by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The Forest of Enchantments is the tale of Sita-princess of Mithila and the queen of Ayodhya, her trials and tribulations, her emotional turmoil as she faced the various challenges life threw at her.
The author gives a wonderful glimpse into Sita’s life. Her aspirations and beliefs as she grew in Mithila, her deep bond with sister Urmila, her pure and trusting love for Ram, her rage at the injustice done by Kaikeyi, the freedom and calm she experienced in the dense forests of Bharatvarsh during her exile.
I was never really aware of what Sita goes through when she was a prisoner in Lanka. The author gives a nice illustrations to that effect. Sita’s despair and hopelessness, her belief in Ram and at the same time her worry for his life, her strong will power as she faces the tortures of Ravan & Surpankha, the friendship she developed with Vibheeshan’s wife , Sarama, and the awkward relation she has with Mandodari.
However the big picture of this tale is how Sita wanted to uplift women. Women she felt were often mistreated under the name of duty and obligation, and Sita did her part to change that. After reading Valmiki’s Ramayan, she is filled with dismay and anger at the fact that her part, her feelings and experiences have been completely left out. So she takes the onus of penning down her story; Sitayan and as she starts she promises to also share the tales of the forgotten and often misunderstood women of Ramayan: Kaikeyi, Surpankha, Urmila, Mandodari.
Her final act of sacrificing herself in the fire leaving her family behind was also so that in future women would not be asked to prove their innocence time and again. They would have the courage to stand up against any injustice done to them.
Reading through her journey Sita does not feel like a goddess. She seems like an everyday girl who is faced with a lot of struggle and is trying to be strong emotionally and live in a dignified manner. She is not a meek subservient wife of Lord Ram, but a warrior with her own opinions and sense of justice. Her personality as portrayed here is very contemporary which is the best part about the book.
Even with such a strong heroine, The Forest of Enchantments leaves you a little disappointed. The writing is a little tedious to read at times. It is not as enthralling as A Palace of Illusions, which actually raised my expectations a lot. However, the tale of Sita will always remain one of the most beautiful and tragic Saga.