A Few Good Things

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." – Ibn Battuta

Why Me # Ravana

Every story has two sides to it. The version of the winner that projects him to be the greatest and everything else as evil.

From Alexander to Churchill history has always been written by the victor. Nehru  went on to add “History is always written by the victors and conquerors, or at any rate the victors version is given prominence and holds the field“. And Napoleon stated “History is a set of lies agreed upon“.

With this context lets step back and look at the story of Ramayana and question if it is fair to vilify an erudite scholar, a valiant soldier and a great king like Ravana…. just because he was a vanquished Asura.

From the current #me too debate to ancient history women have always been at the receiving end of mans lust. Every king & emperor filled his harem with women, and none of them walked in on their own free will. Men in power whether politicians or corporate leaders and spiritual masters (Baba Asaram, Nityanand ….) have been in the news for treating women as mere objects.

Thousands of years back when the rules of the world were probably very different and norms of society were just being created was Ravana’s action of carrying away Sita the greatest crime of mankind.

Yes Rama vanquished Ravana – and since then poor Ravana has been the symbol of a perfect villain. But was Ravana indeed a villain as he is portrayed? Is there a second perspective to this. Were the Asuras really demons and the “Bad people” – or was this a creation of the victor.

The word Asura has a close resemblance to “Ahura” which comes from the Persian Language and means great warriors. Ravana, Bahubali were all Asura kings who were known for being great administrators and valiant warriors. Across the border in Sri Lanka the stories of Ravana  are very different from what you hear in India.

Sri Lankan lore has it that Sri Lanka under the scholarly Ravana saw great advancements in science and medicine. The Pushpaka Vimana or the aeroplane which he flew is held as an example of great scientific achievements made during his regime. Ravana also holds a high position as a physician and there exists, to this day, seven books on Ayurveda in his name. He is also believed to have authored Ravana Sanhita, an anthology of Hindu astrology and his description as a ten-headed person, Daśamukha or Daśagrīva, is believed to be a reference to his vast knowledge and intelligence.

In many depictions of Ravan, he can be seen carrying a veena. It is believed that he had a keen interest in music and was a highly accomplished veena player.

Ravana’s empire spread over Balidweepa (today’s Bali), Malayadweep (Malaysia), Angadweepa, Varahdweepa, Shankhadweepa, Yavadweepa, Andhralaya and Kushadweepa.  

He was a great practitioner of statecraft. When Ravana was dying on the battlefield Rama instructed his brother Lakshmana to go to Ravana and learn the art of statecraft and diplomacy from the dying king

Ravana was not only a stupendous fighter, but also an expert of the Vedas and an expert in Astrology. It is said that when his son Meghanada was to be born from his wife Mandodari’s womb, Ravana “instructed” all the planets and the Sun to be in their proper position for the auspicious “lagna” so that his son would become immortal. But Saturn suddenly changed its position. Noticing this, a furious Ravana attacked Saturn with his mace and broke off one of its legs, maiming him for life.

Ravana was one of the greatest devotees of Lord Shiva, and composed the Shiva Tandava Stotram.

There are references which state that Ravana got this name later in life, and that too from Shiva. Ravana wanted Shiva to relocate from Kailash to Lanka, and to make this possible, he tried to lift the mountain. But Shiva, being who he is, put down his foot onto the mountain, thus crushing Ravana’s finger with his one toe. Ravana let out a huge roar of pain, but at the same time, he was so enamoured by Shiva’s power, he composed and sang the Shiva Tandav Stotram. It is believed that Ravana plucked out nerves from his own hand to provide accompanying music. Shiva, thus impressed, named him Ravana (the one who roars loud).

The essence of Indian mythology is obviously beyond the simple good vs evil story line. If you care to dig deep, there’s an interesting story at every step.
Ravana played his role as a villain, but it was that of a much-needed villain, that brought balance to the equation. No wonder there are many people in the world, who still worship him.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Rajesh Marwaha

    Wow. This Wow is both for the author and his subject, Ravana. Thank you for taking the pains to research and bring to light the various other aspects/ qualities of Ravana that were forgotten and felt unnecessary to discover behind his one obvious and glaring mistake that made him a villain.

    These are my personal lessons from this story of Ravana:
    1. Ravana was a man of great wisdom and talents
    2. He seemed short on humility as on numerous occasions he acted out of superiority complex and ego
    3. His one act of disrespect towards a woman caused him to lose his life and reputation (at least in India)
    4. We cannot escape the fruit of our karmas, both good and bad
    5. Let us be fair and balanced in our evaluation and impression of people

    Thank you VAK, for yet another thought inspiring article.

  2. Mira Desai

    Sometime back I’d finished reading Ashwin Sanghi’s Keepers of the Kaalchakra. That has a different reason for the battle of Ramayana. Have always been curious as to why such an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva would be swayed by a lovely woman, no matter how virtuous or beautiful she may be. At Kailash, the stream from the mount flows into Rakshas tal and not Manas.. what a learned man he must have been!

    • vak1969

      I guess the value system in those days were different – we should not look at it from the angle of today. Almost every king did what he wanted and carried away beautiful women

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