Smita Tewari Jassal explores Sita’s resonance in the world of Bhojpuri women and their songs
THE FOLLOWING SONG enumerates the range of beings from the human and animal worlds which witness the abduction of Sita. In their link with Rama’s pain, they secure a hallowed place in the sacred universe, except for one species, a pair of chatak birds. So engrossed were they in lovemaking that they failed to see the abduction. Consequently, the birds could not inform Rama about the direction taken by Ravana’s chariot.
Lakari chirat tuhun loharwa chokarwa/ Eihi rahihe dekhuwa Sita ho jaak/ Hamahun to seli Rama Sita ke palang-iya/ Sita ke Ravanva hari le jaak/ Kapara dhowat tuhun dhobin bitiya/ Eihi raahi dekhuwa Sita ho jaak/ Hamahun to phichin Rama sita ke chunariya/ Sita ke Rawanawa har le jaak/ Eihi paar jatwa ho, oh paar jataaiya/ Eihi rahihe dekhu-wa Sita ho jaak/ Hamahun to rahin rama apana Chakuwa jare/ Ham naahin dekhuwa Sita ho jaak/ Din bhar chakwa ho joriya milhiya/ Saanjh beriiya rahiha ho chhipaaiy
The woodcutter’s son, fashioning wood, says,/ ‘Along this road, I saw Sita being taken away/ I sewed Sita’s cot/ Saw that Ravana abducted Sita along this road.’/ The washerman’s daughter washing clothes, claims,/ ‘I, who wash Sita’s chunari/ Saw Sita abducted by Ravana.’/ On this side, Jat and on the other side, Jatni/ Saw Sita being abducted along this road./ ‘So engrossed was I in my Chakwa/ I didn’t see Sita go by.’/ So, all day long the chatak birds may pair./ But at dusk must pine for each other in vain.
Indifference to Sita’s plight, even as an oversight, is a lapse for which the birds are held guilty. In the last two lines, the terrible curse of separation that the species will have to bear for eternity, is spelt out.
Lack of empathy for Sita’s misfortune, indifference and the inability to bear witness to her abduction, results in a lack of unity, eternal yearning and separation. In brief, the judgement pronounced in the song is nothing short of a cosmic sentencing. (from ‘Sita’s Trial by Fire and Bhojpuri Women’s Songs’)
How did you become interested in the Sita of Bhojpuri women’s songs?
I was in eastern UP and Bihar to research my book on women’s rights to land. But I was finding it hard to get women to talk. Finally, I realised that many things about women’s sense of themselves and of their work were voiced in their songs. And they talk about Sita a lot. The struggles of their lives are condensed into those of Sita’s.
You’ve written about how women identify with Sita’s plight when she is banished by Rama. But the Rama- Sita jodi also remains the ideal couple.
Yes, multiple understandings of Sita exist in the same milieu. There’s one song where the singer (as Sita) begs her father not to get her married to Rama. In another song, which I have heard in a particularly powerful rendition by dalit women, Sita says, “Na jaibe Ayodhya, na jaibe ho (I won’t go to Ayodhya).” The context is that now that the children are grown up, Rama wants her to come back. But Sita categorically refuses.
So what is the thrust of your argument?
In the women’s movement in India there’s been a sense that Sita is an upper-caste, selfsacrificing icon of domesticity – and a consequent desire to replace her. But dalit women embraced and appropriated Sita long ago. They make her speak for them.