by Isa Thompson & Ramakrishna (Mark Jenkins, BA)
As a student majoring in South Asian Languages and Literature whose ultimate goal is to study Telugu literature, it is quite frustrating that I rarely come across any articles on Telugu materials in my classes. So I was very excited when I came across an article on Telugu women’s oral Ramayanas in my class on the Ramayana in Comparative Perspective about the variety of extant versions of the Ramayana. The article is by Narayana Rao, who is one of the preeminent Telugu scholars in the country. He is currently teaching at Emory University in the first funded professorship of Telugu in the United States. He is a prolific writer who has published many books on Telugu literature, and poetry especially. This article on Telugu women’s oral traditions was published in a book of articles that explores some of the vast variety of Ramayanas throughout South and Southeast Asia. I will let you read the article for yourselves but, suffice it to say, the perspectives of the stories in the article are very different from those of the Valmiki Ramayana or other, more widely known versions.
by Velcheru Narayana Rao
As a boy growing up in a Brahmin family in the northeastern district of Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, I used to hear my mother humming in the mornings:
levesitammamayamma muddulagumma leve bangaru bomma leve leci ramunilepave vegamuledikannuladanaleve tellavaravaccenu
Wake up Sita, my mother, my dear, you are my golden doll
Wake up yourself and wake up Rama, you have the eyes of a doe
It is morning!
She had a notebook in which she had written down a number of songs, many of them on the Ramayana theme, which she would sing on occasions when women gathered at our house. The notebook my mother carried is lost now, but those songs and many others like them are still sung by women in Andhra Pradesh. They tell a Ramayana story very different from the familiar one attributed to Valmiki.
The Ramayana in India is not just a story with a variety of retellings; it is a language with which a host of statements may be made. Women in Andhra Pradesh have long used this language to say what they wish to say, as women.
While upper caste men in Andhra associate the Ramayana with the Sanskrit text attributed to the legendary Valmiki, the Andhra Brahmin women do not view Valmiki as authoritative. Valmiki appears in their songs as a person who was involved in the events of Sita's and Rama's lives and who composed an account of those events—but not necessarily the correct account. Like most of the participants in the tradition, these women believe the Ramayana to be fact and not fiction, and its many different versions are precisely in keeping with this belief. Contrary to the usual opinion, it is fiction that has only one version; a factual event will inevitably have various versions, depending on the attitude, point of view, intent, and social position of the teller.
The events of the Ramayana are contained in separate songs, some long and some short. These are sung at private gatherings, usually in the backyards of Brahmin households or by small groups of older women singing for themselves while doing household chores.
Since it is difficult for a man to be present at women's events, I could not record all the songs myself. With the help of two female colleagues, however, I was able to acquire a number of Ramayana songs on tape.
Brahmins are perhaps the most widely studied community in India with the result that South Asian anthropological literature offers considerable ethnographic information about Brahmins in general. However, the Brahmins of Andhra Pradesh have not been that well studied, and in particular little is known about Brahmin women of Andhra.
Brahmins (Telugu: brahmanulu or, more colloquially, brahmalu) is a cover word indicating a cluster of endogamous groups in Andhra. These groups have independent names, but in terms of the fourfold hierarchical order of Hindu society, they are all placed in the highest category, namely, the brahmana.
Vegetarian and considered ritually pure by virtue of their birth, Brahmins have held the highest level of social respect in Hindu society for centuries. Brahmin families have a very high percentage of literacy, and the men have traditionally been scholars, poets, and preservers of learning both religious and worldly. Brahmins have thus set the standards of Sanskritic culture, and their dialect is considered correct speech. Other castes imitate this dialect in order to be recognized as educated.
In Andhra, women of Brahmin families are segregated from men, though they are not veiled as are women of North India, nor are they kept from appearing before men in public, as are women of the landed castes. But they are encouraged to live a sheltered life. In pre-modern Andhra, before the social reform movements and legislation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Brahmin girls were married before puberty to a bridegroom arranged by their parents. He was often much older than the bride, and the Brahmin wife was not allowed to remarry if her husband died.
Even today widows are considered inauspicious and undesirable; they cannot, for instance, bless young brides at weddings. They are also denied access to ornaments, colored clothes, bangles, turmeric, and the red dot on the forehead, which are symbols of auspiciousness. In some families widows have to shave their heads.
However, older widows are respected for their age, especially if they have raised a family, and younger women look up to them for guidance and help. They are repositories of caste lore and often good at singing songs. Auspicious women, in contrast to widows, are treated with affection. They are looked upon by their men as sources of family prosperity, and their rituals are considered sacred and valuable. Men are expected to facilitate such rituals by staying away from them but providing all the necessary resources: until recently, a woman was not allowed to own property, except gold given to her as a gift by her parents or husband.
Proper behavior on the part of a wife requires that she obey her husband and parents-in-law, as well as her husband's older brothers and older sisters. Any disobedience is severely punished, and defiant women are disciplined, often by the mother-in-law. In a conflict between the mother and the wife, a son is expected to take his mother's side and punish his wife. In fact, a man is often ridiculed as effeminate if he does not discipline his wife into obedience.
Female sexuality is severely repressed; a proper Brahmin woman has sex only to bear children, who should preferably be male. Pursuit of sexual pleasures is offensive to good taste, and a woman is severely punished for any deviance in word or deed. Women should be modest; an interest in personal appearance or a desire to be recognized for physical beauty is discouraged. Women should not even look into a mirror except to make sure that they have put their forehead dot in the right spot. According to a belief popular in Brahmin families, a woman who looks into a mirror after dusk will be reborn as a prostitute. However, women often guide their husbands from behind the scenes in decisions that have a bearing on family wealth and female security, which suggests that this code of obedience, if creatively manipulated, can be a source of power.
Brahmin women who sing the Ramayana songs discussed in this essay generally come from families relatively less exposed to English education and urbanized styles of life, in which singing such songs is going out of fashion. They are literate in Telugu, but most of them are not formally educated. Their audience consists of women from similar backgrounds, usually relatives and neighbors, and may also include children, unmarried young women, or newly married brides visiting their mother's house for a festival. Often a marriage or similar event provides an occasion for a number of women to gather. The audience does not generally include women of other castes. While adult men are not supposed to be present at such gatherings, young boys stick around. Nonetheless, men do hear these songs, or more precisely overhear them, even though they tend to pay no attention to them, as it is "women's stuff," not worth their time.
Not every singer knows all of the approximately twenty-five popular Ramayana songs. There is a general recognition, however, that a certain person knows the songs; such a person is often called upon to sing. Singers do not need special training, nor do they consider themselves experts. No musical instruments accompany the singing of these songs, and the tunes are simple, often monotonous. At least one song has refrains, govinda at the end of one line and govinda rama at the end of every other line, suggesting that it may be used as a work song. Some of these songs only take about twenty minutes to half an hour to sing, but others are very long, taking several hours to sing.
The precise age of the Ramayana songs is not easy to determine. While they are accepted as traditional, and therefore must be fairly old, there is no reliable way of dating them. It is also difficult to determine to what extent the songs are truly oral compositions. All are orally performed, but at least some of them were written by a single individual. That the singers as well as the authors of the songs are acquainted with literary texts is beyond doubt: many songs have references to writing and written texts. However, the singing styles are passed down from person to person, and the performance is often from memory. In short, we do not know whether these songs were composed orally and then preserved in writing, or were originally written compositions.
Nearly every scholar who has studied these songs has either assumed or concluded that their authors were men. Only Gopalakrishnamurti has suggested that many of these songs were composed by women, and I am convinced he is right. Judging from the feelings, perceptions, cultural information, and the general attitudes revealed in the songs, it seems likely that all of them—except one minor song, a waking-up song for Sita, which happens to mention a male author—were women's works. Certainly, the songs are intended for women: many of the songs mention the merit women receive from singing or listening to them.
Even a cursory look at the subject matter of the songs indicates that female interests predominate among the themes. Together they comprise a very different Ramayana than that told by Valmiki or other poets of literary versions.
Significantly, these songs do not mention many of the familiar Ramayana events. On the other hand, events of interest to women are prominently portrayed and receive detailed attention: pregnancy, morning sickness, childbirth, the tender love of a husband, the affections of parents-in-law, games played by brides and grooms in wedding rituals.
As the saying goes among men in Andhra, "The news of the birth of a son is pleasant but not the process of the birth." Men are not very interested in the details of pain women undergo in childbirth. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, literary Ramayanas in Telugu describe Rama's birth in glorious terms. They relate how the king and his kingdom were delighted by the news, and describe in eloquent phrases the festivities celebrated all over the city of Ayodhya and the gifts given to Brahmins. Only in the women's song versions of the Ramayana do we find a description of Kausalya in labor, graphically depicting the pain associated with it. The song describes how the child is delivered while the pregnant woman stands upright, holding on to a pair of ropes hung from the ceiling.
Now call the midwife, go send for her.
The midwife came in royal dignity.
She saw the woman in labor, patted her on her back.
Don't be afraid, Kausalya, don't be afraid, woman!
In an hour you will give birth to a son.
The women there took away the gold ornaments,
They removed the heavy jewels from her body.
They hung ropes of gold and silk from the ceiling.
They tied them to the beams, with great joy
They made Kausalya hold the ropes.
Mother, mother, I cannot bear this pain,
A minute feels like a hundred years.
Attention to ritual is common in many Ramayanas, but the rituals are the grand Vedic rituals, in which Brahmin priests play the leading part. Rituals in the women's songs pertain to more domestic matters, in which women are prominent. The only man present is usually the bridegroom Rama, and as the bridegroom in women-dominated rituals, he is controlled by and subservient to the demands of the women surrounding him. In addition to the rituals, the songs also describe various games Sita and Rama play during the wedding and in the course of their married life in the joint family. In all such games Sita comes out the winner. Rama even tries to cheat and cleverly escape defeat, making false promises of surrender.
Another point repeatedly stressed in the songs is the auspicious role women have in Brahmin households as the protectors of family prosperity. Women are personifications of the goddess Laksmi, the goddess of wealth, and it is a well-known belief that the women of a household bring prosperity to the family by their proper behavior and ruin it by improper behavior.
In these songs the bride enters the house of her new husband, always with her auspicious right foot first. It is the women who perform all the appropriate actions to remove the evil eye from the newborn baby. Women, again, serve a delicious feast to the Brahmins and the sages who come to bless the newborn. The ceremonies described in these songs show how important women are on all those occasions. Even the humor is feminine: when Kausalya gives the women boiled and spiced senagalu (split peas) as a part of a ritual gift, they complain among themselves that the senagalu were not properly salted.
A song about Sita's wedding presents a reason—not found in the Sanskrit text of Valmiki—why Sita's father Janaka decides on an eligibility test for Sita's future husband. In her childhood, Sita casually lifted Siva's bow, which was lying in her father's house. Janaka was amazed at her strength and decided that only a man who could string that bow would be eligible to marry her. Only a hero can be a match for a hero. Several literary Ramayana texts, including Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas, also give this explanation, which is therefore not unique to women's Ramayana songs. But this event gains a special significance in the context of women's hopes for a husband who is properly matched to them. In an arranged marriage, where the personal qualities of the future husband are often left to chance, women dream of having a husband who loves them and whom she loves. Significantly, therefore, the song describes Sita's feelings for Rama, whose charms have been described to her by her friends. Sita falls in love with him and suffers the pangs of separation (viraha ) from him. Closely following the conventional modes of love in separation, the song delicately presents Sita's fears that Rama might not succeed in stringing the bow. She prays to all the gods to help him to string it.
The song then describes how Rama falls in love with Sita. He arrives and sees the bow. He has no doubt that he can easily break it. The breaking of the bow itself, which is prominently and powerfully described in literary Ramayanas, is presented in an almost perfunctory manner in the women's songs: it is the mutual love between Rama and Sita that is prominent in the song.
All too often, women in this community find that there is little real love between them and the husband who has been chosen for them. The wedding festivities that follow are seen through women's eyes—every detail related to women's roles in the wedding ceremony is carefully described, even the saris the women wear.
A song entitled "Sita Locked Out" describes a delicate event in which Sita is delayed in coming to bed because she has work to finish in the house. Rama waits for her, but, growing impatient, closes the bedroom door and locks it from inside. Sita arrives and pleads with him to open the door. He stubbornly refuses. Sita quietly informs Kausalya, who has already left for Dasaratha's bedroom. Kausalya comes out, knocks on Rama's door, and admonishes him for locking Sita out. Rama has to obey his mother: Sita knows how to manipulate the situation in her favor by enlisting Kausalya's help. Kausalya is represented here as the ideal mother-in-law every daughter-in-law dreams of in a joint family, a mother-in-law who shows warmth and support for her daughter-in-law and who helps to bring her closer to her husband.
Men's Ramayanas have no great use for Santa, who is sometimes nominally mentioned as Dasaratha's foster daughter and who is married to Rsyasrnga. But for women she is a very important person in the Ramayana story. In Brahmin families, an elder sister is allowed to command, criticize, and admonish her younger brother. As Rama's elder sister, Santa often intervenes on behalf of Sita in these songs.
Santa's importance in women's Ramayanas is best represented by a long song called "Santagovindanamalu," which describes Santa's marriage. A striking feature of this song, which narrates most of the early part of the Ramayana, is the importance women have in all the events: at every important juncture, women either take the initiative themselves and act, or advise their husbands to take a specific step. Men's position is presented as titular; the real power rests with the women.
The story tells how Laksmi, Visnu's consort, decides to be born on the earth to help Visnu, who will be born as Rama. She descends to the earth and is born as Sita on a lotus flower in Lanka.
The two most significant stories in the early books of Valmiki's Ramayana are the birth of Dasaratha's sons and Kaikeyi's evil plot to send Rama away to the forest. In the first story women have no role to play except as passive bearers of children; in the second, the evil nature of women is highlighted in the descriptions of Kaikeyi's adamant demands to have her son Bharata invested as the heir to the kingdom and to banish Rama to the forest for fourteen years.
The narrative in "Santagovindanamalu" ingeniously transforms both these events so that women acquire the credit for the birth of sons and the evil nature of Kaikeyi's demand is eliminated. First, according to this song, Kausalya advises Dasaratha that they should adopt Santa as their daughter. This daughter will bring good luck to the family and they will have sons. This is a powerful change indeed. The usual Brahmin family belief is that the firstborn should be a son. A firstborn daughter is greeted with disappointment, though it is not always openly expressed.
This story suggests that a firstborn daughter is actually preferable because she, as a form of the goddess Laksmi, blesses the family with prosperity, which then leads to the birth of sons. Moreover, it is significant that the whole strategy is planned by a woman—whereas in the Valmiki Ramayana, for example, the sage Rsyasrnga performs a sacrifice for Dasaratha which leads to the birth of sons. What is interesting here is that Dasaratha listens to his senior queen's advice.The song then describes in fine detail the festivities of the wedding and the harmonious atmosphere of the palace, where the women are in control.
The innocence, fun, love, and gentle humor of the songs come to an end and serious problems in Sita's life begin with the events of the later portion of the Ramayana —events that take place after Sita is brought back from her captivity in Lanka. But the women described in these songs are far from meek and helpless: they are portrayed as strong, quite capable of protecting their position against the unfair treatment meted out to them by Rama.
The Structure of The Songs
The structure of these songs, which open with praise of Rama before moving on to the story at hand, might appear somewhat commonplace, but becomes significant in relation to the time and place of their performance. The songs are usually sung in the late afternoon, after the midday meal, when the men of the family have all retired to the front part of the house to take a nap or chat on the porch, the younger among them perhaps playing cards. Having been served a good meal, they now want to be left alone, to relax and rest, until evening. Their daily chores completed, the women are now free from marital and family obligations, at least for the moment. This is their own time, during which they can do what they please—provided, of course, that they don't violate the norms of good behavior. Very much like the place in the house where the songs are sung, then, this time period is largely insulated from the demands of the men, for whom women must otherwise play their dutiful roles.
A Brahmin house is divided into three areas. The front is where the men sit, conduct business, receive guests, or chat among themselves. Except when they are called for meals or when they retire for the evening, men do not usually go into the interior of the house, and when they do, they indicate their arrival by coughing or calling to one of the women from outside, who then comes into the middle part of the house to receive them. The middle part of the house is a relatively neutral area, where men and women meet together. In the back of the house are located a kitchen and a verandah opening into the backyard, often with a well in it. It is here that women gather. Women visitors, servants, and low caste men use the back entrance of the house to converse with the women.
At the front of the house, the conventional male-dominated values reign supreme, but the back part of the house, and to a somewhat lesser extent the interior, are primarily the women's domain. Women are relatively free here from the censuring gaze of their men, and thus enjoy some measure of control over their own lives. Men are even ridiculed for lingering in the back of the house, although male relatives of the wife's family may enter, as can the husband's younger brothers if they are much younger than the wife.
The structure of the songs precisely replicates the structure of the house. Each song begins with a respectful tribute to Rama, the king. Rama in these songs is not only God, as in bhakti Ramayanas, but also the yajamani, the master of the house—albeit a master who is not entirely in control. This opening dutifully made, the song moves toward the interior—and the people who inhabit the interior of the songs are mostly women. Much like certain male relatives, however, some men are allowed to enter this area: Laksmana, the younger brother-in-law; and Lava and Kusa, the young twins.
Women in these songs never openly defy propriety: they behave properly, even giving themselves advice that the male masters of the household would accept and appreciate. The tone of the songs is innocently gentle, homely, and sweet—no harsh or provocative language, no overt or aggressive opposition to male domination. Daughters-in-law thus take great care to observe the conventions in addressing mother-in-law Kausalya and sister-in-law Santa. Likewise, on several occasions proper behavior is preached to young brides, as when Sita is told to:
Be more patient than even the earth goddess.
Never transgress the words of your father-in-law and mother-in-law.
Do not ever look at other men.
Do not ever speak openly.
Do not reveal the words your husband says in the interior palace,
even to the best of your friends.
If your husband is angry, never talk back to him.
A husband is god to all women: never disobey your husband.
While proper respect is always paid to authority, what follows on the heels of that respect can seem strikingly different. There are polite but quite strongly made statements that question Rama's wisdom, propriety, honesty, and integrity. However, Sita herself never opposes Rama or her other superiors: as a new bride, Sita is coy, innocent, and very obedient to her husband and the elders of the family. Rather, criticism against Rama is leveled only by women who have the authority to do so, like Rama's mother, Kausalya, or his elder sister, Santa, a mother surrogate. Rama's brothers' wives question Rama, too, but in order to do so, they need the support of Santa. Rama's young sons, Lava and Kusa, are also permitted to criticize their father, provided they are acting in their mother's defense.
Both the affections and the tensions of a joint family come out clearly through these songs. Beneath the apparent calm of the house, joint family women often suffer severe internal stress. The songs reveal a similar atmosphere in their use of language. The general style of the language is deceptively gentle. Very few Sanskrit words are used, the choice of relatively more mellifluous Dravidian words lending to the texture of the songs an idyllic atmosphere of calm and contentment. However, the underlying meanings reveal an atmosphere of subdued tensions, hidden sexuality, and frustrated emotions.
On occasion, even the gentle words acquire the sharpness of darts, hitting their targets with precise aim. Under the pretext of family members teasing each other, every character is lampooned. No one's character is untainted; no person loves another unconditionally. The final picture that emerges is not that of the bhakti Ramayanas, with an ideal husband, an ideal wife, and ideal brothers, but of a complex joint family where life is filled with tension and fear, frustration and suspicion, as well as with love, affection, and tenderness.
The Ramayana songs also make a statement against the public Ramayanas, the bhakti Ramayanas, which glorify the accepted values of a male-dominated world. In the songs, it is the minor or lowly characters who come out as winners. Urmila, Laksmana, Lava and Kusa, Santa, and even Surpanakha have a chance to take their revenge. Sita does not fight her own battle alone: others fight it for her. She even enjoys the freedom she acquires by the (false) report of her death; for once, she can exist without living for Rama. As Rama prepares for her death ceremonies, burdened by the guilt of having her killed unjustly, Sita gives birth to twins and awaits her final victory over Rama, won through her agents, her sons. In the final analysis, this is her Ramayana, a Sitayana.
A similar strategy of subverting authority while outwardly respecting it is found in the Ramayana songs sung by non-Brahmin women. These are not as long as the Brahmin women's songs, nor are they as prominent in the non-Brahmin women's repertoire as they are in Brahmin women's. Although the Ramayana is often alleged to be universally popular in India, closer examination will, I believe, reveal that the epic's popularity increases with the status of the caste.
The label "non-Brahmin" masks more than it reveals. Unfortunately, the published information about these songs does not record the precise caste of the singer. As Ganagappa informs us, the songs are sung by women when they are working in the fields, grinding flour, or playing kolatam (a play of music and dance in which the players move in circles as they hit wooden sticks held in each other's hands). Female agricultural labor in Andhra largely comes from Malas, a caste of Untouchables, and other castes of very low status. Women of these castes work in the fields with men, make their own money, and thus live relatively less sheltered and controlled lives. Separation of the sexes is not practiced to the same extent as among the upper castes, although women are seen as inferior to men, paid lower wages, and given work which is supposed to require less skill, like weeding and transplanting, as opposed to ploughing, seeding, and harvesting.
Women also work in groups, which are often supervised by a man. The household chores that these women perform are also distinct from those of the men, but the separation is not as clear cut as it is among upper castes. Lower caste men, for example, do not consider it demeaning to feed children and take care of them.
Women of these low castes have the same kinds of family responsibilities as Brahmin women do: raising a family, bearing (male) children, being sexually faithful to their husbands, and obeying their husbands and mothers-in-law. But the low-caste women are not as dependent on their husbands as are Brahmin women. Widows are not treated as inauspicious, nor are their heads shaved; and they are not removed from family ritual life. Among some non-Brahmin castes widows even remarry.
The Ramayana songs sung by non-Brahmin women reflect this difference. These songs also concentrate on women's themes but there is little interest in descriptions of woman's role in ritual, in their wish for importance in family decisions, or in saris and ornaments, nor is there much allusion to the inner conflicts of a joint family. Also significantly absent are hidden sexuality, feminine modesty, and descriptions of games played by husband and wife.
An incident that makes Sita look somewhat childish in the upper-caste Ramayanas is her demand for the golden deer, even though Rama tells her that the animal is a demon in magical disguise. In the Ramayana of the low-caste women, though, Sita does not insist on getting the animal like a spoiled child; she says instead:
You give me your bows and arrows
I will go right now and get the animal.
His ego hurt, Rama rushes forth to capture the golden deer.
These songs are sung in rice fields and play areas—not in the private backyards of houses as the Brahmin songs are. Interestingly, songs collected from the fields where women sing as they work begin with a straightforward narration but end almost abruptly; they seem rather unfinished. One wonders if the open structure of the work songs does not reflect the low-caste women's lack of interest in finishing what really does not belong to them. Rather than indicating an inability to produce a finished song, the songs' structure is thus an expression of rejection: like the open fields where they work, the story of the Ramayana, with its regal settings and brahminical values, really belongs to others.
Why do women sing these songs? Edwin Ardener has proposed a theory of muted groups, who are silenced by the dominant structures of expression. India’s lower castes and women fall in this category. However, muted groups, according to Ardener, are not silent groups. They do express themselves, but under cover of the dominant ideology.
The contents of the women's Ramayana songs do not make their singers or listeners feminists. If anything, the Brahmin women to whom I talked consider singing these songs an act of devotion, a proper womanly thing to do in the house. Nor have men who have listened to these songs or read them in print objected to their use by the women of their households. None of the scholars (of both sexes) who have written on the Brahmin Ramayana songs perceive in them a tone of opposition to the public Ramayanas, the "male" versions.
Do the women consciously follow the meaning of the songs when they sing them for themselves? They have so routinized their singing that they seem to receive the meaning subliminally, rather than self-consciously.
Furthermore, the very same women who sing these songs also participate in the public, male Ramayana with all the devotion appropriate to the occasion. Does the contrast between what they sing at home and what they hear outside the home receive their attention? Do they discuss these issues among themselves?
The texts women sing are not esoteric. Their language is simple, their message clear; they protest against male domination. I believe it is the controlled context of their performance that makes their use properly "feminine." Perhaps the value of the songs consists precisely in the absence of conscious protest. The women who sing these songs have not sought to overthrow the male-dominated family structure; they would rather work within it. They have no interest in direct confrontation with authority; their interest, rather, is in making room for themselves to move. It is this internal freedom that these songs seem to cherish. Only when such freedom is threatened by an overbearing power exercised by the head of the household do the women speak up against him, even then subverting his authority rather than fighting openly against him. These songs are a part of the education Brahmin women receive, a part of brahminic ideology, which constructs women's consciousness in a way suitable to life in a world ultimately controlled by men.
In sharp contrast to the Brahmin women's songs, the songs sung by the low-caste women seem to reflect their disaffection with the dominant upper-caste masters for whom they work rather than with the men of their own families. As low-caste women, these singers are doubly oppressed. As women, they share some of the feelings of the upper-caste women, and to that extent they understand Sita's troubles. Perhaps more intriguing, however, is the lack of interest in Rama and the attention shown instead to Ravana and Lanka, in an apparent rejection of Rama. But again, as in the Brahmin women's songs, the rejection is not open and confrontational, but subtle and subversive.
Narayana Rao, Velcheru. “A Ramayana of Their Own: Women’s Oral Tradition in Telugu.” In Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia, edited by Paula Richman, p.114-134. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.