Surpanakha, the brazen sister of demon King Ravana, is said to have catalysed the battle between her brother and Rama. But was she really the villainous character she was made to be?
Mythological writer Kavita Kane, in her latest work of fiction titled, “Lanka’s Princess”, offers a flip-side to Valmiki’s dark portrayal of the woman whose nose was cut-off by Rama’s brother Lakshman.
Kane delves deeper into Surpanakha’s psyche and attempts to humanise her in the book.
“I wanted to go beyond the stereotype. There is no denial in the fact that her nose was cut off, which I think was one of the most violent episodes in ‘Ramayana’.
“But whatever happened to her, was it because of her own actions? Was she a vamp or a victim? Ask these questions, and the whole perspective changes,” the Pune-based writer told PTI.
It was Surpanakha’s name that captured Kane’s attention, and made her pursue the history and the making of the character.
She says that Ravana’s sister, who has conventionally been showcased as an unattractive and hideous woman, was originally named Meenakshi, owning to her long-drawn eyes like those of a fish.
How did she then come to be called as Surpanakha, meaning ‘sharp, long nails’, something that is associated with evil?
“I always wondered who would name their child Surpanakha? During my research, I realised that she was not born with the name, but it was sort of given to her. Was it really given to her or thrust upon her? Did she unfairly catch on to this name?”
Kane, in her book, shifts the spotlight away from the original protagonists (Rama, Sita or for that matter Ravana) to tell a tale about the hitherto sidelined character of Surpanakha, as she has done in her earlier books titled, "Maneka's Choice", "Karna's Wife" and "Sita's Sister".
“I revisit the iconic stories and present them through the perspective of those characters which may have been missed out or overlooked. Once the spotlight is brought on these minor characters, the entire narrative changes.
“Just think, what would happen if the minor characters become the protagonist? Because of creative restrictions, they were not given enough space and I have taken the creative license of giving them that space. And I think they (readers) love it,” she says.
However, in her attempt to offer an alternate narrative, Kane does not digress from the prevailing lore to an extent that renders the character “unbelievable” or “corrupt”.
“In the end, the characters need to be rational and believable. They are not my own characters, they are originally Vyas’ and Valmiki’s.
“I cannot corrupt them so much that they become unbelievable, but yes I can play around them, sort of expand them, but I cannot take the liberty to just turn them upside down,” she says.
In “Lanka’s Princess”, Kane offers Surpanakha the benefit of doubt, but steers clear of trying to paint the conventionally dark character of Surpanakha “white”.
“I’m not trying to make the good look bad or otherwise,” she says.
The 292-page book has been published by Rupa Publications.