Sita and Surpanakha : blurring the distinction between good and evil women in Valmiki’s Ramayana
Date of Issue2015
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
While a superficial understanding of the female characters in the Ramayana enables us to classify them neatly into good or evil categories, a deeper study of them show that many similarities exist between the good and evil characters, and especially so in the comparison of Sita and Surpanakha. As Paula Richman keenly observed, “both women loved Rama but were rejected and mistreated by him; he ordered Surpanakha mutilated and Sita banished”. The inherent similarities that exist between Sita and Surpanakha, and even amongst other female characters prove that the Ramayana presents itself as a pre-modern gynophobic text, and whether the women are archetypally good or evil, a sense of fear and distrust towards them exists nevertheless. In this paper, I argue that Sita and Surpanakha, characters who despite being portrayed as foils, turn out to mirror more so than oppose each other, and through them, the text holds a certain anxiety about women and what they represent. This is largely signified through Rama’s treatment of women throughout the epic and Sita’s similarities with the other archetypally evil women in the text, suggesting perhaps the text’s pre-modern gynophobia of all women, whether categorised as evil or good.
Final Year Project (FYP)
Nanyang Technological University