In Today’s ‘Ram Rajya’, Is There No Space For Sita Ki Rasoi?
The story first appeared in The Quint
Do we all know about ‘Sita ki Rasoi’? Now that the Supreme Court of India has given its verdict to build the Ram mandir on the so far disputed land, this topic has emerged. But there is no way to miss the politics in the very patriarchal structure. Here is SAWM member Nishtha Gautam’s interesting article on how the politicised Hindus want to present a Ram Rajya without Sita’s domestic divinity.
Did Sita really cook meals for the clan of Raghu?
We have no evidence to ascertain the culinary prowess of the Rani of Ayodhya, the queen of Raja Ram Chandra. Queens, after all, need lift a finger to accomplish mundane household chores. Why, then, the disputed patch of land in Ayodhya have a Sita ki Rasoi adjacent to Ramjanmabhoomi? Sita, as a matter of fact, did not even spend a considerable amount of time in Ayodhya, thanks to initially the vanvaas and eventually her banishment by Ram.
Now that the Supreme Court has granted the whole of disputed 2.77 acres of land to the Hindus, it is imperative to delve deeper into the significance of the shrines that the community claims to hold dear.
Sita: The Quintessential Collateral
In a Freudian way, Sita’s kitchen—a site facilitating oral gratification— is located next to where her husband is believed to have been born. The shrine was damaged in 1992 when the debris of Babri Masjid fell over it. The Hindu-Muslim dispute took its toll on the shrine dedicated to a woman who bore the brunt of the holy battle between her husband and Ravan.
Sita is the inconvenient collateral that everyone wishes away, or confabulates about. Even when she’s wronged, enough caveats are put to justify the harm done or to deny that it happened at all.
According to Brahmavaivarta Puran, a shadow Sita is created with the help of Fire during the vanvaas to protect goddess Sita from the defiling touch of Ravan. It is the shadow Sita who is abducted, fought over and rescued while the real Sita lived in the cozy comforts of Fire. The agni-pariksha is convenient deus ex machina to bid farewell to shadow Sita and bring the pure, real Sita back.
After all, how could satpurush Ram—the man with no flaw—treat his woman so shabbily? He needs to be given a divine excuse and the story a palatable closure. Many later retellings of the Ramayana have attempted to do so. In Bhavabhuti’s Uttararamcharitam, the story ends with the union of Ram and Sita. Unlike in Valmiki’s epic, Sita does not choose to be swallowed by Mother Earth, holding her dignity dearer than the urge to make her husband look great.
Marginalisation of Sita ki Rasoi in Politicised Bhakti
Over centuries of Ramkatha tellings and retellings, Sita has been reduced to an aidant personnage — a secondary character aiding Ram’s glory. Her personhood lies overshadowed by that of her husband. She’s Shakti, the Goddess, the Divine Half, without an equal status. No wonder, then, that her kitchen in Ayodhya does not hold the same significance for the politicised believers.
During his travels to Ayodhya in 1998, scholar Phyllis K Herman gathered that loss of access to Sita ki Rasoi shrine in the aftermath of Babri demolition did not perturb the devotees—who became increasingly political—very much. Bhakti remained largely concentrated in Ram Lalla Virajman’s patch of land even though Ayodhya Mahatmya in Vaishnav Kaand of Skand Puraan (circa 14th century) locates the power and presence of Sita in a divine kitchen-shrine.
Sita ki rasoi is emblematic of plenty and abundance, without which no ideal kingdom can exist. In fact, all accounts of Ram’s rule emphasize the fact that the people of Ayodhya were happy and well-fed.
Connection Between Babri Masjid and Sita ki Rasoi
It was also considered to be the reason why Babar decided to construct the now-demolished mosque at that site. In this regard, a story oft-quoted by historians like Pratap Narain Mishra in his ‘Kya kahati hain saryu dhara? Sri Ramjanmabhumi ki kahani’ (1985) is worth repeating from Gyanendra Pandey’s 1994 essay ‘Modes of History Writing: New Hindu History of Ayodhya’:
“After Babar had overcome ‘the Hindus’ in a battle that lasted long and furiously, and in which the Mughal forces were beaten back time and again, he left Ayodhya instructing his lieutenant, Mir Baqi Khan of Tashkent, to build a mosque on the site of the temple using the very material of the latter. But this proved to be no easy task. ‘The walls that were built during the day came down [as if by miracle] at night”; and this is what continued to happen day after -day. ” until Mir Baqi in despair urged Babar to return and see things for himself. Babar returned, and seeing what each day brought, consulted local sadhus and arranged a compromise which gave him a way out. The sadhus said that Hanuman was against the construction of the mosque, and no building could occur until he was persuaded. In the end, as (according to our Hindu historians) Babar himself has written in his memoirs, the Hindus laid down five conditions: “The masjid was to be called ‘Sita Pak’ [i e, Sita’s rasoi or kitchen]. The space for circumambulation around the central structure [parikrama] had to be preserved. A wooden door was to be erected at the main entrance. The turrets/spires were to be brought down. And Hindu mahatmas were to be allowed to conduct prayers and recitations.”
The story was reiterated by at least two witnesses during the Supreme Court proceedings in the Ayodhya dispute case.
Can ‘Ram Rajya’ Do Without Sita’s Spiritual Nourishment?
Ramchandra Gandhi in his seminal work ‘Sita’s Kitchen: A Testimony of Faith and Inquiry’ imagined the shrine as “the archetypal notion of the earth as the Divine Mother’s laboratory of manifestation and field of nourishment for all self-images of self”. Can the damage to this shrine during Babri demolition be seen as a metaphor for growing hunger and poverty—physical and cultural—in the land that has craved for ‘Ram Rajya’ for long? The political marginalisation of the shrine also takes the metaphor forward.
The politicised Hindu imagination conjures a ‘Ram Rajya’ without the nourishment provided by Sita’s domestic divinity. Sita, who gave Ram a chance for course correction by reminding him of his divinity, has no space in a unified, unilateral and almost blasphemous attempt to locate divinity at one specific physical spot.
After all, Jai Siya Ram has long been displaced by Jai Shri Ram.