This post is part of our ongoing series featuring the works of Professor LeBoeuf 's students at Scripps College!
The topic my research paper will attempt to unpack is respectively directed at Sita Devi from the Ramayana and Draupadi from the Mahabharata. Through this process, I aim to explore these two feminine divines and understand the influence they have in modern society as well. I am interested in researching the contrasting roles Sita and Draupadi are placed in as I grew up reading and listening to these texts, and never truly realized the narrative each respective story placed on each woman and how they could influence the ideas and experiences of women in modern society. Sita and Draupadi are two feminine divines who have been key figures for the ‘ideal woman’ and ‘ideal wife’ in the overall understanding of Hinduism across the globe, and I am curious to explore that notion by comparing and contrasting the symbolism of their physical beings, the nature of their personalities, and additionally how they influence their surroundings- especially in regards to their respective partners.
I would like to start by addressing their prominence in Hinduism and speak to the attention they both receive as partners to prominent male figures, rather than as individual female divines. To do so, I will address the roles and personality traits prominent in the male roles in each story, and extract commonalities and potential factors that explain their dynamics with Sita and Draupadi respectively. The roles and responsibilities a feminine divine have, in comparison to a male divine, will unravel their individual experiences as women in their respective upbringings and further elaborate on each divine as an individual being rather than a counterpart. This distinction is crucial to acknowledge in this research process as I hope to draw attention to the individuality of each woman. Differentiating the roles of ‘Husband’ in comparison to ‘King’ speaks to the opposing role the women inherently play in these dynamics. This allows a clear cause and effect to form between roles existing in the foundational gender binary of societal norms.
Through such exploration I hope to additionally evaluate the physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences each woman
encounters in their respective text. These three points of analysis will allow detailed comparison between the two women. Physically, I intend on exploring not only the physical imagery of both feminine divines, but also address the physical abuse, trauma, and torture they are put through in relation to the direction and actions of their male counterparts. Through such explanations, I aim to connect the emotional toll and expectations Sita and Draupadi are met with and how that relays in modern society. This idea of invisible feminine labour is not new, nor only applicable under the study of Hindu goddess worship, therefore incorporating a familiar aspect of the feminine experience into analysis of Sita and Draupadi will ease an attempt to find parallels in their existence as women and further connect them to the feminine experience of today’s society. I additionally intend on addressing the potential connection and reliance Sita and Draupadi have on other gods and goddesses in their respective story.
This attachment to individual spirituality also acts as a key factor to connect said feminine divines to modern women. The functioning of the divine world intersecting with varied experiences of specific gods and goddesses can be interpreted to mirror our modern society. This parallel can be inferred to speak to specific roles and responsibilities mortal beings should have and execute especially when worshipping and following such prominent Hindu texts. This is where I hope to connect the modern use and attitudes towards Sita and Draupadi to modern society. I am eager to explore the overall ‘role of a woman’ in Hindu society, and unpack the individual facets of roles, responsibilities, and expectations faced. The last stretch of this research process will address the use of Sita and Draupadi in politics and activism in modern Hindu society. Referencing examples such as Gandhi, alongside acknowledgement of the ironic nature of his claims due to his own misogynistic actions, I hope to gain an understanding of the ramifications of incorporating feminine divines as role models to Hindu women and address the application of divinity towards a female goddess in comparison to the reality of treatment women face today. Through the comparison of Sita and Draupadi, this research process will speak to the history, experience, and impact of these two feminine divines in Hinduism and in Hindu society.
Meera is a sophomore at Scripps College and is a Legal Studies major and Politics Minor. She plans on continuing on to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in Communications.