Recounting the Ramayana, a part of Hindu sacred texts, Sita: Daughter of the Earth tells the tale from Sita’s perspective. She was born from the Goddess of Earth because of a king and queen’s prayer. She was raised as a royal princess, embodying all the qualities of the ideal Hindu woman – beauty, devotion, and faithfulness. Another child of a prayer to the Gods, Rama, wins her hand in marriage. He and his brothers take Sita and her sisters away to their kingdom. They live happily for a brief time, until the king foretells his own death and decides to crown Rama, the eldest son of his eldest wife, as king. Another one of the king’s wives is overcome by a fit of jealousy. She forces the king to give the kingdom to her son instead, banishing Rama to live as a hermit for 14 years. Sita and one of Rama’s brothers accompany him, and they all start out on an epic journey, destined by the gods to help rid the world of demons.
Greek and Egyptian mythologies have long been made into kid-accessible adaptations (with even more popularity lately). However, classic Hindu tales are not generally available to the younger American set. Sita: Daughter of the Earth is a great option for teaching or exploring Hindu culture. The large amounts of exposition make the book more appropriate for teens, especially combined with the large number of unfamiliar words and concepts. However, the glossary at the end helps, and most of the words make sense in context.
Some concepts, though, may need a little more contextualization, if the tale is to be used in a classroom setting. Elements that are just touched on in the text could result in entire lessons on Hindu culture and history, though this would not be as necessary if the story is simply being read for enjoyment. As a first exposure to Hindu culture, there may be some confusion without a little guidance or background, especially when exploring delicate concepts like sati.
The art brings the story to life, with epic battle scenes and gorgeous landscapes. The only disappointing thing is how very white all the characters are, except for Rama who is, of course, blue. I realize that this delves into a whole cultural construct of beauty, but it would have been nice to see some of the wonderful skin tone variations of the Indian subcontinent. The other color work, however, beautifies even harsh fighting scenes and sets the mood for the story. I also appreciated the great level of detail given to the art, including magnificent saris and jewelry.
With its epic storyline, Sita: Daughter of the Earth brings an interesting exposure to Hinduism. While not perfect, the book is a good option for bringing more cultural diversity into your collection.
Sita: Daughter of the Earth
by Saraswati Nagpal
Art by Manikandan