Sītā, the heroine of the Rāmāyaṇa, is a remarkably prominent figure in Hinduism. She has made an impact on women of all different types in India. From young girls to older women; from women in rural regions to those in urban centers; from women of the lower class to those of the upper class, Sītā’s presence in India has no boundaries. Sītā as a model has been interpreted variously. On one side, Sītā is held as the ideal Hindu wife and woman. She is always loyal to her husband, Rāma, and sacrifices her own needs for his; she is the pativratā (ideal wife) in this way. However, despite her label as the ideal wife, numerous feminists have viewed Sītā as a destructive model for women to look up to. Sītā is devoted to Rāma always, even when he treats her cruelly. By using Sītā as a model, women can be subjected to mistreatment from their husbands, and lose their own sense of self-identities. However, whether one accepts or rejects Sītā, the fact that she holds such a large presence today shows that Sītā has something valuable to offer contemporary women. Shown through interviews with contemporary Hindu women and folk songs, it is clear that Sītā is highly revered for her self-sacrificing nature. She undergoes repeated suffering due to Rāma, yet maintains her dignity and continues living with devotion. For contemporary Hindu women, Sītā is a powerful example. Many of these women are also defined by their husbands, and undergo suffering and mistreatment due to them. For these women who identify with the suffering and hardship that Sītā undergoes, by channeling her example of living with fidelity, devotion, and self-sacrifice, they can find meaning and self-respect in their own difficult lives.
Phoolan Devi (1963-2001) is recognized affectionately not only throughout her home state of Uttar Pradesh, but also throughout the entire country of India as the Bandit Queen. From a young age, Phoolan rejected her grim destiny as a submissive girl from a low caste and began speaking out for justice within her community. Though her early years were filled with abuse and rape, instead of her misfortune breaking her down, it only fueled her to stop injustice and reap revenge on such monsters. In her teens, as a dacoit, Phoolan’s hunger for retribution was ever increasing. At this time, she made her name on the main stage of India as a mysterious female bandit leader. The press and the people of India were in disagreement about whom and what Phoolan embodied—demon or divine being. After serving an eleven-year jail sentence for her illegal deeds as a dacoit, Phoolan Devi began a successful political career culminating in her election as a Member of Indian Parliament. Her second elected term, however, was cut short by her assassination on July 25, 2001. Throughout her life, Phoolan maintained a calm composure, an overwhelming presence of shakti, and a rare form of feminine masculinity. All of these qualities are particularly reminiscent of the great warrior goddess, Durga. This paper explores how Phoolan was able to escape India’s judgment as a demon and instead become an image of divinity. Additionally, this paper hypothesizes that this divinity is due not only to Phoolan’s modern embodiment of the myths describing Durga as a protective warrior goddess, but also to her enactment of Durga’s masculine power.