“The darkest place is underneath the diya (clay lamp) that spreads its lights everywhere.”
Diwali, the festival of lights, is a major festival of India celebrated by Indians all over the globe. According to a myth, Diwali is celebrated to commemorate the day of Rama’s return from exile of 14 years and his victory over Ravana by lighting up lamps.
As per the legend, Ravana, the antagonist abducted Rama’s wife, Sita. Rama fought a battle to save his wife only to leave her later because some people of his kingdom doubted her “purity”.
Rama’s story is often heard in many Indian households and children are encouraged to adopt the qualities of Ram; to be like Rama, an embodiment of the highest morals. The part of Rama’s story that is often overlooked and mostly neglected is that of Sita’s, his wife.
The quote in the beginning refers to the shadows formed at the bottom of the lamp that remain untouched by the flames of the lamp. Sita’s story is that part of Rama’s life, underneath his flames, her darkness untouched by his light.
Sita’s story provides us deep insights on the “ideal” place of women in the Indian society. A woman is taught to be an ideal daughter, wife and mother. She is expected to put her father, and later her husband before everyone and everything else. A man, on the other hand, is taught to be an ideal ruler, protector and provider (of the kingdom or the household). He is expected to put his community, his family before him.
Sita did what she was asked to do. She followed her husband into exile for 14 years, remain devoted to him, proved her “purity” when asked for and agreed to leave her husband and raise their children alone and in poverty, when asked for.
Sita painted the story of a Indian woman on the canvas of her life. Unfortunately, it’s not Sita’s story we remember; the story is not even Sita’s, it’s Rama’s. It is the story of Rama, the righteous king who fought a battle for his wife’s dignity; who is kind, generous and forgiving; who embodies the highest morals of a man; who weighs the opinions of his people more than the words of his wife.
If only the story were different. It might have been more cheerful to celebrate Diwali and light up Diyas for a King who stood for his wife during times when no one would, for a Queen who taught her people to respect the purity of mind; that might have been a real victory of light over darkness that’s still rooted deep in our society.
We celebrate the victory of good over bad, light over darkness, Rama over Ravana. Interestingly, the myth tells us that Ravana, the symbol of evil, brought his end because he disrespected a woman. There are other legends as well showing the downfall of evil forces whenever they disrespected a woman, but, what they fail to tell us is, not being disrespectful does not equate to respect.
Rama’s story or Ravana’s, Sita remained untouched by the sparkle of all the Diyas we light because she is the darkness underneath the lamp, she is the darkness within.