I was caught by surprise recently when I bumped into a secularist, perhaps a bit blasphemous, animated film titled Sita Sings the Blues. It is a re-telling of the story of Sita from a critical and non-devotional perspective. The film is based on the Hindu holy epic of the Ramayana, which concerns the supposedly virtuous avatar (incarnation of God) Rama, a King who incarnated in Ayodhya thousands of years ago. According to the epic, Rama was banished by his father into the forest with his wife, Sita, and (being a man-God and non-different from Jesus and Sri Krishna, who also expelled demons) there he decided to start killing demons.
During these adventures, Sita was abducted by Ravana and later had to be rescued; however the tale is full of instances of abuse and mistreatment by Rama, where the place of women in Hindu society was inculcated via the re-telling of the Ramayana narrative. There are several instances where Sita had to prove her purity, including a trial by fire which is reminiscent of the old Hindu tradition of “widow-burning”, one of the most heinous aspects of the Ramayana which has been criticized by secularists and feminists for many generations.
I’ve been a big fan of the Ramayana for many years and was a bit shocked at the portrayal of the characters in this manner, having been exposed to the legend in a devotional setting many years ago. However, it is no doubt that the criticism of both Sita and Rama, the choices they make, and the ways in which the Ramayana itself has been used to model abusive relations in Indian society throughout the centuries, is well deserved.
This animated film tackles a very touchy and controversial subject in traditional Hindu society, but it was a long time coming. I fast-forwarded through some of the jazzy musical portions of it, but I’m familiar with the narrative. Others may find it useful to gain a better understanding of the nuances and issues. Please enjoy Sita Sings the Blues.