It is almost impossible to put into words the role of a mother a person's life, and when it comes to a mythological epic with the perfect symbolization of people and ideal relationships, it becomes even more challenging. The quintessential epic in context is Ramayana, the mythical story of Lord Ram, an incarnation of the Hindu God, Vishnu. Ramayana is considered the first poem to be ever written in the Hindu religion, hence the epic is deemed as the 'Adikavya,' and the poet, Valmiki is known as 'Adikavi.'
The Women of Ramayana
The numerous characters in this epic are perfect representations of familial relationships and their workings, but the act of vices turns some of them into evil beings. The male characters might have plotlines revolving around them, however, the female characters are the essence of the epic.
Looking closely one cannot help but notice a fiery Kaikeyi saving her heavily wounded husband by charioting him out of a battlefield, the opinionated Surpanekha announcing her feelings towards Ram and the wise queen Sumitra who helped her husband in many economic and political decisions of the kingdom. Also, Sita being a single mother raised two princes while living in the wilderness and in an earlier episode of the epic, stood strongly against the mighty Ravana in his kingdom. Although, it was possible only because of the kind and ever-forgiving Mandodari, wife of Ravana for making it comfortable for Sita to stay in Lanka, even though she was a captive of her husband.
Each woman in the epic displays a multitude of emotions. However, like mothers, they all were fairly the same, ever-loving and caring.
Lord Rama with Mother Kausalya
Kausalya was the princess of Kosala and a loving and caring wife, and mother. She had no major role to play in the tale except for being the mother of Lord Ram. Her representation in the epic is very similar to the motherly characters seen in old Bollywood classics. Despite being the chief queen of Dasaratha and the mother of the heir to the throne, Kausalya became a secondary figure in the story. She sacrificed her feelings as a wife when King Dasaratha fell in love with Kaikeyi yet her loyalty towards her husband and his decisions remained intact so much so, that she did not even stand up against Kaikeyi when she unjustly sent Ram to exile. If Ramayana focuses on 'ideal relationships,' it would not be wrong to say that Kausalya seems to be the ideal figure as she prioritised family ties with absolute disregard for herself.
Mother Sumitra bidding farewell to Lakshman
Although as a character in the epic she has little to her name but as a mother and queen, Sumitra did show courage and patience. It was she who suggested Lakshmana accompany his brother into the forest and take care of him. Sumitra also stood by her daughter-in-law Urmila’s decision to go into a deep slumber and only wake up on Lakshman’s return. The queen’s consort was the wisest one among the three queens of Ayodhya. Here we should not forget to commend the most understated sacrifice of queen Urmila who lived away from her husband for the greater good of humanity.
Manthara persuading Kaikeyi
Kaikeyi, a fierce and strong-headed princess from the land of Kaikeya was a warrior.
While it is widely known that Kaikeyi was extremely fond of Ram, she was deceived by a cruel maid Manthara, to ask Dasaratha, the title of the throne for her own son Bharat instead of Ram. Her greed and superfluous love for Bharat turned her into a vile person in the eyes of the world.
Unlike Kausalya, Kaikeyi kept herself and her son above all. She did whatever she felt would be the best for Bharat even if it caused everybody to turn against her including her husband, her son, and the whole empire. Ultimately, the queen spent most of her remaining life in dire isolation blaming herself for her husband's death and the exile of her most beloved son. But as Lord Rama rightfully defended Kaikeyi on his return saying, "what mothers do whether it is good or bad, is for the betterment of their children, not for themselves, so it is not good to be angry and sour with them," we don't think she was an evil character, just a misguided and misunderstood one.
Mother Sita with Luv and Kush
The pious princess is regarded highly in the epic, the epitome of an ideal woman and wife. Having accompanied her husband in his exile, she lived a simple life devoted to her husband. It was her kindness that was taken advantage of by a disguised Ravana. However, fate was not kind to her when after her safe return she was questioned and judged by the subjects of her kingdom and ultimately thrown out of the kingdom by her husband while she was pregnant.
Despite all the false allegations she persisted to live a life with grace and raised her twin sons by herself in the forest. She emerged as the strongest character in the epic who could defend herself and did not depend on her husband for the upbringing of her children. Her sons, Luv and Kush grew up to be skilled and intelligent princes. Sita ultimately decided to die with her integrity and dignity intact when she was again ordered to go through Agni Parisksha to prove her chastity.
One may contemplate Sita’s life concerning the current state of women. As long as there is a Ravana, a Sita will unjustly suffer, and as long as there is a society that judges the blameless Sita for her suffering, there will always be an Agni pariksha to perform.
Mandodari convincing Ravana to spare Sita's life
Mandodari was the enchantingly beautiful chief queen consort of Ravana. Many legends showcase her as the complete contradiction in nature of King Ravana. Mandodari was the mother to Meghnad, Akshay, and Atikeya, and to her grief, all of them lost their lives in the war between their father and Lord Ram. According to the various adaptations of the epic, Mandodari fought her husband till the last. Her character has various layers and undeniably she is the most unfortunate one of all who lost all her children before her eyes just because her husband was blinded with power and obsession for another woman.
As Mothers Then and Now
It should be noted that all of the characters were widely different in their traits and being, but if there was one thing that was common was their maternal love for their children.
Portraying the role of a wife and a mother, all the women in the epic were epitomes but underneath the greatness lay the sad realization that all of these women lost a chance to live and see their children prosper. It is interesting how little we know about the emotions and achievements of these inspiring women, and how slow-paced is the mainstream media in picking it up. Given the fact that present-day women still face the same atrocities in a society which by all means is patriarchal. The rules and the normcore of society are made by men and are followed by the opposite sex religiously or meticulously. Relaying that view historians and literary writers are now reading and understanding the depth of these characters. There is a varied number of books and references in the population for realizing and weaving our own perception of the emotions and other characteristics of these women, connecting it to the 'modern woman’.
One can draw a similarity to the present-day parenting of a mother from what is depicted in the mythology. Whether it is the agony of a mother giving up her child for adoption or to exile as a duty to her husband, the yearning of a mother who sends her son to accompany his brother and loses on her time with him. Or the forlorn mother who because of a misjudgment of character becomes greedy and is disapproved by her own son. One can also get inspired by the strength of a single mother who faces dangers and is treated as an outcast by her own people but she not only raises them right but teaches her children kindness and patience. It also shows the deep sorrow of a mother who sacrifices her sons, to a battle of her own husband with the husband of his captive, then living a life in solitude and pain.
Even now in the twenty-first century, we drift from acknowledging the sacrifices that women as mothers, make for family and relationships, and it is pitiable that we are still debating about equality when there is no probity or empathy in the first place. Let’s take a moment and think about our mothers and all the mothers around us, and whether we have appreciated them as mothers and as individuals?