreme Soul,the Eternal
Spirit who was your slayer.  He has no beginning, middle or the end, the most High, greater than Mahat
(Cosmic Intellect), the Support of Nature,...'  She finally sees Rama this force manifested, the force of
everlasting Vishnu who carries the conch, the discuss and the mace and to whom prosperity belongs.

This awareness comes early in her address.  Yet the heart of her soliloquy reveals a woman who is
attached to her husband physically, emotionally and through the fatalism of fortune.  She refers to
his charming eyebrows, brilliant complexion and arched nose;  to his beauty, splendor and radiance
which rivaled the moon, the lotus and the sun.  She speaks of how they sported together on famous
mounts and woods and the gardens of gods in a chariot of incomparable magnificence, beholding
innumerable countries 'whilst now I am deprived of all pleasures and enjoyments by your death,
'O hero!'  She feels transformed as if into another, condemned by the fluctuations of the fortunes of kings
to widowhood as the final period of her life. Her grief is rendered through the images of comparison:
'Having rested on sumptuous couches, O  King of the Titans, how is it that you are now sleeping on the
earth, the dust your coverlet?

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                             

Subramanian.R

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Re: Letting Go - Mandodari's Quest for Sita - Neera Kashyap:
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2016, 11:32:52 AM »
Even through her attachment, desire, and grief,  Mandodari does not lost her objectivity.  She sees that
even while possessing valor,  Ravana misused his power to assume any form at will by using disguise as
deception.  She wonders with horrors how he could have been so base as to carry a woman by luring
her husband Rama away with the help of an illusory deer.  She sees that despite his famed valor, he
had been so intoxicated by his own powers that he had separated Sita from Laxmana's protection to forcibly
carry her away.  She nearly utters a curse:  'Since all the Gods with Agni at their head feared you, you were
not instantly destroyed when you did lay brutal hands on that slender-waisted lady.'  But her curse is present
in her knowledge that the women widowed through this war, firm in their duty, devoted to their husbands,
submissive to their Gurus had cursed him in their grief, and so brought about his retribution.     

There is no indication that Mandodari meets Sita while she is held prisoner in Lanka, -- neither Valmiki's
Ramayana, nor in the twelfth century poet Kamban's Tamizh Ramayana.  Yet it is by confronting the reality
of Sita that Mandodari reaches her finest moment.  She is fully aware that the key to her husband's lust,
anger and ultimate destruction lay in his infatuation with Sita.  For a moment, she sees it in physical terms:
that he had possessed other women who were far more beautiful than Sita, but in his infatuation with Sita
had not realized this.  She raises the bar.  She sees Sita as nobler than Arundhati who in Puranic literature
is the wife of Sage Vasishta, an epitome of chastity, wifely devotion  and conjugal bliss.  Then flow her famous
words, 'Neither by birth, nor in beauty, nor in qualities is Sita better than me - not even my equal.  Only
you did not know.'   Then she realizes what it is had obsessed her husband:  'O My Lord, the asceticism
of that lady faithful to her husband, has consumed you!'

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.             
« Last Edit: March 29, 2016, 11:43:43 AM by Subramanian.R »

Subramanian.R

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Re: Letting Go - Mandodari's Quest for Sita - Neera Kashyap:
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2016, 12:33:58 PM »
There are innumerable re-tellings of the Ramayana. The written versions were often changed by professional
reciters to suit the contemporary aspirations and thinking.  Sometimes, the story reflected significant
variations that changed the very concept of the character and the meaning of the event associated with
her / him.  In the book, In Search of Sita, Revisiting Mythology, edited by Malashri Lal and Namita Gokhale,
(Penguin India and Yatra Books, 2009), there is an essay by Smita Tewari Jassal in which she describes a
moving encounter between Mandodari and Sita, as depicted in Bhojpuri women's songs. 

In essence, the songs sing of Mandodari paying Sita a visit in grand finery.  This dazzle turns as cool as a
moonbeam in Sita's luminous presence as if the sun itself was struck speechless with awe  and wonder.
Mandodari asks, 'If you were indeed so chaste and pure, Sita, how come you went off with the husband of
another?'  Sita replies, 'Chaste and pure I ever was - merely came to see the kingdom of yours.'
At these words, tears roll down from Mandodari's eyes.

Write Jassal, 'The song notes the transformation in Mandodari's consciousness when confronted with
Sita's divinity and awe-inspiring presence. When Mandodari sets out to confront Sita, it is once again
Sita's fire of chastity that first 'melts' down her pride, then evokes reverence and humility.  Hence
instead of the challenging mood of rivalry suggested at the beginning of the encounter, what we witness
is a shedding of layers of artifice in a final expression of feminine solidarity and understanding.'

In fact, in the deep and subtle interpretation of the Adhyatma Ramayana, it is said that Ravana was totally
convinced of the power of Rama as a manifestation of Vishnu and had decided that the surest way to attain
abidance in Self / Vishnu was by being killed by Rama!  So in kidnapping Sita, his sole aim was that Rama
should come to rescue her, wage a war with him, and kill him.  In the same way, perhaps Mandodari
did not really mourn Ravana but mourned her own pride, her own material desires and misfortunes which
she could only resolve by confronting them, bearing witness to them, and letting them go -- as in the
Bhojpuri women's songs -- in her realization of the pure divine Spirit of Sita.

concluded.

Arunachala Siva.