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‘Maryada’ is the Sanskrit word for ‘boundary’ and also means ‘propriety of conduct’. In the Ramayana, the word carries special weight because it comes to be used as the defining virtue of Rama, the ‘maryada purushottama’ or ‘ideal man’.
But even though Rama is regarded as the epitome of dharma in his thoughts and deeds, the Ramayana does not provide us with one single template for what is right. Nor does it tell us that dharma is beyond the reach of human understanding and action. On the contrary, it holds out the promise that everyone can search for a dharma they believe in, one that is all the more precious because it has been sought and found rather than given and received.
In her thought-provoking new book, Arshia Sattar writes with compassion, tenderness and understanding about dharma as a multiplicity of appropriate choices, showing us that when we choose one way of being and doing over another, we will be as often wrong as we are right.
Arshia Sattar in conversation with Somak Goshal.
In collaboration with-
Arshia Sattar obtained her PhD in South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago in 1990. Her abridged translations of the epic Sanskrit texts, Kathasaritsagara and Valmiki’s Ramayana have both been published by Penguin Books. She has also written books for children and her literary reviews appear regularly in various Indian and international publications.
Somak Ghoshal is a journalist, editor and critic based in Bengaluru. He writes on books, gender, culture and the arts. Since 2006, he has worked in various roles in media and book publishing, with The Telegraph, Mint, HuffPost India, Penguin India and HarperCollins Publishers India. His work has also appeared in Caravan magazine, Open magazine, CNN Style, Scroll and Daily O among others.