Manini Anandani to talk on highly misunderstood Ramayana female characters

Updated: Nov 18, 2018, 08:41 IST | Prutha Bhosle

Author Manini Anandani delivers talks in the city on lesser-known and highly misunderstood female characters from Ramayana, hoping to spark a debate

Manini Anandani. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Manini Anandani. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

The act of cutting Surpanakha's nose off has divided mythology enthusiasts for some time. While some malign her reputation for wandering alone in a forest and wooing a married man, others deem Laxman's actions as the metaphorical equivalent of disgracing her, raping her. Thirty-two-year-old Manini Anandani, who recently published her first book, Mandodari, speaks of many such alternative versions of highly misunderstood female characters of the Ramayana, at intimate book clubs in the city.

A passionate mythologist, Anandani received her postgraduate diploma in comparative mythology from Mumbai University in April 2018. Her quest to start a conversation about these untold folktales began when she encountered Ravana's first wife, Mandodari, in the Sanskrit department of the varsity library. "Most Indians are only familiar with BR Chopra's television milestone of the epic," she says. "But, there are thousands of folklores that most people are unaware of.

My first book is a retelling of Ramayana from Mandodari's eyes. She narrates the rise and fall of Ravana. The one adapted in my book is closer to the Jain version, in which Mandodari and Ravana are the parents of Sita. Mandodari believes that her husband's action of abduction was only a rational reaction to his sister Surpanakha's mutilation."

So far, Anandani has done two discussions: with members of the Juhu Book Club in September and Mythopia in November. "Both these clubs are formed by a bunch of people passionate about world mythology. I do these sessions so that more and more people understand these strong female characters and their depiction in recent times. The discussions are divided into two camps: one talks about women from Rama's side of the story and the other about those from Lanka we barely know about."

Anandani delivers feminist views of characters such as Laxman's wife Urmila, Bharat's wife Mandavi, Dashrath's third wife Kaikeyi, usually deemed the evil queen, among others. "Mandavi also lived as a sanyasi when her brothers-in-law and sister-in-law were exiled from Ayodhya. She suffered [as well] and ended up paying a huge price. Similarly, Ravana's mother Kaikesi was forced to give up on her youth and marry Rishi Vishrava. We only know her as the asura [demon], and not for her challenges as a mother. Kumbhakarna's wife Vajramala, too, had a terrible life. Hailing from a royal family, she was neglected because Kumbhakarna was mostly unavailable. She also lost both her sons — Nikumbha and Kumbha — to the war." Anandani thinks it's time we opened our minds to the stories of these uncelebrated personalities.

"When I heard stories from Ramayana as a child, I could never stick to a monolithic side of key characters. Every woman has a grey area that needs to be explored. One needs to understand the reasons behind their actions before passing strong judgments. Therefore, my sessions attempt to do justice to them by taking a nonconformist stand."

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