A (Thin) Boundary Not to Be Crossed, or "Lakṣmaṇ-rekhā"
Keywords:female chastity, Hindi literary tradition, North Indian ethos, Rāmāyaṇa, Rāmcaritmānas, Rāmcandrikā, Rādheśyām Rāmāyaṇ, Sūrsāgar, symbolic boundaries
This paper discusses the concept of lakṣmaṇ-rekhā that originates in the later Rāmāyaṇa tradition and for centuries has functioned as a metaphorical expression denoting a strict (moral) boundary that should not be crossed, as its transgression inevitably exposes one to danger. It has featured prominently in Indian public discourse on female chastity and is also very much present in different socio-cultural and political contexts, often vocalised in literature, works of art, etc. In the concept of lakṣmaṇ-rekhā, one of the most basic and at the same time most important functions performed in culture by symbolic boundaries is manifested—the function of delineating the known, familiar, safe and permissible from the unknown, unfamiliar, dangerous, impermissible. Significantly, these boundaries have inherent moral weight and help individuals as well as whole societies to structure and regulate the universe they live in, on the micro- and macro-scale.
In this paper, first I discuss textual evidence that can be found in wellknown Hindi Rāmāyaṇas such as the Rāmcaritmānas, the Rāmcandrikā and Rādheśyām Rāmāyaṇ, as well as in the Sūrsāgar. This analysis of literary material is meant to contextualise various levels of explicit and implicit meanings of the concept of lakṣmaṇ-rekhā that emerge from traditional sources in Hindi. In the second part of this article, I offer a survey of relevant Hindi dictionary entries and then focus on modern non-literary (and not only Hindi) usages of lakṣmaṇ-rekhā. Finally, I place the previously examined literary and linguistic material in the context of the findings of contemporary social scientists on the concept of symbolic boundaries (Epstein 1992). It is hoped that this study that gives emphasis to structuring and regulating (but not only) aspect of boundaries can contribute to our understanding of how broadly understood safety and values are negotiated in contemporary Indian society by way of drawing (ethical) boundaries and what happens if they are compromised.
Brockington, J. L. 1985. Righteous Rāma: The Evolution of an Epic. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
—. 1998. The Sanskrit Epics. Leiden–Boston–Köln: Brill.
Brown, M. C. and N. Agrawal. 2014. The Rape that Woke Up India: Hindu
Bulke, K. 1999 (6th corrected ed.). Rāmkathā. Utpatti aur vikās. Ilāhābād: Hindī Pariṣad.
Courts Can’t Substitute Executive, Must Draw Lakshman rekha: Arun Jaitley.
The Indian Express. 17 May, 2016. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/judicial-activism-has-to-be-blended-with-restraint-jaitley-2804182/ (16.09.2016).
Dās, Ś. (ed.). 1965–1975 (new ed.). Hindī śabdsāgar. Vārāṇasī: Nāgarī Pracāriṇī Sabhā. http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/dasa-hindi/ (18.07.2016).
Don’t Cross ‘Lakshman Rekha,’ Minister Tells Women, The Hindu, 5 January 5, 2013. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/dont-crosslakshman-rekha-minister-tells-women/article4273131.ece (16.09.2016).
Epstein, C. F. 1992. Tinkerbells and Pinups: The Construction and Reconstruction of Gender Boundaries at Work. In: M. Lamont and M. Fournier (eds). Cultivating Differences: Symbolic Boundaries and the Making of Inequality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 232–256.
Guha, R. 2008. The Challenge of Contemporary History. Economic and Political Weekly, 43(26/27) (Jun. 28–Jul. 11, 2008): 192–200. https://doi.org/10.2307/40278913.
Hawley, J. S. 2015. Introduction. The Translation. In: K. E. Bryant (ed.), Surdas. Sur’s Ocean. Poems from the Early Tradition. J. S. Hawley (transl.). Cambridge–London: Harvard University Press: vii–xxiii.
Hawley, J. S. 2005. Three Bhakti Voices: Mirabai, Surdas, and Kabir in Their Time and Ours. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Jagannāthan, Vī. Rā. 2009. Chātrakoś (Advanced Learners’ Hindi Dictionary). New Delhi: Janepā Pabliśars.
Keśavdās. 1996 (1st published 1955). Keśav-granthāvalī. V. P. Miśra (ed.). Vol. 2. Ilāhābād: Hindustanī Ekeḍemī.
Kishwar, M. P. 2015. Silicon Valley Will Be Laughing at the Anti-Modi ‘Moral Advisory’ by Academics. Firstpost, 18 September. http://www.firstpost.com/india/silicon-valley-will-be-laughing-at-anti-modi-moraladvisory-by-academics-2435872.html (16.09.2016).
Kumar, G. 1997. The Book on Trial: Fundamentalism and Censorship in India. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications.
Lakshman Rekha for Judges, The Telegraph, 27 November 2016. https://www.telegraphindia.com/1161127/jsp/frontpage/story_121580.jsp#.WKjNI4XWJSQ (18.02.2017).
Lamont, M. 2001. Culture and Identity. In: J. H. Turner (ed.). Handbook of Sociological Theory. New York: Springer: 171–185. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-36274-6_9
Lamont M. and V. Molnár. 2002. The Study of Boundaries in the Social Sciences. Annual Review of Sociology, 28: 167–195. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.soc.28.110601.141107. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.soc.28.110601.141107
Lamont M. and M. Fournier (eds). 1992. Cultivating Differences: Symbolic Boundaries and the Making of Inequality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mahānāṭaka. 1969. Compiled by Madhusūdana Miśra, with commentary of Jibananda Vidyasagara. 1969 (3rd ed.). Calcutta: Jibananda Vidyasagara & Sons.
McGregor, R. S. 1993. The Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Mehta, M. 2012. Censorship and Sexuality in Bombay Cinema. Texas: University of Texas Press.
Nair, R. B. 2010 (reprint). City of Walls, City of Gates. In: K. Singh (ed.). City Improbable: Writings on Delhi. New Delhi: Penguin Books India: 266–285.
Prasād, K. et al. (eds). 2005 (reprint). Br̥hat hindī koś. Vārāṇasī: Jñān Maṇḍal Limiṭeḍ.
Rādheśyām. n.d. Rāmāyaṇ. Barelī: Śrī Rādheśyām Pustakālay.
Rāmāyaṇa = The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki. An Epic of Ancient India. 2007. Introduction, Annotation and Translation by Sheldon I. Pollock. Ed. by R. P. Goldman. Vol. III. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Raṅganātha Rāmāyaṇa (Rājā Gona-Buddha racit mūl Telugu se anūdit). 1961. Ed. by Avadhnandan, transl. by A. C. Kāmākṣi Rāv. Paṭnā: Hār-Rāṣṭrabhāṣā-Pariṣad.
Rao, P. A. 1995. Changes in the Theme and Characters of the Ranganatha Ramayana. In: G. Pollet (ed.). Indian Epic Values: Rāmāyaṇa and Its Impact (Proceedings of the 8th International Rāmāyaṇa Conference, Leuven, 6–8 July 1991). Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters en Departement Oosterse Studies: 59–65.
Smith, W. L. 1994 (1st published 1988). Rāmāyaṇa Traditions in Eastern India: Assam, Bengal, Orissa. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.
Stasik, D. 2009. The Infinite Story. The Past and Present of the Rāmāyaṇas in Hindi. Delhi: Manohar.
Sūrdās. 1958. Sūrsāgar. Ed. by N. Vājpeyī. Vārāṇasī: Nāgarī Prācāriṇī Sabhā. Vol. 1: 205–206.
Surdas. 2015. Sur’s Ocean. Poems from the Early Tradition. Ed. by K. E. Bryant, transl. by J. S. Hawley. Cambridge–London: Harvard University Press.
Tulpule, S. G. 1979. Classical Marāṭhī Literature: From the Beginning to A.D. 1818. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
Turner, J. H. (ed.). 2001. Handbook of Sociological Theory. New York: Springer. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-36274-6
Varmā, R. (ed.). 2007 (3rd ed.). Mānak hindī koś. Vol. 4. Ilāhābād: Hindī Sāhitya Sammelan.
Women Crossing Laxman-rekha Will Be Punished: BJP Leader. Firstpost, 4 January, 2013. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/women-who-cross-laxman-rekha-will-be-punished-bjp-leader-578003.html (16.09.2016).
Yājñik, A. and S. Sheth. 2005. The Shaping of Modern Gujarat: Plurality, Hindutva, and Beyond. London: Penguin Books.
Zbavitel, D. 1976. Bengali Literature. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-significance-of-Lakshman-Rekha-in-Ramayan-for-whom-Lakshman-Rekha-was-created (15.07.2016). https://www.quora.com/What-is-Lakshman-Rekha-according-to-the-Ramayana# (1.09.2016).
How to Cite
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.