It’s not often that we ponder if the posed villain might be an unsung hero. One such epic that gets us thinking is the Ramayana. At least a handful of us has wondered if Ravana turned against the Gods to save a dying race!
We have never failed to hear great stories about Rama, the king of Ayodhya, in terms of his strength, good heart, the great king he was, the faithful husband, and the exemplary son.
There is always some amount of admiration behind the reeling hatred. Yes, the Ramayana does pose Ravana as one of the most outstanding scholars, an efficient ruler, a great devotee of Lord Shiva, an expert among the warriors, and a maestro among musicians. But why did Valmiki have to put in so much effort in posing Ravana, the portrayed villain, with excellent capabilities in terms of strength, intellect, and devotion?
He was born to Vishwasrao, a Rishi belonging to the Pulastya clan, and his mother, Kaikasi, belonged to a demon clan.
Being half Brahmin and half-demon endowed him with the proficiency a Brahmin would possess and the immense power a demon would. Under the patronage of Malyavan, his grandfather Ravana was coached in all aspects of warfare, and his father trained him in all four Vedas and Upanishads.
Ravana aspired to rule the entire world one day from his childhood, often ill-treated by his stepbrother Kubera and others for being born to a demon mother.
1. SCHOLAR, RULER, MUSICIAN:
Being a great scholar with immense knowledge of the four Vedas and Upanishads, Ravana himself had excellent medical knowledge.
Also, he was a fantastic player of the Veena, and he could enter everyone with his musical skills. His fabled physique with ten heads and twenty arms is mainly due to his vast expanse of knowledge. He is also said to have been a great doctor. People were happy and led a wealthy life under his reign.
Lanka was beautiful, adorned, and well maintained, and part of the country was made of gold during his rule.
The academic prowess and intellect Ravana possesses are evident from the scene at the battle when Rama urges Lakshmana to gain knowledge from him. Lakshmana reluctantly stands near his head and asks him to pass on what he knew about warfare and various other aspects of the world.
Ravana responds by turning his head away. But Rama stands near his feet, bows down, and requests him to share his wisdom when he sheds light on Rama on what could destroy him and make him prosper.
2. DEVOTION TO LORD SHIVA:
On a journey to meet Lord Shiva, Ravana had to get past through Nandi, the vehicle of Shiva.
Over refusal to let him in, he attacked Nandi, and Nandi, infuriated, cursed Ravana, saying that his entire empire, Lanka, would be destroyed by a monkey. To demonstrate his power and strength, he tried to move Mount Kailash single-handedly.
Enraged, Shiva pressed him with his toe, and Ravana started singing a song loudly in praise of Lord Shiva, the Shiva Tandava Stotram.
This Stotram, to this day, is used as a prayer song in several Shiva temples. Pleased by Ravana’s devotion, Shiva released him from his bondage, showered his blessings, and gifted him a special sword.
3. TRIGGERING THE BATTLE:
Soorpanakha, the sister of Ravana, is said to have been seduced by the beauty and youthfulness of Rama, fell for him, and proposed to him. Being faithful to Sita, Rama rejected her, saying he would never take anyone else as a wife.
After this initial rejection, Soorpanakha approached Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, to be insulted and rejected again, saying she was not what he expected from a wife. Infuriated, Soorpanakha took it out on Sita, attacking her, following Lakshmana’s insult by cutting off her nose.
Ravana gets enraged by this ill-treatment, and the further advances, as we know, lead to the abduction of Sita. This action of Ravana is not entirely justifiable; he cannot be blamed either. The mere need to avenge the injustice that occurred to his sister led to his act. By Valmiki’s mention, this happens to be the sole reason for triggering the battle of Lanka.
During the period, Ravana kept Sita under his watch; he never forced himself on her despite his liking for her. Being an illusionist, he could’ve easily made Sita fall for him. But his humanity kept him from doing so.
It is also said that when the battle between Rama and Ravana was about to start, a Brahmin could not be found to perform the Yagna. Being a Brahmin, he performed the Yagna favoring both sides in the battle to destroy him.
Despite possessing such golden characters, Ravana himself brought his downfall. Working his way to power from poverty with a clear motive, Ravana gets lost in the warren of power and loses his ideals in succeeding. Ravana is neither the demon as he is portrayed, nor is he a hero, as some say. What he is, is left to the choice of the readers! There is a blurred line between good and evil in Ravana.