‘Ramayana Revisited’, explores the legality of the Urmila episode

 ‘Ramayana Revisited’, explores the legality of the Urmila episode

Team L&M

Veteran Journalist Anil Maheshwari and Supreme Court Advocate Vipul Maheshwari have come out with a book Ramayana Revisited – An Epic through a legal Prism (Bloomsbury). It is an interesting read. We bring you an extract from the book to gauge the book for yourself:

Chapter 14, Page 226

Milord, the petitioner urges the honourable court to take cognisance of the fact that the royal family of Ayodhya maltreated Princess Urmila primarily on account of her gender. Even though it is a private matter of the royal court of Ayodhya, restricting the option of filing a public interest litigation (PIL), the petitioner is constrained to seek the intervention of the court. Urmila, the wife of Lakshmana, is an unsung heroine in the Ramayana. Even though she had to live without her husband for 14 years, she did not let her husband slip out of her mind at any moment. When Bharata informed her about Lakshmana fainting on the battleground during the war with Ravana, Urmila displayed utmost bravery and responded with grit.

‘Lakshmana’s heart has “Rama” inscribed all over it. He is merely caught in a slumber. It is Rama who might be in a lot of misery and pain right now. I know for sure that my husband is entirely safe. Nothing can destroy him,’ she said with conviction. All the four brothers were married to noble and moral women. Each one of them extended incredible support to their husbands and made sure to help them prosper and stay happy. Nonetheless, Urmila was exquisite and wore her individuality on her sleeves. The younger sister of Sita, Urmila was the daughter of King Janaka and his wife, Queen Sunaina. She had two sons—Angada and Chandraketu. When Lakshmana went to exile along with Rama and Sita, Urmila was willing to accompany him, but Lakshmana reasoned that he would have no time for her in his exhaustive and dedicated service.

He swore to keep his brother and his sister-in-law safe. Lakshmana suggested that it was for

the best that Urmila stayed behind, and attended to his mother and the other queens. It was a challenging task for Lakshmana to convince Urmila to stay behind in Ayodhya. Ultimately, she conceded to his wish. On the first night in the forest during the exile, Lakshmana stood outside the ashram to guard his brother and Sita. He decided not to sleep for a single night until the last day of the exile. A glorious looking goddess, who introduced herself as Nidra Devi, the goddess of sleep, visited Lakshmana that night. She informed the dutiful brother that it wasn’t virtuous to go against the laws of nature, and that is why he should not stay awake for 14 years. With the strong urge to carry out his commitment, he asked Nidra Devi to find him an alternative.

Lakshmana neither wanted to go against his dharma nor defy nature. Nidra Devi couldn’t help but praise his intention and helped him with another possibility. ‘Someone will have to compensate for your sleep too, Lakshmana. Can you think of anyone who would do that for you for 14 years? If you can, then you can stay awake.’ In an instant, Lakshmana knew who would do that for him. ‘Nidra Devi, please take this message to my wife, Urmila. She will gladly share my burden.’ Lakshmana was right when he said so. Urmila willingly accepted her husband’s request. In fact, this sacrifice won her the title–Urmila Nidra. The royal family of Ayodhya banished Urmila’s husband from Ayodhya for no rhyme or reason. Kaikeyi had demanded only Rama’s exile, not Lakshmana’s. While Sita received permission to accompany her husband, Urmila didn’t get the same. Urmila would have had at least the company of her husband despite the difficulties of leading a pastoral life.

She was not permitted to do so. Lakshmana’s claim that Urmila’s presence would distract him in his duty of protecting Rama and Sita is conjectural. We view it as a sly game. Could Urmila not have helped him serve his brother and sister-in-law?

Rather, Sita would have never had to be alone because of her amity with Urmila. To make matters worse, Urmila had to sleep for 14 long years, which she agreed to do on her husband’s request. If one doesn’t contemplate this action as brutality, then we are not heading towards a wise path, milord! How can one even ask his wife to remain asleep for these many years, without considering that they had twosons, Chandraketu and Angada?

Urmila had to sacrifice her time with her children—of sharing her love or watching them grow—as they had to live without a mother’s care and rearing. They did not even have their father around to make up for her absence. They, thus, grew without their parents, despite them being alive. One can only imagine the pain of a wife—living without her husband—and mother—unable to be for her children—for 14 long years! We request this court to indict Prince Lakshmana and the royal family of Ayodhya for this cruel treatment of their women folk u/s 498-A of the IPC64, especially towards Princess Urmila. Lakshmana, the dutiful brother, couldn’t prove himself to be a caring husband to say the least; hence, milord, a case u/s 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act65 should be filed against him and the court is requested to ensure that justice prevails for the women in our society.


Deposition of Queen Sunaina

I am Queen Sunaina, the mother of Urmila and Sita. While I gave birth to Urmila, Sita was adopted but I never compromised on my love for either. As soon as the information of Rama’s exile reached me, I rushed to Ayodhya. I rebuked Urmila for not joining her husband, as opposed to what Sita did, in Rama’s banishment. As a mother, I fulfilled my duty and reminded her that mute anguish wasn’t a sign of strength, but weakness.

At the same time, I wanted her to stand up for herself, and seek her rights as a member of the royal household; Urmila didn’t do that either. After listening to my severe outbursts, Urmila stoically responded, ‘Lakshmana and Rama are two halves of a whole, mother. As Lakshmana’s wife,I didn’t want to come in the way of this bond and I chose to respect my husband’s decision. He wanted to protect his brother and my responsibility was not to come in the way of his duties. I would have foolishly jeopardised matters and imperilled myself and them as well. The situation and his emotions demanded him to leave with his brother, and so he did.’I confided in my daughter that I was always aware of the fact that she could still look after herself.

She was tough, kind, competent and smart—the four qualities needed to survive in the world. My conversation with her filled me with pride. Here was a strong woman standing before me—whom I had raised to be able to withstand the struggles of time and marital life. I remember her smiling face and glistening eyes, balanced with emotions of happiness and sorrow. Urmila stood there stanchly and forgave her husband, who had left her behind. Lakshmana’s love, even in his absence, continued to give her strength and hope. Even though Urmila did not accompany Lakshmana in Rama’s exile, she lived through a similar fate of banishment. She had to isolate herself from her husband and cling on only to the memories they had shared together until his return.

During those 14 years, the couple seemed to have learnt that only with detachment could one realise the value of love and overcome a range of emotions. I am proud of my daughter for agreeing to the suggestion of Nidra Devi.


Deposition of Lakshmana

As I spent my first night in a forest dwelling, I encountered the goddess of sleep, Nidra Devi. My tired eyelashes were drooping, and the welcoming lap of sleep was very tempting indeed. But I resisted sleep from preventing me to perform my duty because I wanted to stay awake and watch over the ashram. Out of desperation, I asked her, ‘What if I don’t sleep at all?’And then I begged her to put Urmila to sleep in my stead until my return to Ayodhya. Urmila, my beloved wife, gracefully conceded to my request conveyed to her by Nidra Devi. While I kept round-the-clock vigil over Rama and Sita for 14 years, Urmila slept in my stead. Goddess Nidra ensured that Urmila made up for both our sleep duties, which—milord—is no criminal offence. Rather, her decision to opt to sleep for a period of 14 years so I could stay awake is unparalleled.


Defence Version

This litigation is frivolous, misconceived and is a ploy to interfere in the private space of a married couple. Whatever happened with Urmila, the matter was predominantly between her and her husband. The royal family of Ayodhya has no role to play in it. Truth be told, everyone had asked both Lakshmana and Sita to not accompany Rama to the exile. In fact, no one had even ordained Rama to accept his exile. King Dasharatha wanted Rama to defy Kaikeyi’s diktat. But Rama, who was made of stern substance, declined to challenge his father on the ground of Raghukul principles.

According to this principle, one must honour their promise, even if it is disadvantageous to their life. The responsibility of her two children perhaps also made her anxious. But there is nothing on record to validate that Princess Urmila was forced to abandon her husband. Urmila enjoyed the safety and other luxuries of high living, howsoever, unwillingly. This might appear like a case of desertion u/s 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act, but in this case, Urmila did not object when her husband Lakshmana joined his brother and sister-in-law during the exile of 14 years. At that moment, Rama, Sita and everyone else in the family cared for Urmila’s security and the safety of her children.

It is true that subsequently, Urmila slept for many years, without any discussion with other members of the family. Her husband, Lakshmana, had made a plea, and Urmila, being a compassionate wife, had willingly accepted it. No one had forced her. It was Nidra Devi who had communicated the wish of her husband to Urmila. Lakshmana had not asked Urmila for this favour personally. Hence, Lakshmana and the royal family of Ayodhya cannot be held responsible for Urmila’s decision.

At best, the appellants could have cast Urmila’s sacrifice as an executive action and criticised it on constitutional grounds, such as on the basis of Article 14 (right to equality) and a liberal interpretation of Article 21 which includes not just the right to life but also to enjoy it. This litigation is nothing but an attempt to belittle the sacrifice of a great woman, as Urmila truly was. We request the court to dismiss this case as it holds no ground.




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