The trend of vilifying Lord Rama and glorifying Raavan comes from a total ignorance of what is actually written in the Ramayana.
Dussehra or Vijaya-Dashmi is celebrated on the tenth day of Sharad Navratri, which begins with Ashvin Shukla Prathama and ends with Ashvin Shukla Navami. Dussehra is celebrated every year as a testimony to the fact that good always triumphs. The tradition of burning effigies of Raavan (Dashanan), his son Indrajeet (Meghnaad) and brother Kumbhakaran is being followed for long as an integral part of Indic culture. But unfortunately, this tradition is losing its essence in our modern and so-called liberal times. Though the effigies are still burnt today and Ram-Leela performances are conducted throughout the nation; yet the deeper reasons for doing so are largely unknown to the masses.
There is no iota of doubt that Raavan was the greatest scholar of his time. The great-grandson of Brahma was a master of the four Vedas and six shastras (symbolized by his ten heads). He was deft in skills of statecraft and diplomacy. In fact, Raavan and his brother Kumbhkaran were actually Jaya and Vijaya, the gatekeepers of Vishnu, which made them quite arrogant, so much so that once when the four Kumaras, mind-born sons of Brahma, showed up at the gates of Vaikunth (Vishnu’s abode), Jaya-Vijaya mistook them for naked children (a result of their tapasya). This enraged the sages so much, they cursed Jaya-Vijaya saying that they would be parted from their lord. When they asked for forgiveness, the sages said that they could either spend seven lifetimes on earth as Vishnu’s avatars’ allies or three lifetimes as their enemies. They chose the latter. In one of those three lifetimes, Jaya-Vijaya were born as Ravan and Kumbhkaran. Thus, Ramayan depicts him as evil for he was ordained to live a sinful life under the weight of his past bad karma.
In this age of social media, where a large amount of unorganized information is easily accessible and there is no measure to check the truth behind the facts presented, the readers are often exposed to wrong information or half truths. Since most of the youngsters haven’t read Sage Valmiki’s Ramayan or Goswami Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas, they are bound to misinterpret the information. With this article, I will break some common myths.
1. Raavan was a great brother who avenged his sister’s insult
Surpanakha was married to the Asura Dushtabuddhi. Initially, Surpanakha’s husband enjoyed high favor with her brother Raavan, as a privileged member of Raavan’s court, but Raavan had Dushtabuddhi killed due to the latter’s growing ambition for more power. This act earned Raavan, his sister’s great displeasure. Also, Raavan didn’t care about Surpanakha when she told him that Laxman cut her nose. His interest stemmed from the fact that he came to know that there was an extremely beautiful woman with Laxman. His abduction of Goddess Sita was out of pure lust. Thus, it is wrong to call Raavan a loving and a caring brother.
2. Raavan never touched Sita in her captivity
Raavan once camped near the city of Kuber, with a mission to slay an ogre Madhu. After completing his mission, Raavan was resting in the vicinity of Kuber’s city. With a cloudless sky, a lovely atmosphere and the love-laden songs sung by Kinnaras and Vidhyadharas, he easily fell prey to his own lust. Unfortunately, he was not accompanied by any of his courtiers. It so happened by sheer accident that Rambha, the celestial nymph, passed by. She was married to Nalakubara, son of Kuber and therefore was, in a sense, the daughter-in-law of Raavan. Of course, Raavan was unaware of this fact at first, when he grabbed her to him. Rambha pleaded with him to restrain himself informing that she actually belongs to Nalakubara and the relationship between her and Raavan was not one meant for carnal enjoyment (Valmiki Ramayana, Uttara Kanda, Canto XXVI, Sloka 29).
“I could have agreed on that had you been the wife of my son Indrajeet. But you are the wife of my brother’s son! The plea which you have given in the words, ‘I am your daughter-in-law’ holds well in the case of those who have (only) one husband. Celestial nymphs have no husband nor are gods committed to a single wife such is the eternal law obtaining in the realm of gods” (Sloka 39).
Raavan violated her in spite of her pleas to the contrary. She was deeply traumatized by this kind of an illicit relationship but Raavan left her alone only after finishing the act, which really tantamounts to rape. She went to her husband Nalakubara with folded hands and tears welling up her eyes and narrated him the entire episode.The enraged Nalakubara poured a little water in his palms and pronounced this curse on Raavan, sprinkling the water:
“Since, O blessed lady, you stand violated by him perforce, unwilling as you were, he shall no longer be able to approach any other young woman who is unwilling to accept him. When (however) stricken with love, he will violate a woman who is unwilling to approach him, his head will actually be split into seven pieces that (very moment) (Sloka 55).
Raavan was troubled and anxious for the first time in his life.
“Hearing of the aforesaid execration, which caused his hair to stand on end, Raavan, (the ten-headed monster) felt inclined no more to copulate with women who were unwilling to approach him” (Sloka 59).
And this gives relief to all women, who were devoted to their husbands and had been brought by him, says Valmiki. Thus, Raavan’s act of not touching Goddess Sita was not because of the goodness of his heart but out of fear of his own death.
3. Lord Ram wronged Goddess Sita
Lord Rama never banished mother Sita. Banishment implied being evicted out of the kingdom into the forest without any arrangements for food, clothing or shelter. That was what happened to Lord Rama when he was banished by his step-mother, Kaikeyi. But Lord Rama asked Lakshman to escort Goddess Sita to the hermitage of the sage Valmiki, where the venerable sage received her with a respectful aarti (worship) and the elderly lady-hermits lovingly cared for her. As the hermitage was in the kingdom of Lord Ram and under his protection, it’s entirely incorrect to say that the Lord banished her, for the Lord indirectly arranged for her food, clothing, shelter and care.
To understand the reason for doing so, we need to appreciate the values held sacred by the Vedic culture that the Ramayan demonstrates. The Vedic culture considers all relationships and all positions as opportunities for sacred service, service to God and to all his children. When Lord Ram heard the accusations being levelled against his consort, this situation constituted an ethical crisis. In an ethical crisis, one has two choices, both moral, unlike in a moral crisis, when one has two choices, one moral and the other, immoral. To resolve an ethical crisis, one needs profound wisdom to recognize the higher moral principle and adjust the lower moral principle accordingly. So, through this incident, Lord Ram, who was God incarnate playing the role of an ideal human being, taught us how to wisely resolve ethical crises. As an ideal husband, the Lord was duty-bound to protect his wife. But as the ideal king, he was also duty-bound to exemplify and teach his citizens, whom he loved like his own children, the path to spiritual advancement. Ordinarily, people are very attached materially to spouse, children, house and wealth. So, the king is duty-bound to demonstrate to his citizens the principle of detachment so that they become inspired toward detachment and thus make spiritual advancement. That’s why Lord Ram considered his duty as an ideal king more important than as the ideal husband and so sacrificed his love for his wife for the sake of his love for his children (citizens). But he didn’t abandon his duty as a husband; he thoughtfully did that duty by transferring Goddess Sita from his direct care in the palace to his indirect care in the hermitage. Mother Sita, understanding the heart of her Lord, gracefully accepted her part in his sacrifice.
Even at the time of their marriage, Lord Ram had promised Goddess Sita that he would take an ekapathnivrta (he would marry only once). For the Ashwameda Yagna to be conducted, both husband and wife needed to be present. Instead of re-marrying a princess after he separated with her, he kept his fidelity to Sita intact and got a Gold statue substituted for her (Gold never tarnishes, just like Goddess Sita’s character).
4. Logic behind burning effigies of Raavan every Dussehra
We incorrectly consider burning of the effigy of Raavan as burning “the Demon King Lankesh who abducted Goddess Sita”. The burning of Raavan’s effigy is mere symbolism for burning the five vices of kaam (lust), krodh(rage), lobh (greed), moh (attachment) and ahankaar (conceit). These five vices were responsible for the downfall of the mighty demon king, who was bestowed a boon that no god, demon, kinnar or gandharva could ever kill him. Lord Vishnu had to take up the form of an ordinary human being to accomplish this mission.
Lord Ram’s life teaches us the value of principles that the king should be spotless, a son should be obedient, a brother should love unconditionally and a husband should trust and care for his wife even in her physical absence. Mata Sita’s life is a lesson in forbearance, patience and cheerful surrender to the di. Finally, the Ramayan is a communication that even the supreme Lord Vishnu, when he descends to the earth to perform his duties, is subject to the law of karma and accepts it with utmost humility.
Jai Shri Ram!