The Fierceness of Janaki

A Siren Theatre Project ProductionLast month protesters marched in front of the San Jose Museum of Arts, protesting the interpretation of Sita in the animated film Sita Sings the Blues and in a painting by M.F. Husain where Sita is depicted the nude. The words “shameful” and “denigration” were some those used by the conservative religious groups protesting the artwork – but the museum continued their support, stating “freedom of artistic expression.”

This weekend the Bay Area will see another form of “Sita art”, this time in the form of a theater production. Siren Theatre Project’s production of Janaki – Daughter of the Dirt will be hitting the stage at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco for it’s world premiere this Sept 16th -18th. This ground breaking stage production written by Virali Golkadas touches upon issues of power, sexism and classism from the perspective of Sita.

“I wrote Janaki – Daughter of Dirt to show that Hindu goddesses, just like the women in my family, are not self-sacrificing devotees,” said playwright Virali Gokaldas.  “They are complex, powerful, strong-willed examples, helping us hold compassion for others and ourselves, guiding us when making hard decisions, and above all, giving us the courage to live out our own destinies.” [sirentheatre]


As for the controversy in San Jose, here’s what Virali and Anirvan Chatterjee have to say:

Our ability to recontextualize the Ramayana is precisely what makes it a living story, instead of a dead one….The Ramayana is as rich and diverse as India.  If our Indian traditions allow even a 180 degree twist like Ravana being the hero, then what right do protestors have to censors new ways of expressing the story?


As Bay Area writers who have our own visions of the Ramayana to share, we take the attack on the tradition of diverse Ramayanas personally.  The Ramayana speaks to us, just as it did to those creators whose works were being protested in San Jose. [sirentheatre]


Art for arts sake or art to honor and personalize faith? Check out the play this weekend and form your own opinion. And just for our Sepia Mutiny readers, tickets are only $20, with the discount code “Sepia Mutiny” over at Brown Paper Ticket. For more information on Janaki – Daughter of the Dirt or Siren Theatre Project, visit their facebook page and their website.

Need more convincing? Watch the trailer below.

<iframe src="" width="400" height="265" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href="">"Janaki – Daughter of the Dirt" | World Premiere | 16 – 18 September</a> from <a href="">Siren Theatre Project</a> on <a href="">Vimeo</a>.</p>

15 thoughts on “The Fierceness of Janaki

  1. The emergence of these Hindu activist groups seem to mimic other religious fundie groups. Hinduism is not just a religion. It can be viewed as a culture shared with other religious groups living in that land. As a form of spirituality coopted by adherants of different religious who can pick and choose what they want. No one really owns the Hinduism.

    Weren’t there naked sculptures in ancient india? What is the big deal if MF Hussain created a naked painting of Sita? As far as this play, I don’t see the controversy at all. The Hindu activists should be happy a younger generation is showing interest in some aspect of the culture.

    I say more power to this group of young people putting up a play. But just to be sure, what is the linkage of this play to the other controversial arts other than Hindu goddesses? Are they anticipating any protests? Regardless, art for art’s sake is fine with me.

    P.S.: Heh heh, I forgot Janaki was another name for Sita. I just googled the word before clicking on the Post button.

    • “Hinduism is not just a religion. It can be viewed as a culture shared with other religious groups living in that land. As a form of spirituality coopted by adherants of different religious who can pick and choose what they want. No one really owns the Hinduism.” __

      If no one really owns Hinduism, that implies if some Hindus feel like protesting, they have the freedom to do so, and their protest is as valid as that of other Hindus who may not protest. Unless, of course, you’re implying that being a Hindu = doormat or Hindu = superhuman, with nothing that should or will make a Hindu angry.

      Besides, if someone is protesting in a peaceful manner, I fail to understand why you’re getting your panties in a bunch. Unless you think that you are the authority on Hinduism who decides what should elicit protest and what shouldn’t. Which would logically contradict what you wrote above.

  2. Sorry for kind of digressing from the main subject of your post (Hindu goddesses), but to just speak broadly about the Hindutva groups and their protests, I would take them with one iota of seriousness if instead of continually railing about ‘shameful’ art and other perceived offenses to Hinduism, they had the slightest bit of courage to take on the real problems confronting Hindus such as poverty and caste discrimination.

    Just within the past week or so, I’ve come across a number of articles in the news detailing caste abuse and religious discrimination against lower-caste Hindus in two villages in Tamil Nadu. In one case, Dalits were violently prevented by upper-caste citizens from even stepping foot in their own temple. Where are these Hindutva groups and their protests when these problems arise? Why are they so silent about these issues which not only concern the well-being of millions of Hindus, but poisons the health of Hinduism itself?

    It is so easy for them to organize hundreds, if not thousands, to yell and threaten people against offensive portrayals of Hindu deities, as they did when an Australian company printed an image on Lakshmi on a bikini recently, but there is not one word or a single shout of protest from them when the lives and the dignity of their fellow Hindus are being trampled on everyday by caste Hindus.

    • “It is so easy for them to organize hundreds, if not thousands, to yell and threaten people against offensive portrayals of Hindu deities, as they did when an Australian company printed an image on Lakshmi on a bikini recently,..”

      I don’t know – probably for the same reason that a Democrat would protest or get angry if he came across a picture of Obama next to a baboon on a t-shirt or in an art gallery, when there are other germane issues like the economy, rising poverty etc. where he or she could divert that energy in a meaningful manner. Symbols matter.

      BTW, did someone threaten the Australian company with violence? If not, then you’re making an issue out of a non-issue.

      And how would you feel if some Australian company did something similar to some symbols that Aborigines hold sacred? I’m willing to bet my last penny that you’d be singing a totally different tune in such a case.

  3. Dear Taz,

    Im sure you wouldnt support the majority of muslim populations around the world either,who had a problem with the Danish cartoons and quite supported the idea of a death penalty for anyone blaspheming Muhammad by depicting him.

    Of course, the museums will no doubt also be encouraging postmodernistic visual interpretations of Islamic cultures – how about a nice depiction of artistic paedophilia – Muhammad fornicating with hie 9year oldwife ayesha?

    • Did she say that she doesn’t support the right for one to depict Muhammad? What do you actually think of this topic? Are you OK with protests by both Muslims and Hindus related to potentially offensive or non conventional portrayals of an icon. Or you are you against those protests?

      • yup, taz practices double standards, as do most muslims including my family and muslim friends. i wrote a comment before you, which was let through first but then held up for “moderation” go figure. said comment is pasted below: while i applaud artists like m.f.hussain and “sita sings the blues” creator for standing up to the hindu right wing, i wish south asian sites like sepia mutiny would encourage artists/writers/cartoonists who wish to challenge islam. so what if i wish to depict prophet muhammad in human form or if i want to discuss his misogyny? he was way more horrible than the hindu god, rama. for the non-muslims who are unfamiliar, muhammad actually “married” a six year old girl and consummated [more like raped] marriage with her when she was all of nine years. this story and other horrors in our religion need to be expressed artistically.

        i wish south asians who so bravely stood up for m.f. hussain will also defend taslima nasreen’s right to point out islam’s inherent anti women traditions.

        please start holding muslims, especially those living in the west, to the same moral standards as their hindu, sikh, jewish and christian counterparts.

    • wow, “Majority of the muslim population around the world either”. you sir must be a well traveled man that you know what the MAJORITY of muslims think and around the world too.

  4. Actually- why cant that Koran burning threat incident from Florida be treated as a case of performance art and treated with the same respect as Hussain’s Sita?

    • @akash – Book-burning is about preventing ideas from getting across. This is about getting ideas across. Totally the opposite thing, you see.

      • Well small quibble. You can also have book burning to express one’s opinion of the book – whether it is the bible, koran or gita.

        But , yes, a more typical book burning, is trying to silence the opinions in a book instead of debating the merits.

  5. Im sorry, previous comment got deleted by accident

    In response to Praveens comment, Im all for anyone’s right to protest anything they feel worthy of protesting about, as long as they do it peacefully and by using legitimate means. This group seems to be doing that, so I dont see why this has been constructed as a problem here.

    We dont see the same condemnatory language applied to far more regular violent protests made by certain Muslims against other artists like Taslima Nasreen here. In fact, if we are supposed to adopt the high standard of free speech is sacrosanct, then why were SepiaMutiny team members condemning the Florida pastor’s right to free speech when he was threatening to burning the Koran? Couldn’t that be viewed as a case of Performance Art, designed to showcase society’s limitations of free speech?

    How does one really define what is offensive and bigoted, and what is not?

  6. I actually support burning the Koran, Bible, Gita. No problem for me. This is not about Hindus being doormats. I am a fan of South PArk and a lot of us were not pleased with CC for censoring even a non-vulgar depiction of Muhammad. I would support South PArk even if they made a joke in bad taste about Muhammad.

    As far as the right of the people protesting? Who is sayign they dont have the right. I am just making my own observation. Though there are different levels of free speech. One is trying to use their free speech to stifle others’ free speech. That’s where I have a problem. If those protesters are there merely to say how they hate that art, that is fine. If there are there to put pressure to shut it down, then that’s not OK.