Clearing Sacred Ground: Women-Centered Interpretations of the Indian Epics


This article examines a few appropriations of the main women characters in the Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, by ordinary women in their folk songs, as well as by women writers and artists in the feminist domain. The appropriations dip into already existing associations about the epic heroines, but rearticulate these to create greater space for the elaboration and positioning of postcolonial Indian feminisms. While the appropriation of the epics carries certain risks, such as unintentional complicity with right-wing conservative projects and the positioning of Indian feminism as exclusive of caste and class concerns, it is contended here that the risk is worth taking because the epics continue to be an important and contested part of the cultural field, and because the feminist appropriations are able to absorb and respond to the critiques to some degree. The appropriations in the folk domain are juxtaposed with those in the feminist domain: those of Sita from the Ramayana are juxtaposed with those of Draupadi from the Mahabharata. In addition, all appropriations are placed within the debate in Indian feminism over the use of traditional narratives in order to garner insight into the potential of the narratives as a resource for feminist projects.