When I first held The forest of enchantments in my hands, I knew it’ll leave me hypnotised. Not because I was familiar with the craft of the writer, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, but for the novel’s plot, which was a spinoff of Ramayana, the epic written by sage Valmiki. I expected to be awestruck, if not more, when I opened the first chapter of The forest of enchantments. And I was right! By the time I reached the epilogue, the novel had exceeded all my expectations.
While Ramayana is the story of Ram, The forest of enchantments is the tale of Sita. Also referred to as Sitayan, the novel narrates the journey of Sita and the events of Ramayana from her point of view. The journey begins from her sparkling teenage years when she hones her skills in martial arts and nurtures her gift of healing and goes on till her adulthood and the travails of her marriage, abduction, rescue, and abandonment. The forest of enchantments is the unheard story of a daughter, sister, wife, and mother, Sita, who paid the price of being a woman—in spite of being a goddess.
The first few chapters of the novel are an easy read. They delineate Sita as a warrior and a healer; as a loving sister to Urmilla; as a curious child eager to know who her real parents are and as an associate of Shiva’s bow. But everything changed the day Ram lifted the divine bow, broke it in the process, and claimed Sita as his wife, as a prophecy foretold.
Many of us are familiar with what happens next—Ram and Sita’s love story, Kaikeyi’s ploys, Dashrath’s helplessness, their banishment from Ayodhya for 14 years, their austere but peaceful life, until Ravana, the demon king, kidnaps Sita to avenge his sister. This is the point where Ramayana and Sitayan take different paths. While Ramayana narrates the epic battle between vanaras and asuras, Sitayan recounts Sita’s life in Lanka, as a prisoner in Ravana’s kingdom. The novel unveils the tragic story of Lanka and its innocent inhabitants prompting readers to see asuras in a new light.
Here, The forest of enchantments becomes like an adhesive, gluing the readers to its pages. No one can guess the next turn of events as each chapter breaks the bias, myths and the preconceived notions around asuras.