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Authors Anand Neelakantan & Madhavi Mahadevan celebrate ‘Valmiki’s Women’ at Times Litfest




Bestselling author Anand Neelkantan and winner of the AutHer Awards 2021 – Madhavi Mahadevan – came together for a gripping conversation about the former’s latest book ‘Valmiki’s Women’ at the first-ever digital edition of the Times Litfest.

The session started with Madhavi mentioning that Anand’s latest work is an “unusual book, which brings to the forefront those characters who have largely been either completely reviled in the traditional Ramayana or they have been ignored.” She went to on asking Anand whether the equation between physical beauty, women, and virtuous nature is found in Valmiki’s Ramayana or the later versions of the epic.

Replying to Madhavi’s question, Anand said, “Associating evil and lack of beauty is a common trait across all the cultures. It is an unfortunate fact that the divine color black, which was once associated with Kali, Krishna, Sita, and Draupadi, is now associated with a lack of beauty. My book was a deliberate attempt and also a satire about the fact that beauty has got nothing to do with whether somebody is good or bad.”

With the conversation moving forward to the depiction of female characters from the epics on television, Anand remarked, “We are a product of a lot of subjugation and colonization. A docile and demure Sita, who is represented in Tulsidas’s Ramayana, is not a Sita of Valmiki. We need to look at when this portrayal changed in history.”

When Madhavi asked Anand whether Ramayana would have been possible without oppressed women characters like Sita, Surpanakha, or Manthara, he replied, “These women are very important, they aren’t caricatures, and each had their reasons for being so. Ramayana is not a tale of good triumphing over evil. It’s more about karma. All these women and other characters in the epic are doing what they think is right. There is no evil. It’s only through the angle you are looking at it.”

Talking about his favorite character in his latest book, Anand mentioned that Shanta (Dhashratha’s daughter) is the one that appealed to him the most.

“Shanta doesn’t come in the Valmiki Ramayana. She is Vyasa’s character. But without Shanta, there is no Ramayana because, without a sacrifice that she made, there will be no Ram. Shanta could be any Indian girl, where even in a household with no discrimination between the girl child and the boy child, the girl is always made to feel that it is not her home and one day she will have to go to someone else’s home after marriage,” remarked Anand.

The conversation ended with both the panelists discussing the past, and whether it should be dismissed, glorified, or looked at differently.

Talking about the same, Anand said, “The Puranas are relevant today and will be relevant in the future too. If the only thing we learn from the Puranas is about the glorification of an imaginary past, then we are doing great injustice to them. They are timeless. They offer us a way of life that is non-judgemental, show all kinds of lifestyles, the importance of one’s choices. That is what I see in them. For me, Puranas are about getting harmony in life and getting peace out of them.”



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