Criminalisation Of Shurpanakha – Was she really that bad? Was Ram so wise?


Being born in a Hindu family, it is not uncommon to be influenced by the Hindu mythology. Even though not most of us read the actual scriptures talking of those myths originally, we have made conclusions regarding who is the hero and who is the villain. Throughout my childhood, I was told that Ram and Lakshman were heroes. I trusted the readily available opinions because it doesn’t take much of one’s energy doing that.

Talking of Ram, we are told that he was at the top of the ‘best men list’, why so? Ramayan says so. Now I didn’t enquire about the verse or the chapter which said so. I simply took it as it is “Ram is Maryada Purushottam”. The Shurpanakha incident, as everybody knows is very popular ‘cause it is from there that Ravan, the villain enters into the story.

I happened to read the original Ramayan composed by Valmiki. In the Aranya Kand (the forest book), I read the whole incident on Shurpanakha. One shocking information I got was that not only the nose, even the ears of Shurpanakha were chopped off by Lakshman. As far as I remember and know, nobody has ever talked about the ears.

Now why did Lakshman do this? Shurpanakha enters the forest, sees Ram and asks him to marry her as she suits him more than Sita does. Ram tells her that he can’t marry her, but the ‘unmarried’ Lakshman can. Now wait! Lakshman is single? Didn’t he marry Urmila? Then in the next shlok, Ram again says that Lakshman is unmarried. Shurpanakha asks Lakshman to marry her, to which he says “as I’m just a servant to Ram and Sita, how would you feel if you’re called a servant’s wife?” So he tells her to go to Ram again as he’s the most suitable groom for her. Shurpanakha gets frustrated and zeroes in on Sita as her single enemy because both Ram and Lakshman are saying her ‘no’ indirectly due to the presence of Sita. Shurpanakha declares to eat up Sita and then moves towards her just when Lakshman chops off her ears and nose.

Obviously Shurpanakha had insulted Sita to get more scores, but tossing her here and there doesn’t seem a noble behaviour. Why did Ram tell her to ask Lakshman to marry her? Why didn’t he say a simple ‘no’? Also why did Lakshman again toss her back toward Ram? Is saying a simple ‘no’ too difficult? Couldn’t Lakshman just push her some other side while she walked toward Sita? Haven’t we all heard about how powerful their arms were? Was chopping her ears and nose off so inevitable? Which brother would sit back easy while his sister faces such humiliation for such a reason?

While giving orders to Lakshman to move toward Shurpanakha, Ram specifically tells him to ‘disfigure’ her. The order could have been about protecting Sita and not about disfiguring a potentially threatening being. Let me make it clear that I am not making all this up. All that I am talking about is written in the Valmiki Ramayan which is taken to be the source of the actual story of Ram. It is much more important to note that even though the author Valmiki is sure to make Ram a hero & Ravan a villain, he writes down such an incident which would cast doubts on Ram’s wit.

The author’s bias clearly appears when, after Khar & Dushan try in vain to avenge Shurpanakha’s humiliation, she goes up to Ravan & praises Ram of letting her go alive. Shurpanakha also calls Lakshman an intelligent man. Then Shurpanakha is shown to praise Sita and ask Ravan to marry her. Such a saint would she have been, that after such an adverse incident, Shurpanakha is praising not just Ram and Lakshman, but also Sita.

Talking of Sita’s abduction, Valmiki Ramayan shows Ravan and Sita having a full debate. Ravan insists on the incompetence of Ram who had put such a graceful & worthy lady as Sita in a forest. After the debate is over, Ravan ‘forcefully’ takes Sita to Lanka. In Lanka, Ravan keeps Sita in his renowned garden Ashok-Vatika & is all polite with Sita. In the chapter where he asks her to marry him, he is even shown saying that he would massage Sita’s two feet with his heads and that he is her obedient servant.

In the following chapters, Ravan keeps trying to convince Sita to marry him. Ravan is shown to be within good limits during his correspondence with Sita. Even after Sita replies him with harsh words, he says that even though she is worth slaying, he won’t kill her. He gives a two-month deadline at the completion of which Sita should either marry Ravan or be killed.

The story, though revered throughout the Hindu community, shows the bias of the author. Why would Shurpanakha praise Ram, Lakshman and Sita after bearing such humiliation? Couldn’t she simply ask Ravan to avenge her humiliation? She is instead shown asking Ravan to marry Sita. If Shurpanakha had asked Ravan to avenge her humiliation, he could have attacked Ram and Lakshman in the forest alone, at a time when the brothers had no army of theirs at all.

The loophole of the story, as it seems, is twofold. First is that Ram has to be projected as a hero and Ravan as a villain. So no matter what each of them does, the story shall be tilted in such a way. The second loophole is putting a silent blame on women. First it was Kaikeyi who asked Dashrath to order Ram to be sent to the forest. After that Shurpanakha asked Ravan to marry Sita, and he starts the procedures to do so. Then Ravan comes as a disguised saint at Ram’s house in the forest and even though he praises Sita in an explicit manner (praising her breasts and hips), Sita doesn’t suspect his sainthood at all and asks him to come and be seated (there is no mention of Lakshman-Rekha in Valmiki Ramayan), which then leads to her abduction.

None of us knows about what the original story was. But reading the renowned ‘original’ account of Valmiki Ramayan, it seems that the story has been tilted on one side. It is the Shurpanakha’s incident of disfiguring, after which Ravan enters the scene. Just imagine if Ram could have said a simple ‘no’ to Shurpanakha and not toss her here and there, the story could have been different. It seems that for justifying Shurpanakha’s incident, the following story has been tilted.

It seems quite logical that the abduction of Sita was to bring Ram to his knees to avenge the humiliation Shurpanakha had faced. The thought of marrying Sita may have come later in Ravan’s mind. If lust was on his mind, he could have done anything with Sita, as she was at his mercy. Why did he give her a deadline of two months then? Even though Valmiki has tried his best to make Ravan look a villain, he too couldn’t help giving some hints about his decency.

The questions then arise: was Shurpanakha really so criminal? Was Lakshman’s act to disfigure her so wise? Couldn’t a simple ‘no’ avoid the whole rivalry between Ram and Ravan and save a few more lives at the least? I would call this incident and the stand people usually take regarding Shurpanakha, as her criminalisation to justify the direction of Ram and the action of Lakshman.

If any doubt regarding Shurpanakha’s story arises in your mind while reading this, kindly read the 17th and 18th chapters of Valmiki Ramayan’s Aranya Kand. What better if you could read the whole of Aranya Kand & Sundar Kand.

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