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  • Thumbnail for Gender and perfection in the epic heroine : examining what Sita means for women in India today
    Gender and perfection in the epic heroine : examining what Sita means for women in India today by Manning, Rebecca

    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.