The story of Ram’s elder sister

Indian Mythology 16 Comments


Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, April 07, 2013

Valmiki Ramayan does not mention Ram’s sister, however, in the Mahabharata we learn of King Lompada who adopts the daughter of Dashratha. In later literature, this daughter of Dashratha becomes Ram’s elder sister, Shanta. In Telegu folk songs she is described as being furious when Ram abandons Sita following street gossip.

According to the Oriya Ramayan, following adoption, Shanta is given in marriage to Rishyashringa, a sage whose celibacy causes drought in Lompada’s kingdom. Following the marriage, the rains come back. This tale is consistent with the traditional theme of Vaishnava literature that condemns absolute abstinence which is seen as world-denying hence world-destructive.

Though Dashrath seems to have fathered Shanta without any difficulty, he is unable to father any more children. Dharma insists that a man must father a son and continue his lineage and that a king must produce an heir for the throne. A desperate Dashrath therefore marries a second and a third time. When nothing works, he decided to perform a yagna and compel the gods to give him a child.

The priest, who Dashrath invites to perform the ceremony that will restore the fertility of his household is none other than his son-in-law, Rishyashringa, implicitly suggesting that Rishyashringa’s celibacy was in someway responsible for the barrenness of his queens. Just as Rishyashringa’s marriage to Shanta brought rains to Lompada’s kingdom, Rishyashringa’s yagna will bring children to Dashrath’s queens.

One can argue that is it a later interpolation and therefore not valid. But we must not forget that Valmiki’s Ramayan does not mention the famous ‘Lakshman Rekha’ and that in Valmiki’s Ramayan there is no mention of Ahilya turning into stone or of Shabari feeding Ram berries. These ideas come from later regional tellings of the Ramayan.

Ramayan is like an open source software, much like Hinduism, where new ideas continuously enter and only that which survives the test of time is celebrated. What is often celebrated in India is emotional bonds. Ramayan revolves around relationship between father and son, brothers, king and subjects, husband and wife. Perhaps someone felt the need for Ram having a sister and so Shanta, adopted daughter of Lompada, becomes Dashrath’s biological daughter.

We find this in Shiva’s story too where Shiva, associated with sons, has occasionally, as in a brief reference in Padma Puran, been associated with a daughter called Ashok Sundari, amplified by the popular television serial, perhaps in keeping with the times where we want to celebrate our girl children too.

What is especially interesting with Shanta is that she is described not like Ram, stoic and serene, but as rather sensuous. Descriptions of how she seduces Rishyashringa, transforms him from hermit to householder, are rather erotic. The sage has never seen a woman and so wonders what kind of a man she is. This opens up a whole world of sexual possibilities for narrators who have let their imagination go wild. But I guess, that we shall keep out of our traditional telling of the epic.

  • Ahilya turning from stone to girl is mentioned in Ramayan of Valmiki to my knowledge

    • sriram k

      Bala Kanda – Sarga 48,49 & 50…

  • injamaven

    Rishyashringa’s story has always fascinated me. Do you have any theory about exactly where his father’s asrama was?

  • Raghav Venkataraman

    Ram’s sister is a new info for me…
    However I have heard that in Ramayan it has been mentioned that, the sage and kul guru, Vashist did not perform the Putra-kama-ishti yagna as it was foretold that it has to be performed by Rishyashringa who performed an yagna in Lomapada’s kingdom for rain.

    Accepting versions of folklore as folklore is one thing and making them part of ‘original’ is another. Some say the ‘Adityahridayam’ in yudh kand is a latter addition.

    In tamil, Kambar says in his poetry that he has written it with Valmiki’s text as the guideline. However he includes some events not in Valmiki’s version. The authorities in his days did not seem to accept Kambar, until, while he read a part in his poem about Narasimha laughing loud as he came out of the split pillar (this is not present in Valmiki) during his recital in Srirangam, it is said a loud laughter was heard from the Mettu Azhagiya Singhar’s sannidhi (a narasimha shrine near the place where Kambar recited his poem) and thus accepted taking this as a sign.

    Kambar is as respected today as Valmiki by Vaishnavites in tamil nadu and they can recite both with equal degree of respect and interest.

  • Nice read. It would be interesting to explore what motivated Dashratha to let King Lompada adopt his only daughter when he is unable to father any more children.

  • Mrs Sen

    Personally I like the idea of the Ayodha princes having a sister.

  • Mrs Sen

    Perhaps if there had been closer contact with the siblings they would have understood Ravana’s feelings about Soorpanakha….

    • Jasvant Singh

      Ravana did not have any feeling for Supnakha. He was only interested in part where Supnakha told Ravana that there is a beautiful woman in Panchvati. He was not interested when Supnakha told him that her nose was cut by a man called Lakshman. Had Ravana be interested in later part of story he would tried to take revenge from them by killing them. But he was not interested in that but was interested in kidnapping Sita and marrying her for his selfish need. Ravana was worse brother any girl can have.

  • bande uske

    Haha, fool. How come in mahabharat king dashrata come.

    • Srinivas Vedula

      Ramayan precedes mahabharat… tretayug and dwaparyug… so mention of ramayan in mahabharat is not illogical. Mythology is all about stories told in a different way and intertwined in the main story to highlight one particular aspect of human belief/value/thought. The context and relevance in literal sense may not make sense but when juxtaposed with the original story these stories highlight those aspects of human behaviour and nature that reflects the society at those times…..

  • Jasvant Singh

    Story of Ram having a sister look wrong to me. This is one attempt to distort our history. Janak did not have a son and only two daughters Sita and Urmila. Daughters of Janak are main characters of Valmiki’s Ramayan. Had Dashrath been having a daughter he would have loved her and not give her in adoption to some other king. There are some stories added by later authors during Muslim rules, some written to please Muslim masters and some to remove social evils like untouchability. Even Valmiki’s Ramayan was distorted to say that Sita was no Janak’s daughter and he found her in a under earth pot. This kind of misinformation is put in Ramayan to link it with other ill conceived books which claim that Sita was Ravana’s daughter. But actually Sita was Janak’s natural daughter and rain started in Mithila when Sita was born.

    • Anil Kumar

      Lompad was a husband of Vershini sister of Kaushalya and they did not have any children, so Dasarath gave him a promise to give his daughter to Lompad or Rompad.

      • Jasvant Singh

        Which book tell you this? The book Ramayana which was totally dedicated to Ram and his family does not mention it. I am a decedent of Ram and my ancestors never told us about it. You site one Book Mahabharta which was story about another family’s matter. How can I rely on that. This kind of misinformation could not be put in Ramayana because all Hindu’s knew Ramayana and it would have been rejected out-rightly. So this information was put in a book which don’t talk about Rama at all and it can later on be used to challenge authenticity of Valmiki’s Ramayana.

        • Sanjay Khatri

          can you please post your lineage to Shri Ram in detail… starting from you & going back to Shri Ram.

  • Apoorv Moghe

    We have given very less importance to sisters in mythology, It proves that we are living in male dominating society. Whosoever introduce Shanta as Ram’s Sister must have felt understood the importance of Girl Child.

    Another great article, Sir !!

  • Ankita Mishra

    Devdutt Sir,

    There seems to be mismatch between this version of Shanta and the one that was telecast in ‘Siya ke Ram’ as there was no mention of adoption, and Shanta’s “sacrifice” is portrayed differently. Kindly clear the air.