Every Dasara, Ravana dies spectacularly, in a blaze of flames and fireworks, only to die again the year after. Revisit the Ramayana to rediscover Ravana, not as an all-black anti-hero but a character with shades of grey — a warrior king who grabbed life with his 20 arms and drank the nectar of pleasure with his 10 mouths, a great vedic scholar who lived by his own code of ethics
Dasara is all about celebrating the victory of Dharma over Adharma. It is on this day that the evil demon Ravana was slain by Sri Rama, the avatar of Lord Vishnu.
Rama is considered as the epitome of virtue — the Maryada Purushottama, whereas Ravana is often portrayed as the devil incarnate. Ravana’s death is the most celebrated death in the history of mankind. Year after year, Ravana keeps dying spectacularly in every nook and corner of India during Dussehra.
Sri Rama represents an idea of how to lead a life. Most saints have called it an ideal way of living and most Indians do believe it to be so. The unapologetic spiritual quest of Indian philosophy, which sees everything materialistic with derision, has not always gone unchallenged. In Ramayana itself we can find thinkers who have put materialistic pleasures over abstract ideals.
Valmiki Ramayana speaks about a materialistic philosopher Jabali, who tried to stop Lord Rama from going to his 14 years of exile, with his rational arguments. Jabali was a pioneer in the philosophy of “Lokayata Darshana”, which gave importance to man’s materialistic pursuit over vague concepts of spiritualism.
Different Ramayanas give varying versions of how Rama had reacted to these arguments. But most agree that Lord Rama lost his cool and a terrified Jabali meekly withdrew fearing for his life.
Ravana lived his life according to the tenets of Jabali. Though a devout Shiva Bhakta, he never tried to imitate the ascetic lifestyle of his favourite God. He grabbed life with his 20 arms and drank the nectar of pleasure with his 10 mouths. Ravana was someone who lived life fully. Unlike Sri Rama, he had no reverence for his parents. Though a Brahmin, he did not offer any special privileges for Brahmins in his kingdom.
He was considered the greatest Vedic scholar of his times, yet his followers were always disrupting yajnas and it fell upon Sri Rama to protect such religious sacrifices. While Rama was willing to forgo his kingship for the sake of his half-brother Bharata, Ravana grabbed Lanka from his half-brother Kubera through deceit and cunning.
It will be interesting to ask this simple question. Had Ravana won the final war instead of Rama, would our concept of right and wrong have undergone any change?
Maybe, the poets would have told us that Ravana followed the Dharma to the last word. History is always written by the victors. His abduction of Sita might have been justified as a revenge for mutilation of his sister by Lakshmana. When Rama could not accept his wife without a test of purity by fire, Ravana had stood by his wife in a much more serious circumstance.
Valmiki Ramayana speaks about an incident when Angada and other vanaras entered Ravana’s harem and molested Mandodari. This was done as a war strategy to prevent Ravana from completing his prayer that might have made him invincible. However, Ravana accepted his wife even after the incident and was not worried about what the world would think about her. There was no Agnipariksha for Mandodari.
This may earn him lots of fans from the modern day feminists, but a deeper reading of the epic will make them understand that while Ravana could charm any number of ladies to his bed, he was not above using force whenever he felt necessary.