The Ramayana and Sita Sings The Blues

Art is a form of expression that lives on for centuries but changes in interpretation over time. What may be relevant in this time period may make no sense to the upcoming generations. Nina Paley’s film “Sita Sings the Blues” brings two cultures, traditions, values and time periods together to convey her message and bring relevance of her art across many cultures and generations. The Ramayana by Valmiki on the other hand is a very traditional epic which depicts the ideal of every relation, one ideal example being the wife of Rama, Sita. Idealistically, a wife in Indian culture is to stick to her husband no matter how harshly she is treated by him, she should be calm in every situation and should be the one to try and hold a household together. In modern society this is a concept which is not logical to this generation and certainly would not be accepted and tolerated because of the evolution of women rights. This essay will discuss the traditional interpretation of the centuries old poem, The Ramayana, and later correlate it with Paley’s, modernized retelling of the same story. Paley, in her movie openly lays the fate of Sita; she reasons that happiness is not just found in being in a marriage with children but rather with an understanding between two parties.

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If two people cannot work things out they move on as Paley did in her personal story. This is a concept which is a great contradiction to the “female dharma” which is explained in the Ramayana as the ideal of women. The Ramayana is a religious text revolving around the conception of Dharma. Dharma in Hinduism is specified behavior that is to be in accordance to the ideal. Therefore, Rama and Sita serve as the symbol for ideal man and woman in traditional Indian society. Sita, in Ramayana expresses Dharma by being a strong, brave, faithful and very devoted wife to Rama. Rama as well represents loyalty, obedience and love, making him an ideal husband, son, and brother. In Sita Sings the Blues, Paley has a different, personalized image of Sita. Throughout the movie we see that Sita is crying, and is playing the role of the victim rather than being strong and following the Dharma of Indian culture. Paley goes against the traditional interpretation and ignores the idea of Dharma in regular and cultural aspect. The story of Rama and Sita in Ramayana takes a turn and Rama who was considered the ideal son and husband, disowns Sita after she was kidnapped, believing that she was touched by another man making her impure and not worthy of him. She is abandoned by her husband to live in a forest while she was pregnant with Rama’s twin boys. She still stays loyal to him and gives birth to two boys and teaches them to love their father and respect him like a God.

After all her loyalty she is still not worthy by her husband’s standards. Paley impressively expresses her own life with her boyfriend living in modern day San Francisco connecting the two stories. She shows love and affection for her boyfriend but he does not do the same. She moves with him to India but later she gets invited to give lectures in NY and signs up to go. After she left, she got an email from her boyfriend stating Paley should not come back to India and directed the message of a break up. Similar to, when Sita was not accepted after her kidnapping, Paley is abandoned by her boyfriend. Her boyfriend makes clear she is not wanted and she should move on. She becomes selfless and hopeless and tries to do everything she can to make her boyfriend accept her again, therefore making it, what is known today as an unhealthy relationship. Paley’s movie is an art that can be easily related to, by today’s generation. Women are looked as to be fragile so most typical solution to Paley’s situation would be to move on, something Sita was not able to do not only because it was her will but also because of the culture and tradition of the time period. Sita has to be loyal and strong to Rama, as the myth goes she stays with him till the end proving herself the perfect wife and the ideal of Indian culture. She proved her love for Rama by walking in fire and coming out untouched, and again by getting sucked into the earth, yet she was still rejected by Rama. Sita sacrificing herself by getting sucked in by earth is arguably a metaphor for suicide.

Rama in modern age is seen as someone who is selfish and incapable of understanding the worth of a woman. His actions interpret him to be an abusive man towards his wife, an intolerant behavior in modern day society. A metaphor from the Ramayana states,“Para Akaaju Lagi Tanu Pariharaheen, Jimi Hima Upala Krishee Dali Garaheen” , meaning “Evil men are like hailstones”, that people who don’t do right and try to destroy others eventually end up destroying themselves. Both the stories are about break up but they do not relay the same idea across. In the Ramayana, Sita does everything in her power to be with the person she devoted herself to. She burned herself alive, thus going great extents for him. All her actions are socially acceptable at that time period of her century. Whereas, we see Paley she cannot get over a guy who is not even her husband but her boyfriend who did not treat her great from the beginning. According to the new generation this type of behavior is socially unacceptable and is proclaimed as an “unhealthy relationship.” From which Paley recovered gradually.

Towards the end of both stories we see that Paley is happy without the man she thought she was madly in love with. She realizes she does need to give up her life for someone who does appreciate her. She understands the fact that she life does not end when someone like her boyfriend is gone from your, it much rather gives you time reflect on yourself and your actions. Sita on the other hand gave up her whole self to her husband and spent her life trying to prove her innocence and loyalty to her husband. Both the endings show a great gap between the times in which the writing and the movie were written. Sita had it the hard way because that’s how the Indian society had it engraved in her to be the ideal wife. Paley living this new life with new thoughts and ability to think for herself, she chose the path that she thought was best for. She willingly expresses her thoughts because that’s what is accepted in today’s society. The Ramayana is a story that transcends time and culture, which is how Paley was able to modernize it in Sita Sings the Blues. Ramayana has such an appealing storyline that it will relate to every generation, as an example of pure love of Sita for her husband Rama.

The only twist that takes place is that each generation has their own thoughts and opinions. Although both the Ramayana and Sita sings the blues have the same storyline, Paley changes it to make it more relevant to our society by giving up the cultural aspect of love in Indian Society and adding in women rights. The story of Sita lives on, by how Paley uses great creativity and to make Sita more believable and relatable. Everything is done accordance to time and the thoughts and opinions of the new generation.

1. “Ramayana”, Wikipedia, 8 March 2014, 9 March 2014 2. Kaul Dhar Aarttee, “Re reading Ramayana Exploring:Sita Sings the Blues” 9 March 2014

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