Reading Time: 5 minutes
In Asura, Tale of the Vanquished (The Story of Ravana and his People) Ravana’s story is told in a soliloquy by the protagonist Ravana and his servant Bhadra, the common asura. Ravana’s friend, servant and foot soldier Bhadra have access to the dark corners of Ravana’s Mind which is hidden from his kith and kin and also from his self.
By his mother’ side Ravana belonged to the prominent asura tribe, the Hethis. Ravana was fair-complexioned with thick wavy hair and deep black eyes. As per patriarchy Ravan is Brahmin but genetically he is half brahmin and half asura. His mother wanted him to be a world-conquering warrior and his father wanted him to be a Vedic scholar.
If Ravana owed anything to anyone in his life, it was to his guru. Mahabali the greatest mightiest of all asura kings was Ravana’s guru. Shiva was a great asura king of antiquity and was made their god. Brahma was the teacher. Ravana learned archery from Brahma. It was Mahabali who shaped Ravana’s ambition, winged his dreams, gave clarity to his vision and power to his arms. Mahabali and Brahma taught Ravana Vedas and Upanishads which were sacred texts of ancient Asuras and Devas, which he considered as humbug. Mahabali asked Ravana to eschew the evil of anger, which is the lowest emotion. According to Mahabali, Ravana’s notoriety precedes him. He considered Ravana a useless hothead. Asura kings of yore did not have the divine right to the kingdom. a king was an elected leader, the most accomplished person and a great warrior. in the asura code, leaders had to be polite, use civilized language and hear out discussions before humbly requesting every ones cooperation. The language, tone and expression of Ravana was against that ethic. In Ravana’s admission, at the most conservative count, he has violated at least five codes of Asura honor. He wanted to set his codes. Ravana enjoyed being the king, the emperor and lord of the world and visioned of grand revival of asura civilization.
Ravana detested ego in others. But he was one of the highest egoists himself. Treachery and manipulation allude to the Devas but Ravana was no exception. Even when he was not in the picture directly, it was his henchmen who have done the same. Poisoning of Kubera’s army by Bhadra his assistant is one example.
Concerning bravery and planning also he was inferior to others. His midnight attack on pirate king Varuna’s ship would have been a flop but for the timely arrival of Maricha and Kumbakarna. He did not follow the advice of Maricha and Prahasta to kill Varuna. Later Varuna became the cause of Ravana’s fall. He made Varuna his admiral, which is not approved even by Bhadra. Ravana wanted to kill Bhadra considering him as a spy but it was he who helped him to destroy Kubera’s army and capturing Varuna. He has also helped Ravana to kill Soorpanaka’s husband.
Ravana considered KumbaKarna a threat to him. So he was allowed to become a drunkard and drug addict. At the family reunion on the eve of his wedding, Ravana has hit KumbaKarna, pushed aside Maricha causing him to fall backward, grabbed his mother by her hair and dragged her out of the hall. He was not liking Mandodari, the wife to be.
Ravana’s father considered him a devil and Satan. Kaikasi has cursed Ravana that he will never find peace, because of the insult to his parents, he will have to pay dearly. Ravana considered Maricha his uncle as an old rascal. He has saved Ravana, KumbaKarna and Vibishana from Kubera’s punishment by owning their crime and he has looked after Ravana’s mother and sister, while Ravana was in exile.
Ravana allowed Soorpanaka to marry her lover who was a rebel, against his better judgment, against his minister’s advice, against what was right, moral, ethical and even practical wisdom. As per astrological prophecy, Mandodari’s little daughter Sita was to bring destruction to Asuras. Ravana feared for the life of little Sita, separated her from her mother and took her along with him when he was going for war. He entrusted her upkeep to Bhadra who was along with him. After defeating Kubera second time, he marched to Ayodhya and killed Anarnya the king. The King cursed Ravana that his descendant will kill him. Meanwhile Ravana was attracted by the beauty of Vedavati, a deva widow. To show her his prowess of swimming, Ravana entered Narmada water and was carried to Kartha Veerarjuna’s kingdom and became captive.
The council of ministers considering, Vedavati and little Sita as their curse and burden decided to dispose of them and the duty was assigned to Bhadra. Bhadra took them to a faraway place. Due to some cause Vedavati got engulfed in fire and was killed. The little Sita fell into the canal and saved by King Janaka of Mithila.
Meanwhile KumbaKarna was imprisoned by Yama. Ravana was freed by giving Ransom.kumbha was saved by Prahastha. Ravana was furious knowing the loss of Vedavati and little Sita, but was not able to do anything. After losing Sita as a child, he had seen her once and not done anything to take back her. He knew about the swayamvar but was not able to approach Sita, for fear of being considered a participant. His secret of fatherhood of Sita remained the same. He did not like Rama and wanted to protect her from him. With the help of Maricha, he stole Sita and left Maricha to die at the hands of Rama. Instead of stealing he should have fought Rama. It was also an act of revenge against his sister’s nose mutilation.
Ravana considered Bali and Mahabali as his wrong mentors. Ravana berated himself for not killing Varuna and believing Vibishana to be innocent. He considered himself a worthless king, who had dragged his people into an unnecessary war, to death and destruction. He lamented that he should have killed Rama and Lakshmana as Rama did to Bali. According to Ravana, Prahasta was best friend and worst enemy. Prahasta would have been a better leader for the asuras than Ravana. He was the ideal asura leader, the real successor to mahabali. Ravana loved power more than himself. He loved Meganada more than anything else in this world.
Anger on his wife made Ravana a rapist. He raped Mala mistress of Bhadra and had a son Athikaya who was fostered by Bhadra. He was not in favor of raping but allowed his soldiers to do. According to Vibishna, Ravana was a brave man, but he was conceited and vain.
According to Mandhodari, Ravana sacrificed everyone for his pride. Ravana was a creature of passion irreverent, arrogant and lustful. He is superstitious and afraid as anyone in the street. She questioned Ravana for not bringing Sita from Janaka before her marriage. Ravana denied Sita the mother’s love and father’s affection. He should have fought Rama instead of stealing his wife, even if she was his daughter. According to Bhadra, Ravana was secretly proud of his brahmin lineage. Ravana was the best leader and king, asuras got. He was humane despite his faults. He did fundamental mistakes in judging people. He forgot his people who lived in gutters. Ravana though an egomaniac, was a nice person with compassion in his heart and a sense of justice and righteousness. Ravana was less ruthless than Rudrkha, less strategist and long term thinker than Prahasta, less charismatic than Vidutjihwa less clever than Maya and there were more brave asuras. It is because of these people support, Ravana became successful. The size of the dream and willingness to act on it was the success of Ravana.
Ravana was far from the ideals of Mahabali in achieving social equality. Ravana gave the asuras self-respect and more glory than the legendary king mahabali, the emperor and the greatest monarch on earth.
Ravana gave the asuras dignity and self-belief, instilled confidence and pride in their ancient culture and took their civilization to new heights of glory. He was tyrant. He had destroyed the democratic and egalitarian society of the asuras and made it into a mean fighting machine.
RAVANA WAS A MAN WHO LIVED LIFE ON HIS OWN TERMS.
Reviewed by Vathukkat Krishnan Kutty