A look at Indian regions which pray for the peace of Ravan during Navratri, sing his hymns and make him a cultural icon worth fighting for
Where in India do you find a tribal or Bahujan protesting the burning of a Brahmin? India is a land of great ironies. Just before Dussehra witnesses the defeat of Ravan and thousands of his effigies are burned, some parts of India will no doubt be objecting to it.
It is interesting to note that on Monday, the Pune unit of Bhim Army submitted a letter to the city police warning that if Ravan’s effigies were burned in the city, it would hurt their sentiments and of all those who belonged to the Scheduled Castes and tribes. They wanted the police the reject all the permits that communities have asked for, to burn effigies and hold ‘Ravan Dahan programs.” They even said that if people were to go ahead and do it anyway, complaints should be lodged under the SC/ST Act (prevention of atrocities.) they even said that if it did not happen, members will come out on the streets to protest and the police will be held accountable for any law and order situation.
“Bhim Army district president Datta Pol, women wing president Neeta Adsule and others claim that Ravan symbolises a glorious culture and he was a king who believed in equality and justice. “But the history was distorted and Ravan was presented as a villain for thousands of years,” the letter said.
“The banned Communist Party of India – Maoist has put up posters in parts of Gadchiroli district opposing burning of Ravan effigies. Korchi Area Committee of the CPI-Maoist put up the posters in Gadchiroli on Sunday stating: “Rakshas ke naam par Raavan ko jalaana bandh karo (stop burning Ravan in the name of demon)” reported The Indian Express.
“It urged tribals and other communities to come together and agitate against the “Brahmanical Hindutva Fascist” BJP government in the Centre and the state,” the report said.
Many in the country either celebrate Bhramanical Hindutva until it becomes radical or extremist or apologize for having been a part of a caste system that violates ‘lower castes’ on the daily. Ramayana and Ravan are beyond these manufactured binaries.
The Ramayana is a literature beyond the modern simplistic understanding of the text. It is important to know why certain regions in the country sing Ravan’s praise, idolize him and object to his insult.
Ravan was a just and able king. He had the knowledge of all the Vedas and Shastras. He was a great Shiva devotee and an expert of the Veena, a musical instrument. It is said that he invented the Rudra Veena. He was the son of a great Bhramin sage Vishrava (or Vesamuni), and his wife, the daitya princess Kaikeshi. People of Bisrakh village in Uttar Pradesh claim that Bisrakh was named after Vishrava, and Ravana was born there. He is still considered a maha-Bhrahman in this village and every Navratri, people here perform yagnas and peace prayers for Ravana’s departed soul.
There are stories in Rishikesh and temples in Rameshwaram that Lord Ram had to atone for and wash away his sin for killing Ravan. But why would a God atone for killing a villain? Because Ravan was not your streetside pedestrian villain you can easily dismiss. He was also a God.
“Ram, though God incarnate, was born in a family of Kshatriyas. In the caste hierarchy, Ram was of lower rank. As a Brahmin, Ravan was custodian of Brahma-gyan (the knowledge of God). Killing him meant Brahma-hatya-paap, the sin of Brahminicide, that Ram had to wash away through penance and prayer. Another reason why this atonement was important was because Ravan was Ram’s guru,” wrote Devdutt Pattanaik, mythologist, author and columnist.
Tribals and Bhramins in praise of Ravan
Ravan signifies everything that is a part of human life experience. But rarely do you find Mythological villains/Brahman gods which are included as icons in modern DBA (Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi) experience. He is a representation of their struggles.
“The Gond Tribals of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra worship Dashanan - Ravana and his son Meghnada as Gods. The tribals extend adulations to Ravana during a tribal festival – Falgun. As per Gond Tribals, Ravana was never demonized in the Valmiki Ramayana and Sage Valmiki clearly mentioned that Ravana did not do anything wrong or maligned Sita. It was in Tulsidas Ramayana that Ravana was considered a cruel king and devilish,” reported News18.
In Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, people worship him and respect his unparalleled knowledge and devotion for Lord Shiva. They even mourn his death.
Besides Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, some regions in Karnataka also pray to Ravan. “During the harvest festival, Lankadipathi (The King of Lanka) is worshipped by people of Kolar District in Karnataka. In a procession, along with Lord Shiva’s idol, a ten-headed (Dashanan) and twenty-armed idol of Ravana is also worshipped by locals. Similarly, at Malavalli Taluka in the Mandya District of Karnataka, a temple of Ravana is visited by Hindu devotees to honor his dedication for Lord Shiva,” the report said.
The report added that in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, The Maudgil Bhramins conduct Shraadh and Pind Daan for Ravan, according to Hindu rituals, as they are his descendants.
In Mathura, Saraswat Bhramins sings hymns in praise of Ravan and Lord Shiva. There exists a ‘Lankesh Bhakta Mandal.’ They are collecting funds to build a Ravan Temple on the banks of Yamuna river. Omveer Saraswat, the founder of the Mandal said that Ravan was a charitable man with divine quality. He found the effigy burning ritual an insult to such a divine figure.
“Saraswat had petitioned the president and the prime minister seeking a ban on the burning of Ravana effigies on Dussehra, claiming Ravan, the king of Lanka in the epic Ramayana, was a Saraswat Brahmin, and the burning of his effigies (Ravana Dahan) was an "insult" to Saraswat Brahmins and many others who worshipped him,” reported Business Standard.
“Kanpur has its share of Ravana worshippers who revel in glorifying the demon-king on Dussehra every year. The temple, which is believed to be 120-plus years old, can be found in the Shivala locality of Kanpur, where the devout open the portals of the shrine once annually. Believe it or not, the chants of “Ravan Baba Namah” reverberating inside the temple, attract both the faithful and the curious onlookers alike; and the queues on a day like Dussehra could be as long as a kilometer,” reported Times Of India.
The majority of Indian populace believes in the villainy of Ravan. It signifies the fight of good over evil. What constitutes good or evil in this modern global village is a grey area. There are lessons far more complex in the literature than the simple retelling of Ramayan. Devdutt Pattanaik explains how Ravan cannot just be painted in one hue and how his life is a lesson for us all, no matter our caste or background.
“Shiva is God embodying the principle of vairagya, absolute detachment. He demonstrates his disdain for all things material by smearing his body with ash and living in crematoriums. The material world does not matter to him. Ravan may be his great devotee; he may sing Shiva’s praise, and worship Shiva every day, but he does not follow the path of Shiva,” he wrote.
“In reality, Ravan stands for everything that Shiva rejects. Ravan is fully attached to worldly things. He always wants what others have. He never built the city of gold – he drove out his brother, Kuber, and took over the kingdom of Lanka. Why did he abduct Sita? Avenging his sister’s mutilation was but an excuse; it was the desire to conquer the heart of a faithful wife. And during the war, he let his sons die and his brothers die before entering the battlefield himself,” he wrote.
“Ravan has ten pairs of eyes, which means he can see more. Ravan has ten sets of arms, which means he can do more. Ravan has ten heads, which means he can think more. And yet, this man with a superior body and superior mind submits to the basest of passions. Despite knowing the Vedas and worshipping Shiva, he remains a slave of his senses and a victim of his own ego. He arrogantly shows off his knowledge of detachment but is not wise enough to practice detachment. Deluded, he gives only lip-service to Shiva. This pretender is therefore killed by Ram, who like Shiva, is another form of God,” he concludes.