Mean bouts of evil laughter, 10 wretched heads and a deserving death — Dusshera in almost every average North Indian neighbourhood has traditionally been about turning Ravana into ashes every year at the end of Navratri. Neutrals would ask why. It’s because he apparently resorted to kidnapping in order to protect his sister’s honour, whose nose was chopped off by Rama’s brother Laxman.
But as you grow up, you start reading between the lines (unless you’re a fundamentalist of some kind) and see Ravan in a different light. It’s also worth pointing out here that more than 3,000 versions of the Ramayana exist and in many of them, Ravana is not as bad a guy as we’ve made him out to be.
Was protecting family
So what would you do if your sister hits at a guy and ends up in trouble with the guy’s girlfriend/wife? You would ideally advise her not to rock the relationship. But what if the guy’s brother brutally attacks your sister and leaves her bleeding? Won’t that make you furious? Of course you wouldn’t resort to kidnap the guy’s girlfriend/wife, but Ravana’s anger isn’t completely misplaces.
Didn’t rape Sita
So Ravana kidnapped Sita in the aftermath of the chop-chop incident to trigger a war with Rama and his forces. But legend has it that he didn’t get frisky with Sita because she didn’t give consent. On the other hand, Rama made his wife undergo a vitriolic challenge to prove her loyalty. She of course passed it but it spoke more about Rama than Sita. And we call Ravana disrespectful towards women?
Was well-read, more pious
In one of his articles, Hindu mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik referred to how Rama looked up to Ravana even when the latter was breathing his last.
The story goes that after firing the fatal arrow on the battlefield of Lanka, Ram told his brother, Lakshman, “Go to Ravan quickly before he dies and request him to share whatever knowledge he can. A brute he may be, but he is also a great scholar.”
A recent book on Ravana, also claims that he wrote books and built a maze of underground tunnels to protect his empire. According to “Ravana, King of Lanka” (Vijitha Yapa Publications), Ravana may not have lost the war to Lord Rama but for the “betrayal” by his wife Mandodari and half brother Vibhishana “who gave away war secrets to the enemies”.
The 174-page book by Sri Lankan writer Mirando Obeysekere, based on archaeological evidence as well as palm leaf writings from a bygone era, “Ravana civilization was a highly advanced civilization. It was a very prosperous culture and a civilization that developed centring (Sri) Lanka. That civilization was destroyed with the advent of an Aryan group headed by Rama.”
Victim of racism
It’s funny how all the asuras in North Indian mythology always hail from the Southern parts of geography. It won’t even be a surprise that the North Indians would refer to dark-skinned people as demons purely on the basis of their skin complexion.
BJP Parliamentarian Tarun Vijay summed up this racist sentiment earlier this year when he said this in an interview to Al Jazeera:
“If we were racist, why would we have all the entire south…Tamil, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra…why do we live with them? We have black people around us,” the politician was heard as saying in the video.
Sure Mr Vijay, we’re glad you haven’t waged war on these lowly peoples yet. Maybe they all deserve the same fate as Ravana, no?