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Again, it is that time of the year, when people are going to talk about Ravana. Before we gear up to burn the villain this Dussehra, let us debunk some myths about Ravana.
Ravan, the tyrant kidnapper, pops up every year on my Facebook timeline at the end of mahanavami and lurks there until Diwali. The more I look at this internet personality, the more I realize the myth about Ravana has been cleaned up.
His story has been watered down to fit the narrative that encourages people into thinking that as long you are—moral— your thuggish behaviour is acceptable.
At times, it gets hard to distinguish between the facts from the epic and the widely shared memes by a Ravana empath.
The memes and the jokes and occasional opinion pieces that run amok, have the tendency to vilify Rama for abandoning his wife, which we should, you don’t leave your pregnant wife in the forest based on gossip— and praise Ravana for not having touched Sita without her consent.
The myth about Ravana has been retold and reinterpreted in different mediums; there are popular comic book series, tv serials, books, and movies which have painted him as morally superior in opposition to Rama, the wife abandoning king.
If we pay attention, posts about Ravana’s qualifications as musician, ruler, father and husband are everywhere on social media. A few praising his devotion to Lord Shiva.
Many in my book club fell for this kinder version of Ravana, the misunderstood bad guy. I too almost got tricked into respecting him; because I love fictional bad guys.
And it is our natural tendencies to try and justify the actions or praise the fictional bad guys. Who doesn’t love a scary, creepy SRK from Bazzigar? But idolizing a serial sex offender, like Ravana, and justifying his behaviour morally needs to stop.
The wake-up call happened when I saw young people claiming to be feminist and ally; women and men, call Ravana — naughty— in comparison to today’s malicious people. After all he ever did was kidnap a woman without her consent, but he didn’t dishonour her.
In fact, that these were peoples’ thoughts about him, some misinformation must have been circulating. It was like watching the logic of masala films from the 2000s — where the hero was allowed to indulge in a little bit of eve teasing and dragging the heroine on his bike for a ride by the beach — was being applied to the Ravana myth!
So I did a little internet investigation last night. Multiple forums on Reddit, Quora, Tumblr and Twitter had people who spoke about running into Ravana empaths in their own circles. To these empaths, as long as the ‘virtue’ of a kidnapped woman was intact, it was fine to have manhandled her a bit.
Then I recalled 80s and 90s films where, the ‘tapori protagonist,’ would run away/kidnap the damsel, and he would fight bad guys and would pull a saree as divider-curtain between the damsel and him to respect her honour. Similar sentiments were being applied to dear old Ravana here! Sadly, Ravana is not a good tapori.
My grandfather always said, the charm of an antagonist lay in his backstory and how greatly they fall from their tower of hubris. As a reader, I know Ravana is a fascinating character, but wilfully ignoring the man’s crimes whose giant dummies we burn every year— is scary.
Let’s get something clear, if he was honourable, he wouldn’t have sent a golden deer to distract two men and abducted a woman from her hut disguised as a sage.
Abduction is a crime, even if the kidnapper has no intentions to breach sexual consent, the action of taking someone away from their home without their permission doesn’t become moral.
The reason he didn’t touch Sita — he was afraid to die.
Ravan was already a serial rapist and abuser, pillaging villages, too. When he tried to force himself on, Vedavati, a sage, she cursed him with women will bring his downfall.
He also tried to have his way with his newly widowed sister-in-law, Maya by imprisoning her and stopping her from performing Sati, she too cursed him.
Then Ravan meet Rambha, wife of his half-brother’s son, Nalakuvara. Despite her pleading and begging, Ravan raped her.
Nalakuvara, found his wife in a traumatized state, he tried to seek justice but unable to rival him physically, he cursed Ravana with — death.
In some versions, it is Rambha who cursed him. If Ravana were ever to consummate with another unconsenting woman, his head would explode.
The final reason he dared not molest Sita was because of ‘Pavitrata’. Many people mistake Pavitrata for purity. Mythologically, Pavitrata is the practice of pious meditation that grants you protection against evil and harm.
Sita was a practitioner of tapasaya that granted her immunity from moral corruption and physical violence. If Ravana tried to do anything more than touch her, he would burn.
Though as a story reader, I still wonder why didn’t he burn when he hauled her over his shoulders and flew off of his viman!
After the MeToo movement, I think it has become more than evident that people, especially men with great academic qualifications, are equally capable of exploiting people. Be it today’s world or ancient times.
Ravana was scholarly, because he was raised by a sage father who emphasized on learning the six shastras. He was given every opportunity to become the best version of himself. But did he become the best version of himself? No.
Being well versed in scriptures and articulate in mantras doesn’t equate to being good. Ravana had done tapasya and worshipping just how the practice of the time went and cultivated to his powers.
Many men to this day are successful because they followed the written path while they went on committing offences; their success or intellect doesn’t absolve them of their crimes.
There is no doubt, Lanka was built of gold and prosperous. That wealth and mighty army is one of the key reasons why our antagonist was so arrogant. Not only that he had the pushpak viman which helped him travel the fast and protect himself.
Ravan’s kingdom was in possession of the superior tech and resources and knowledge. And he risked it all and failing to secure his kingdom. As a bearer of multiple curses from different people like Paravti, Nandi, Nalakuvara and others, the Ruler of Lanka was pretty lax in his conduct.
He understood the powers of gods hence he sought the Rudra Veena, he definitely understood the power of curses too. But the greater ruler of Lanka was too proud to care about the curses he accumulated!
Instead of establishing diplomatic relations with other kingdoms, he chose to plunder and enslave people. Lanka was very much built on slave labour and stolen economy, like the British Empire was.
This festive season, let us make sure that we don’t forget the reason behind the celebrations —vanquishing of the evil. We have every right as feminists to be angry with Rama for leaving his pregnant wife in the forest.
But praising the kidnapper and painting them morally grey to show how bad the good guy is, derails the actual lesson of the myths— women have always suffered when their fates have been left in the hands of men, be it good or bad
Image Source: Still from Episdode 435 of Sankat Mochan Mahabali Hanuman, edited on CanvaPro
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29. Bi. Bookworm. Comic book connoisseur. read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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