Sita’s Sister Urmila was no less Important than Her

She was an Epitome of Learning, Courage and straightforwardness

Think of Ramayana, the characters which immediately conjure up in our collective minds are Ram, Sita and Lakshman. Others, without whom the Ramayana cannot be thought of, are Ravana, Mandodari, Meghdoot, Baali, Sugreev, Vibhishan, Hanuman, and other supporters of Lord Rama in the jungle. Raja Janak, Dashrath, his three consorts – Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra, Princes Bharat, Shatrughna and maid Manthara in Ayodhya are equally important for the Ramayana. However, some like Urmila, Madavi and Shrutkirti have not found their proper place in the epic. Kavita Kane’s book ‘Sita’s Sister’ has, therefore, done huge justice to Urmila by bringing forth her indomitable and mesmerizing personality.
As is the legend Sita was an ethereal daughter of King Janak, who was also known as Videh, who had risen above worldly greed, pelf, or power. One of the names of Sita is Vaidehi, although Raja Janak was not her biological father. The only offspring of Seeradhwaj Janak and Rani Sunaina was Urmila. Other two chirpy girls, Mandavi and Kirti were the daughters of his younger brother- Kushadhwaj, widowed king of Varanasi. So, all four sisters lived together in Mithila in the palace of King Janak. Sita being the eldest used to get the special attention of the parents. Urmila, as her name suggest was enchanting, fetching, warm, voluptuous, vibrant, and sparkling. Urmila means enchantress, giving rise to the waves of passion. She had an effortless easygoing manner that made her agreeable, but her temper was quicksilver.
What had, however, made Urmila different from others was that she was decisive, headstrong, hard-hearted and could stand alone in the face of all difficulties. Her temperament was just like Lakshman, who was stiff hauteur. As fate would have it all four sisters got married in the same family. Sometimes the wags used to say that if all of them had gone to different families, they would have been queens in their own rights but by marrying in the same family, they were bound to share, sail and swim or capsize in the same boat. They thus got married to the same set of problems and with the same stock of suffering and sacrifice.
When Sita decided that she could not leave the company of Ram from going to the jungle, Lakshman told Urmila that as he had already told her that his life was hinged in the service of his brother Ram, therefore he would also go with him as his bodyguard. He told Urmila that she could not come to the forest because it was full of treacherous demons as they had the skill and capacity to take any form to harm others. Moreover, the forest was like a battlefield so as a soldier he could not take his wife to the battlefield. When after changing the dress as an ascetic Ram and Lakshman took up the quivers and bows, Sita asked in amazement, ‘we are going to forest as a hermit, not warriors. Why should you carry the weapons of violence?’ Sita’s question was of morality. Ram looked at her with affection and admiration. He said, ‘agreed, but the duty of a Kshatriya is to protect the helpless and other rishis in the forest. These weapons are to protect them, and us as well, if need be’.
After the departure of Ram, Sita and Lakshman to the jungle, entire Ayodhya was engulfed in sorrow and sadness. King Dashrath had died because he could not bear the separation of Rama. Queen mothers were benumbed, they felt their entire energy was drained out. Bharat along with, Shatrughna and their wives- Mandavi and Shrutikirti- had gone to his maternal house. As a result of it, anarchy and confusion prevailed in the kingdom. At this hour of grief and mourning, enemy forces became very active. It was the time when Urmila showed her innate leadership and took the reins in her command and ensured the safety and security of the people and the state until the return of Bharat from his nanihal.
Urmila Enjoyed Participating in Shastras like Other Women Sages
A fact, which is not known to even Pandits of Ramayana that she was well versed in Shastras. She was proud of being the daughter of Mithila, where the women like Gargi were held in high esteem in the palace meetings. They had the full freedom to speak and participate in Shastras. When Bharat returned to Ayodhya, as he could not convince to bring him back from the jungle, albeit Ram gave him his Khadau (sandle) , as a token, to be placed on the throne. It was like Ram ruling Ayodhya in absentia. Bharat said that he would also live like an abstemious, free from the bond of love and worldly care, in Nandigram at the bank of river Saryu as Ram and Lakshman had been living in the forest.
Urmila became furious over the conduct of the rulers and said that ‘everyone in Ayodhya is talking about Dharma of father and sons, of the king and the princes, of the Brahmin and Kshatriya, even of the wife for her husband, But is there no dharma of husband for his wife? No dharma of son for his mother? Is it always about, sons and brothers’? Guru Kashyap angrily asked her, ‘how dare you speak such outrageous words’? Guru Vashishtha was also present but he remained benignly calm. He told her that they were discussing the affairs of the state and the personal relationship. Then she politely asked, ‘was it not personal when King Dashrath listened to his wife’s wishes and stopped coronation ceremony of Ram and banished him for fourteen-year exile? Was it not personal when Queen Kaikeyi asked her son to be made king instead of Ram? She made everyone speechless by her pertinent and unpalatable questions. Only an intelligent and courageous Urmila could do it.
The other little known fact is that by sitting in the court of Raja Janak in the company of Guru Vaamdev, Markandey, and Katyayan; Urmila had grown from being a curious student to an exemplary and acknowledged pandit, a learned scholar, who by the long, perseverant study had gained mastery over the Vedas and Upnishads and could proficiently debate on religion and philosophy with the most learned sages. Thus, Urmila was not only just the woman of passion as her name defined but one whose heart and soul had come together in intellectual and spiritual enrichment.
Urmila was the most outspoken critic of Ram who could not bring herself to forgive him for choosing his people and the country over his wife -Sita, her sister. It was the forceful logic of Urmila that Lakshman, who lived for Ram and obeyed all his orders died because of disobeying his orders of not to be disturbed. But when sage Durvasa threatened to destroy entire Ayodhya if he was not allowed to meet Ram, Lakshman disobeyed the royal command and forced the door open. He preferred death rather than watching his city being destroyed by the curse of Rishi Durvasa.
Without waiting for the punishment of death Lakshman got himself beheaded with his own sword. Unable to bear the death of his dear brother Lakshmana, Ram relinquished his thrown to his twin sons, Lav and Kush, and gave up his life through Jal samadhi by drowning into river Saryu.
Thus, we find that Urmila was shining among all the characters of Ramayana due to her fortitude, learning, sagacity, and courage to speak her mind, which was intellectually sharp spiritually serene