You are on page 1of 13
we Journal of Vaishnava Studies South Asian Tradition, Edited by Paula Richman, Berkeley: University of California Press. 2001. 49-82. Smith, W. L. Ramayana Traditions in Eastern India: Assam, Bengal, Orisss. Stockholm Studies in indian Literatures and Culture 2. Stockhole= Department of indology, University of Stockhil: Srimadbhigavatamahapurdeam. Edited by J. L. Shastri. Thi inarsidass, 1999, (With the commentary of Valmiki Srimad Valriki-Ramayana (With Sanskrie Texts and Engl Volumes:-3, Second Edition. Gorakhpur: Gita Press. 1974, 1988, Siva 1s FATIMA AND Faria 1s Srra Performing Sita and Fatima in a Muslim Public Ritual’ : Afsar Mohammad Abstract ion of sita and Fatima ina public speaking andiva Prades of south ‘month ofthe Islamic calendar, ad the fis ten days are known for their Sh Islamic religious ident in ne history of Isla, However, i a local publ religicus performance of Muharram in Analha, this event becomes a paint of ritual and narrative interface between and various non-Muslim enste groups in Andhra, In several Muharrant artes, Sta, the consr of Rama and Fatima, che mather ofthe Karbala martyrs Imetamarphose into single charactr—as a mother of martyrs The characterization and both ofthese Introduction “These women tell their own stories in the name of Sita, Fatima and whatever. They are telling their ow Ramayan (sorta rémyanama). Don't take them seriously. They're nat even worth listening to, We barely listen to them and never allow them to tell the story atthe village public square 1B [rr ssssss—‘“C—_ Journal of Vaishnava Studies (raccabarida). What do they kr tory (tk kath) of Karbala? They just listen to id make up 2 fabricated thing calling it a story (Katha), which is not even a story at all Ofcourse, they find lot of mental peace—sent, manassanti—in stories and dancing te them. Thats it! Nothing morel” note of the narratives as sung by a local women's “just ignore it!” and gave the above statem ld properly heed their words, the emotionality of the songs had completely'drawn me to the women's performing group. This paper is about the emotionality of this performance. ‘As mentioned in the Abstract of this focus on the narrativiza- tion of Sita and Fatima in a public Muslim ritual of Muharram in speaking Andhra Pradesh of South India, Muharram is the us performance of Muharram in Andhra, this event becomes a point of ritual and narrative interface non-Muslim caste groups in Andhra, In several of these Muharram natratives, the consort of Rama, and Fatima, the mother ofthe Karbala martyrs merge into a single character—as the mother of martyrs. in these | characterization of Sita and Fatima transgresses the boundaries of domesti and both ofthese characters are portrayed as public figures in these local na tives, This paper discusses how these two characters, drawn from two di ; the performative element, which mak the focus of this paper, following the Islamic calen- ig the metal battle standards—the hand-shaped images—wiich sym martyrdom of the grandsons of the Prophet Muhammad, However, most is month is the performances of the women story: lers who narrate the stories about the grandsons of the Prophet in both Sita is Fatima and Fatima is Sita Telugu and Urdu. The public event of Muharram is also popularly called“ 2 local devotional tradition. Muharra memory of Islam in forging a distinctive Islamic identity for the e dispute over the legacy of the prophet. Each year in sectarian religious boundaries. Though these practices and performances reflect aspects of devotion to the family of the Prophet, this paper focuses on the role of women performers who blend various cultural and folklore practices to tell the story of Sita and Fatima, us take a close look atthe statement hmayyya, They have both used a set ly the context of the performances of these them, these are “worthless, fabricated stories” (pani jth of them were so disenchanted with my idea of record- il the end of the recording the “minds” (buddhi) of the women and they were al (striavesan). To put it in their words, “these stories tell more and more about these women, and not about those mythical and greatest wonten from the asl erik (original history) The term sorita rémayanamu, which means “self-Ramayanay" particularizes a type of story or anecdote that women sing with active pe into the story. This term is actual ever, when men use it in the context of a publ the dominant narrative tradition by relegating the feminine stories to a realm of subjective or self driven practice. The second e .quare ofthe village. It is characteristcally women are not allowed to perform their stories or Journal of Vaishnava Studies ‘otherwise express themselves in or in the vicinity ofthis square, The third term, tarikhu kath, isa blend of Urdu and Telugu terms. The term, tritha, Urdu for recording these performances and the publ repeatedly told that these stories help women to obtain mental peace in every ‘way: by narrating these stories, the women are able to release their emotions and achieve a state of mental and physical calm? Even the women narr themselves single out this psychological effect a one ofthe primary functions their performance. From bring up issues of gender, narrative issue of “original hhow the characters of Si the public ritual of Muharram, The new, local characterization, of these epic characters represents intersections of rel roles and most importantly highlights the emergence of a paral tive by/of/for woman, Using one long narrative and a few short narratives on Sita and Fatima will ‘argue that these public manifestations of epic/ classical characters are endowed with a new subjectivity during their ritual performance. They are so endowed articulation of the performers’ own personal narratives. These narrat fering. One of the most important objectives ofthis essay isto be igious narratives and the shared memory bet ims and non-Muslim women. Focusing on strategies of alternative characterization of the epic women, 1 will ask two quest what makes these performers change th ter” ofthe epic characters? And, 2) why do some local traditional groups reject these re-shaped characters outright and try to suppress 2? While responding to these two questions, Sita is Fatima and Fatima is Sita of Sita and Fatima in this paper, the complete discussion ofthese intersections ‘must remain in background, essay has four sections: the first section discusses epic characters, changing “charac- {introduces and presents the Telugu narratives that re-cast Sita and Fatima in a single narrative; the third section discusses specific iges made by these Telugu women narratives and, finally, the fourth sec- jon focuses on the aspect of performativity that introduces a parallel meaning entire renarrativization of Sita and Fatima, 1. Revisiting and Re-presenting the Epic Characters ‘As observed in several studies, epic characters are the key components of any religious narrative as they becom ‘ative aitns to teach } Recent scholarship both ratives has already opened up a dis new manifestations in contemporary rel Black and Jonathan Green hat performatvity be added tothe list of features already ident by Black and Green. Moreover, by discussing two characters from two discrete in and Hinduism we can gain fresh insights into am commitity. This moment of shared devot ln Haley observed, “has nw Begun to give way to buildings that are sup- posed to look different from each other—and even from thems: cul differences as indications of o ing, our image-making, and our ‘munity lead us necessarily and appropriately in different dire of women ding, symbolizing, and forming a common- ality of suffering and oppressed community of women, to use Havley’s words these narratives show a "genuinely multicultural moment” ‘As we will observe in this essay, when performed in a shared ritual cot the characters in a South Asian religious narrative transcend the boundaries of therreal “character” ofthe epic ina way that is similar to the way in which they