An excerpt from Devdutt Pattanaik's Sita : An Illustrated Retelling Of The Ramayana. The chapter 'Sita weeps as Surpanakha gloats' talks of what happens after Lakshman abandons Sita in the forest on his brother's orders.
The darkness gave way to a harsh sunlight. The trees were weeping. The birds were howling. The serpents were wailing. 'Ram has banished Sita,' they cried. 'Ayodhya does not think she is good enough for it.'
Sita calmed the trees and the birds and the serpents: 'Weep for my Ram who is locked by rules, unable to breathe free in the palace. I am back in the forest, where I can do whatever I please, whenever I please. I am no longer anyone's wife; I am now a woman with child. Gauri is not bound to bow her head and watch her step any more; I am now Kali. Come, let us swim in the river and eat Shabari's berries.'
Under the berry tree, Sita found Surpanakha, full of hate and rage, gloating. 'They rejected you as they rejected me. Now you suffer as I do, stripped of status as I was stripped of beauty.'
Sita smiled, and offered Surpanakha a berry. 'These are really sweet, as sweet as the berries in Mandodari's garden.' Surpanakha was surprised.
She had expected to derive pleasure from Sita's pain. But Sita was not in pain. 'Surpanakha, how long will you expect those around you to love you as you love them? Find the Shakti within yourself to love the other even when the other does not love you. Outgrow your hunger by unconditionally feeding the other.'
'But I want justice,' said Surpanakha.
'How much punishment will be enough? Ever since the sons of Dashratha disfigured you, they have known no peace. Yet you rave and rant relentlessly. Humans are never satisfied with justice. Animals never ask for justice.'
'I am not an animal, Sita. I will not be treated as one.'
'Then be human. Let go and move on. They who hurt you cannot expand their mind. But surely you can.'
'I refuse to submit.'
'You trap yourself in your own victimhood. Then be like Ravana. Stand upright while your brothers die, your sons die and your kingdom burns, imagining your own nobility. Who loses, but you? Cultures come and go. Ram and Ravana come and go. Nature continues. I would rather enjoy nature.'
Surpanakha picked up the berry offered by Sita. It was indeed sweet, sweeter than any lover's impatient, lustful gaze. She ate another berry and smiled. 'Now I will race you to the river,' shouted Sita as she ran for the stream.
Surpanakha giggled as she jumped into the waters. Once again she felt beautiful.
Excerpted from Sita : An Illustrated Retelling Of The Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik with permission from Penguin Books India
In an exclusive interview with Sify.com, the doctor-turned-mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik explains why Sita shouldn’t be portrayed as weak and helpless
'It's easy to create a victim of Sita and a villain of Ram'