A recent article in Times of India, after Dussehra, is the raison d'etre of this article. The said article referred Ravan, the villain of the epic Ramayana, as ‘Mahatma Ravan’ and projected him as the savior of women and the ‘protector of the Nirbhaya’s in the country’ (Read the full article - Ramlila refrain: Only Ravana can save Nirbhayas http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-10-14/chandigarh/43025513_1_effigies-martyrdom-day-dussehra ). For those who might not want to click on the link (!), the article went on to list a host of cities in Punjan abd Haryana, which traditionally observed the day of Dussehra as the day of Ravan’s martyrdom and even mentioned how Ravan ‘protected’ Sita when she was in his custody.
While there seems to be a contradiction in the acts of the worshipers of Ravan, such contradictions are not absolutely out of place. While majority burn the effigy of Ravan, as a sign of the victory of good over evil, there are many who see him as a hero. While many feel that his pride and arrogance was his hubris, he nonetheless had much to be appreciated for. (Read more on Ravan Ravan - Part 1 ). In Ramayan, Ravan is pitted against Ram, a character created to depict what stood for everything right, a maryada-purushottam, a man amongst men. Ram was the vision of the author who created an embodiment of all the virtues in an ideal man, be he a son, brother, husband or a King. The negatives were all bundled in his main adversary, and in this case, Ravan, which was more to highlight the grave differences between the two adversaries.
While the article does sound a trifle oxymoronic when it says that Ravan ‘protected’ Sita in ‘custody’, it is not absolutely wrong when it says that women in Lanka under ‘Ravan-raj’ or the rule of Ravan were safe. Many might challenge this, by saying that Ravan was a confirmed womanizer, though there aren’t too many episodes to prove this except his violation of apsara Rambha, after he was smitten by her looks. It was after this violation, that he was cursed by Lord Brahma, that if he ever violated any other woman, his head would burst, and this was considered to be the main reasons for Ravan not violating or even hurting Sita. Some versions also state that he could not do so, as Sita was his daughter (Read more in Ravan – Part 2 ).
So could Ravan be considered to be the role model for being the savior of Nirbhaya’s of India? In spite of Ravan being one of my personal favorites, this choice is a bit far-fetched. A person, who lives in a world of his own, and believes in the theory of an eye-for-an-eye and risks the entire country for a personal issue, could not be considered to be the savior of Nirbhaya’s of India. While he might have kidnapped Sita to avenge his sister’s mutilation, waging a war and risking the entire nation for the same was not a very sensible thing to do. It was nothing short of a political suicide for an able and intelligent administrator like him. Call it a defect in his character, but it did lead to his downfall and immense loss to the nation.
Many known ‘villains’ of epics have followers in the modern day, Duryodhan of Mahabharat, being one of them. There are a number of temples dedicated to Duryodhan, in the region of Uttaranchal and even in Kerala. While we will discuss the logic of such temples in these locations on some other day, it is important to understand that such temples co-exist with the temples of the heroes from the same epics. Some of the temples have their genesis in the politics of the later days, and the oppression of certain classes. It is also important to note that while the villains are being worshiped in some places, the heroes are not criticized in the same places. This could be due to the lack of clarity in the exact position of the followers of an ‘alternate’ faith, or their inability to tackle the onslaught of offending the mainstream faith. Again, a religious-political issue.
While debates will always be biased one way or the other when we judge such characters, it would be unwise to debate on the basic premise on which such epics have been written. A few temples of Ravan or Duryodhan do not make them worth worshiping at altars, even if some of them have been wronged at some point of time. I am in no way suggesting that the heroes of the same epics are more worthy of being ‘worshiped’ in the traditional sense, as against the known villains, but worshiping of these can only be seen as biases which have gone beyond reason.
Pic courtesy - Wikipedia