New Delhi, September 30, 2017 : Happy Dussehra or Vijaydashmi – the day we all rejoice the defeat of the evil Lanka Naresh Ravana by Shri Ram. But the essence of the festival is much more than plain revenge. We have been told since times immemorial that the festival symbolizes the triumph of truth over deception and good over evil; the victory of Lord Ram (who we must aspire to be) over the evil Ravana (who should be despised). But is that all there is to devour from the epic?
— Iskcon (@IskconInc) September 30, 2017
Lord Ram is held in reverence across the country and is seen as the ultimate role model. Popularly addressed as ‘Maryada Purushottam’, we have all, at a point, aimed to inculcate similar traits in our life. But do we truly aspire to live a Ram-like life? If your answer to that question is in the affirmation, what are you doing to lead a life defined with such high morale and ideals?
We Have More In Common With Ravana Than Ram
‘Respect your parents’, ‘One must not steal’, ‘Do not lie’, ‘Honesty is the best policy’.
Despite being repeatedly exposed to these virtues, we are still dishonest.
Lord Ram, who we aspire to be, supposedly never lied.
The veneration with which the Raghuvansham looked up to his parents is not only impossible to trace in the present day, but also hard to emulate.
An epitome of ethical demeanor and exemplary disciple, are we as devoted as Ram?
This brings me to a larger question.
Have you ever noticed how we have more in common with Ravana than Lord Ram?
Maybe because it is easy to be a Ravana today, than be the ideal Ram.
So, this Dussehra, as people from all across India burn effigies of Ravana as part of the popular ritual, let us dig a little deeper and introspect what makes the anti-hero, Ravana so special and traits we can learn from his life,
What Can We Learn From Ravana
Undying Faith and Devotion
Ravana performed an extreme repentance (or tapasya) to appease Shiva that lasted for tens of thousands years.
During his atonement, Ravana sacrificed his head for the sake of Shiva and chopped it off 10 different times. Each time he cut his head off, another head emerged, hence empowering him to proceed with his repentance. Finally, satisfied with his severity, Shiva showed up after his tenth beheading and rewarded him a boon of heavenly nectar of eternality.
Ravana additionally requested for supremacy over divine beings, heavenly spirits, different rakshas, and serpents which was granted by Shiva along with his 10 severed heads and an incredible knowledge of heavenly weapons and magic.
Ravana was the grandson of Brahma, the creator of the universe, the son of sage Vishrava and a sibling of Kubera, the god of riches.
He himself was an exceptional researcher and was learned in Ayurveda, political science and the ways of the Kshatriyas (warriors). His ten heads are known to speak of his insight into the Shastras and the four Vedas A great Veena player, he additionally wrote several books and verses on medicine and composed the Ravana Samhita, a book on Hindu astrology and the Arka Prakasham.
This highlights that despite your ill-deeds, knowledge can win you laurels, even from your staunchest rivals.
Valmiki recognized Ravana as an exceptionally proficient and just ruler.
Ravana emerged victorious in the battle against the demon king Sumali and assumed control and administration over Lanka, thus gaining the title of ‘Lanka Naresh’. Under his reign, the kingdom came to be known as ‘Sone ki Lanka’ (kingdom of gold) and witnessed the most prosperous and magnanimous period in its history.
Ravana was a minding ruler, who cared for his subjects well. It was only under his rule and guidance that the kingdom, constricted by Vishwakarma, the best of all architects, flourished.
Ambition and Belief in Self
After his penance to Lord Shiva, Ravana had wished for supremacy over divine beings, heavenly spirits, different rakshas, and serpents. Maintaining conviction in himself and his abilities, he wanted to emerge victorious and preside over all three worlds. He also fought a series of wars and lost only four times. Ravana also defeated Sumali, the demon king and established control over Lanka.
This tells us that ambition is the key to progress. Without ambition, men would have not discovered wheels, horse carts or chariots, magnificent cities, temples and palaces, or majestic sailing ships. Absence of ambition means an absence of growth.
Staying True to Oneself
Ravana wanted to emerge as the greatest ruler, however, he did not aspire to become ‘God’ or attain moksha.
In response to the great king Mahabali who advised Ravana to shun malice and greed, the Lanka Naresh told him that he would never strive to be a God and shall live like a man and die as one too. Ravana lived exactly as his emotions guided him and did not aim to be a role model for the generations to follow.
This brings forth Ravana’s conviction to live our life to its full and die as a man should, staying true to one’s character and never once aiming to be godly.
Ram And Ravana Had More In Common Than You Think
Most of us believe Ravana to be an evil rakshas. However, a deeper understanding of the Hindu mythology and its characters reveal that both Ram and Ravana had traits that one must aspire to imbibe.
Throughout the epic, both Ram and Ravana demonstrated outrageous determination in following their convictions, regardless of what they were to face thereafter. Yet, we only address Ram as the Lord while look at Ravana as an evil force, despite recognizing (however not truly accepting) his traits.
Ram battled with valor against all dangers, until the point he delivered justice for all the wrong that was done to him. Similarly, Ravana remained loyal to his choices (abduction of Sita) and its consequences till his final breath.
In his quest to bring his wife back, Ram fought battles, meandered for miles, and even clashed with the gods of the oceans. Despite all intricacies, what guided Lord Ram to ultimate victory was his determination. Similarly, Ravana (and Shiva) proliferated the best hypothesis of modern humanism “Atma so paramatma” which says there is no more noteworthy power than human fortitude.
Ram touched the hearts of many upon his chance meeting with Shabri and preached lessons of equality and moving beyond barriers of caste upon consumption of her half-consumed berries. In the same manner, the Raksh tribe also proposed faith in nature-worship and universal identity with no predisposition for caste, creed or gender. In fact, Ravan also propagated the ‘Raksh neeti’ which implied equality for all.
The world largely celebrates Ramayana as a battle the Raghuvansham fought in wife Sita’s esteem. Tales of Lord Ram’s reverence towards his mothers and the female clan in general have been cited across generations that earned him the title of the ‘Maryada Purushottam’.
In a similar manner, Ravan avenged the disrespect given to his sister Shurpanka by abducting Sita. However, he did not ill-treat her, and instead kept her with dignity in the Ashok Vatika.
These instances draw attention to one of the traits of human sociology – an individual who questions principles, assumptions and values is always painted dark. I believe Ravan was one of them.
Maybe over the years, Ramayana has been over-simplified, and consequently, a little misinterpreted. I believe a lot can be learnt from both, the hero and the anti-hero of the epic.