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Various versions of Ramayana and Laxmana's line(s)

The rekha is viewed symbolically in two ways: less commonly as a protection offered to a woman by man, and more often as the limitations imposed by the latter on the freedom of the former.

Published: 23rd June 2022 01:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd June 2022 01:22 AM   |  A+A-

A sculpture at the same temple depicting Sita and Ravana at Panchavati

A sculpture at the same temple depicting Sita and Ravana at Panchavati. (Photo| Special Arrangement)

The idiom Laxmana-rekha, which is linked to the Ramayana, is often quoted across multiple contexts in India. According to popular legend, Laxmana drew a rekha (line) with his arrow on the ground at Panchavati before leaving Sita alone to search for Rama, who had gone out earlier to fetch a golden deer for her.

The rekha is viewed symbolically in two ways: less commonly as a protection offered to a woman by man, and more often as the limitations imposed by the latter on the freedom of the former. Marathi poet Padma Gole (1913–1998), for instance, says in a verse, "Laxmana drew but one line in front of Sita… We face Laxmana-rekhas on all sides; they have to be crossed, the Ravanas confronted."

Incidentally, the idiom has been mentioned in Valmiki Ramayana in Sanskrit, Kamba Ramayana of Kambar (c. 1180–1250) in Tamil, Adhyatma Ramayana of Ezhuthachan (16th century) in Malayalam, and so on. In Valmiki's version and the Adhyatma Ramayana (13th to 15th century) in Sanskrit, Laxmana asks the Vana-devata (forest-divinity) to take care of Sita in his absence.

In the Molla Ramayana (c. 1440–1530) of Atukuri Molla in Telugu, Laxmana neither prays to any divinity nor draws a line, but just leaves Panchavati in a hurry to find Rama. Krittivasa Ojha's (15th century) Ramayana in Bengali, however, mentions the Lakshmana-rekha.

Ramcharitamanas of Tulasi Das (1532–1623) in Avadhi makes no mention of it in the Aranya Kanda. In the Lanka Kanda, Mandodari rebukes her husband, Ravana, on his boisterous claims of valour and says, "You couldn't even cross a simple line drawn by Rama's younger brother."

However, most scholars consider this stanza as a later interpolation. In Odia versions of the epic, before leaving Sita alone in Panchavati, Laxmana draws not just one but three lines, which have been interpreted as a symbolic representation of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva - the Trinity of Hinduism.

Laxmana drawing a single straight line on the ground while Sita is standing in a thatched hut in Panchavati has been shown in many Indian movies and TV serials on the epic in various languages.

Movies named after Laxmana-rekha, with contemporary social and melodramatic themes, have also been made in a few languages, including one each in Telugu (1975) and Malayalam (1984). The Telugu version also contains a theme song, which repeatedly mentions the idiom. More recently, a few artists, in India and abroad, have also made temporal 'installations' titled Laxmana-rekha.

The Panchavati episode also figures in many ancient and medieval Indian sculptures and paintings, though to the best of my knowledge, the rekha aspect in the tale has not received any scholarly attention so far.

Sri Laxmi Narasimha temple in Korukonda (near Rajamahendravaram in Andhra Pradesh) was built in 1353 CE by a woman named Laxmai Dasi. The hilltop temple contains many relief panels on the Ramayana, in which one shows Laxmana offering his Anjali (salutation) to Rama who is on the other side of a tree, which suggests the forest. Rama's left-hand gestures, in my opinion, indicate that he is enquiring about the well-being of Sita.

The next panel shows Sita standing inside a pavilion and offering alms to Ravana, who is standing in the open. An umbrella in his left hand and his overall attire present him as a mendicant, and his right-hand's gesture clearly indicates that he is taking the alms. Sita's stance inside the pavilion also suggests her unwillingness to come out of it. The Laxmana-rekha was, however, not indicated in the composition.

In this context, I would like to draw the readers' attention to a set of 53 Ramayana paintings - now in a museum in Hamburg, Germany - by two painters, Nandigam Nagesam and Kamaroutu Venkatesam, in Rajamahendravaram in 1757.

In folio 18, Sita and Ravana appear twice, once on the ground and then on a chariot next to a treetop, i.e., in the sky. Such delineation of the same figures twice or more times within a single pictorial space in visual art is known as 'continuous narration'. Further, the painters have shown not just one but seven circles on the ground behind Sita.

Incidentally, the Ranganatha Ramayana (c. 1240) written in Telugu by Gona Buddha Reddy mentions Laxmana drawing seven circles around Panchavati. It appears to me that the seven circles symbolically represent the seven oceans, which according to an age-old Indian tradition, encircle the earth.

However, it needs to be mentioned that the painting shows Ravana dragging Sita by hand, which to the best of my knowledge, has not been mentioned in any major version of the Ramayana. Such a delineation makes it clear that the painters had created their own visual version of the epic without adhering to any one particular textual source.

(The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Fine Arts, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam and can be reached at sistlasrini@gmail.com)
 



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