“The Liberation of Sita” by Volga is a literary masterpiece that breaks free from conventional mythological storytelling boundaries.  This collection of short stories presents a profound and thought-provoking exploration of the mythical character Sita, offering a feminist perspective that challenges age-old narratives. Translated into English by T. Vijay Kumar and C. Vijayasree, Volga’s work invites us to reconsider Sita’s story through a fresh lens.
At its core, the book is a reclamation of Sita’s voice, characters often overshadowed by their male counterparts in traditional Indian mythology. Volga takes the familiar tales from the Ramayana and infuses them with a fresh vitality, offering readers an opportunity to revisit the iconic figures within a contemporary feminist framework. Volga’s retelling of Valmiki’s Ramayana shifts the narrative focus from Rama to Sita.
The book is structured as a series of interconnected stories, each presenting a different facet of Sita’s life and experiences. In this bold reinterpretation, Sita, abandoned by Rama, embarks on a transformative journey of self-discovery. Meeting resilient women like Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila, and Ahalya, Sita breaks free from societal constraints. Through this narrative structure, Volga delves into the complexities of Sita’s character, unravelling the layers of her identity beyond being just a dutiful wife. The Liberation of Sita becomes a platform for Sita to articulate her own thoughts, emotions, and desires—a departure from the traditional narrative where her voice is often silenced.
The first narration in the book is “The Reunion” centering on Sita’s chance encounter with none other than Shurpanakha. Sita, guided by her sons Luva and Kusha, stumbles upon Shurpanakha a woman marked by mutilation. Recognizing her former antagonist, Sita is astonished by Shurpanakha’s maturity and wisdom, born from the scars of patriarchal conflict. Shurpanakha’s journey from envy and solitude to inner strength resonates with Sita, who witnesses the triumph of resilience. Despite societal judgments, Shurpanakha discovers love in Sudhir, appreciating the beauty beneath the surface. Conquering humiliation, she cultivates peace, dedicating herself to a metaphorical child in her garden. Sita, reflecting on Shurpanakha’s non-dependent joy, contemplates the profound satisfaction found in self-contentment, questioning the nature of her own happiness.
During her forest exile with Rama, Sita encounters Ahalya in “The Music of the Earth.” The narrative unveils Ahalya’s defiance against societal norms, emphasizing her self-respect over unjust accusations of infidelity. Ahalya’s counsel to Sita on resisting oppressive demands gains profound significance after Sita’s trials, highlighting the enduring wisdom in the face of adversity.
One of the remarkable strengths of Volga’s work is her ability to blend myth and reality seamlessly. The characters, though rooted in mythology, come to life with human vulnerabilities and strengths. Sita emerges as a resilient and multidimensional woman, grappling with the expectations placed upon her while seeking her own identity.
In “The Sand Pot,” Renuka, once beheaded by her son, imparts a crucial lesson on self-identity to Sita. Temptation marred Renuka’s lifetime of loyalty, urging her to caution Sita against anchoring herself to another. Though initially disliking the counsel, Sita later embraces its wisdom, choosing independence over societal expectations by returning to her mother’s embrace.
Volga skillfully explores the concept of identity by presenting Sita as a woman with numerous roles and personas. This narrative device allows the author to challenge societal expectations and interrogate the constraints imposed on women. Sita’s evolution from a silent sufferer to a self-aware individual unfolds with poignant grace, making it a powerful commentary on the transformative potential of self-discovery.
Volga writes further in  “The Liberated” recounts Sita’s impactful meeting with Urmila after her return from exile. Learning of Urmila’s solitude, Sita is astonished by her sister’s transformative journey. Urmila, having broken free from dependency through meditation, guides Sita to liberate herself from the shackles of societal expectations. This encounter becomes Sita’s catalyst for establishing an independent identity beyond any man.
While reading we feel that the prose is poetic and evocative, capturing the essence of each moment with vivid imagery. Volga’s writing style possesses a rare ability to engage readers emotionally, immersing them in the inner world of the characters. The Liberation of Sita is not merely a retelling; it is an invitation to reflect on the timeless themes of love, sacrifice, and self-realization.
Volga’s feminist perspective is evident in her nuanced portrayal of the relationships between the male and female characters. The stories challenge ingrained notions of patriarchy, inviting readers to question the traditional power dynamics within relationships. Through Sita’s journey, Volga encourages readers to reconsider societal expectations imposed on women and the importance of reclaiming one’s autonomy.
The Liberation of Sita is not without its moments of discomfort and introspection. Volga fearlessly addresses issues of patriarchy, societal norms, and the marginalization of women. The stories serve as a mirror reflecting the challenges faced by women across different time periods, resonating with contemporary conversations on feminism and equality.
In “The Shackled,” the final narrative excludes Sita actively. She, having relinquished her sons to Rama, refuses to return, seeking liberation in the embrace of Mother Earth. Meanwhile, Rama, eternally bound by dharma, faces a new binding to rear their sons for the kingdom’s future. Sita’s departure catalyzes Rama’s path to breaking bonds when he must pass the reins to Luva and Kusha. The protector of the kingdom finds an unexpected shield in the liberated spirit of his wife, Sita.

The book challenges traditional morality, prompting both Sita and Rama to reassess their roles. Volga’s feminist narrative offers a powerful subversion of the classic tale, creating new perspectives on morality, choice, and sacrifice, making it a compelling exploration of women’s experiences.

It is a celebration of female resilience, a critique of patriarchal norms, and a poignant exploration of identity. Through exquisite storytelling, Volga has not only given a voice to Sita but has also made a significant contribution to the broader discourse on feminism in literature. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking a fresh perspective on ancient tales and an appreciation for the enduring strength of female characters. This is Volga at her feminist best.

Book: The Liberation of Sita” by Volga
Published by: HarperCollins.
Price: 299

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About Ashutosh Kumar Thakur


Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bengaluru-based management professional, curator, and literary critic. He can be reached at [email protected]