By Nithin Sridhar
Last month, Star Plus, an entertainment channel in India, launched a new TV serial on the story of Lord Rama with much fanfare. The serial titled ‘Siya Ke Ram’ had promised to portray Ramayana from ‘Sita’s perspective’. Nikhil Sinha, the producer-director of the serial had further stated that the serial was well rooted in facts and based on the original story.
However, one month down the line, the serial appears to have taken wings of its own and deviated completely from the original text of Valmiki Ramayana. Moreover, the much-touted perspective of Sita is yet to emerge as well.
Though the serial at first had raised expectations of this writer with its VFX, soon it became clear that the serial has VFX alone without much substance or value to write about. The serial has not only distorted the original story, but has tried to impose modern secular-liberal values upon the Ramayana thereby making a complete mockery of the Hindu text which is not only considered as a true account of history (itihasa) in Hindu tradition but is also held in high respect and sacredness by millions of Hindus.
The very first episode began with portraying King Dasharatha and Queen Kausalya as crybabies, with the former always worrying about his sons, especially about Rama and the later mourning for her daughter- Shanta who was no longer with them. But a single reading of Valmiki Ramayana, which is the original text of Ramayana composed by Sage Valmiki, it becomes clear that neither the King nor the queen was portrayed as crybabies.
In fact, in the Bala-Khanda (11.2), King Dasharatha is described as being righteous, truthful, and resplendent. In other words, he was far from being a crybaby! The serial actually shows Dasharatha as grieving and longing for his sons when they were away from him for studying in Gurukula (traditional school). But, in all probabilities, the princes never went to any Gurukula and were trained in the palace itself. Valmiki Ramayana does not mention anything about sending them away. Instead, it says that Rama and the princes were well versed in Vedas, archery, and were always rendering service to their father (1.18.27,28, 36,37).
Now, coming to the issue of Kausalya’s grief and Shanta, this writer searched hard to find any reference for Queen Kausalya mourning over her daughter in the Valmiki Ramayana but was unable to find even a single reference to it.
The serial portrays Shanta as being the daughter of the Dasharatha and Kausalya, who was sent to seduce and marry Rishyasringa so that the Rishi can come and perform Putrakameshti Yajna for the begetting of Rama and other princes. Thus, the serial portrays how Dasharatha gave up his daughter for the sake of his sons. It further shows how Shanta was well accomplished in every way yet Dasharatha was never satisfied with her and hankered for a son. This hankering of Dasharatha resulted in Shanta being compelled to sacrifice her freedom and comforts and she went and lived in the forest with Rishyasringa. The serial further shows that this fact was initially kept hidden from Rama and other princes.
Now, let us look into what Valmiki Ramayana has to say about Shanta. Shanta was given in adoption to Romapaada, the King of Anga kingdom and a close friend of Dasharata. The adoption must have happened when Shanta was a child though no mention of her age during adoption is mentioned. But, it is clear that Shanta was brought up by Romapaada as his own daughter. Valmiki Ramayana mentions that when Romapaada’s kingdom was suffering from severe drought, he sent his courtesans to bring Rishyasringa to his kingdom (1.10.7).
When the Rishi arrived in his kingdom, the kingdom was showered with rains and later Romapaada gave Shanta’s hand in marriage to the Rishi (1.10.29-32). After marriage Shanta and Rishyasringa both lived in Anga kingdom itself (1.10.33) and not in the forest. Dasharatha later asked the help of Romapaada to request his son-in-law Rishyasringa to perform Putrakameshti Yajna so that Dasharatha can beget sons.
Therefore, from the Valmiki Ramayana, it becomes clear that Shanta was married to her husband according to the norms of those times and there was neither any compulsion nor any sacrifice on the part of Shanta nor did she undergo any suffering from the marriage. In fact, the Mahabharata account of the story of Shanta and Rishyasringa says that they both shared a loving relationship similar to Nala and Damayanti or Vashishta and Arundathi.
More importantly, Shanta was not sent to seduce Rishyashringa so that Dasharata can beget sons and thus there is absolutely no connection between Shanta marrying Rishyasringa and Rishyasringa helping Dasharatha in begetting sons.
So, the question that naturally arises is why did the serial distort the truth and impose notions of patriarchy and misogyny? Why was Shanta depicted as a victim? Why was Shanta used as a tool to depict supposed discrimination against daughters, or to depict how women are forced to make sacrifices when no such thing is actually recorded in the original text?
Patriarchy, misogyny, discrimination against daughters are all some of the trends that could be observed in current society. More importantly, these are the trends stressed in the left-liberal narratives of the society. On the other hand, Indic narrative is rooted in the all-encompassing concept of Dharma- duty and righteousness and all social trends- both good and bad- are analyzed from the Dharmic standpoint. The fact that the serial has distorted the original Dharmic narrative of Ramayana and has tried to superimpose social ills present in the current society and trends of current left-liberal narratives onto Ramayana, raises serious questions about the professionalism and the motives of the makers of this serial?
Further, Shanta’s story is not the only case of such distortions and super-impositions of left-liberal narratives. Consider the event of Ashwamedha Yajna (Horse-Sacrifice) portrayed in the serial. According to the serial, when King Dasharatha performs Ashwamedha Yajna, first Sita is shown as stopping the horse in its path, then Rama asserts that the horse should not be killed to complete the sacrifice and instead a golden idol of the horse should be used. Rama also makes a speech about animal rights and how traditions should be broken.
The whole narrative depicts not only the ignorance of the makers of the show about Hindu rituals, but also their agenda to superimpose modern narratives of animal rights on Hindu practices.
It is not that Dharmic perspective is insensitive to animal life. Hindu scriptures stipulate serving animals as one of the duties of householders (Bhuta-yajna). Hindu scriptures perceive animals as inseparable part of the Universe and teaches people to practice Ahimsa (non-injury). In fact, Manu Smriti (5.53) says that one who renounces consumption of eating meat attains spiritual benefit equal to that attained after conducting 100 Ashwamedha Yajnas.
At the same time, it must be remembered that Ashwamedha Yajna was performed for the overall welfare of the society- material, spiritual, and ecological. It served as a tool for the Kings to distribute their wealth among the poor and needy. The citizens were given in charity, whatever they were in need of. The landless got the lands, the house-less got the house, people in need of gold were given gold, etc. And the spiritual benefits derived from the Yajna is limitless and helps to enrich the spiritual atmosphere in the society. More importantly, the ritual is such that, the animals sacrificed in it not only attains heaven, but they also attain higher birth. It is for this reason, the sacrifice of animals in Yajnas is not considered as ‘Himsa’ (violence) as even the animals attain welfare.
Hence, according to Hinduism, sacrificing of animals in Yajnas that causes welfare of sacrificed animals as well is Dharma. On the other hand, modern activities like breeding animals for slaughtering or killing animals for their skin, etc. are considered unrighteous (Adharma) because there is no welfare of the animals.
First, the Ashwamedha Yajna shown in the serial never happened as far as Valmiki Ramayana is concerned. Valmiki Ramayana speaks about Dasharatha performing Horse-sacrifice along with Putrakameshti Yajna for begetting his sons. But, he does not perform any horse-sacrifice after the birth of his sons.
Second, even in the Ashwamedha Yajna that was conducted by Dasharatha before the birth of Rama, a real horse was sacrificed (1.14.32-36) and not a horse idol.
Third, Sita is shown as stopping the horse without realizing the fact that whoever stops the horse and ties it, he/she must wage a war. Yet, in order to portray Sita as a rebel, the scene has been included in the serial.
Fourth, Valmiki Ramayana says Rama is a Dharma-Murti, the personification of Dharma. Thus, Rama very well knew that killing of the horse in the Yajna is not considered as Himsa/violence because the animal thus sacrificed attains spiritual and material welfare as well. Hence, Rama would never have called for a replacement of real horse with a horse idol based on shallow arguments not rooted in Dharma. But without understanding this nuance, the serial tries to give a lecture about the animal rights based on modern left-liberal narratives!
Fifth, the serial portrays Rishi Vashishta as calling Ashwamedha Yajna as a ‘pratha’ or a practice or a tradition based on common belief. But, the fact is Ashwamedha Yajna is not a ‘pratha’, it is a Dharmic practice given in Vedas themselves. So, there is no question about it being a simple matter of faith. It is a Dharmic obligation of the Kings for the welfare of his people. Though, it is true that sacrifice of animals during Yajnas has been prohibited in Kaliyuga according to some Dharmic texts because people no longer have the competency to properly perform those Yajnas and cause animals to attain higher birth. But, Lord Rama was not in Kali Yuga. He was in Treta-Yuga when there were hundreds of great Rishis like Vashishta, Rishyasringa etc. who were capable of performing even complex of Yajnas for the welfare of the world.
In other words, the whole events related to Ashwamedha Yajna shown in the serial is a fabrication introduced to distort the essence of Hindu rituals and superimpose left-liberal narratives about animal rights which incidentally is invoked only with respect to Hindu rituals and not in any other circumstances. (Remember Beef parties?).
Then there was the argument between Yajnavalkya and Gargi that ended up being a debate on love rather than being a sublime discussion about Brahman as shown in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Also, the depiction of Gargi and the way Sunayana (Janak’s wife) speaks about her completely goes against the high respect Gargi actually held during that period. Then, the Rakshasas (demons) were portrayed as tribal people, which clearly is a colonial construction propagated by a few scholars. Hindu tradition itself considered Rakshasas as being different species than humans. Yet, the fight between Rama and Lakshmana duo and the Rakshasas headed by Maricha and Subhahu were depicted as a fight between the royal kings and tribal people! Maybe the makers of the serial are too much influenced by the Aryan invasion myth!
There was also a conversation between Janak and his wife, wherein Sita’s mother is apprehensive about educating Sita and tells Janak, if Sita is educated, she will face numerous problems after marriage! Another clear attempt at superimposing the perceptions about girl education prevalent from last few centuries on Ramayana.
The events mentioned here are by no means exhaustive. There are many more such incidents and scenes portrayed in the serial which clearly betray attempts at imposing present social values on Ramayana, distortion of facts, and fabrication of lies.
In short, ‘Siya Ke Raam’ ends up making a complete mockery of Ramayana and Hindu practices. But the question is, will it take the moral responsibility for its distortions and mockery?
The serial starts with a disclaimer saying that the serial intends to hurt no religious sentiments, yet that is precisely what it is doing. It is distorting the facts of Valmiki Ramayana and fabricating events that are not present in it and more importantly, it is trying to discredit Hindu practices by superimposing elements from left-liberal worldview into the situations of Ramayana.
If the intentions of the serial makers were really genuine and they wanted to teach certain values to counter current problems, they could have made a completely new mythological serial something on the lines of Game of Thrones. Yet, again and again, the film and serial production industry take a short cut and produce serials that bear the name of historical or mythological characters for the sake of earning TRP, but without an iota of historical or mythological truths in them. This happened with Jodha Akbar serial in the past and it is happening now with ‘Siya ke Raam’.
The serial could have served a fantastic platform for imparting the Dharmic teachings inherent in the story of Valmiki Ramayana that would have helped the common people. Yet, the serial makers chose to reduce the whole effort into a distortion of Hinduism to propagate modern left-liberal narratives.
If this is not a mockery of Ramayana and Hinduism in the name of entertainment, then what is?