Skip to main content

Listening to a Different Voice: Gendering Dharma Through Sita of the Ramayana

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Philosophies of Appropriated Religions

Abstract

Dharma is one of the foundational concepts of Hindu philosophy and religion. Some recent scholars argued that a more nuanced understanding of it could be based on the Itihasas: the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Such an understanding moves away from dharma’s traditional cosmic and formalistic analysis. However, a closer examination of these recent efforts shows that this kind of analysis is more philological rather than philosophical. It returns to a formalistic understanding of the concept, defeating the analysis’s original purpose. In light of this, this paper aims to mend the nuanced understanding of dharma by focusing on the character of Sita in the Ramayana. Through Carol Gilligan’s ethics of care, Sita will be shown to have a different moral voice and a unique way of approaching her moral/dharma dilemmas, contrasting with how Rama approaches his own. This difference can pave the way for understanding dharma as a gendered concept, thus contributing to a more nuanced understanding of dharma.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Chapter
USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD 99.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Hardcover Book
USD 129.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. 1.

    There is an on-going discussion among scholars regarding the inter-relationship of each Purushartha. The issue is whether only artha, kama, and dharma are Purusharthas; thus called trivarga, or all four remain as the Purusharthas or caturvarga. The motivation for the former is that scholars think that moksha can be achieved even by pursuing either artha, dharma, or kama alone. Thus, we can say that the issue revolves around the reducibility of Purusharthas to one another (Prasad, 1981).

  2. 2.

    Of course, karma is not without critics. Critics often claim that karma is said to be (1) “fatalistic,” (2) “immoral,” (3) “unduly egoistic,” (4) “unrealistic,” and (5) “objectionably naturalistic” (Potter, 2001).

  3. 3.

    Carol Gilligan’s ethics of care has received praise and criticisms from feminists, moral philosophers, and moral psychologists, especially during the intellectual debates in the 1980s and 1990s. Those who praise Gilligan argue that Gilligan is a forerunner of a new moral theory and that her work is a final blow to the masculinist tradition in moral philosophy (Hekman, 1995). On the other hand, critics argue that her work is methodologically confused, and theoretically unsound. Some further claim that it is anti-feminist because it emphasizes women’s traditional difference from men; hence perpetuates women’s inferiority (Hekman, 1995).

    Despite these criticisms, Gilligan’s framework is still useful since it guards against siding with any feminist or anti-feminist philosophy camp, especially concerning the Ramayana. Note that Gilligan did not frame her project as feminist since a feminist philosophy is critical of a bigger philosophical, intellectual tradition. The claim that her work is a feminist one is only a label attached to her work by readers and critics and is never hers. Moreover, her framework has not always been used to analyze literary texts such the Ramayana. As such, her work has insights that can shed light to understanding the idiosyncrasies of women characters, especially their moral dilemmas and personal journeys, which other frameworks might misinterpret or distort in their insistence of some feminist “ideals” or “propagandas.”

  4. 4.

    In philosophy, the existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel (1950) laments that the brokenness of this world is brought about by separation and detachment of people from each other, which in turn is brought about by a mechanical existence. Healing can only happen when relationships become mended.

References

  • Brockington, J. (2004). The concept of Dharma in the Ramayana. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 32, 655–670.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Danielou, A. (1994). The complete Kama Sutra. Park Street Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fitzgerald, J. (2004). Dharma and its translation in the Mahabharata. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 32, 671–685.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gilligan, C. (1993). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development. Harvard University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Halbfass, W. (1988). India and Europe: An essay in understanding. State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hekman, S. (1995). Moral voices, moral selves: Carol Gilligan and feminist moral theory. Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Marcel, G. (1950). The mystery of being: Reflection and mystery. Henry Regnery Company.

    Google Scholar 

  • Potter, K. (2001). How many Karma theories are there? Journal of Indian Philosophy, 29, 231–239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Prasad, R. (1981). The theory of Purusarthas: Revaluation and reconstruction. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 9, 49–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Radhakrishnan, S., & Moore, C. (1967). A source book in Indian philosophy. Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sarma, D. S. (2001). Srimad Ramayana. Sri Ramakrishna Math.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joseph Martin M. Jose .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2023 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Jose, J.M.M. (2023). Listening to a Different Voice: Gendering Dharma Through Sita of the Ramayana. In: Hongladarom, S., Joaquin, J.J., Hoffman, F.J. (eds) Philosophies of Appropriated Religions. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-99-5191-8_27

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics