Kāthā: Unheard Female Voices from Ramayana

This is the second installment of a trilogy composed by Somrita Mishra, Aishwarya Dasgupta and Susmita Paul, with illustration from Subarnarekha Pal, who have come together to revive some previously unheard female voices from the Ramayana. Read them, hear them, re-think with them.

katha title illustratiion

Urmila

Aishwarya Das Gupta

I

Steels clashed, sticks cracked, whips sparked, hooves rattled, Mithila was fortified within the embrace of its fierce mothers and daughters who fought alongside the men. Urmila, literally the one endowed with the rippling beauty of the waves, came crashing on the enemy lines in gushing gales, breaking, and scattering away the remnants of the combatants.

Urmila, Janki’s right hand woman, second in line to the throne of Mithila, became what Sunaina could not- a human being, with a mind, body and most importantly, a heart, as wide as the oceans. The Kheer sagar of Vaikuntha had churned in twists and turns, channelling its bounty in the being of the one with the ripples of strength, it had dried up to a trickle to conspire in the conception of Urmila- the wave, whose lashing dance could wipe away evil, absorbing it into a web of nothingness.

A milky ocean became a maiden, a wave became a still dark hole, a ripple became a breathless slumber, a storm hibernated, locked away, forgotten. That’s how her story goes.

Steels clashed, sticks cracked, whips sparked, hooves rattled…

Days passed since that battle. Storm clouds darkened the sky of Mithila and faded away.

On a bright sunny morning, Ram, Purushottam, broke the sacred bow. The Pinaka lay in two pieces, although stringed, a bandaged wreck, the first of many. Sita was betrothed. So were Urmila, Mandvi and Shrutakirti.

Thus, the second in line to the throne of Mithila became the wife of Lakshman.

II

I crossed the threshold of Ayodhya

Prince Lakshman at my side

Shoulder to shoulder

Not as warriors,

Though.

The flower was yet to blossom.

I was just a bud.

Lakshman-

Ram’s brother,

(I must not take his name,

He is my swami after all)

Followed the steps of his Agraja,

His king.

The bud was left to wither.

Alone.

It’s been fourteen years.

The garden of mirth which returned in my dreams,

Has deflowered.

I was a warrior once.

The only war l got to fight was against

The dark monster,

Who resembled me,

Who visits me still

In my dreams.

I am waiting:

Like yesterday,

And the day before,

And the one before that,

To fight the war again.

I am waiting.

I wait.

III

“My sincere apologies. I can’t give in to your command Devi Nidra. My agraja sleeps and I must remain awake today and all the nights that follow for the next fourteen years to stand guard against the spells which the treacherous darkness of the long ratri may contrive against the Lord.”

“Your wish may be granted. But on one condition.”

“Pray tell.”

“I need a substitute. One who will do what you refuse to, on your behalf…”

“So shall you have. It’s the promise of a Raghuvanshi.”

 

IV

“I agree Swami. It’s the oath of a warrior and a wife.”

V

Steels clashed, sticks cracked, whips sparked, hooves rattled, Mithila was fortified within the embrace of its fierce mothers and daughters who fought alongside the men. Urmila, literally the one endowed with the rippling beauty of the waves, came crashing on the enemy lines in gushing gales, breaking, and scattering away the remnants of the combatants.

The milk of the Kheer sagar curdled next, turning into a sticky black crumble. The steel became heavy, and heavier still was the ground beneath her feet; the grassy meadow dried up; the patches of blood rose up in droplets gathering across the dark sky creating a mass of scarlet clouds. Her wiry hair resembled the untamed tresses of the Shiva, and her spirit willed to perform the Tandava on the storm-tossed terrain. But the steel became heavy, and heavier still was the ground beneath her feet. Yet, the waves welling within her soul could not be silenced, her fresh scars fuelled her, and she came crashing upon the enemy lines in gushing gales, repeating her past glories, rehearsing for the battles she was yet to fight.

It was dawn again and Prince Lakshman had taken his leave without bidding farewell, without a parting kiss on her forehead, without a final glance or a promise of prompt return.

 It was dawn again, and the warrior was tucked in plainly within the confines of her marital bed, her senses drowning deeper with every drop of opium which numbed her nerves and beckoned her to the battlefield where scarlet clouds gathered above a dried patch of grassland, where every war she fought was destined to be defeated. The vials of opium never dried, and the dasis tucked her cosily beneath her phantom fantasies, her bed was always taken care of and her body preserved with the greatest caution. She slept and drowned and dreamed and fought and slept and dreamed and fought again.

It was all she could do to keep her sister’s husband, the great King alive, it was all she could do to not make it to the pages of history, it was all she could do to immolate herself with opium and phantom fantasies.

It was all she could do.

VI

The dark chamber stays awake

I can hear their voices.

I can feel the arrows,

One, two, three…

(Fourteen?!)

All over my being.

I shake the walls of my cage.

The mirror is cracked.

I agree,

I agree my Lord

It’s the promise of a warrior

A wife?

I remember the colours-

Magenta, saffron, green, yellow.

I remember the sacred fire

Or was it a funeral pyre?

It should have been white

And white everywhere

And the mirror was intact then

Vermillion, Chandan, dhoop, deep

 

Yadidang Hridayang Mamah:

Tadidang Hridayang Tabah:

 

I was an ocean once,

A gushing gale swallowing all

The evil crossing my path.

The morning sun used to colour my

Glorious being with shades of

Brilliance.

But I sleep now,

Under the ocean of light

In the subterranean chambers of the darkest night,

My waves lash against the locked water-gates,

They howl and cry and writhe and shake,

But fail to wake up.

The storm stirs yet,

The storm stirs still,

It brews within the recesses of my

Storm tossed being

And so

Not knowing what else to do,

I keep my promise

And

Fight

Phantom battles

and

wait.

I wait.

 

Aishwarya Das Gupta teaches in Calcutta Girls’ College. She is a weaver of words who loves to recede into her bubble of silent dreams. She is an avid reader, lover of cinema and creative arts and if left alone to her own devices, may be found lingering under the shady bough of a lonely tree.

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