It’s not often that we take time to ponder if the posed villain might be an unsung hero. One such epic that gets us thinking is the Ramayana. I’m sure at least a handful of us have 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, his good heart, the great king that he was, the faithful husband and the exemplary son.
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? 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. There is always some amount of admiration behind the reeling hatred.
Ravana 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 Ravana’s father trained him in all the four Vedas and Upanishads.
Often ill-treated by his stepbrother Kubera and others for being born to a demon mother, Ravana aspired to rule the entire world one day right from his childhood.
SCHOLAR, RULER, MUSICIAN:
Ravana himself being a great scholar, with immense knowledge in the four Vedas and Upanishads, had excellent medicine knowledge.
Also, he was an amazing player of the Veena, and he could entrance everyone with his musical skills. His fabled physique with ten heads and twenty arms is mainly due to his huge 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, well maintained, and part of the country was made of gold during his rule.
The academic prowess and intellect Ravana possessed are evident from the scene at the battle when Rama urges Lakshmana to gain knowledge from him. Lakshmana reluctantly stands near Ravana’s 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.
DEVOTION TO LORD SHIVA:
On a journey to meet Lord Shiva, Ravana had to get pass through Nandi, the vehicle of Shiva.
Over refusal to let him in, Ravana attacked Nandi and Nandi, infuriated cursed Ravana saying, his entire empire, Lanka would get destroyed by a monkey. To demonstrate his power and strength, Ravana 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 and showered his blessings and gifted him a special sword.
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 that he would never take anyone else as a wife.
After this initial rejection, Soorpanakha approached Rama’s brother, Lakshmana to be insulted and rejected once again, saying she was not what he expected out of a wife. Infuriated, Soorpanakha took it out on Sita, attacking her, following Lakshmana’s insult by cutting off her nose.
By Valmiki’s mention, this happens to be the sole reason for triggering the battle of Lanka. Ravana gets enraged by this ill-treatment and the further advances as we know lead to the abduction of Sita. Though 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.
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 at the time of the battle between Rama and Ravana was about to start, and a Brahmin could not be found to perform the Yagna. Ravana being a Brahmin performed the Yagna favouring both sides for the battle that was 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 the process of succeeding. Ravana is neither the demon as he is portrayed, nor is he a hero, as some say. There is a blurred line between the good and the evil in Ravana. What he really is, is left to the choice of the readers!
A Chennai based Engineering student with a passion for literature, food, travel and adventure!