Reviewed in India on 14 March 2020
Reading Mandodari as a new work of creative fiction, based on ancient myths and legends and several hundred versions of Ramayana, made me realize this is a great anti-war novel, which should be read by all womankind. It should open their minds to the errors made by women throughout history, by allowing men, thirsting for wealth and power, to destroy entire families, nations and countries.
Anandani calls the Panchakanya (Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara and Mandodari), as the destroyers of sin. They were all created by androcentric myth builders, to cover the sins of man. The Panchakanya could not destroy the sins of the men involved, but had to suffer in silence and had to pay for the sins of their men.
In recent times Ravana has been considered among the Sinhala Buddhists as a great hero in Sri Lanka, and is hailed as a mighty warrior, a saviour of this country, even though he could have lived several millennia before the time of the Buddha or the establishment of the Sinhala race. Some Sri Lankan readers may not agree with the Ravana as portrayed in this novel, or even accept that Mandodari was born in India, even if there is a temple in her name in Mandor in Rajasthan. Though Ravan is considered the hero in the minds of present day Sri Lankans, it is his brother Vibhishana who is deified by the Buddhists, and worshipped today.
Parallel with this development is the revival of Hanuman worship among the Tamil Hindu community, specially among the people in the north of Sri Lanka. The tourist industry promotes a Ramayana Trail in Sri Lanka for Indian visitors who believe that Valmiki’s Lanka was Sri Lanka, though there is no archaeological evidence.
Mandodari in the novel had no way of knowing the true character of Rama, but would have realized that he could not be a real Maryadapurushottam. Mandodari does not hear anything about the reason for the invasion by Rama, if it was to take revenge on Ravana, or to rescue Sita. Mandodari does not see Rama rushing into the palace or the garden in search of Sita, immediately after he killed Ravana. Mandodari says “On the first and auspicious day of his reign, Vibhishana returned Sita to Rama.” The author is careful not to mention if Rama had seen his wife before that, or why he could not see her till so many days after Ravana was killed. The next reference to Sita says it all. “Later my dasi told me that Sita had been asked to walk through fire in a ritual. It seemed more of an assessment of her chastity to me. I cursed Rama. How could he doubt his wife for whom he had doomed a kingdom? I was furious but again helpless to change the order of things.”
Anandani has been able to bring out the eternal conflict faced by woman, ever since she handed over the running of the family and then the society to man, who has always been too greedy, too ambitious and always a real bhasmasura. Since all myths, legends and epics were created by men, they have continued to strengthen the false claims that man is superior, stronger and more intelligent. It is the males who created the impression that evil men were the heroes, men who killed thousands, millions of children, women and men, and also caused the deaths of their own people, their own children. Ravana is a creature like that, who considered women as just property he could acquire or used as bargain chips. He is seen here as a man who did not hesitate to sacrifice his own brothers and sisters and even his own children in his blind desire for more power. He is one more example of men who believed they were more powerful than gods and nature. If a Lankan had first created the legend of the Ravana Rama battle, he would have destroyed Rama, and deified Ravana. Recorded history is full of such people. We talk of Alexander the great, when there was nothing great about him. Churchill was awarded the Nobel for literature, for his History of the World. If Hitler had won, he would have received the Nobel for his Mein Kampf. 2000 years ago, no woman in South Asia would have dared to write Mandodari, or if it had been written, would not have survived. Today Manini J. Anandani enjoys the freedom to write about Mandodari, and I enjoyed reading it and the opportunity to write about it, not as a Lankan, but as a fellow human being.
Unfortunately there has always been a Kaikesi, to keep a son’s wife in her place, to subdue her to follow the traditions laid down by arrogant men. “Dashaanan is not just your husband, he is also an emperor….A queen has to make a lot of sacrifices for her king.” Perhaps these were the words Kaikesi had heard from her own mother-in-law. The sons also grow up holding their fathers as ideal men, and consider their mothers’ please as empty words of weak women, who have no say in the running of the world.
Mandodari tries to stop her son Meghanath from going into battle. “You have always been your father’s son. You never obeyed me like you do your father. Tell him there is a way to stop the war. If you tell him he will try to stop it, he will listen to you.” Her son replied “I cannot do that Mathashri. The only way to end this war is by winning it.” Here is a message for all mothers, if the future of the world is to be made peaceful. We had a saying in our country “Mother is the Buddha at home”. It is the mothers around the world who can bring peace and love among mankind, by bringing up the children to be truly humane. Mandodari realised it too late.
The book has to be read as an anti-war novel, and help women to try to convince their menfolk of the futility of war and violence. To convince them there is no victory in war, to gain more land, more property to seek vengence. Ravana lost everything. Rama did not gain anything, while he lost his own wife, whether he loved her not. All the death and destruction was not because of one woman, or two, if we include Meenakshi too. It was because of the blind arrogance of two men, and the other males who followed them blindly.
The book need to be translated to other languages, to be shared by all. More Anandanis should come forth with such brave new novels about the women like, Draupadi, Yasodhara, Kuweni, Roxana, Xanthippe, and many others that the male writers had ignored or insulted.