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Lavanya Bahuguna


Surpanakha Lives Among Us: A Lesson We Missed From Ramayana

  • IWB Post
  •  September 30, 2017


If there was no Surpanakha (Sharp nails, in Sanskrit), then there would have been no Ramayana. She can easily be blamed for causing the Battle of Lanka.

Oh, poor Surpanakha! 

They had described her as someone with an ugly face, pot-belly, disgraceful eyes, thin hair, harsh voice and over-sized breasts. But I imagine her as a distressed middle-aged woman looking for a soul mate. She is said to have been living a relentlessly abused life that caused her body to premature aging. Any woman in her place, even today, would feel the same. Lonesome.

First, she was widowed by her brother Ravana because of her husband’s fraud games to gain power. Note that Ravana was her step-brother.

After that, her life was jiggled to and fro between her family in Lanka and in-laws. It is said, she was looking for love when she was totally smitten by young Rama’s good looks. When he rejected her, she went to Lakshmana but was humiliated there as well. Angered, she attacked Sita and decided to eat her up. At that, Lakshmana cut off her nose and ears. Some say, even her breasts!

Absolute pain.

Later she went to her brothers to seek revenge – and the rest is history. Though, some versions of the Ramayana claim that Surpanakha did all this in order to take revenge from Ravana for killing her husband.

Words used above to describe her – distressed, lonely, rejected, humiliated, angry and revengeful.

Considering how educated Ravana was and that, he was one of the scholar Brahmins of his time; can we say that sister Surpanakha was equally literate? Being a widow, she was free to express her thoughts, was happily living in the beautiful land of Lanka, was daring enough to express her desires to Ayodhya brothers and was also strong enough to roam in dangerous forests all alone!

Words used above to describe her – well-learned, free, expressive, daring, desiring and strong.

There is a hidden lesson in her story that we can grab. Have you met this grumpy aunty in the neighborhood with anger-wrinkles on her face, the one who keeps blabbering and gives you tough looks as if you have robbed her kitchen? Have you? We never know the other side of the story. We never think what circumstances have made this person ‘bad’.

Ever wondered why our sutras have no major description of Surpanakha? Why was she insignificant? Why she was portrayed just like a game player? Why don’t we consider it was Rama or Lakshama who were impolite to her that caused the rage? Maybe, we need a shift of perception.

So who is Surpanakha for you – a bratty woman, a liberated feminist or a mere victim?

But here is a catch before I conclude. In the Bhramavaivrata Purana, it is mentioned that Surpanakha later went to the sacred lake Pushkar (Rajasthan) and prayed to Brahma to get married to Rama in her next birth. And then she was reborn as Kubja, the hunchbacked woman who became one of the wives of Lord Krishna – the incarnation of Rama. Bingo woman!

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