In these 13 grindmill songs full of vivid word pictures, two singers from Shirur taluka , Pune, sing of Sita’s exile in the forest and the sorrow of losing loved ones

Ram is like the comfort of a piece of areca nut
I take his name and I relax, my soul is at peace

Ratnabai Padwal from Savindane village in Shirur taluka , Pune, sings this ovi for Lord Ram. His presence in her heart helps her stay calm in the face of all the challenges she deals with everyday. This is one of the three songs of devotion in this three-part set of 13 ovi centred on the theme of the Ramayana .

Singing with Sonubai Mote, Ratnabai then gives us a glimpse into scenes from the epic – one of them describing Sita lovingly wiping the sweat off Ram’s forehead as their chariot passes through the market.

In the next part, Ratnabai takes us into Lanka, where Ravana’s son Indrajit is killed in battle with Ram’s army, and Indrajit’s wife Sulochana is asking for written proof of her husband’s death. She cannot believe that he is no more, even though his severed head lies in the courtyard. The scene is a reminder that loss and grief are borne by both sides in a war.

Sonubai sings of Sita’s exile as she leaves for the forest, her forehead smeared with kunku . A blameless woman, Sita is left to stay in the forest – with all the physical and moral hardships that the desertion, loss of love, and solitude carry with them. Ram watches her leave with tears in his eyes, and the narrator blames the sinful Ravan for Sita’s sorrows.

"In such a forest, Sita, how could you sleep?" the singer asks
PHOTO • Antara Raman

"In such a forest, Sita, how could you sleep?" the singer asks

Left alone in the forest, Sita lives in a tent made out of her saree and sleeps on the ground, with nothing but a stone for a pillow. It is the the bori (jujube) and babhali (acacia) trees, her companions who console her. These thorny trees with fissured barks typically grow at the edges of forests, and rural women use them in their songs to represent the barbed, unequal status of women in society, a challenge they too regularly deal with.

“Sita’s sorrows have not ended with the Ramayana,” said C. Rajagopalachari in the epilogue to his retelling of the epic. “They go on, still, in the lives of our women.” Even after the fire-ordeal to prove her chastity to the world, Sita was sent to the forest, mirroring, what he says is, “the voiceless and endless suffering of our womenfolk.”

According to the Ramayana , during their 14-year exile, Sita, Ram and his brother Laxman make their home in the forest at Panchavati, which is believed to be located in present-day Nashik in Maharashtra. It was the same forest, the singers imagine, where Sita was in solitary exile, described in the Ramayana ’s Uttarakanda section. They narrate that the mother Sita sings a lullaby for her twin sons Lahu and Ankus, who are “the clever boys of Panchavati.

In the last three couplets , on devotion and affection towards the sons of Sita and Ram, the singers tell us that the two young boys have an afternoon bath at the Ramkund, a holy spot in River Godavari. Some Hindu devotees believe that Ram bathed there during his exile from Ayodhya with Sita and Laxman.

Through these 13 ovi , Ratnabai Padwal and Sonubai Mote, question the behaviour of the most ideal of mythological men, Lord Ram, even as they worship him. By also showing the sorrow and love of Sulochana, and not only of Sita, the singers compel us to look at the epics, and life, from the point of view of women from both sides of warring nations.

Listen to Ratnabai Padwal and Sonubai Mote sing the ovi

राम म्हणू राम, राम गळ्याचं ताईत
घातिलं गळ्यामंदी, नाही जनाला माहित

राम म्हणू राम, राम संगतीला चांगला
माझ्या हुरद्यात, यानं बंगला बांधिला

राम म्हणू राम, राम सुपारीचं खांड
याचं नावू घेता, देही झाली गार थंड

रामाला आला घाम, सीता पुसी पदरानं
कोणाची झाली दृष्ट, रथ गेला बाजारानं

रामाला आला घाम, सीता पुसिती लहुलाया
कोणाची झाली तुला दृष्ट, माझ्या रामराया

* * *

मारिला इंद्रजीत, शीर पडलं अंगणी
सत्याची सुलोचना, कागद मागती अंगणी

सीता चालली वनवसा, कुंकू कपाळी भरुनी, गं सईबाई
राम देखले दुरुन, आली नेतरं भरुनी गं

सीता चालली वनवसा, हिला आडवी गेली गायी गं सईबाई
हे गं येवढा वनवास, पाप्या रावणाच्या पायी गं

हे गं येवढ्या वनामंदी, कोण रडतं आइका गं सईबाई
सीतेला समजावया, बोऱ्या बाभळ्या बाइका गं

येवढ्या वनामंदी, कोण करितं जु जु जु गं सईबाई
सीताबाई बोलं लहु अंकुस बाई निजू

हे गं येवढ्या वनामंदी, सीता झोप ना कशी आली गं साईबाई
सीताबाईनं केली दगडाची उशी गं

येवढ्या वनामंदी, काय दिसतं लाल लाल गं सईबाई
सीताबाईनं केलं, लुगड्याचं पाल गं

* * *

रामकुंडावरी कुण्या वाहिला गुलाल
आंघोळीला येती पंचवटीचं दलाल

रामकुंडावरी कोण्या वाहिली सुपारी
आंघोळीला येती लहु अंकुस दुपारी

रामकुंडावरी वल्या धोतराची घडी
आंघोळीला येती लहु अंकुसाची जोडी

rāma mhaṇū rāma rāma gaḷyāca tāīta
ghātīla gaḷyāmandī nāhī janālā māhita

rāma mhaṇū rāma rāma saṅgatīlā cāṅgalā
mājhyā huradyāta yāna baṅgalā bāndhīlā

rāma mhaṇū rāma rāma supārīca khāṇḍa
yēcā nāvū ghētā dēhī jhālīnā gārathaṇḍa

rāmālā ālā ghāma sītā pusī padarāna
kōṇācī jhālī drīṣṭa ratha gēlā bājārāna

rāmālā ālā ghāma sītā pusītī lahulāyā
kōṇācī jhālī tulā drīṣṭa mājhyā rāmarāyā

* * *

mārīlā indrajīta śīra paḍala aṅgaṇī
satyācī sulōcanā kāgada māgatī aṅgaṇī

sītā cālalī vanavāsā kunku kapāyī bharunī ga sa'ībā'ī
rāma dēkhalē duruna ālī nētara bharunī ga

sītā cālalī vanavāsā hīlā āḍavī gēlī gāyī ga sa'ībā'ī
yēvaḍhā vanavāsa pāṇyā rāvaṇācyā pāyī ga

hē ga yēvaḍhyā vanāmandī raḍata āīkā ga sa'ībā'ī
sītālā samajāvayā bōryā bābhaḷyā bāīkā ga

yēvaḍhyā vanāmandī kōṇa karīta ju ju ju ga sa'ībā'ī
sītābāī bol lahu aṅkusa bāī niju

he ga yēvaḍhyā vanāmandī sītā jhōpanā kaśī ālī ga sa'ībā'ī
sītābā'īna kēlī dagaḍācī uśī ga

yēvaḍhyā vanāmandī kāya disata lāla lāla ga sa'ībā'ī
sītābāīna kēla lugaḍyāca pāla ga

* * *

rāmakuṇḍāvarī kuṇyā vāhilā gulāla
āṅghōḷīlā yētī pañcavaṭīca dalāla

rāmakuṇḍāvarī kōṇyā vāhilī supārī
āṅghōḷīlā yētī lahu aṅkusa dupārī

rāmakuṇḍāvarī valyā dhōtarācī ghaḍī
āṅghōḷīlā yētī lahu aṅkusācī jōḍī

Ram, I say, Ram is like a talisman around my neck
people don’t know that I wear it on my neck

Ram is with me, he is good company
He has built a bungalow in my heart

Ram is like the comfort of a piece of areca nut
I take his name, and I relax, my soul is at peace

Ram is sweating, Sita wipes [his forehead] with the end of her saree
“Who cast an evil eye?” She asks, as the chariot goes through the bazaar

Ram is sweating, Sita wipes [his forehead] promptly
“Who cast an evil eye on you, my Ramraya?”

* * *

Indrajit was killed, his head has fallen in the courtyard
The virtuous Sulochana, disbelieving, asks for it in writing

Sita is leaving for her exile in the forest, her forehead smeared with kunku
Rama watched her from a distance, his eyes were filled with tears

Sita is going for her exile in the forest, a cow crossed her
O this long exile is because of the sinful Ravan

In such a forest, who is weeping? Listen!
Bori-babhali [jujube and acacia trees] are
the women who listen to and console Sita

In such a forest, who sings a lullaby?
Sita says, “Lahu and Ankus are sleeping”

In such a forest, Sita, how could you sleep?
Laying your head on a stone for a pillow

In this whole forest, what appears so red
Sitabai made a tent from a saree

*  *  *

Who was offered gulal near Ramkund?
The clever children [Lahu and Ankus] from Panchavati come for bath

Who has offered areca nut near Ramkund?
Lahu and Ankus come for their bath in the afternoon

There is a pair of wet folded dhotar near Ramkund
The twins Lahu and Ankus are coming for their bath

Performer/Singer: Sonubai Mote

Village: Savindane

Taluka: Shirur

District: Pune

Occupation: Farmer and homemaker

Caste: Maratha
PHOTO • Samyukta Shastri

Performer/Singer: Sonubai Mote

Village: Savindane

Taluka: Shirur

District: Pune

Occupation: Farmer and homemaker

Caste: Maratha

Performer/Singer: Ratnabai Padwal

Village: Savindane

Taluka: Shirur

District: Pune

Occupation: Farmer and homemaker

Caste: Maratha

Date: These songs were first recorded on December 13, 1995

Poster: Urja

Read about the original Grindmill Songs Project founded by Hema Rairkar and Guy Poitevin.

Namita Waikar is a writer, translator and Managing Editor at the People's Archive of Rural India. She is the author of the novel 'The Long March', published in 2018.

Other stories by Namita Waikar

PARI Grindmill Songs Project Team: Asha Ogale (translation); Bernard Bel (digitisation, database design, development and maintenance); Jitendra Maid (transcription, translation assistance); Namita Waikar (project lead and curation); Rajani Khaladkar (data entry).

Other stories by PARI GSP Team
Illustration : Antara Raman

Antara Raman is an illustrator and website designer with an interest in social processes and mythological imagery. A graduate of the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, she believes that the world of storytelling and illustration are symbiotic.

Other stories by Antara Raman