Maryada – Dharma In Ramayana By Arshia Sattar

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Arshia Sattar is the translator of Ramayana and other Sanskrit texts. She has written a series of books on her reflections on the story of Ramayana. Maryada is one of those books that is ‘Searching for Dharma in the Ramayana’. We know we call Sri Ram – Maryada Purushottam, but we rarely explore the word Maryada. It literally means the boundaries, but boundaries of what, we rarely think.

Maryada by Arshia SattarMaryada explores the Dharma of different characters of the Ramayana story. It contrasts the dharma of city dwellers that looks at Ayodhya as the city. Or what we would call an urban setting today. It looks at the dharma that the women of Ayodhya followed and the one that was followed by women outside. It looks at Lakshmana and Hanuman and what were their driving forces for doing what they did.

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I liked the analysis of the Dharma of a Kshatriya versus the Dharma of a son. I learned about Sita’s clarity on dharma that must be followed in the forest and it is that of an ascetic. She opines that the weapons that are required by a Kshatriya dharma can be carried once they return to the city.

One important section where a lot of dharma questions pop up in popular media is – Lakshman Rekha. What most of us forget is that there is no Lakshman Rekha in Valmiki Ramayana and not really in Tulsi Ramayana as well. However, I would have wanted the author to discuss this moment in a bit more detail as there were boundaries that were crossed by almost everyone involved in that scene. Each had their own reason to do so. Even if one of them had acted differently, the story would be very different.

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Discussions

There is ample discussion on the rules of Vanaras with the story of Vali and Sugriva. However, it is very different when it comes to Hanuman who also comes from the same tribe. So, is the dharma very personal or does it come from the society that we grow up in? The exploration of Hanuman’s dharma was a new angle for me to read. I have not come across many writings on this. It looks like he is the favorite character of the author.

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The author’s translation of the Ramayana is frequently referred to in the pages of this small book. No doubt they are essential references to understand the context of the argument made, but without them, it would be one long essay. Some parts are repeated in many chapters. Like – argument between Rama and Lakshmana when the exile for Rama was announced by Dashratha. Of course, this is the most defining moment of the story of Ramayana and full of dilemmas for everyone involved.

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The language of the book is beautiful – simple yet erudite. It keeps you gripped. The Ramayana references are sprinkled to keep you glued to the story. There are ample footnotes to clear any doubts that you may have as a reader. Arshia’s experience as a prolific writer comes in handy in keeping the reader engaged, even when the subject is serious enough.

If Ramayana’s dilemmas intrigue you, this is an easy book to read and ponder upon.

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