THE UNDIVIDED TRUTH OF THE RAMAYANA:
AN APPLICATION OF THE NARRATIVE PARADIGM
IN RECOVERING A KEY TO GENDER PARITY IN NEPAL
Melissa A. Lane
B.S., St. Cloud State University, 1992
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Masters of Arts
Communication and Theatre
1997 by Melissa A. Lane
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Melissa A. Lane
has been approved
Michael M. Monsour III
Samuel A. Betty
Lane, Melissa A. (M.A., Communication and Theatre)
The Undivided Truth Of The Ramavana: An Application Of The Narrative Paradigm In
Recovering A Key To Gender Parity In Nepal
Thesis directed by Professor Benita J. Dilley
Nepalese women are currently subject to life threatening discrimination. Laws and
programs are in place to counteract this discrimination. All efforts have met with a strong
and common deterrent, the traditions that are part of the Nepalese culture. Hinduism is a
fundamental construct of Nepalese culture, serving as a key to understanding some deep
discriminatory traditions. Through an application of the narrative paradigm, the core
ideologies of the 2nd century Hindu epic, the Ramavana. will be brought forth to unlock
accumulated effects of gender discrimination in 20th centuiy Nepal. Perceived myths at
the core of Hinduism currently promote subordination of women. The Ramavana. outlines
rules for gender specific appropriate behavior. Bringing forth the undivided truth of the
Ramavana. the Nepalese can redefine their interpretation of gender specific roles, in light
of the narratives hidden dynamic balance, thus decreasing the subordination of women
within the formal and informal systems of the culture.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend its
To all of those who have gone before me, and all of those who are yet to come.
Mother, you are the greatest friend I have known throughout millenniums -
the clearest reflection of what it is to be a woman.
May you see the deeper truth of Sita in yourself, as you have shown it to me.
For the forces of the Universe, your guidance is unprecedented and compassionately
My thanks to Benita Dilley for her continuous encouragement, instruction, insight and
To my father, Jim Lane, I am proud to have your blood in my veins.
My thanks to all the women in my life for holding up the mirrors of feminine energy,
guiding me along the path to uncovering the forgotten truth in my own life, especially:
Julie Diethelm, Brandy Bowman, Cathy Krol, Kari Kehr, Cheri Poplinsky, Therese
Conroy, Heather Lysne, Renee Tobin-Zeleny, Michelle Milton, Tanya Dudley, Britt, Jen
Wong, Robin Wendling, Cindy Rashavi, Sam Allen, Rain Tree, Tracy Hoft, Ann Curtis,
Jana Else, Betty Aldworth, Deb Milkes, Pam Sanchez, Nancy Hopper, Vi Rogers, and
Kari Forest, Namaste.
To Christine Sukup, for her good spirit, life-saving friendship and strengthening support.
Patrick Kavanagh, for his calming words of wisdom. I would also like to thank Sean
Danforth, for his undaunting friendship that balances out my feminine side. To Chuckles
LaMark, shhhhhh... .can you hear it?, Shanti.
Most of all, I would like to thank my spirit guide, Ocktabla, for guiding my spirit to a
place of truth.
3. POWER OF MYTH..................................................8
Discussion of Important Terms.........................9
Cycle of the Story...................................21
Nature of Hinduism.............................26
Mahasakti: The Central Hindu Feminine Archetype.30
3. THE RAMAYANA: A SUMMARY...................................,...38
Focus of Ideological Change..........................39
4. NEPAL: CURRENT SITUATION................................66
Geography and Demographics...........................67
Nepalese Subordination of Women......................73
Women in Politics..............................74
Social Suppression of Women....................78
Women and Labor..................................91
Mass Communication in Nepal......................95
The Many Manifestations of Hindu Ideology........98
Suggestions for Future Research.......................107
2.1 Cycle of Story...........................................................23
2.2 Mahasakti: 3 Modes of Being..............................................37
4.1 Ever Married Women by Age Group..........................................81
4.2 Male/Female Differentials in Enrollment..................................90
4.3 Workload of School Going and Out of School Girls By Age..................94
4.1 Child Population By Sex 1971, 1981 and 1988.............
4.2 Adjusted Age Specific Death Rates By Sex..................
4.3 Composition of Population by Mother Tongue................
4.4 Women Among Various Levels of Political Institutions......
4.5 Age Specific Distribution of Ever Married Population by Sex.
4.6 Literacy Rates by Age Group and Sex.......................
Today in Nepal, women are still sold into prostitution. Women are jailed for
having abortions, and often for having miscarriages. Socially, women are outcast if they
divorced, widowed, or unmarried by their late twenties. Women in Nepal face hardships
that are unheard of in contemporary America and Western industrialized countries.
American communication scholarship, if applied cautiously, may hold the key to
constructing possible effective communication strategies to solve this gender inequity. The
field of communication has long been concerned with how culture, policy and myth
constructs community members. From Plato to Aristotle to Quintillian, communication
scholars have endeavored to help produce the fair judicious citizen. John Waite Bowers
and Donovan Ochs in Agitation and Control brought into this discipline the study of social
discourse in movements at times of social change. Scholars like Margaret Mead, Erik
Erikson, Barbara Bate, Deborah Tannen and Carl Jung, brought focus to issues of gender
in communicatioa Joseph Camplell, Bruno Bettelhiem, and Robin Rowland all discuss the
power of myth as a communicative construct that simultaneously shapes and is shaped by
This project is in keeping with all of those communicative research traditions. This
work examines the role of the Nepalese myth, the Ramavana. and its negative archetypal
and behavioral impact now. Through the application of Walter Fishers Narrative
Paradigm, this work also investigates how gender communication roles can be
reconstituted in the future through the same myth, based on the archetypal and behavioral
characteristic types constructed through this communicative story.
The Ramavana is not a short story or myth that constitutes just a few pages of
prose. The Ramavana is a tome, more adequately compared to the Bible, the Talmud, the
Torah, or other large religious and cultural texts that have been passed down through
numerous generations. Thus, the Ramavana and these other cultural templates have been
subjected to various interpretations.
The Ramavana originated in the form of an epic around the second century BCE.
The Ramavana can be equated to the Iliad and Odyssey by Homer from ancient Greece.
Similar to these historically revered Greek epics, the Ramavana is a highly valued Hindu
classical masterpiece. This epic contains over 48,000 lines of metric prose, translating into
over 18,000 (6x8) pages in the written rendition. Today, the Ramavana is considered to
hold key laws that govern the societal roles of the Hindu culture. As the Koran dictates the
laws and behavioral norms of the Islamic culture, so does the Ramavana dictate the cultural
edicts of Hindu society. In this respect, the Ramavana is considered to maintain some of
the original communicative archetypes of social discourse in Hindu culture.
The purpose of this thesis is to develop a connection between the communicative
power of this particular indigenous historical narrative and its ability to create an
environment of social evolutioa This connection will be established through application of
the narrative paradigm to Hindu culture identifying the Ramavana as a vehicle to create
peaceful cultural change. Further establishment of this premise will be based on an
exploration of the Ramavana as a critical Hindu text and through identifying the current
needs in Nepal for social change and empowerment as pertaining to gender issues.
The foundation of Nepalese culture has deep roots in the oral tradition of Hindu
philosophy. The majority of Nepalese people participate in daily pugya, or worship.1 The
author contends, [tjhere are as many temples, stupas and places of worship in Nepal as
there are people. Although this statement is statistically wrong, it holds strong spiritual
merit. Worship is the main thread that holds this diverse country together. Worship grows
out of an established set of ideologies, represented in the sacred texts of the culture.
The Hindu texts contain age-old stories of the battles of the Gods and Goddesses.
These stories continue to be passed on to the young generations of Nepalese. The
communicative art of story-telling has not only created and re-created the culture, but
remains the most influential tool for change.
Chapter 2 will explore the power of story-telling in oral cultures. Establishment
and application of the narrative paradigm to Nepalese culture will be included in this
chapter. Traditions themselves are bom from the myths, riddles, legends and rituals that
are a part of the ideological system within the culture. Myth as it exists is a representation 1
1 Statistical demographic information and sources are outlined in Chapter 4.
of culture. Myth and culture are interdependent, that is, as myth changes, so does culture
change and vise versa. Myth serves as a large part of social movements. Myths are both
created, destroyed and rearranged to aid in uniting a culture: cultural empowerment. The
reality of gender inequality replaces gender equality communicated in the interpretation of
the stories. Loss of the original message is a product of this re-interpretation.
Since this communication tool can change the view of an entire culture towards the
discrimination of women, the use of this tool can be used again to establish gender equality.
If the effort and desire for change exists on the cultural level, this powerful communication
tool can be wielded to empower the people. The women in Hindu culture have been
subject to a silent smothering of their lives. The desire to create a balanced atmosphere for
them on the esoteric level serves to support the desire to disseminate these new beliefs on
the ideological level
Chapter 3 will summarize the Ramavana. This chapter will identify the ideologies
currently attached to the main characters as components for gender segregation.
Establishment of the true ideologies of these characters will follow. Application and
demonstration of these true ideologies, in relationship to the narrative paradigm, as tools
for gender parity in Nepal will be included.
Nepal is in a state of flux, wrought with change on all levels. In this process of
growth, the desire and need for Nepal to enhance its economic status has increased
recognition worldwide of the suffering that is part of the culture. Chapter 4 will outline the
evidence ofNepals current problems as well as the solutions that it upholds. Women and
children are currently identified as the recipients of terrible neglect. Discrimination exists
against poor men and women, who suffer and die young. However, discrimination also
exists among women within all Nepalese caste systems. Worldwide confirmation of such
suffering in part served as a catalyst for a current political movement. As a result of the
political movement, Nepal has seen the introduction of legislation and programs focused at
alleviating some of the current issues faced by women. However, the introduction of a
social movement directing change within the Nepalese culture, might alleviate the majority
of the problems faced by women, as culture serves as the main deterrent to the current
political movement. The key to this social movement lies within the revered epics of the
As Chapter 4 will substantiate, the current democratic political movement feces
many confrontational deterrents. The most influential obstacle is Nepals religious footing
in Hinduism The Nepalese culture is predominantly Hindu. The people of Nepal support
reform, and its proposed legislative resolutions. Economic growth on the national level
promises increased financial opportunities for the individual.
The democratic and gender egalitarian political movement is gaining in popularity,
given the opportunities it promises. However, few have taken the time to look at a more
inclusive, societal approach to change. A social movement would recognize the intrinsic
association between the Nepalese and Hinduism The relationship between Nepal and
Hinduism serves as both a change agent and common deterrent to greater dissemination to
change on all levels. Yet no action to date has harnessed this powerful relationship as a
tool of dissemination. The result of such lack of action to demystify the relationship of
women depicted in Hindu philosophy lends to the killing of hundreds, if not thousands, of
women and children each year.
Chapter 5 will bridge the connection between the narrative paradigm, the
Ramavana. and the current situation in Nepal. This chapter focuses on the ideologies
contained in the Ramavana that can be expanded to include metaphors and symbols for
gender parity. The final section of this chapter suggests alternative topics and methods for
The purpose of this thesis is to examine the possibility of the strategic use of the
Ramavana as a key to dismantling the current gender discrimination that plagues Nepal
This is accomplished in Chapter 2 by first discussing the narrative as a gateway to
liberation, freedom and equality. This chapter explores the narrative paradigm, identifying
it as a vehicle for the dissemination of new ideas. This chapter includes a section exploring
the eclectic constructs of Hinduism. A discussion of the central Mother figure, the core
ideological feminine archetype of Hindu philosophy, is also included in this chapter.
Chapter 3 examines the revered epic, the Ramavana. This chapter will utilize the ideologies
brought forth from Chapter 2 and, through an application of the narrative paradigm, will
apply them to re-discovery of the undivided truth of the Ramavana. In Chapter 4, the
undivided truth will be identified as a key to unlocking some of the current discriminatory
effects of Hindu traditions as they apply to 20th century Nepal. This chapter re-establishes
the powerful connection between the Nepalese and Hinduism. An outline summarizing the
current statistical evidence of the discriminatory effects on women in multiple facets of the
culture will be provided. Chapter 5 connects the Ramayana. as a vehicle for change, to
Nepalese culture. This chapter will discuss myth as the re-emerging mechanism of cultural
change, while offering some recommendations for further study in the areas of social
movements and hermeneutics.
POWER OF MYTH
Scholars have argued whether or not humans began to create a sense of culture
out of instinctual behavior, learned behavior or a combination of both. This chapter
will utilize the narrative paradigm as a tool for exploring the relationship between
human beings, communication and culture. This theory contends that culture itself is a
product of the union of human beings into a group. Collectively they unite to attain a
mutual goal, that of survival. Initially cultures were created when human beings
converged through oral means of communication. Through these oral traditions
individuals were able to unify, thus, maintain themselves within a community. From
this unified goal, the group of people began to develop the ideologies from which the
culture itself is constructed. These ideologies submerge themselves deep within the
confines of the observable systems that are a part of culture. As will be discussed in
more detail in this chapter, the ideologies themselves originate from oral
This chapter will establish mythology as a part of culture that houses
ideologies. Understanding of the role of mythology is an important step in
understanding oral cultures, such as the Hindu culture in Nepal. Oral traditions
function within an ideological framework serving as the brick and mortar that holds
the ideologies together. Recognizing this key function of myth within the
collaborative structure of culture allows for uncovering of the true interpretation of the
This chapter establishes the power of myth through exploration and application
of the narrative paradigm. Once this has been established, a closer look at narrative
through the cycle of the story will take place. Employment of these ideas can not be
fully applied to the Ramavana without fundamentally understanding Hinduism.
Therefore, the final section of this chapter summarized the history and nature of Hindu
philosophy with a focus on the supreme Mother archetype.
Before exploring this idea further, some key terms must be defined that serve
to explain the working model of the origin of myth. Culture, oral tradition, narrative,
mythology, storytelling, epic and ideology are pertinent concepts that are subject to
slightly varying definitions.
Discussion of Important Terms
For the sake of this research endeavor, certain terms must be identified and
defined. These words and phrases include culture, oral tradition, narration, and the
epic in oral culture. First, one must gain an understanding of the term culture. Some
definitions of culture emphasize the union between a society and the symbols it uses:
Culture consists of the meanings that we make of social experience and of
social relations, and the pleasure[s], or unpleasures, we find in them. .
[RJather than referring to all aspects of a society... we can limit culture to
those aspects which have a place in any system of symbolic meaning (Cormack
While symbols reflect the cultures social implications, they also serve as the records of
generations past. As Julie Cruikshank, a Canadian historian, notes, [c]ulture ... is
creatively reconstructed by each generation to deal with real social and political
problems in the present. Furthermore, this is a normal human process and has
probably always been the case (412). Culture is thus a collaborative creation of the
society it supports, the symbols it uses, and passing the interpretations of these
symbols on to the younger generations. Culture is defined by the ways that its people
communicate with one another.
The term oral tradition virtually translates into the traditions of a culture that
are founded and preserved through oral forms of communication. Cruikshank notes,
oral tradition... sometimes ... identifies a body of material retained from the past.
Other times we use it to talk about a process by which information is transmitted from
one generation to the next (404). The spoken word in this definition serves as the
most powerful tool of communication in oral traditions. Each word that is spoken is
honored as truth. The message the receiver interprets comes from the symbols
(words) that the sender puts forth. This process allows for the passage of the
message, as well as the meaning associated with it, on to others in the community.
Hinduism grew from oral traditions and continues to maintain these basic oral
Narration is a common and important aspect of oral tradition. Much of the
information shared within oral cultures comes in the form of narration. Michael
Roemer, a film maker, notes, Narration derives from the Latin narrare, to relate,
which is in turn rooted in the Greek gno, to know. To know is to connect (11).
According to Fisher the narrative is, a concept that can enhance the understanding of
human communication and action wherever these phenomena occur (20). Epics,
myths, legends, folklore and tales all fall under the genre of narrative. Each
independently serves as a vehicle used by individuals to narrate ideograms to a
Within the oral context, the form of the narrative takes on an appearance very
different from what is commonly known in technological cultures like the United
States. In oral cultures the narrative is not confined to the page as text, nor is it stored
for recall in a computer or file cabinet. Rather, in oral cultures the narrative 1
1 Prior to the written word and symbols cultures depended solely upon verbal and non-verbal forms of
communication, essentially in the form of stories. Walter Fisher describes this as a pursuit for
narrative logic (5). In this manner, all cultures verily originated as oral cultures, including Hinduism.
Nepal continues to largely utilize orality as major form of communication. Although the accessibility
of technological resources has increased in Nepal, statistically there are sill many Nepalese whom do
not have access to such technology. Evidence is provided in chapter 4.
communicated only through speech and is stored only in the mind. Often times the
narratives took on the form of a story that was sung to the members of the community.
Stories were retained only within the confines of human memory. Walter Ong, a
Professor of Humanities and English, outlines the elaborate process of memorization
storytellers undertook in oral cultures, he does not try to memorize it by rote. He
digests it in terms of its themes, which are essentially the themes of all the singers in
his/her tradition (25). The storytellers memorize numerous metric formulas for
conveying the story. The beat of the verse is a memorization tool. It allows for
readily accessing information with a high degree of accuracy.2 These metered recalling
devices work in conjunction with the magnanimous visual imagery used by the
storytellers. Together, these devices of recollection allow for the singer to convey the
narrative as an oral art form.
The Ramavana. is a Hindu story originally told in sloka. Sloka is a specific
metric verse that the poet of the Ramavana. Valmiki, discovered himself (Shastri 1:
xv). When spoken in the original sloka version, the Ramavana takes on the
characteristics of a song. This story serves as a flashlight into the center of Hindu
culture. Through the singing of the Ramavana the story itself originated. As
previously discussed, the singing allows for the story to be passed on from person to
2 For more information regarding prose, meter and other oral devices used in the art of memorization
see Walter Ong, The Presence of the Word. 24-28, 69-76; Jan Vansina 148-149; and Joseph
Campbell, The Power of Myth, 283,286.
person, and generation to generation. Therefore, the meter of ancient epics had a role
in historical preservation.
The metered song takes on the shape of an epic as it grows in size. The epic
lives through orality, the spoken word. The singing of the epic created an atmosphere
of celebration and playfulness abound. Walter Ong points out, only with the
invention of writing and the isolation of the individual from the tribe will verbal
learning itself become work as distinct from play, and the pleasure principal be
downgraded as a principle of verbalized culture continuity (Presence of the Word
30). Nepal still functions on a heightened oral basis. The people rely heavily on the
passage of information by way of mouth.3 Since the Ramavana is an epic, it is a
powerful communicative tool in Nepal. Oral traditions of Nepal serve to preserve the
Ramavana by telling its story to younger generations.
One must keep in mind that the epic is not merely metric prose without
meaning. Quite to the contrary, the oral version of the epic reflects the most important
aspects of culture at any given time throughout history. Johan Huizinga notes that
within the oral context, every case, fictitious or historic, tends to crystallize, to
become a parable, an example... a standing instance of a general moral
truth... Scripture, legends, history, literature furnish a crowd of examples or types,
3 Chapter 4 will outline the effects that the introduction of communicative technological devices have
had on Nepal (i.e. television and cinema). Although such Western technology has been introduced
into Nepal access is limited to those living in large cities of Katmandu and Pokhara. For a more
updated comprehensive view see UNICEF 175-184.
(207-208). A good epic poet not only displays tremendous skill through the use of
formulated measure, but also uses this skill to weave webs of intricate truth that
abound on the many levels of existence. The narrative itself is created as a result of
the truths it portrays. These truths serve as the foundation of oral culture, thriving in
what is considered an ideological framework. As Fisher points out:
We learn these truths by dwelling in the characters in the story, by observing
the outcomes of the several conflicts that arise throughout it, by seeing the
unity of characters and their actions, and by comparing these truths to the
truths we know to be true from our own lives. In other words, the story
exhibits narrative probability and fidelity across time and culture. (78)
In a large epic like the Ramavana- if only a part of the epic is passed on in a story, the
listener is receiving only part of the total truth the story contains. The listener must
witness all aspects of a story in order to be able to recognize the truths dwelling
within. Excerpts taken out of context can possibly lead to a misrepresentation of the
true meaning of the text.
The form of the epic allows for the listeners to experience these truths in full.
When not relayed in the original complete metric form, part of these truths may be
lost. More often than not, the Ramavana is shared in a shortened oral version, void of
the metric verse, with a focus on only particular parts of the original. This is not
dissimilar from the Judeo-Christian tradition of telling the story of Noah and The Ark
from the book of Genesis. This story also contains many other allegories and is only
one of the books of the Bible. The reason the Ramavana is widely represented as a
text acknowledging and praising the subordination of women in Nepal.4
The interpretation of the narrative, whether containing the completed or partial
truths, houses the ideologies of the culture. The ideologies of culture are contained
within the various observable and non-observable systems of the culture. Culture itself
has been said to be a product of the narrative, experienced time and again through the
systems that operate within the culture: sociological, political, technological and
economical. In this manner, the context of culture is ideologically grounded in all
cultural systems. The stories of culture contain ideologies that serve to build and re-
construct culture and the systems culture contains.
For the purpose of this thesis, Walter Fishers Narrative Paradigm will be used
as a model for expressing the power of the Ramavana in Hindu culture. According to
Fisher, a Professor of Communication Arts and Science, narrative houses the core
beliefs, values, and ideals of a culture. These vital themes manifest themselves within
the roles, laws, power, and interactions of all members of a given community.
Narratives are the embodiment of all aspects of the culture: past, present and future.
4 The current revered aspects of the Ramavana will be outlined in detail in Chapter 3. For more
information regarding the current interpretations of the Ramavana see Yvonne Haddad and Ellison
Findly, 189, 190, 224, 351-352; David Kinsley 91-110; and Sally Sutherland.
As previously discussed, the narrative wears multiple masks: epic, myth,
legend, folklore, and tales. Regarding these masks, Fisher notes they, are the stories
that constitute the fabric of social reality for those who compose them. They are, thus,
rhetorical fictions, constructions of fact and faith having persuasive force, rather than
fantasies (64). Stories are ontogenetic, they contain knowledge dealing with the
nature of being. Stories contain the core morals, beliefs, values and symbols of the
individual and the culture the individual identifies as his/her own. There are five
hypotheses that lay the foundation for the narrative paradigm. They are as follows:
(1) Humans are essentially story tellers
(2) The paradigmatic mode of human decision making and communication is
good reasons,5 which vary in form among situations, genres, and media of
(3) The production and practice of good reasons are ruled by matters of
history, biography, culture, and character.
(4) Rationality is determined by the nature of persons as narrative beings-their
inherent awareness of narrative probability, what constitutes a coherent story,
and their constant habit of testing narrative fidelity, whether or not the stories
they experience ring true with the stories they know to be true to their lives.
(5) The world as we know it is a set of stories that must be chosen among in
order for us to live life in a process of continual re-creation. (64-65)
The narrative paradigm then contests that stories are a major construct of culture. As
the stories change, so does the culture itself change. The reality an individual
5 good reasons are defined by Fisher as the, stuff of stories, the means by which humans realize
their nature as reasoning-valuing animals. The materials of the narrative paradigm are symbols,
signs of consubstantiation, and good reasons, the communicative expressions of social reality (65).
experiences from the story, serves to re-create earlier perceptions and interpretations.
This process is continual in that there are always multitudes of stories for individuals
to choose from.
Exploration and application of Hindu culture and the Ramavana in terms of the
hypotheses put forth in the narrative paradigm is pertinent. Fisher contends that
human beings are essentially storytellers. This hypothesis is universal in that it refers
to all human beings, including those in Hindu culture and tradition. The Ramavana is a
story that was created in Hindu culture through this premise. This hypothesis is
congruent with Water Ongs exploration of orality and oral tradition that was
discussed in the first part of this chapter. Essentially, human beings create stories to
communicate with one another. The desire and need for communicating individual
perceptions and ideals fosters the desire for creating and sharing a story. While the
next chapter discusses the origin of the Ramavana in detail, note that the Ramavana
grew from the desire to share the story of Rama.
The next premise of the narrative paradigm is that the paradigmatic mode of
human decision making and communication is good reasons, that vary in form among
situations, genres, and media of communication. Essentially, people of a culture, in
this case Hindu culture, make decisions with regards to the good reasons that form the
culture. Such good reasons are often found in the stories of the culture. In Hindu
culture, the good reasons are often masked by the multiplicity of Gods and Goddesses
that are found in the numerous sacred texts. The Ramavana is one extension of Hindu
philosophy containing good reasons that serve as a guide for Hindu culture. The
Ramavana. as will be discussed in detail in the following chapters, is often used as a
template for the actions of married women. Hindu women identify with the main
character, Sita. They recognize her as the perfect wife, undaunting and pure in her
love and devotion to her husband. This revered aspect of the Ramavana is only a small
part of the entire epic. The next chapter will outline the multitude of good reasons
contained in Sitas role in the Ramavana for the empowering behavior of and towards
Nepalese women. These could be used as additional guidelines for decision making
The third hypothesis is that the production and practice of good reasons are
ruled by matters of history, biography, culture and character. An important aspect of
Hindu philosophy, then is the history of the culture itself. The history of the culture
contains the history of the individuals that are a part of that culture. The manifestation
of gender discrimination in Nepal is perceived as existing in the texts of Hindu culture,
the historical records. The texts of Hindu culture, including the Ramavana. serve as
the cultural biography. These texts contain the social and spiritual laws that govern
the individual practice of good reasons in Hindu culture. The characters in the stories
told are messengers of the good reasons. With this in mind, as individuals identify
with the characters in the Ramavana they transfer the good reasons associated with
these characters to their own life experience. The production and practice of good
reasons continues as the culture itself is forever moving and transforming in time and
The next premise, that rationality is determined by the nature of persons as
narrative beings, is an important component to this thesis. This premise identifies
individuals as having the ability to practice discernment. Naturally, human beings are
continuously in the process of creating and re-creating the stories in their lives. While
the current situation of Nepal is detailed in Chapter 4, a summary of the situation is
applicable to this premise of the narrative paradigm. Nepal is currently engaged in the
process of using legislation as a tool for re-defining aspects of the culture. One
primary focus of legislation is to dismantle the gender discrimination that exists in
Nepal. One of the major deterrents to the legislative efforts to end gender
discrimination in Nepal are the strong moral constructs of Hindu culture. Humans, as
discerning beings, continuously test the fidelity of the truth of a story as it is told
against the truth that they know from their life experience. The legislative efforts are
introducing one truth, gender parity, that is in direct conflict with the traditional truth,
women are subservient.
The final premise of the narrative paradigm is a key that ties the current
situation of Nepal to the Hindu texts. Fisher contends that the world is a set of stories
that must be chosen among in order for us to live life in a process of continual re-
creation. Again, Chapter 4 details the expanding technological system in Nepal. In
summary, as technology increases, the Nepalese culture will have access to an infinite
number of stories and beliefs from around the world. This reality coupled with the
legislative efforts to currently re-create Nepalese culture could be the cause for
internal conflict. An internal conflict can rise from contradicting internal and external
truths. However, the Nepalese in general are in favor of increasing opportunities for
women. The contradiction of truths experienced by the individual is decreased
because of this fact. Yet, the ideal of gender equality has not been completely
embraced. While men in Nepal seem to be in favor of the surface political, educational
and technological equality, these ideals have not penetrated the deeper social
components. For example, while the majority of Nepalese favor increased educational
opportunities for women, they are against women having property ownership rights.
Recognizing this fact leads to the realization that the internal, core beliefs of Nepalese
culture have gone unchanged. Since the legislative, external, process of re-creating
Nepalese culture is already in motion, the probability that non-compliance from the
internal, traditional, truths of the people could be the source of future social and
political tension greatly increases.
Remember, narratives contain the good reasons that give birth to culture. In
Nepal these good reasons sprang from stories grounded in Hinduism. The Nepalese
culture houses the great majority of spiritual faculties, whose vehicles serve to be the
sacred texts and stories associated with Hinduism. If the fundamental good reasons of
these texts are not re-created to correspond with the current changes Nepal is
undergoing, the process of change could become difficult and treacherous.
However, as this thesis proclaims, the texts themselves do contain the good
reasons for gender equity that correspond to the current re-creation of Nepalese
culture. Keeping the five hypotheses of the narrative paradigm in mind, human beings
are story tellers by nature. The story contains the good reasons pertinent to cultural
and individual survival. The Ramavana. in its entirety, contains ideological information
supporting the ideal of gender parity. While these good reasons will be established in
Chapter 3, first an understanding of the origin of story itself should be gained.
Cycle of the Story
Remember, the root of myth itself is found in the ever changing interaction
between the human experience and the environment. The seed of the myth grows
when humans begin to perceive and thus interpret this interaction. The weaving of a
powerful pattern occurs as humans become the thread that serve as the conduit for
connecting the subconscious and the conscious through the supra-conscious of the
universe. This connection alters cognitive perception of the world. This part of the
process is invaluable, as it serves as an interpretation of one's reality as metaphor. The
next part of the process is pertinent to the completion of the cycle. It entails the
collaboration of the metaphors and symbols into a series of parables that exist to
convey the reality experienced. This process condenses the experience into a
comprehensible form that is relayed to the rest of the community. If this part of the
cycle does not occur, the experience is isolated, the message is contained, and the
cultures interaction with its environment remains unchanged.
Each facet of a culture can be explored through the stories of the people. The
stories contain ideologies that disclose information regarding the systems established
within a culture. The oral manifestation of the myth allows one to obtain information
regarding each cultural system. The former section discussed how every story
contains many levels of truth. For this reason, the story itself serves to teach every
member of the community. Each time one tells the story there is greater opportunity
to delve into the deeper truths the story contains.
The myth serves as the vehicle embodying the cycle that connects the universe
to man, man to man, and man back to the universe. This concept has been termed by
the author as the cycle of the story, shown in Diagram 2.2 on the following page. The
cycle itself originated within pure ideological boundaries. The cycle of the story serves
as a fundamental and influential tool of communication. Humans communicate with
each other out of the dictates of this cycle, the human connection to the universe. The
recognition, exploration, and establishment of this universal connection allows humans
to begin to interpret their experience of this connection. Carrying the interpretation of
Diagram 2.1 Cycle Of The Story
Cycle Of The Story
this experience back to the community is another key to sustaining the physical life of
The communication of this connection must reach the community in order for
the manifestation of its interpretation to take the form of action by the whole. The
most powerful tool of communicating this message with the group was and is through
the telling of the story. Relating the message to the group demystifies the original
universal connection. The story serves to decode the message, allowing for the truths
of the experience to be disseminated throughout the heart of the community. Once
the message has reached the heart of the community it manifests itself through the
actions the community takes. Communal consensus occurs when the majority of the
people follow the power of their subconscious. Their devotion to the truth of the
intended message is important. Doubt is a characteristic of consciousness, thus those
that doubt the intended message-truth-portray attributes of the conscious. Doubt
itself easily sways judgment. Doubt sways the conscious away from the messages of
the subconscious. Simultaneously swaying the conscious away from the symbols sent
from the universe. The conscious is blind to the powers of the universe. Thus, the
conscious acts and reacts in a perpetual human state, void of connection to all
The Ramavana contains the cycle of the story. The steps of the cycle as
pertaining to the Ramavana will be discussed in Chapter 3. Recognition of the fact
that the inclusion of this cycle within the Ramavana enables the reader to better
correlate the influential aspects of this story on the Hindu people of Nepal. A the
story is told and re-told it creates and re-creates all aspects of culture. The Ramavana
is a strong influential force in Nepalese culture. The Hindu people collectively value
the symbols and archetypes contained in the Ramavana. They honor the story itself as
a true historical account of their people.6 With the guidance and leadership of the
religious texts, the Hindu people participate in ceremonies, traditions and rituals in
honor of Sita and Rama, the main characters in the Ramavana.
Myth as the product of human beings urge to communicate can be considered a
natural cultural change agent. Hinduism contains characteristics that allow for the
continual ability for myth to create and re-create the meanings attributed to
Hinduisms many intact archetypes. Working within the boundaries of Hinduism the
complete power of the woman can be obtained. This is attainable through exploring
the characteristics of the supreme Mother being that exists at the heart of Hindu
philosophy and literature. Understanding the totality of the supreme Mothers
6 To separate a religious philosophy from the texts that serve as its foundation is nearly impossible.
The Ramavana is a core piece of Hindu culture and philosophy. Sheldon Pallock describes the
political ramifications of the Ramavana on India. This is one example of the intricate role the
Ramavana plays as a part of Hinduism. Further examples will be given in Chapter 4. For more
information regarding the ideological ties the Ramavana has to Hindu culture see Barbara Amodio;
Sally Sutherland; UNICEF 10; Dr. Meena Acharya; Haddad and Finley 351-352; and Kinsley, Hindu
attributes and the duality they contain is important. Through first exploring the nature
of Hinduism, then reviewing the meanings attributed to the supreme Mother archetype
in Hinduism, this section will explore the possibility of the collaboration of these tools
as part of the process of bringing forth gender parity in Nepal.
Nature of Hinduism
Hinduism can be likened to an eclectic, ever-expanding sponge. Bom from a
variety of existing philosophies and historically changing through adapting and
reforming other cultures that it encountered, Hinduism has itself experienced multiple
reincarnations.7 Established in the first part of this chapter, culture changes within its
historical environment. Thus, the perceptions of the environment change as the
culture changes. Collaboratively these changes cause the transformations that occur
within the very fabric of the culture itself. Due to this charismatic quality of Hinduism,
the perception of the environment shifted as the center of this culture changed.
Hinduism, as Robert Frylenberg notes, has many definitions. The descendants
of numerous cultures historically used similar terms, paradoxically, to refer to one
another. Recognizing the similarity of these terms helps to clarify the vast constructs
of Hinduism that exist today. Frylenberg summarizes these ancient similarities:
7 For more information regarding the formation of Hindu philosophy see Arvind Sharma; Partha
Chatterjee; David Smith; and Tankia Sarkar.
This usage, begun by the ancient Persians and Greeks, if not earlier, ascribed
no necessarily particular cultural, social, political, or other unity to the
geographical area whereas, at the same time.. .it ascribed certain common
peculiarities to all who lived within the geographical regions beyond the Indus.
It is this paradoxically nativistic sense of the term used by the Muslims to
distinguish themselves from the native people living on the Asian continent.
This term, both in Arabic and Persian, was also used to distinguish the Muslims
from India those who were called Hindavi from Muslims who cam from
other parts of the Islamic world. Still later, native non-Muslims of India used a
similar term, Hindutva, to distinguish between themselves and the Muslim
people or overlords... When early Europeans came into India or South Asia -
and described what they saw or experienced, they distinguished between
people and things that were indigenous labeled Gentoo and, later Hindoo -
and people or things that were not. (524-525)
Although Hinduism, as known today, is a derivative of these similar words used by
various cultures to describe one another, new meaning has been bom within the last
100 years. The new meaning attached to Hinduism is by no means any less complex
or equivocal. In an attempt to unify the Indian continent, Hinduism came to be the
construct for alliance.
Due to the varying cultural constructs of Hinduism one can surmise that these
influences collectively allowed for the manifestation of the current ideologies found
within Hindu culture. In this manner, Hinduism is the product of distinct ideals from
very different cultures. Hinduism itself was bom through esoteric change,
transformation and collaboration. This key point allows for the assumption that
Hinduism, by nature, is used to change generated internally. Hinduism itself is a
complex caste system8 formed from the thousands of separate nations9 that comprise
its existence. Historical maps of migration show that as various cultures began to
expand their geographic boundaries, they equally increased interactions with other
cultures not previously encountered.10 The records and stories of a given culture
contain information about the initial encounters with unfamiliar people and places.
Hindu philosophy was bom out of and enhanced upon from the exploration of these
interactions. Internally manifesting the ideal that there is always more to learn,
coupled with the need for collaboration based on issues of proximity, Hinduism, in
part out of necessity, allowed for the internal walls of dissolution to fall away.
Hinduism continuously grew out of all that surrounded it. Such qualities favor the
possibility of reinterpretation of current standards of living, as a culture that has grown
from an environment of diverse people has at the core the traits of being a vehicle of
dissemination of this ideal manifested internally, in other words, the ideal of gender
parity. While this statement identifies Hinduism as the vehicle for the change in Nepal,
the need to discuss some of the duality that exists within the constmction of the Hindu
culture becomes pertinent.
8 Caste systems are the various hierarchical social subclasses that are designated by hereditary gene
pools. Hinduism is structured through a very complex caste system. For more information on the
Hindu caste systems see Frykenberg; Arvind Sharma; and Partha Chatteijee.
9 Frykenberg notes in his discussion of the history of Hinduism, No one knows exactly how many
distinct communities India as a continent contains: there could be 2,000 to 3,000, or more separate
peoples (525). This is important to note as it gives rise to the diversity existing within the Hindu
10 For more information regarding the migration patterns of India and South Asia see Sharma, 181-
The diversity of the people that comprise Hindu culture are by no means the
only intricate manifold that this culture contains. Hindu philosophy contains multiple
versions of text that serve as guides for living. The texts serve as a source of
manifesting explicit duality, e.g. while in one section of a text all human beings are
incarnations of the celestial realm, another contains a statement regarding the
separation of people by caste and gender.11 Although the religious texts contain social
and spiritual laws, they have not hindered the ability for Hindu cultures to change.
Harold O. Skar, a cultural anthropologist, found that even the myths of origin of
particular Hindu communities have been changing over the last few years. In part, the
reconstruction of these origin myths evolved for a need and desire for the community
to re-define itself.11 12 The author contends that the sections of these Hindu religious
texts expressing the ideal of universality, along with Hinduisms roots in various
cultures and ability to change internally, collaboratively produce a strong potential for
the dissemination of gender parity.
As will be discussed in future chapters of this thesis, there is a link between the
submission of Nepalese women and the current interpretations of the Hindu
11 The Laws of Manu. Upanishads. Bhagavad-Gita. as well as the Ramavana. are all important texts
of the Hindu culture, regarded as sacred. These texts have been found time and again to contain
conflicting rules for social roles and status. For more information regarding these conflicts and the
duality they construct within Hinduism see, Smith 159; Sharma 173-189; and Serenity Young 267-
12 In researching the Tharu Community in Nepal, Skar found that the origin myth of these people had
been altered. The true origin of the Tharu is discussed in the newer myth as originating from a
different geographical area then originally presumed. The change in geographical origination
benefits the community in that this version offers higher blood status in the caste system of Nepal.
philosophies. Hinduism has historically experienced many deaths and rebirths of
differing ideals. The re-creation of the feminine archetypes that exist in Hinduism is
made possible through Hinduisms internally innate diversity. Theoretically such
cycles can be inclusive of the dismantling of the current gender role divisions and the
building of a culture that prides itself on equality among genders.
Mahasakti: The Central Hindu Feminine Archetype
Taking the eclectic, ever-expansive nature of Hinduism into account, clearly
the riddle the more things change, the more they remain the same, has merit. In the
context of this thesis, this riddle speculates that the core of Hinduism continues to
carry the key metaphors and symbols regardless of what occurrences have been the
cause for change on its outermost circles. The symbols of Hinduism began to take on
many masks, usually in the forms of Gods and Goddesses.13 Each symbol in its natural
and original state contains the potential for infinite interpretations. The Gods and
Goddesses constructed in Hinduism are the manifestations of the different
interpretations of the key symbols. Yet, each character serving as an archetype for the
ideology contains pertinent information regarding the original symbol, or truth. This
phenomena of many masks occurs naturally as humans search for ways to convey the
truth in a message. As Hindu culture changed and expanded, it became more complex.
For more information see Skar 32-37.
13 For more information regarding the Gods and Goddesses see Pierre Grimal 204-235; and Kinsley
As the culture became more complex, more masks were created to convey the same
message in a different way.14 When more masks are created the meaning of the
original symbols-truths-become more abstract. These many masks, in the form of
Gods and Goddesses, are metaphors for the central truths of Hindu philosophy. Thus,
the exoteric aspects of the culture, manifesting as the ideology contained within the
systems of culture, continuously move in the dance of the abstracted symbol.
At the heart of Hinduism is the all encompassing image of the Mother, the
essence of female energy.15 The Mother is the part of Hindu religion that serves to co-
create the universe. These two forces join in union to serve as the all empowering
Creator. The feminine, or Mother, energies are rarely alluded to in Hindu philosophy.
The Gods and Goddesses of Hindu mythology characteristically converge both the
positive and negative attributes. Therefore, each character contains a duality.
The beliefs existing among a people grow out of mythological interpretation.
Because the gods and goddesses of Hinduism are more complex than the caste systems
manifested into the culture of Nepal, such a short essay could not cover them all. The
goddesses are a conglomeration of the totality of the symbolic messages of the core
Mother figure of Hindu philosophy, the Mahasakti. By embracing the totality of the
14 The number of Gods and Goddesses in Hindu texts increased over time to create the mutlifaceted
network of Celestial Beings that are currently part of Hindu tradition. For further exploration of this
phenomena see Pierre Grimal 203-278; Young 267-305; Surendranath Dasgupta; and Zimmer.
15 The Hindu Mother figure is referred to as Sakti, Mahasakti, Devi and Mahadevi. For more
information regarding the Divine Mother figure in Hinduism see Serenity Young 267-305;-Kinsely,
Mahasakti, the deep truth of each goddess figure can be unmasked. The totality of the
Mahasakti only becomes diluted as the goddesses continued to emerge in the
expanding Hindu doctrine, but never disappeared. Sita in the Ramavana. constitutes a
subtle yet primary part of this expansion. A more in depth explanation of this process
and its relation to Sita will be discussed in Chapter 3. First, one must paint a portrait
of the Mahasakti.
To envisage the power and role of the female energy in Hindu religion, as it
continuously creates a paradox in its manifestation, is difficult. Pierre Grimal
thoroughly summarizes the feminine in Hindu mythology: The divine Mother is both
supreme and subordinate, supra-divine and yet possessing material humanity, terrible
and more adorable than any other, she is strictly one and of the unbounded
multiplicity (Grimal 208). The energy of the Mahasakti encompasses all aspects of
duality, containing equal characteristics of masculine and feminine energies.
Through a deeper look at the characteristics attributed to the Mahasakti, clarity
of how these attributes have manifested a perpetual fear of the power of feminine
energy is obtained. For even the positively beautiful and honorable attributes of this
supreme Mother energy are recognized as a true and pure form of power. This power
in unqualified form is greater than any other power, as it is the power of creation. The
power of creation, on all levels, begets the power of destruction on all levels.
Hindu Goddesses: and Ajit Mookeijee Kali.
Destruction serves as a catalyst for fear among human beings. Pierre Grimal clearly
summarizes the Mothers three modes of being, linking the human perception of reality
and life with that of the divine, universal and unmanifest world that she is still in the
process of co-creating:
The Mother (Mahasakti) has three modes of being: the transcendent, supreme,
original sakti, who is above the worlds and serves as a link between creation
and the still unmanifested mystery of supreme; the universal, cosmic
Mahasakti, who creates all beings and contains, penetrates, supports and
directs millions of processes and forces; and, lastly, the individual, who
personifies the power of the two most vast aspects of her existence, makes
them alive and close to us and interposes herself between human personality
and divine nature. (Grimal 220)
This description brings forth the important role feminine energy plays as an originator
of creation on each level of existence. The role is critical in the cycle of creation. The
energy of the Mahasakti serves to link all of these levels of creation to one another,
thus being the consistent catalyst to the birth of energy and life in all aspects,
comprehensible and incomprehensible. That which is incomprehensible to human kind
is also that which is at the greatest risk of being misunderstood, thus, having various
interpretations within the culture. Not only does the female energy actively engage in
the eternal creation of the supreme, she also serves to manifest such creation in all
earthly beings. Earthly beings become a metaphor for the manifest expression of the
potential of the Mahasakti. This is all inclusive of Her attributes. Once manifest,
earthly beings are subject to expressing the totality of the Mahasaktis characteristics.
At this point, they are at risk of losing sight of any of these attributes; carrying with
them the sole expression of either part of the duality.
The spectrum of the Mahasakti contains that of the atom with that of the
incomprehensible eternity. Perhaps, the third mode of being, that of the individual, is
among the most revered. This is the level that the individual manifestation of creation
(human beings) must acknowledge and internalize the link they have with the eternal
creation of the supreme. At this third mode of being the individual recognizes the
divinity within herself. Looking at Diagram 2.3, two circles slightly overlapping one
another serve as a perfect visual representation of these three modes and their relation
to one another. The third mode of being exists at the point at which the unmanifested
universe converges with the creation of all earthly beings. As explored in Chapter 3,
Sita operates within this third mode of being, converging her earthly presence to that
of the supreme. She serves as a link between the two. Sita continuously gains
sustenance, insight, strength and purity through this connection and link.
The duality of the Mahasakti increases as one moves in to take a closer look.
The expansiveness of Her energies, defined in terms of personality, strengthens the
core of Her symbolic existence. Each of these qualities are representative within each
of the three modes of being. Here the Mahasakti has four chief powers and
personalities that She demonstrates while operating within each of these modes of
being is revealed:
One is [her] personality of calm plenitude, comprehensive wisdom, tranquil
kindliness, inexhaustible compassion, sovereign and superior majesty and
overmastering grandeur. The second aspect personifies her power of splendid
energy and irresistible passion, her warlike disposition, crushing will,
impetuous promptness, and her world shaking force. The third aspect is
ardent, gentle, and marvelous in the profound secret of her beauty, harmony
and delicate rhythm, in her complex and subtle opulence, her irresistible charm
and captivating grace. The fourth provided with a secret and penetrating
capacity for intimate knowledge, careful and faultless work and calm precise
perfection in all things. Wisdom, energy, harmony and perfection are the
attributes which these four aspects or powers bring with them into the world,
which they manifest in human disguise and in their vibhutis (types of
superhuman power attainable by humans), and which they establish according
to the divine measure of their ascension in those who can open their terrestrial
nature to the direct and living influence of the Mother. The these four we give
the four great names of Mahesvari, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, and
In recognizing these attributes, as well as the womens inherent ability to manifest
these characteristics while in human form, there arises a clear motive for superstitious
suppression of such power. There are a few things to consider when searching for the
answers to how and when this suppression surfaced. Recognition that at the time of
the emergence of these myths and philosophies, there was an understanding of the
importance of masculine and feminine energies is important. With such
recognition of this aspect of reality a parallel reality begins to gain focus. Once
something is manifest on the conscious level, the vulnerability to rationale increases.
Thus is the case in the perception and then interpretation of ones reality as perceived
through the environment.
Currently Hinduism focuses the interpretation of the feminine archetypal
figures within only one side of this operating duality. The duality of the Mahasakti
already exists within the confines of the Hindu texts. This fact working in conjunction
with the continual internal changes Hinduism historically undergoes, can potentially
work together to bring forth the totality of the true feminine archetype of the supreme
Mahasakti. Together these texts and Hindus inherent nature could aide in the re-
construction of the meaning of the female archetype in the Ramavana. as well as other
Diagram 3.2 Mahasaktis Three Modes of Being
Creator of all beings
1st Mode of Being
3rd Mode of Being
Individual personification of
these two forces- makes them
alive and close to us
2nd Mode of Being
THE RAMAYANA: A SUMMARY
The Ramavana is an ancient Indian epic created in the 2nd century BC, by the
ascetic Valmiki. In this chapter the Ramavana will be summarized, relevant characteristic
development will be explained and excerpts from the Ramavana will be used in the
exploration of the undivided truth.1 Valmiki is the true ancient author and creator of the
Ramavana. An English translation of the Ramavana by Hari Prasad Shastri, a Hindu
scholar, will be used in this chapter. Shastri completed three volumes of direct English
translation of the Ramavana between 1953-59.
The Ramavana serves to bring the listener or reader through the perilous journeys
of gods, goddesses, men, women, love, war and besiege. Over the last two centuries the
Ramavana has inspired hundreds of major and minor literary works and plays... (Buck
xv-xvi), revealing its influence throughout the ages.
The prominent influence of the Ramavana over the years, coupled with its
continuing popularity among Hindu philosophy, makes it the ideal candidate for focus as a
key for change and empowerment. According to the narrative paradigm, the story in
original form contains the core truths of the culture. The Ramavana contains the core
1 The undivided truth is basically the totality of truth located at the core of the good reasons of a text. This
truth is similar to the yin-yang of Taoism, containing the dualities that exist in all things (on all levels of
being). The discussion in Chapter 2 about the Mahasakti's four Chief Powers is one example of the
undivided truth. Each of the four powers contains many dualities.
truths of the Hindu philosophy. These truths will be explored in the latter part of this
Focus of Ideological Change
The beliefs, values and attitudes of a given culture can be derived from the myths,
legends, riddles and rituals of that culture, as discussed in Chapter 2. The purpose of the
narrative is two fold; while the narrative is a key to understanding the essence of a
culture, it is also the reflection of the changes the culture has endured. In this fashion, the
narrative is a vehicle for cultural change. The main characters of the Ramavana. Rama and
Sita, are esteemed as the perfect role models of social development.
Since the Ramavana is revered and falls perfectly into the cycle of the story
discussed in Chapter 2, this text is an important component of ideological change. All
aspects of this cycle can be related to the epic. This cycle contains important information
regarding the influential, symbolic ramifications the Ramavana has on Hindu culture. Each
stage of the cycle of the story can be easily identified within the Ramavana.
The first stage of the cycle, universal manifestation into physical form, occurs in
the Ramavana through the main characters. First, the characters Rama and Sita are divine
incarnations human form. They incarnate themselves to save humanity from the
destruction of the demon Ravana. The universe also manifests directly to the conduit,
Valmiki, as prose and vision. This later manifestation serves as the creative force through
which the story of the initial physical manifestation of the universe is conveyed, the
The cycle of the story contains, at its birth, the filtering of a universal message
through an earthly conduit. Rishi Valmiki, the creator of the Ramavana. himself, is the
conduit for the message of the universe. As noted in Chapter 2, the conduit for the
message from the universe must be humble. Humility allows for the unquestioning
recipient to fully acknowledge the entire meaning of the message from the divine. Valmiki
has quite an interesting background, leading him to this point of humility and acceptance
of the message.
The focus of Rishi Valmikis holy meditation was on the Shri Ramachandra, the
Seventh Incarnation of God (Vishnu) on earth. Prasad Shastri notes in the introduction,
after a long period on mediation of the form and virtues of Shri Rama, it is said that he
was granted a vision of Ramas life from beginning to end (1: xv). Rishi Valmiki
invented a specific meter from which he told in beautiful verse the story the Ramavana
The original oral representation of the Ramavana is said to contain over 48,000 lines. Due
to its length, the Ramavana is a rich source of symbols and archetypes that have become
powerfully influential sources of current Hindu beliefs, values and traditions.
In this following passage, Brahma, the God of Creation, addresses the Rishi
Valmiki. This divine spirit, offers Valmiki, a message that he must retain and share with
Through the grace of Brahma2, the holy Sage saw all that Rama, Sita and
Lakshmana had experienced, observed and done. He witnessed the life of Rama in
detail, Rama, who was truth incarnate and all that he had accomplished in the
forest and other places.. .By the power of spiritual meditation and Yoga, the Sage
Valmiki was the whole of the past as clearly as if it were a fruit placed on the palm
of the hand. Thus, having witnessed all, that most enlightened Sage began to
describe the life of Rama in verse. The history of Rama, which confers
righteousness, worldly prosperity and delight on the reader, which does not
degrade the mind and grants release from sorrow, that story which charms the
heart and is as full of lovely gems as is the sea, was given by Valmiki in the form in
which Narada3 had related it to him. (1: 11-12)
Valmiki clearly serves as a direct conduit for the story. The metric verse that Valmiki
discovered is used as the vehicle for sharing the vast and intricate story of Rama, Sita and
Lakshmana. The prose that resulted from Valmikis vision was recognized as prophetic in
nature; the messages of the story were recognized as sacred. For these reasons, the story
was orally recorded in the verse of learned individuals so it could be passed on to the
people. Thus it permeated culture on all levels, within each subsystem.
The conduit can not act alone, the message must be heard. If the majority of the
people in a given culture are not open to acknowledging the message as truth, the message
will be lost. There existed at this time a strong collective belief regarding the powers of
Rama and Sita. This is in part due to the fact the Valmiki himself was enlightened with the
story while Rama and Sita were still embodied in human flesh.4 David Smith notes,
2 Brahma is the divine creator. Brahma is one part of the Hindu trinity. Vishnu and Siva are the two
other parts of the trinity, symbolizing protection and destruction repectively.
3 Narada is the divine sage that served as the messenger between Brahma and Valmiki in the relaying of
the story of Rama.
4 Similar to the form of Christ in the Bible, Rama and Sita were incarnations of the divine source in
Hindu conceptions of the divine are firmly and deeply rooted in the body (219).
Therefore, people of this time were familiar with different aspects of the actions of Rama
and Sita as divine beings.
By compiling the Ramavana into prose, Valmiki was able to guide others in
relaying the symbolic meanings contained within the story of Sita and Rama. Sages,
Rishis, and other respected wise persons memorized the epic. Through the memorization
of it, these men and women were able to pass the message along to the greater masses.
Thus, they could instruct them in the secrets of life represented in the many lines of
When people are suffering from distress and frustration, doubting themselves as
well as the life they are leading, they turn to the Ramavana for guidance. The Ramavana
displays and offers clear examples of good and honorable behavior (Buck xiii-xv). This
epic is seen and believed as truth. The story is resurrected through festival and ceremony
in the public and private sectors. The mythical sites of battle, birth and death are
reenacted and considered real. So real in fact, that their corresponding geographical
locations in India and Nepal were deemed holy. These sites are surrounded by the spirit of
mediation and prayer. Temples and stupas were constructed in honor of the power they
convey. They remain places of homage for pilgrims and those seeking to attain
The results of ensuing traditions and ceremonies that were bom out of the
Ramavana. serve to continue the cycle of the story. These acts are the recognition of the
divine contained within each verse of the Ramavana. They serve to give back to the
Universe in recognition of the truth the story contains. As the story inherently operates to
offer wisdom on sustaining life and culture, the ceremonies are an acknowledgment of this
invaluable insight. Given the length of the Ramavana. evidently the messages it contains
are endless, as well as timeless.
All epics or sacred writings exist to reveal tmth and insight on many levels of
existence, thus expressing different faces. Because of this, the connection to divinity can
be found throughout the Ramavana by looking at it through a slightly different
perspective. Out of purity of heart and humility of mind, a new face reveals itself as it
searches for the tmth and the varying messages contained within. Due to Valmikis ability
to consciously maintain this purity and humility, the Ramavana was bom.
The Ramavana has been the focus of much interpretation over the years. Many
scholars have dedicated sections of books to the main characters, Rama and Sita. The
findings in the majority of interpretations have similar chords running throughout them.
Serenity Young summarizes one such interpretation of the Ramavana:
The story tells of the adventures of Rama, who has been unjustly exiled, and his
spouse Sita. In popular Hinduism they are the supreme divine couple. Rama is an
incarnation of the great sky god Vishnu, and Sita, though understood to be
Vishnus wife Laksmi, is clearly represented as the daughter of the earth. In the
epic, Rama and Sita enact the ideal relationship between husband and wife.
However, in this, the earliest Ramavana. it is Rama who is understood to be the
deity, while Sita is the ideal devotee who remains faithful to her god/husband no
matter how unfair his actions may seem. She is the personification of the ideal
Hindu wife, who is the source of her husbands prosperity. (287)
Rama is the hero, the ideal man. His power, strength and endurance, as well as his love
for Sita, are his most revered attributes. On top of which his recognized divinity, that of
Vishnu, is above all his most influential of characteristics. Sita is in no way left out in
terms of popularity among the people. For hundreds of years, Sita has been revered as the
ideal devoted spouse. Sitas chastity serves as a model for Hindu women, as chastity
among women is highly valued in the culture. When reading the Ramavana. the role of the
wife appears as an unwritten law, potent and cherished. Behavioral expectations of the
wife explicitly appear in the text itself.5 She too is revered for her undaunting love,
affection, devotion and purity. She represents the ideal wife through her portrayal of such
qualities. These identified temperaments manifest in the Hindu culture today.
The man is to be like Rama, strong and ever-enduring. The woman, like Sita,
astutely devoted to her husband. These attributes are held in high esteem in Hindu
culture, and serve to be the cause of the continued problems faced by women in that
culture today. The present ensuing situation of gender discrimination in Nepal is greatly
influenced and sustained by these strong convictions. These convictions have been
protracted through the Hindu traditions.
5For more information relating the role of Sita in the Ramavana to the roles of women in Hindu culture
see Serenity Young 265-304; Yvonne Haddad and Ellison Findly 224, 351, 352, 365-368, 370; David
Kinsley, The Goddesses Mirror 91-110; Kinsley Hindu Goddesses 65-80.
The current emphasis on Sitas earthly attributes needs to be shifted to include her
universal, goddess attributes. The three modes of being, as discussed in Chapter 2, can be
used as tools to obtain a complete understanding of Sitas role. Recognition of Sita as a
representation of the third mode brings about the rebirth of her forgotten truth. She
comes from the universe, bora from the earth; her physical form dies to the earth; then,
she is bom again to the universe by way of the earth. Through this birth/death/rebirth
cycle, Sita becomes a metaphor. She exists with a conscious recognition of her human
earthly form as an expression of the divine.
Sita is the metaphor for truth of the divine. She is an extension of the divine
manifest in the third mode of being. She serves as a messenger of constant life. Constant
life is maintained through the cycle of birth into the physical world, death in the physical
world and rebirth into the celestial realm. Within this cycle, life is everlasting and inherent.
Through her continual search and recognition of these divine attributes within herself, Sita
serves to counterbalance the power struggle of man over woman. The more she is
accused by her lover and society itself, the deeper her faith in her divine convictions
grows. Sita is an anomaly to the structured rules of the Hindu culture. By her divinity,
she ultimately overcomes the established discriminatory societal rules. The duality is that
as Sita rises with increasing strength in her convictions to meet every occasion of ridicule,
the blows of judgmental doubt also increase in intensity. This paradox continues until Sita
conquers the most excruciating form of discrimination, banishment by the one she is most
devoted to, Rama. Sita implicitly trusts in the true form of her divinity.
These forgotten attributes shed light into the current causes of gender
discrimination in Nepal. More often than not, Sita is revered for her ability to be the
devotee. This attribute is only a partial interpretation of her entirety. While it is true that
Sita is eternally devoted to Rama, she eventually becomes more devoted to the divinity
within herself. Her devotion to Rama is the catalyst for her returning to the celestial
realm, causing Rama to plummet into deep despair. These attributes also offer insight into
the potential rebirth of this cycle in a positive empowering light.
In the majority of interpretations of the Ramavana, the focus is on Ramas inability
to trust Sita and the constant judgment he casts up on her, while Sita is characterized as
being the astutely devoted wife. This exclusive recognition of Sita does not embrace her
totality. This reality, coupled with the reverence attributed to her in Hindu culture, are
collaboratively lending to the perpetuation of gender discrimination in Nepal. As the next
section of this chapter demonstrates, recognition of the complete truth of Sita, instead of
the half truth, would empower the Hindu women.
The total truth of Sita is not intended to serve as a source that leads women into
bondage of ownership and subordination. Rather, her truth is intended to open the
temporal nature of her earthly counterparts, mainly Rama, to their own connection with
the divine. In this manner, Sita is a messenger from the divine, connecting humanity to the
umbilical cord of eternal sustenance.
The purpose of this thesis is not to dispute the explicit accounts of gender
subordination contained in the Ramavana. These references do exist and will be outlined
in the next section. However, acknowledgment of them serves primarily to paint only part
of Sitas portrait. The focus here is to paint a complete portrait of Sita, as a modem day
archetype. She is a manifestation of the third mode of being of the Mahasakti; she is the
individual who personifies the power of the two most vast aspects of her existence, makes
them alive and close to us and interposes herself between human personality and divine
nature (Grimal 220). If Sita is going to be revered, then let the whole of her story be
heard. True reverence is bom from full understanding. Full understanding does not allow
for inequality. Thus, complete recognition of Sitas truth can only serve to overcome the
gender inequality existing in Nepal.
For everything good, there exists something equally as bad. If the cup is only half
full, then it does not contain its full potential. All that is bom will soon die. Each of these
proverbs elicits the duality as contained within the complete cycle of life, and all life forms.
This duality manifests itself many times within the intricate web of the Ramavana.
As previously stated, the majority of current interpretations of the Ramavana focus
on the obvious social rules that it conveys. There is no doubt that these references exist,
even blatantly at times. For example, in this excerpt, the wifes faithfulness to her husband
is describes as her key to entering the highest heaven:
As long as she lives, a womans God and master is her husband.. .Even a pious
woman given over to fasting and spiritual practices, were she the chief of the
virtuous, is treading an evil path if she is not attentive to her lord. By obedience to
her husband, a woman attains the highest heaven, even if she has ailed to render
due homage to the Gods. To be subject to her consort and seek to please him is
the strict duty of a woman (1: 226).
However, given the size of the text, excerpts such as these formulate only a part of the
whole. When these become the main focus, other important aspects of the text go
unacknowledged. Looking thoroughly at the powerful relationship between Rama and
Sita, inclusive of negative and positive aspects, reveals that the unity between them creates
the duality that transpires in the Ramavana.
On the surface, the duality of Rama and Sita are synonymous with physical
strength and spiritual strength. This is truly a metaphor for the sagacious duality of the
conscious and subconscious. To understand the relation of Rama and Sita to the
conscious and subconscious, an exploration of the characteristics associated with these
constructs should first be outlined.
As discussed in Chapter 2, human perceptions and interpretations are inspired
through individual interaction with the environment. The perception of ones environment
occurs within the subconscious. The subconscious is pure, undaunting, and wise,
lisplaying characteristics of harmony and perfection through the continued acceptance of
he universal energies. Thus, the subconscious is the inspiration for the symbols
instructed by the conscious.
The interpretation of ones environment occurs within the conscious. The
sonscious contains the rationale-the ego. The conscious allows human kind to interact,
eact and interpret their surroundings.
In summary, while the subconscious experiences the environment, the conscious
ransforms the experience into a series of explanations. With these inherent attributes, the
sonscious aspect also serves to perceive dichotomies: housing quandary, doubt, hesitancy
md indecision. Seeds of self-deceit are powerful antagonists to the non-illusive purity of
he subconscious. Recognition of the process that these characteristics undergo, once
nanifested on the conscious level, is important. These dichotomies are turned outward
md away from their source of origin. In turn, they are projected onto those things
surrounding the individual that manifested them. In matters such as this, the illusion of the
subconscious compromises its purity with conscious deceit.
With Ramas elemental doubting and Sitas undaunting devotion, their filial
division escalates throughout the epic. As the epic unfolds, the strong love that Rama and
Sita share is not enough to accommodate the duality of their innate personalities. Finally,
:owards the end of the epic, Ramas strong distrust challenges Sitas powerful dedication
:o the point that brings an end to their earthly love; Sita returns to the earth. Rama is so
destructive in his disbelief of Sita that he loses her and is left on earth to rule his kingdom
alone. Part of his power seems to stem from the endowment of his ego as he radiates in
his destruction of Ravana. What he does not see is that he would have never been able to
destroy this demon had it not been for Sita. These dualities are currently not frilly
recognized within the Ramavana in Hindu culture.
Perhaps the best way to introduce the Ramavana is through the eyes of one of the
characters, Hanuman, the Monkey God. William Buck, a Hindu scholar, completed a
modem interpretation of the Ramavana. In this expert from Bucks modem rendition,
Hanuman summarized the story of Rama and Sita. This excerpt brings forth the endless
duality of messages existing on all levels:
Hanuman closed his eyes and put his hands in his lap. This tale is full of peril and
safety, he began. It will armor noble souls with courage, and bring heart failure
to cowards. It will perplex the wise and baffle the foolish, and make them both
follow their hearts. It gives reasons for acting in every way; its chapters haunt the
mind; its verses make heroes hunger for glory. Its lines shed warm love, its words
bring smiles of rage and tears of joy. Oh King of the Bears, this story is not for
worried ears and weak nerves, for it holds dread and rash chivalry, sweet honor
and elegant danger, and graceful bravery and bountiful generosity beyond
Foreshadowing the intricate and perplexing components of the Ramavana. this passage
gives the recipient a peak at the convoluted patterns that reside at the core of the epic.
At the beginning of the Ramavana the Gods are becoming angered by a calamity
that is existing in their Celestial realm. The demon Ravana is creating continued havoc for
the Gods. He is stealing the sacrifices placed out for them by the ascetics, Sages and
Rishis on earth. These holy men of earth are complaining to the Gods of Ravanas
disdain. The holy men plead to the Gods to send a Celestial being to earth to destroy
Ravana. The Gods turn to Brahma, the Creator, for help:
The Celestial Beings, Gandharvas, Siddhas and Sages gathered together to obtain
their portion of the sacrifice according to tradition. Having assembled at their
accustomed place, the Gods approached Brahma, Lord of the Worlds, and, with
joined palms, addressed him, saying, O Blessed Lord, having been favoured by
thee, the Raksasa Ravana perpetually troubles us since thou hast granted a boon
tho him, and we are helpless and forced to endure his fearful oppression! The
Lord of the Raksasas has inspired terror in the Tree Worlds, and, having
overthrown the Gaurdians of the Earth, he has even humbled Indra himself.
Provoking the Sages, the Yakshas, Gandharvas, and brahmins and other beings, he
tramples them under foot, he who has become insufferable through pride, being
under thy protection. In his presence, the sun ceases to shine, the wind fails to
blow, and, before him, the ocean, garlanded with waves, is still. O Granter of
Boons, we live in terror of this redoubtable Rakshasa. O Blessed One, be pleased
to devise some means for his destruction! (1: 39)
The plot of the Ramavana revolves around conquering Ravana, the demon that is plaguing
the celestial and earthly worlds. The earth, at this time, is said to be operating within the
third quarter of the four world ages, or yugas. In this third world age, or Treta-yuga,
humanity has lost two quarters of their existing power, thrusting all of humankind into a
cycle of becoming increasingly imperfect. Thus, humans are becoming more vulnerable to
the afflictions of the demon, Ravana. The effects of the Treta-yuga are so strong, they are
being experienced even on the Celestial plane.
Further into the story, a plan to destroy Ravana is established. In the following
excerpt, the vehicle for the destruction of Ravana is disclosed by Brahma:
Here is a way of bringing about the end of that perverse being! May I not be
destroyed by Gandharvas, Yakshas, Gods or Rakshasas, was Ravanas request,
but thinking man to be of no account, he did not ask to be made invulnerable in
regard to him; therefore, none but man can destroy him. These words, uttered by
Brahma, filled the Celestial and other Beings with joy. (1: 39)
That man serves as the only entity with the capacity to destroy the demon is an important
point of reference for the remainder of the story. This foreshadows why Rama and Sita,
the two main characters, come to earth. Humanity, existing within the Treta-yuga, is
exerting attributes inclusive of the selfish acts of trickery, fraud, sorcery, lies and
arguments. Simultaneously, Ravana is raging, creating havoc on the earth and in the
heavens. Only a God in human manifestation can destroy Ravana. Rama and Sita
collaboratively incarnate into human form to carry out this obligation.
Rama and Sita share equally important roles as a means for saving all of humanity,
the earth and the Celestial Beings from Ravana. They are only able to obtain their goal
through converging their Celestial essences with physical human form. Understanding that
even a divine manifestation on earth must shape-shift'-change physical form-to fit into the
earthly world in which it is bom is important. The physical body is the intelligible vehicle
that allows for these characters to destroy Ravana. More importantly, this physical body
is also an explanation of the sorrows, traumas and troubles Rama and Sita experience on
earth, as Celestial manifestations. A paradox associated with the incarnation of Rama is
that he is unaware, throughout the majority of the epic, of his intended mission. Sita
appears never to recall the actual mission of destroying Ravana, but she remains firmly
connected to her divine energies. This will serve as a focal point for this section of this
An exploration of Rama and Sita with their divine connection is apropos. One
illustration of their connection to the divine is revealed in the stories of their births. In the
following excerpt, Vishnu, the Chief of Gods, vows to incarnate himself as a man to
[Vishnu says], Have no fear, from now on be happy; Ravana that cruel and
insufferable monster, the terror of the Gods and Rishis, with his sons and
grandsons, his ministers, relations and allies, for the good of all, will be slain by
me, and, during eleven thousand years, I shall dwell in the world of men and
protect the earth.
Having accorded his favour, Vishnu, the God of Gods, Master of Himself,
reflected as to where on the earth He should take birth as man. Then the Lotus-
eyed Lord transformed Himself in four ways, accepting King Dasaratha as His
At that instant, the Devas, Rishis, Gandharvas and also the Rudras with the
troops of Apsaras praised the Slayer of Madhu with hymns of celestial beauty and
said, O Chief of the Gods, speedily destroy the proud Ravana of redoubtable
strength and extreme arrogance, the enemy of the Thirty, thorn in the side of the
ascetics, whose raring is horrible to hear; thereafter, released from the fever of
existence, return to the Celestial Region, where purity and perfection reign. (1:
Rama, as a part of the incarnation of Vishnu, is bom to King Dasaratha by his consort
Kaushalya. At the moment of his birth, Rama is adorned with divine marks, a portion of
the blessed Lord Vishnu, having reddened eyes, long arms, crimson lips, a voice like a
gong and of immeasurable glory, and, by his luster, he enhanced the beauty of Kaushalya
(1: 45).6 Rama is the son of the Solar race. However, he is also an earthly being with
Sitas birth is also of divine nature. Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi, endowed
with the highest feminine virtues (1: 4). Lakshmi is Vishnus divine counterpart. The
Ramavana does not clearly identify whether Lakshmi was incarnated to aid Vishnu in the
destruction of Ravana. However, their joint effort seems pertinent. Information of Sitas
birth is explicitly revealed when she is preparing to marry Rama. Anasuya, a woman
ascetic, takes great pride in Sitas choice for a husband. In this excerpt, Sita discloses
information about her sacred birth to the inquisitive Anasuya:
Sita obediently answered, saying, Hear me and I will relate it all to thee. There
was a King of Mithila, full of valour, named Janaka, who rejoiced in observing the
duties of a warrior and ruled the world with justice.
When he was ploughing the land intended for sacrifice, I emerged from the
earth like a daughter. At that time, the monarch was engaged in scattering
handfuls of soil and, beholding me covered with dust, was astonished. Being
without issue, full of tenderness, he placed me on his lap, saying, This shall be my
daughter,' and, in great affection, adopted me. Thereupon a voice resembling that
of a human being rang out, saying, O King, verily she is thy daughter!
The king rejoiced in my possession and, through it, his prosperity increased.
That Sovereign, constant in the performance of sacrifice, gave me into the care of
the chief Queen, who nourished me with maternal affection. When I came to
maturity, my father grew anxious, like an indigent man who has been bereft of all
his possessions... (1:434)
6 The fact that the Ramavana contains direct reference to Sita as Lakshmi is very important. First, the text
is large, that often times researchers have not stumbled upon this reference in the past. Quite a few
researchers claim that no direct connection between Sita and Lakshmi is made throughout the text. This
connection is an important construct of this thesis claim.
The significance of Sitas birth from the earth is important on many levels. First, she is the
daughter of the earth. Throughout the Ramavana. she inherently acknowledges this part
of her being; she talks to the beings of the earth acknowledging them as siblings.
Secondly, the earth is where Sita returns. The significance of her return will be discussed
in greater detail later. Third, at a deeper level, her birth from the earth is also a metaphor
for her birth into the third mode of being of the Mahasakti, discussed in Chapter 2.
As previously noted, Sita is the incarnation of Lakshmi, Vishnus divine
counterpart. Lakshmi is representative of the first mode of being, part of the supreme
original that links creation with unmanifest mystery. Lakshmi is born of the universal,
cosmic Mahasakti, the second mode of being, into human form. The human form is Sita.
In this manner, Sitas birth is a symbol for connecting the transcendent Mahasakti with
that of the human personality, or third mode of being. This aspect of Sita is a key to
interpreting fully her role as mediator throughout the Ramavana. Acknowledging this part
of her role leads to the complete representation of the true good reasons7 her character
In their true form Rama and Sita, as an expression of the Universal whole, are the
God and Goddess. This truth is lost in modem day interpretations that choose to focus on
Sitas devotion to Rama. As noted, Rama and Sita were not only bom to co-experience
the human level of existence. Their ways of birth reveal that they were existing as divine
7 For more information on good reasons refer to the section on the Narrative Paradigm in Chapter 2.
incarnations collaborated with flesh. Thus, they were experiencing the difficulties
associated with divine incarnation to human form. This connection with divinity, the
natural all-powerful state of being, is an important component in the re-discovery of the
deeper truth of the Ramavana.
Eventually, Rama and Sita are married. Bom unto a noble family of rulers, Rama
grows closer to claiming the family throne. His mischievous step-mother forces him to
abdicate the throne. Rama is exiled from the kingdom to the forest. Upon his departure
he approaches Sita. He refuses to let her accompany him into the forest. He describes the
forest as unfit for the liking of a woman. Sita responds by saying:
The hardships described by thee, that are endured by those who dwell in the forest,
will be transmuted into joys through my devotion to thee. Antelopes, Hons,
elephants, tigers, Sharaghas, Yaks, Srimaras and other wild beasts in the forest
have not yet beheld thee, O Raghava, but seeing thee, will flee away in terror! (1:
The explicit life giving forces that Sita experiences in Rama are synonymous with her
continuous devotion. Sitas devotion to and love for Rama is undaunting.
Sita truly sees that she is nothing without Rama. In her human manifestation, she becomes
a social outcast without her husband. The honorable women conceivably bow to their
husbands as Lords, Gods. These beliefs reflect those as related to the women of this time,
as well as in the present.
Yet, recall again the divine nature that exists within both Rama and Sita. The great
pain Sita feels escalates as Rama continuously denies her to accompany him to the forest.
Sita encourages Rama to recall his divinity so that he may truly understand her and believe
her. In this next excerpt, Sita makes one last plea to Rama. Sita says:
I may not look on any other man or even dwell on him in thought during thine
absence, lest I become the obloquy of my race, therefore take me with thee, O
Irreproachable Raghava. I, who was wedded to thee as a young girl and have long
been resident with thee, wilt thou abandon me to strangers, like a low-born actor,
O Rama, and to him, whom according to thee I must obey, who has caused thee to
be set aside, to whom I must become a servant and vassal forever, O
Irreproachable Hero? Nay, thou canst not leave me here and retire to the forest; if
it be a question of either of asceticism in a hermitage or residence in heaven, I wish
to be with thee!... (1:237)
The traditionally highly valued obedience of women in Hindu culture is blatantly revealed
in this selection. Sita knows that she loses her worth in the eyes of society. However, one
must consider that Sitas social knowledge along with her intense love for Rama, give her
the strength to convince Rama that she should accompany him to the forest.
Sita is not the only one who must follow social rules. Rama, in response,
acknowledges his social duties. He replies:
O Maithili, I cannot abandon thee, as a son cannot withdraw his love from his
parents. Nevertheless I must conform to the example of the good, who have
preceded me, O Thou whose thighs resemble the trunk of an elephant; do thou
follow me as Suvarchala the Sun. O Daughter of Janaka, I am not entering the
forest by mine own desire but to obey the injunctions of my Sire. O Devi, it is my
duty to obey my father and my mother; if I opposed their will, I could not continue
living. How can one honor an invisible Deity if one opposes a visible Divinity.
That is a mother, a father or a Spiritual Preceptor? O Lady of lovely eyelashes, the
threefold fruit of filial devotion brings about the acquisition of the Three Worlds,
there is no means of purification on earth that is equal to it, and, by this, heaven is
attained. Neither the truth, nor liberty, nor homage done, nor even sacrifice
accompanied by the distribution of alms is considered as efficacious as filial
devotion, O Sita. If one shows oneself to be full of reverence of ones Guru and
parents, there is nothing that one may not*obtain, heaven, wealth, grain, learning,
progeny and fame. The regions of the Gods, the Gandharvas, the cows, of
Brahman and others are attained by undeviating devotion to ones mother and
father. I wish to conform to my Sires command which is fixed in the way of
righteousness; it is an unwritten law. I shall allow myself to be moved by thee, O
Sita, and consent to thee accompanying me to the Dandaka Forest, since thy
resolution to follow and live with me in unshakable! Now, O Frail Lady, I give
thee permission to come with me, O Princess of gentle looks and faultless body;
follow me and assist me in carrying out my duty to the end by conforming wholly
to my cherished desire, O Sita, My Beloved. (1: 237-240)
Sita and Rama both discuss devotion to their families. Here, Rama discusses his
undeviating devotion to his mother, father and Spiritual Preceptor, or God. With the
recognition of these social structures, Rama prioritizes his life according to the unwritten
dictates of these laws. The greatest form of deceit is that of deceiving the parents. Both
Sita and Rama are well versed in the traditions of their people.
Sitas ability to persuade Rama to bring her to the forest has a significant impact
that eventually leads to Ramas ability to destroy Ravana. As will be discussed throughout
the remainder of this chapter, Sita is kidnapped by Ravana. This action is the catalyst for
Ramas revenge, thus, the destruction of Ravana. If Sita was denied to accompany Rama
into the forest, Ramas Celestial mission would be incomplete.
As discussed in Chapter 2, traditions are the manifestation of sacred beliefs and
values, meant to honor and give back to the divine. Sita serves to remind Rama of his
divine loyalties. Her actions are in accordance with the third mode of being. By her
earthly wisdom (social laws) and recognition of her divine connection, Sita maintains the
harmony of these vast personifications. She assists Rama, enabeling him to recognize his
reverence for filial devotion. Sita serves as his connection to the Spiritual Preceptor. She
is a physical embodiment of the divine, supplying Rama with the strength and purpose to
fulfill his divine intent by continuously being a catalyst for his connection to his Spiritual
Preceptor. Thus, her persistence leads Rama to bring into accordance the true nature of
his subconscious. Sita elicits memories within Rama, testing his wisdom and unshakable
dedication to himself, the supreme being that he is.
The manifestation of the universe is pure, synonymous with undaunting truth.
Sita, as a metaphor for the subconscious, upholds, with retribution, the purity of her being
in the face of Ramas doubt. Ramas doubt is so powerful that Sita must prove,
undoubtedly, her true desire to accompany him on his journey. Sita, however, is able to
convey this message because she is operating on the subconscious level. Her intent, as
displayed through her actions, are undaunting from the deep truth of her being.
The story ensues with Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana (Ramas half brother) leaving to
seek refuge in the forest. During their stay in the forest, Ravana longs to have Sita as his
own. Ravana, master of illusion, deceives Sita with his magic. Sita believes she sees a
golden deer in the forest and sends Rama off to kill it for food. Rama disappears into the
forest. Moments later Sita believes that she hears him scream. Fearing for his life, Sita
sends Lakshmana off to rescue Rama. As she awaits their return, Ravana appears to her
as an old and wise Sage.
Sita offers a kind smile to the Sage. At this moment, Ravanas true form is
unleashed. Ravana abducts Sita from the forest and takes her to Lanka. While Sita is held
against her will in Ravanas chariot she speaks to Rama. In this section, she demonstrates
two powerful characteristics of her virtue. On one hand, she is again showing her
devotion to her husband as she calls to him. On the other hand, she is showing her pure
faith in nature, as nature serves as the conduit for the messages she is sending to Rama.
Sita speaks to nature, saying:
For this outrage, bereft of thy senses by fate, thou shalt, O Ravana, meet with a
terrible retribution, bringing about thine end. Alas! The designs of Kaikeyi are
crowned with success, since I, the virtuous consort of Rama am separated from
that hero. I invoke Janasthana and the flowering kamikara trees, so that they may
tell Rama speedily that Sita has been borne away by Ravana! I appeal to the
Godaveri river, that re-echoes to the cry of cranes and swans, to inform Rama that
Ravana has stolen Sita away! Offering salutations to the forest Deities, I call upon
them to tell my lord of mine abduction! I beseech all creatures, whatever they may
be, whether beast or bird or those that inhabit the forest, to make tidings known to
Rama and to tell him that his tender spouse, dearer to him than life, has been
forcibly borne away by Ravana. Were death himself my ravisher, that mighty-
armed one, hearing this report, would rescue me by his prowess! (2: 104)
Fueled with conviction and connection, she unconsciously wields her inner knowing as a
sword of life. Thus, she communicates with all she sees and knows her pleas will be sent
as she commands. She wields this power of knowing in her continuing ability to listen to
her spirit. Out of Sitas simplicity and innocence she is able to maintain an unwavering
connection to the divine. Sita becomes the catalyst for keeping the epic in motion. Her
disappearing is the force that propels Rama to seek revenge on Ravana.
Sitas strength and perseverance allow her to survive her stay at Lanka. Ravana
continuously temps her while she is in captivity. He tries to encourage her to become his
most revered consort. Sita refuses all of Ravanas bribes, while continuously proclaiming
her love for Rama.
Rama, with the help of Hanuman, the Monkey God, and the Bear Clan, eventually
bring down Ravana. Sita is rescued and reunited with Rama. Upon laying eyes on her
beloved, Sita regains the golden glow of life, radiating her divine beauty. Rama, astutely
learned in laws of human culture, renounces her. Rama says:
A suspicion has arisen, however, with regard to thy conduct, and thy presence is
as painful to me as a lamp to one whose eye is diseased! Henceforth go where it
best pleaseth thee, I give thee leave, O Daughter of Janaka. O Lovely One, the ten
regions are at thy disposal; I can have nothing more to do with thee! What man of
honor would give rein to his passion so far as to permit himself to take
back a woman who has dwelt in the house of another? Thou hast been taken into
Ravanas lap and he has cast lustful glances on thee; how can I reclaim thee, I who
boast of belonging to an illustrious House? The end which I sought in re-
conquering thee has been gained; I no longer have any attachment for thee; go
where thou desirest! This is the outcome of my reflections, O Lovely One! Turn
to Lakshmana or Bharata, Shatrughna, Sugriva or the Titan Bibishana, make thy
choice, O Sita, as pleases thee best. Assuredly Ravana, beholding thy ravishing
and celestial beauty, will not have respected thy person during the time that thou
didst dwell in his abode. (3: 335-336)
Ramas doubt turns vicious against the force that brought him to his greatest mortal
victory, Sita. Even though the doubt within Rama is reaching paramount proportions,
Sitas purity wields a more powerful truth. Sita, in all of her pain and dismay to Ramas
words, delves deeper into her faith. Her character as representation of the third mode of
being, becomes clear.
Each time Rama thrusts his doubts toward Sita, she rises to the occasion with
equal co-creator power. As Rama moves farther away from his divine connection, Sita
equally extends herself toward her divine connection. The venues may change, but the
underlying issues remain the same. As Ramas glory rises, his mistrust in Sita deepens.
Metaphorically, as his ego grows, his connection to the divine weakens. Sita maintains
her faith when Rama publicly renounces her. To prove her devotion she subjects herself
to the ordeal by fire. Before entering into the flames, Sita calls for protection:
As my heart has never ceased to be true to Raghava, do thou, O Witness of all
Beings, grant me thy protection! As I am pure in conduct, though Rama looks on
me as sullied, do thou, O Witness of the Worlds, grant me full protection! (3: 338)
Sitas actions balance the energies put forth by Rama. Sita was able to come away from
the fire unscathed because she never lost her connection to the divine. Sita, being a
metaphor for the subconscious, is strong in conviction.
Rama and Sita are united and begin the journey back to their homeland. Some
time after reaching their home, we again see another inflammatory mode of Ramas
conscious. The people of the kingdom begin questioning the faithfulness of Sita during
her imprisonment by Ravana. Ramas doubts again grow in size. They reach
unprecedented heights as he reluctantly bans Sita to the forest for life. Sita, full of disdain
and sorrow, returns to the forest. Unknown to Rama, Sita is carrying in her womb his
two sons. She bares the children in the forest. She raises them, nurturing them as they
Rama hears of the great Sage Valmiki, the author of the story of Ramas life.
Ramas interest in the epic peaks so he seeks Valmiki. Rama is hypnotized by the prose of
the song, engulfed in its beauty. It is then Rama hears the story sung by no other than his
descendants, his two sons, of which he knew not of their existence. Rama promptly calls
forth Sita, who has made her home among Valmikis hermitage.
In the presence of Sita, Ramas distrust reaches a zenith. All the purity Sita has
displayed and the hardship she has endured, has not dampened the flame of Ramas doubt.
Sita calls to the heavens, If, in doubt, I have never dwelt on any but Rama, may the
Goddess Madhavi receive me! (3. 617).
At the moment of her conviction, the earth opens. A throne of celestial essence is
revealed. Sita is summoned and takes her position on the thrown. All witnessing this
grandeur remain speechless, silent and awe-struck. Slowly, Sita descends into the earth.
The place of her descent glows with luster and all things are said to have been happy to
receive her again. The plants, animals, and people rejoiced, and life itself threw up its
heart in praise.
In the presence of Ramas ever-evoking doubt, Sita again rises to the occasion,
with equal reverence and esteem. Rama is struck with a pain so great that he cries out to
his newly acknowledged mother-in-law, the Earth, to return his beloved. In anger and
rage for the loss of his beloved, Rama threatens the earth: If thou failest to return Sita to
me in her original form, I shall plough thee up with thy mountains and forests and shall
destroy thee so that nothing but water remains! (3: 618). At this moment, Rama is
reminded of his divinity. Brahma shows himself to Rama, reminding Rama that he is
Vishnu. Brahma tells Rama that he will be reunited with Sita in the Celestial Realm (3:
619). Rama returns to rule his kingdom and has a golden statue of Sita constructed which
presides next to him always (3: 620).
As the epic comes to a close, Ramas characteristics become similar to Sitas.
Once Sita has descended into the earth, Rama is fully aware of his Celestial prowess. Sita
served as a link to his divinity when she was alive. Once she left him on the earthly plane
for good, Rama is enlightened through Brahmas reminder. Therefore, at the end of the
epic, Ramas earthly being is completed.
In summary, the Ramavana expresses numerous good reasons through the
interactions of the characters. Sita and Rama work together in the fulfillment of the divine
plan. Sita is catalyst for the movement of the epic and she serves as the subconscious
entity that reminds Rama of his Celestial nature. Rama, metaphorically the conscious, is
moving towards completion of his mission with the help of Sita. The destruction of
Ravana is a collaborative effort. Rama and Sita together make this destruction possible.
The conscious, through its doubting nature, can try to rule the subconscious.
However, control over the subconscious is illusive. While the conscious perceivably has
power over the subconscious, connection with the supreme divinity cannot be obtained.
When this happens, an individual may loose sight of their intended life purpose. It
continually searches for a way to make its pure intent known. The subconscious is a
reminder of the spirit coming from the Celestial realm.
Women, as the subconscious, transcend supreme divinity on the earth. Women are
the reflection of the wisdom, energy, harmony, and purity of the divine. They make this
divinity known to men. They enable men to recognize the role the man plays in the cycle
of creation. Men, when in denial of this feminine attribute, literally deny themselves of
completing their destined life purpose. Men and women work together to fulfill their lives
The many dualities that co-exist within the intricate parts of the Ramavana convey
the various good reasons that can establish culture. These good reasons can be isolated or
they can be joined together. When isolated these good reasons manifest inequlaity on the
cultural level. When collaboratively recognized as interdependent components, these
good reasons are a reflection of the dualities that exist in the environment. A totality
interpretation of duality within the Ramavana is a mirror for equality of men and women
on all levels.
NEPAL: THE CURRENT SITUATION
In an effort to substantiate the premise of this thesis, a review of the statistical
information on current gender discrimination in Nepal should be reviewed. As
political efforts aim at decreasing the life threatening subordination of women in
Nepal, these efforts have met great obstacles. This chapter summarizes the
geographic and demographic realities of Nepal. Geography and demographic
information aid in painting a complete picture of gender discrimination, this data
enables the reader to have an overall view as to the troubling economic situation Nepal
is facing. This chapter is also a review of the most recent demographic consensus of
Nepalese culture. This chapter outlines the laws and programs that have been
established in Nepal to combat deadly gender discrimination. Through a full
understanding of current efforts opposing gender discrimination, the need to and
desire for internal cultural empowerment becomes clear.
This chapter will establish the prominent oral traditions that are still intact in
Nepal. Therefore, rectifying the use of narrative as an additional vehicle for
dissemination of gender parity. Societies have long accepted as a truism that morality
cannot be legislated. New anti-gender discrimination laws give prima facia evidence
for the existence of a national problem. However, legislation alone cannot eliminate
the social problem, and in some cases, serves as a source of punishment. Chapter 2
established the powerful ideological role narrative has in oral culture. Chapter 3
reviewed the Ramavana. including the possibility of this text as a vehicle for
disseminating gender parity. Where legislation and prosecution is coercive and expost
facto, reconstructing myth could be preventative and prophylactic.
The sections in this chapter will outline the entire scope of gender
discrimination in Nepal. Each section will take a more in depth look at the roles of
women in the various formal (e.g. political) and informal (kinship) systems existing in
Nepal. The current issues and problems faced by women in each system, as well as an
exploration of the action that is being taken to combat these issues will be discussed.
Geography and Demographics
When describing the geography of Nepal one thing is important to keep in
mind: that the land serves as a gateway into the heart of a people. From the land,
people are able to derive life sustenance. Geography is an important component of all
cultures environment, as to culture is an expression of its changing environment.
Therefore, geography must be examined to formulate a conclusive all-encompassing
ideal of Nepals current standing and to provide the rhetorical situation that backdrops
Measuring 147,181 square kilometers, Nepal is small in comparison to its
larger neighbors, India and China. Nepal is approximately 3,000 square miles larger
than the size and space of Wisconsin. The top one third of Nepal is a mountainous
region, with elevations of 3000 meters and up. The middle one third of the country is
a hilly region with elevations of 900-3000 meters. The bottom one third of the
country, called the Tarai, is abundant with jungle and flat lands.
There is very little room for agriculture to serve as a plentiful means of
economic support (Anderson 12-17). Nepal does not have direct access to large
bodies of water. Presently, the India-Nepal Transit Treaty identifies Calcutta as the
only Indian port that Nepal may utilize (UNICEF 7). This landlocked situation makes
prospects for foreign trade dim.
Considering the land-lock situation of Nepal, the geography allows for little
economic growth. The agricultural land available is used to grow the food supply for
the country itself. There is land available for an agricultural trade economy. Since
Nepal can not rely on agriculture or trade to increase its economic dilemmas, it has
turned to tourism. As tourism has been on the rise, western influence and curiosity
have been the result. This has served as a source of intrigue to Western scholars into
researching the current trends of Nepalese social discourse.
In order to keep peaceful relations with its neighbors, Nepal opened its borders
to visitors in 1978. During this time, refugees from India and Tibet began to pour into
the tiny country, causing drastic increases in population. In the last 30 years the
population has almost doubled, from 11.5 million in 1971 to 18.9 million in 1991, with
the estimated number of people living in this area today being 19.5 million (UNICEF
12-15). The growth rate can be attributed to fertility as well as Indian and Tibetan
immigration. If the current trends continue, the population of Nepal is estimated to
rise above 45 million by the year 2030 (UNICEF 12).
In addition to its rapidly growing population, Nepal is one of only three
countries in the world where the life expectancy for women is lower than that of men.
These findings are revealing, as shown in Table 4.1 on the following page. While the
population of male children between the ages of 0-14 years increased 1.33% from
1971 to 1988, during the same time, the population of girls in the same age group has
decreased 1.53%. On the other hand, Dr. Meena Achraya found that women are living
longer today than in the past 20 years, as shown in Table 4.2 (located on the
following page). There are many factors that can lead to such a difference in statistics.
First, there are still many births and deaths of girls that go unreported (UNICEF 53).
This itself is due to the low social standing of women in Nepalese culture.
More than 70 languages and dialects are spoken in Nepal. There are over 100
different ethnicities (Anderson 118). Table 4.3 identifies the composition of
population by primary language in Nepal. For the most part, such diversity among the
Table 4.1 Child Population By Sex 1971,1981 and 1988
Year Total Female Male
1971 4,674,578.00 2,295,156.00 2,379,422.00
100.00 49.11 50.91
1981 6,211,972.00 2,984,960.00 3,227,012.00
100.000 48.050 51.950
1988* 7,962,450.00 3,803,091.00 4,159,359.00
100.00 47.76 52.24
Estimate; refers to 0-15 age group
Source: UNICEF. Children and Women of Nepal: A Situation Analysis. 1992. 42.
Adjusted Age Specific Death Rates by Sex
1974-75,1976,1977-78 (Per 1,000)
Age Group 1974-75 Males 1976 1977-78 1974-75 Females 1976 1977-78
<1 141.2 128.4 109.9 123.0 137.9 97.9
1-4 33.2 32.6 23.4 35.9 37.2 22.1
5-14 4.8 5.2 4.7 5.6 6.1 5.2
Source: UNICEF. Children and Women of Nepal: A Situation Analysis. 1992., 43.
Nepalese has not served to be a source of conflict. Rather, this cultural diversity has
served as a flame of unity.
The true meaning of the word Nepal itself is revealed when treking in the
mountains. Painted signs on the walls of numerous trail coffee shops read, Never
Ending Peace And Love." This signifies the unifying aspects of this country through
Composition of Population by Mother Tongue______________(Number inooo)
Language Groups 1971 1981 1991
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Nepali 6,061 52.5 8,767 58.3 9,303 50.3
Maithili 1,327 11.5 1,668 11.1 2,192 11.8
Bhojpuri 806 7.0 1,143 7.6 1,380 7.5
Newari 455 3.9 449 3.0 690 3.7
Gurung 172 1.5 174 1.2 228 1.2
Tamang 555 4.8 522 3.5 904 4.9
Abadhi 317 2.7 234 1.5 375 2.0
Tharu 496 4.3 546 3.6 993 5.4
Magar 288 2.5 213 1.4 430 2.3
Limbu 171 1.5 129 0.9 254 1.4
Rai/Kirati 232 2.0 221 1.5 439 2.4
Bhote/Sherpa 74 0.5 122 0.7
Rajbansi 59 0.4 86 0.5
Urdu 202 1.1
Hindi 171 0.9
Others 675 5.8 823 5.5 722 3.9
TOTAL 11,555 100.0 15,022 100.0 18,491 100.0
Source: Achaiya The Statistical Profile on Nepalese Women: An Update in the Policy Context
With tourism ensuing, the predominance of Western culture is noticeably
beginning to effect the culture. In some ways these influences are having positive
economic and political effects. Sensitive future updating of modem technology into
Nepal could further increase national as well as international communications. There
has been an increased awareness to the cultural problems that it faces internally with
the heightened Western interest in Nepal. Such as the life-threatening subordination of
its women: one of the greatest problems that plagues Nepal.
Increased awareness into Nepalese womens issues has sparked a movement
for gender parity. Current efforts focus on the suffocation of the lethal cycle of gender
discrimination that has mn rampant over several centuries. There has been an
establishment of many laws and programs to deal with discrimination in each cultural
system. Although established with good intentions, such advancements have not been
able to break through the moral barriers.
The 1991 Census showed that 86.5% of the Nepalese are Hindu. Although the
Hindu traditions are not the only traditions carried out in Nepal, 16.3 million people
participate in Hindu traditions (UNICEF 10). The Hindu foundation of Nepalese
culture is a pertinent aspect of the status quo.
However, the geographical limitations of Nepal are the cause for much
economic and political strain (UNICEF 3-11). These limitations call for other
strategies for economic and political growth. The extreme elevation changes from the
North to South make communication more difficult, as the villages at higher elevations
and remote villages are connected only through the paths and trails that run through
them. Thus, oral culture continues to be the main communicative tool the Nepalese
have for imparting information. This oral based atmosphere makes the use of myth as
a tool for cultural change more engaging.
Oral traditions were discussed in detail in Chapter 2. The word in Nepal still
exists in its natural habitat, sound, rather then the technological habitat of space (Ong,
Presence of the Word 91). The narratives at the core of Hindu culture were used in
the establishment of Nepalese gender inequality. The Hindu myths and ideologies are
the most influential in Nepal. The fact that the Ramavana is a Hindu epic that is
revered throughout Nepal was established in Chapter 3. The Hindu roots of the
Ramavana are influential throughout all regions of Nepal. The scenes that make up the
Ramavana are geographically located in Nepal. Each of these sites are considered
sacred, often serving as the destination for pilgrimages. Therefore, the geological and
demographic aspects of Nepal substantiate the use of the Ramavana as a probable key
to gender parity in Nepal, if at all possible.
The Nepalese Subordination of Women
In reference to the narrative paradigm outlined in Chapter 2, cultures are the
materialization of the good reasons contained in narratives. The culture is as an
expression of these interpretation of the narratives it contains. The ideologies
conveyed in the good reasons are omnipresent in the systems of the culture. As the
good reasons of the narratives change, the culture reflects these changes. This section
will examination of the subordination of women within the various Nepalese cultural
systems. Establishment of the current ideologies as a major deterrent to gender parity
will be outlined.
Women in Politics
The political structure of Nepal has itself been in the midst of change over the
last century and a half. Currently there is a democratic administrative structure
operating in Nepal. UNICEF outlines the events that led to the establishment of this
current political system:
The recent political history of Nepal has three main watershed events. In 1950,
the late King Tribhuvan led a popular revolt which culminated bringing down
the Rana regime that had ruled the country from 1846 till 1950. For close to a
century, the country had been isolated and power was centralized in the office
of the Rana Prime Ministers and the Rana family. Following the formation of
the first elected government in 1958 under Mr. B.P. Koirala of the Nepalese
Congress, the late King Mahendra dissolved the parliamentary government in
1960, banned political parties, and introduced the partyless Panchayat system.
These political changes bring forth the willingness of Nepal, as a country, to increase
the national unity.
Under the Panchayat system, women had more representation in comparison to
the current democratically elected parliament introduced in 1991. Meena Acharya
pinpoints the changes in the representation of women in political offices indicating
The political changes in 1990 which ushered in a democratic system of
governance in the country, may make a difference to womens political
participation and access to positions of power in a long term perspective. In
the short term, however, no change on that score is visible. Today, there are
fewer women in positions of political power than under the previous
[Panchayat] system. Thus, in all cabinets formed during the Panchayat era
there was at least one woman minister. One woman was included in the first
cabinet formed by the democratically elected parliament in 1991. However,
she had to resign shortly after her induction due to differences with the prime
minister. Currently, there is no woman in the cabinet. (105)
The democratic system should allow for increased representation of women in political
office in the future. Greater womens representation in government may also allow for
a more collaborative effort on dealing with the current subordination of Nepalese
women. Such efforts could include the dissemination of the positive attributes of the
feminine archetypal Hindu figures, as discussed in this thesis.
The administrative structure of Nepal is outlined in Table 4.4, on the next
page. So far, womens representation in political offices have increased only in the
Village Development Committees, and slightly in positions as District Development
Committee Members. These offices are responsible for development on the village
and district levels respectively. Other offices, such as Chief District Officer, deal in the
maintenance of law and order. Such representation needs to change to equally
represent the issues' women face in Nepal. Acharya notes:
The new democratic constitution, promulgated in 1990, makes it mandatory
for all political parties to propose a minimum 5 percent of women's candidates
in general elections for parliament. In the 1991 elections no political party put
up significantly more than 5 percent women candidates. Women candidates
also complained that they were fielded in the more difficult constituencies.
(Personal Communication). This is also corroborated by the fact that a lower
proportion of women candidates were successful in winning the election when
compared to their male counterparts. (106)
Women do have opportunities to be elected into political positions, as Acharya pointed
out. However, they are still greatly misrepresented in such positions. Ideally, a
democratic government will serve to be a true representation of the people. If the
democratic foundation holds, theoretically the representation of women will increase.
Since the Nepalese majority is 86.5% Hindu, and consider women to be subordinate,
it can be deduced that the majority may satisfy only the minimum requirement of
female representation in office, which is currently 5% (UNICEF 9). If such trends
correct themselves, this could aid in the overall forward movement of womens status
in Nepal. The author believes that due to the eclectic and all inclusive attributes,
visible on both the national and cultural levels, a collaboration of these forces could
propel Nepal into a technological age of gender equality.
Women Among Various Levels of Political Institutions
1991 1986/87 Panchayats
Post Women Total Women Total
Village Development Committee Chairpersons 11 3,993 12 4,012
% 0.28 0.30
Village Development Committee Vice-chairpersons 18 3,993 7 4,005
% 0.45 0.17
Village Development Committee Members 210 35,883 1060 179,480
% 0.58 0.59
Municipality Mayors 0 36 0 31
Municipality Deputy Mayors 0 36 1 31
Municpality Members 2 521 4 439
% 0.38 0.91
District Development Committee Chairperson 0 75 0 75
District Development Committee Vice- 1 75 0 75
Chairperson % 1.33
District Development Committee Members 6 924 5 675
% 0.65 0.74
Members of the House of Representatives 7 205 8
% 3.41 5.7
Total 255 45,741 1,097 188,963
Source: Achraya. The Statistical Profile on Nepalese Women: An Update in the Policy Context. 1994. 107.
Social Suppression of Women
Simply put, the Nepalese women suffer from social suppression. Many factors
play into the perpetuation of this cycle: marriage, women viewed as property, the
existing patriarchal structure, physical labor, education and health. Therefore, it is
pertinent to discuss all implications briefly.
Marriage. One of the most complex of the social institutions that lends to the
deep discrimination of women is the institution of marriage. Marriage practices have
served to perpetuate the subordinate positions of Nepalese women. Traditionally,
young girls marry at the early ages of 7-12. In 1963, the Muluki Ain Law fixed the
legal age of marriage. This law set the legal age for marriage at 16 for girls, with
consent of their parents, 18 years without consent. For males the corresponding ages
are 18 and 21 (UNICEF 80-81). Studies do show that these efforts have aided in the
suppression of child marriages. The Statistical Profile on Nepalese Women: An
Update in the Policy Context, states, [for] women, the mean age at marriage has
increased significantly from 15.4 years in 1961, to 18.0 years in 1991 (29). Findings
outlining the mean age of married women are shown in Table 4.5 and Figure 4.1
(located on the following pages). Traditionally, a large portion of Nepalese parents
offer a sizable dowry that accompanies their daughter to her husbands home. Such
bride payments served a double purpose. First, the fathers would be able to lighten
their long-term financial standing by marrying off their daughters. Such payments
portray the daughters as brighter prospects to any available suitor as well. UNICEF
highlights a motion to outlaw the payment of dowry and bride price, noting, the
Social Reform Act of 1977 [2033B.S.] was created to diminish such activities. The
Social Reform Act of 1997 does contain a clause that permits such activity if it is a
custom of the community (83). This clause has been the justification for continued
bride payments. Such activity lends to the continual perpetuation of gender
discrimination. This clause encourages early marriages while portraying women as
property that can be bought and sold. Although it might be seen as merely one facet
of discrimination, this perception does not serve to abate the effects such actions have
on the overall portrait of Nepalese women.
These struggles with the above traditions shed light on the deep-seeded
patriarchal structure of the Nepalese culture. Customarily, women define their place in
society through the male figures in their lives. Due to this, women are in many ways
identity-less as children. When they marry, they marry into the wealth of their
husband, and this serves as their only social identity until the day they die. Within the
current interpretation of Hindu philosophy, even woman widowed in early age are
forbidden to remarry.1 More often than not, these women lose any social status with
1 For textual references from the Ramavana. see Chapter 3 of this thesis. Also note that the Laws of
Manu. the Upanishads. and other Hindu texts contain explicit references to social gender roles.
Table 4.5 Age Specific Distribution of Ever Married Population by Sex
AGE 1961 1971 1981 1991
Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female
10-14 10.7 24.9 6.3 13.4 14.9 14.3 4.2 7.4
15-19 36.6 73.9 27.0 60.7 25.9 50.8 19.9 46.0
20-24 73.2 94.6 66.9 92.1 59.2 86.9 61.3 86.1
25-29 89.7 98.1 87.7 97.4 80.5 94.7 86.9 95.7
30-34 95.2 99.0 94.4 98.6 87.6 96.9 94.5 97.7
35-39 97.3 99.2 96.8 98.9 91.1 97.4 97.0 98.4
40-44 97.9 99.3 97.7 99.1 92.0 97.5 97.6 98.7
45-49 98.4 99.4 98.4 99.2 92.6 97.1 98.1 98.8
50-54 98.5 99.5 98.6 99.3 93.1 96.4 98.2 98.5
55-59 98.7 99.5 98.8 99.3 93.0 95.8 98.3 98.4
60-64 99.0 99.5 98.9 99.4 92.9 94.9 98.3 98.1
65+ 99.0 99.4 91.6 92.9 98.0 97.5
AVG. 65.4 69.2 64.1 70.3 62.1 70.8 64.0 73.6
Source: Acharya. A Statistical Profile on Women: An Update in the Policy Context. 1994. 30.
FIGURE 4.1 Ever Married Women By Age Group
Source: Acharva. The Statistical Profile on Nepalese WomertAn Update in the Policy Context. 1994. 31.
the loss of her husband. Widowed women are forbidden to remarry, whereas
widowers are, for the most part, expected to remarry. A 31 year old Nepalese woman
disclosed her experience after being separated from her husband:
I went away to school in India. I came back, fell in love, and married. I have a
five year-old son. The marriage fell apart. I could not be the woman expected
of me, obedient and quiet. I did all the work. I worked at a job during the
day, came home prepared meals and took care of our son. My husband would
always go out with his friends. I was never invited.. .Now that we are
separated I do not see my son anymore, only on occasion. He lives with his
father. I have lost my social identity and am ostracized by my community. I
am the one that failed in their eyes. (Anonymous 1)
When a marriage fails women on the average encounter similar experiences.
Women become the blame for problems and are seen as unfit wives. As explored in
Chapter 3, Sita, the female archetype, is revered for her chastity and devotion to
Rama. These attributes are manifested in Nepalese culture. Deviation from these
social norms are considered to be an act of spiritual dissension. Women are often kept
from their children out of fear that the children may be brought up with the same fallen
behaviors and morals. Although men do not need to marry for the same reasons as
women, there exists a social pressure to provide a large family. While these economic
pressures will be detailed later in this chapter, note that the larger the family, the more
hands there are to contribute to the house and field work.
In order to fully understand the retributions of the institution of marriage one
must also explore the distribution of resources in this patriarchal society. First, the
material resources of the family belong to the male figures of the household. A girl
child is the property of her father, and once married, she is the property of her
husband. Upon the death of the husband the sons assume responsibility for their
mother. The distribution of wealth in the family is among the sons. The father's
wealth is passed down to his sons. Women currently have little if any right to
ownership of any kind. In this way, the distribution of all resources follows the male
gender throughout generations. Therefore, the resources continue to be re-distributed
to the male children, exclusive of women.
Prostitution. As the value of Nepalese women are reduced through the
consequent patriarchal structure and the increasing economic needs, women often turn
to prostitution. Durga Ghimere stated, an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 young Nepalese
women are abducted or run away from home each year to go to India to become
prostitutes (Ehrlich 1). Richard Ehrlich, a Thailand-based writer, estimates that there
are 200,000 Nepalese women currently working in the sex industry in India (1).
Many young girls are abducted from the hill villages and taken across the Indian
boarders to Bombay and other large Indian cities. Madhavi Singh, an economist in
Katmandu says, Nepalese girls have a very trusting nature. If somebody says, Im
your husband and Im taking you to my home, they believe it (Ehrlich 2). The
innocence of young girls makes them easy prey for prostitution recruiters. While the
unequal distribution of educational resources will be outlined further into the chapter,
please note that this leads to a culture where the majority of its young girls are
undereducated. Lack of education leads to blind ignorance. Thus, young girls do not
have the skills to protect themselves from these examples of social injustice. They are
vulnerable to the false ideals of prostitution and defenseless against abductors. Even if
they do work in the sex industry by choice, they are not aware of the sexually
transmitted diseases, or how to protect themselves from them (Ehrlich 2).
Although many young Nepalese women are abducted and forced into
prostitution, more Nepalese women are entering the field by choice. Many Nepalese
women enter the sex industry for economic reasons. As single mothers, or unmarried
adult women, they are social outcasts. They need to earn money in an economy that
denies them equal work opportunities (Ehrlich, 1). Outlined later in this chapter,
women workers are concentrated in the least-skilled, poorest paid industries of Nepal.
Ehrlich ties these atrocities to the Nepalese belief that girls are considered to be a
financial burden from the time of their birth (2). Due to the depth of these beliefs, girls
are deprived of the bare necessities. The cycle of deprivation naturally expands to
increase the health problems faced by many women.
The societal views existing in Nepal today, as outlined in this section, are
heavily characterized within the mythological feminine archetypes existing in ancient
Hindu philosophy. The social subordination of women is evident in the subservient
roles of women in the marriage traditions.
Tradition has been detected as one of the major deterrents to legislative efforts
aimed at decreasing gender segregation. The female character in the Ramavana. as
currently revered, serves to preserve these negative opinions against women. Using
this established female archetype to represent the worthiness and positive attributes of
women, can possibly serve to internally change the deep societal gender bias beliefs
that exist (Mookeijee 8-9).
ff women in Nepal are more highly valued in the eyes of Nepalese culture,
greater opportunity for education and decreased mortality rates may ensue. The
marraige traditions may also be effected. Women valued as important societal
participants may be less likely to be forced into traditional male dominant marriages.
As female education increases, women and men would be made more aware of
discriminatory issues, thus would be less likely to participate in dominant relationships.
These views, established within the children of Nepal, may eventually change the
matrimony traditions that exist.
Early pregnancies, malnutrition, and the overall health of the pregnant mother
directly effect the health of her child. Due to the prevalence of such health related
issues among Nepalese women a high rate of children die each year. UNICEF found:
Of every 1,000 children bom in Nepal, seven will die on their first day of life;
an additional 16 by the end of the first week another 30 by the end of the first
month and another 54 by the end of the first year. Around 70,000 deaths each
year, 192 a day, predominately of causes that are either preventable or mainly
manageable. Another 58 children will die between the ages of 1 and 5, leading
to a total of 165 deaths for every 1,000 children bom in the country. (59)
Due to the manageable causes of infant and child mortality, it is plausible that Nepal
would see a significant decrease in these numbers through carefully and adequately
dealing with the overall well-being of women. Many women are socially expected to
give birth to many children.
Stillbirths and miscarriages are often induced through the lack of nutrition that
women receive. Many women have stillbirths and miscarriages due to the lack of
professional healthcare that is available in the country. Goodwin, an investigative
reporter researching the brutalization of women, notes that about, eighty percent of
women of reproductive age are severely anemic because of poor diet and simply arent
able to carry their babies to full term (104). Lack of nutrition compounded with the
lack of healthcare, results in a large number of stillbirths each year.
While the physical and mental devastation associated with miscarriages and
stillbirths weighs heavily upon the shoulders of the women, they have additional reason
to fear. Women become more likely to be accused of Garbhabat for these reasons.
This law serves as a powerful tool to hold women into a position of subordination.
The Garbhabat exists as a source of male domination, upheld by the patriarchal
Nepalese traditions and beliefs of Hinduism.
Goodwin, found in Nepals Central Jail, women are being imprisoned for
stillbirths and miscarriages-and their children are often confined to cells with them
(102). The cause of this injustice is referred to as Garbhabat, or destruction of life
(Goodwin, 104). The Garbhabat is the official law against abortion, but Goodwin
notes that this law often covers the area of infanticide and child abortion. Goodwin
discusses the endless discriminatory cycle accusations of Garbhabat perpetuates for
Women found guilty of Garbhabat often have their property confiscated,
making them vulnerable to accusations from vengeful or greedy relatives or
neighbors who use the law to effect a property or land grab. Police and
prosecutors are also known to be bribed into bringing such charges, and in
other cases, women are beaten into confessions. But this is rarely necessary in
a land where rural women cant afford doctors or lawyers, and where the word
of an influential accuser is usually taken as faith. (104)
This law puts women into a very vulnerable state of existence. They often are held in
jails for years without any type of trial. Their husbands, fearful of being socially
ridiculed, often will go about their lives without recognition of their wives in jail. The
husbands of these jailed women often remarry, beginning a new life and family.
The law is successful in jailing many women who have not committed crimes.
As stated by Goodwin, the Garbhabai is often used as a ploy to confiscate wealth,
festering from greed.
Although the above mentioned laws do give opportunities to more children,
particularly the girls, many of these laws serve only to aid the surface situation.
However, there are still many women that such laws have not reached. Yet, these are
not the only health issues faced by women. Nepal has seen an increasing number of
reported AIDS cases in the country. One of the vehicles for AIDS has been identified
as the growing number of prostitutes.
Ehrlich discusses the current AIDS problem among the Nepalese prostitutes,
saying, more than 50 percent of the girls who have AIDS in Nepal were prostitutes
who returned from India (3). AIDS is increasingly becoming a concern in Nepal.
There are an estimated 10,000 HIV-positive people in Nepal, but official statistics on
just how widespread the HIV virus and AIDS might be in the countrys population of
21 million are unavailable because of insufficient testing (Ehrlich 3).
The only way to alleviate these problem to its full capacity is by working from
the ground up. The root of the problem lies within the beliefs of the culture itself.
The beliefs, as a fundamental construct of culture, are the keys to empower people to
change. Once the beliefs change people may be more apt to disable the following
problems to be discussed. As the fundamental beliefs are the partial catalyst for the
etemization of gender discrimination, a shift in the beliefs may mean a shift toward
gender parity in all informal and formal cultural systems.
One of the most influential areas for change is that of education. Many women
are traveling abroad to receive forms of education. Upon their return the recognition
of gender discrimination in Nepal becomes obvious. Formal education serves as a
vehicle to social change through its ability to open the minds of people. Education can
reach many facets of a culture if it is accessible, practical, and focused on dealing with
the main social problems. The accessibility of educational institutions appears to have
increased considerably. While visiting Nepal, schools, as well as school children, are
visible in the remote mountainous and jungle areas. This accessibility has been
encouraged and supported by many educationally focused programs that have been
Studies support observations of the increased accessibility of schools.
UNICEF found an increase in literacy for girls' ages 10-14, from 9.6% in 1971 to
49.1% in 1991. The literacy rate for males' ages 10-14 increased from 35.8% in 1971
to 75.8% in 1991, as shown in Figure 4.2 and Table 4.6 on the following page. The
literacy rates have increased drastically over the last 20 years for young girls. Women
are, however, still highly undereducated. When looking at Table 4.6, there is a steady
decrease in female enrollment corresponding to increased age. Early marriages, social
worth, labor issues, and health issues all factor into the high percentage of women that
continue to go without education.
Of the children that begin educational endeavors at an early age, many are
forced, financially, to drop out of the educational institutions to find work in order to
support the family. Many of the women who do become educated return to their
cultures and eventually marry. As noted earlier, men and women are expected to
marry. Once married, these educated woman find themselves in a traditional marriage
in which all their rights are again denied. With such an educated background, it is very
difficult to re-assimilate a situation of discrimination. After women establish their own
identity, they soon find it in threat of being taken away from them again. If these
marriages fail, as discussed earlier, the repercussions are many. Divorced women are
Figure 4.2 Male/Female Differentials in Enrollment Grades 1-10
Literacy Rates by Age Group and Sex
(In % to Population Age Group)_____
Age Group 1961 M F 1971 M F 1981 M F 1991 M F
10-14 14.5 3.1 35.8 9.6 50.8 21.2 75.8 49.1
15-19 19.5 2.4 35.4 7.1 48.2 17.5 71.2 38.4
20-24 20.2 1.6 30.9 4.1 41.7 12.6 64.0 26.1
25-29 17.4 1.2 24.4 2.5 36.3 10.1 54.4 17.5
30-34 16.4 1.2 20.3 1.6 31.8 7.8 49.4 13.8
35-39 16.4 0.9 17.6 1.4 27.6 6.7 45.0 11.1
40-44 15.4 0.9 16.4 1.1 23.7 5.5 40.9 7.8
45-54 14.3 0.8 15.7 1.0 17.3 4.8 19.9 3.4
55+ 13.0 0.6 12.6 0.7 19.1 4.0 11.9 1.8
M Male F Female
Source: Achaiya. The Statistical Profile on Nepalese Women: An Update in the Policy Context.