The title of the book Ravana Leela by Radha Vishwanath may be considered a misnomer to some extent. The book is her first novel. Leela means divine play or creation of God. According to the author, Ravana has forced god to become a man. Though Ravana is a central character in this novel, if you consider cause and effect, both his grandfather Sumali and his mother Kaikasi are equally important and his mother overshadows him as a central character.
The story’s background is the curse of Sanatkumaras on Jaya Vijaya, gatekeepers of Vishnu and their fall. They cannot bear the long separation, so select the role of enemies for three janmas for their salvation. Vishnu has to take an avatar in human form three times. So can we say Ravana forced god to become man? Though we can call the title misleading, to find a substitute and more apt word is also difficult.
Ravana’s ancestors were living in Lanka. By force of circumstances, they had to vacate the place and live in Naga Loka. Sumali, grandfather of Ravana wanted to regain Lanka from Kubera. He uses his daughter Kaikasi for the same. Sumali’s game plan was to make Kaikasi wife of Sage Vishravasu, father of Kuber, and beget capable progeny for retrieving Lanka. As per the instruction of Sumali, Kaikasi approach the Sage and requests for children from him. The Sage, though he knows the scheme and intention of Kaikasi accepts her as a wife, because as per dharma, he has to accede to the request. Kaikasi finds it very difficult to adjust to the norms of ashram life. She becomes affectionate towards her stepson Kubera and also his mother. She has to undergo inner conflict due to her commitment to Sumali to take back Lanka from Kubera.
She prepares her children fit for the task intended. All her sons get boon from Brahma and Ravana pleases Shiva also. After getting boon from Brahma, Ravana counters Kubera for returning Lanka. Because of Sage Vishravasu, Kubera return Lanka to Ravana without any demur. After the occupation of Lanka, without seeing Mandodari, Ravana falls in love with her, on hearing her song. Ravana chances to see Parvati and captivated by her beauty, asks Shiva to give Parvati the mother of the universe, as wife to him. Sage Narada had to play a trick on Ravana to save Parvati. As per Sage Narada’s request, Parvati takes the form of Kali and then Ravana asks her to go away from him.
Sage Narada is a matchmaker to Ravana and his brothers. Because of Sage Narada’s conciliatory efforts Mandodari can marry Ravana on the make-believe that she is Parvati. Ravana had undergone humiliation at the hands of Karthi Veer Arjun, and Bali. His prudence saved him on these occasions. Ravana was saved from Yama, the god of death by the intervention of Brahma. God’s bestowers of boons, are forced to grant the same, even when they know that it is dangerous. Even if one has the power and might, is not supposed to disturb the time cycle.
Lust and resultant curse leads to the fall of Ravana. The curses of Vedavati, Nala Kuber etc are forerunners of events. According to one version Ravana is the father of Sita. Vedavati’s end, result in the birth of Sita. In a lotus (Ayonija) -one who is not born of a womb. The baby Sita was thrown into the ocean in a casket. Ravana has killed the Ayodhya King Anaranya in a duel and he has cursed that one of his descendants will kill him. Vedavati, Kartha Veer Arjuna, Bali, Sita, Yama, Hanuman, all these people could have killed Ravana, but if it happens it would be against the pre-ordained destiny.
The book describes the life of different Lokas and their peculiar rules. On the whole it is a very interesting book worth reading. It gives us a detailed account of the life of Ravana and his predecessors. One should not miss reading this book.
Published by Rupa Publications, the e-book version is also available.
Reviewed by Vathukkat Krishnan Kutty.