Every hero becomes a super hero only based on the villain he faces.
There can be no BATMAN without JOKER
There can be no SHERLOCK without MORIARTY.
There can be no BAASHA without ANTONY.
The greatest villain is a prerequisite to create the greatest heroes. The greatest antagonist of ancient Indian literature is unequivocally the ten headed rakshasa, “RAAVAN”.
I heard the Ramayana for the zillionth time from my sixth grade teacher. Like any middle school teacher she explained the story in an animated tone with exaggerated gestures in a futile attempt to catch the class’s attention. As she reached the AARANYA KAANDAM, she introduced the antagonist of the epic as:
“Thus entered the ten headed raavan, the head of rakshasas”
Surprised at seeing my hand rising up, she stopped her story and asked me what my question was.
“Maam, who are the rakshasas?” I asked her.
In her attempt to make the description memorable for me she raised her eyebrows, widened her eyes and bellowed
“they are huge ,dark skinned creatures who lived in the southern part of the Indian subcontinent”. With her corpulent figure, dusky complexion my teacher matched her own description of a rakshasa. Hailing from tamil nadu I realized that I lived in the rakshasa heart land. I looked around my class to find more than 50% of the class conforming to the “rakshasa” description. I ran to the rest room,stared at the mirror to find a dark creature staring back at me. It was at that moment I realized
“OMG! I am a rakshasa!”
WHO IS A RAKSHASA?
After several years of futile attempts to find my hidden rakshasa powers and searching through my family heirlooms for the pushpaka vimana, I diverted my concentration towards finding out who these rakshasas really were.
Valimiki describes rakshasas as the dark skinned cannibals who practiced black magic. It has always been a common practice worldwide for the victorious to defame the vanquished by calling them ‘names’. The rakshasas were the as much human as you and me. They where the forefathers of the Dravidian race that flourishes in the major chunk of south India and Lanka to this day.
The rakshasas were fierce warriors and protectors of the Dravidian society. The protection of the forests which were an integral part of their society was one of their most important duties. When the Aryan rishis trespassed into their forests and started disturbing the eco systems in the name of yajnas the rakshasas were bound by duty to interrupt them, but the great Valimiki depicts the rakshasas as warmongers who disturb the peaceful rishis for fun.
Through various evidence prominent throughout the Ramayana, it becomes obvious that Valimiki refers to the tamizh speaking Dravidian clan as “rakshasas”.
RAVANA THE TYRANT OR BENEVOLANT?
The death of the ten headed Ravana is celebrated in different forms throughout the Indian sub continent. Dussera and diwali, the most important hindu festivals essentially mark the end of the of Ravana’s reign. Ironically the rakshasas ie the tamilians who were supposedly saved from Ravana by the benevolent ram do not celebrate the death of Ravana in any form.
The mighty empire of Lanka was a much more advanced state as compared to the small princely state of Ayodhya. The glory is elucidated by Valimiki himself through the words of hanuman
prahR^iSTaa muditaa la.nkaa matta dvipa samaakulaa |
mahatii ratha sampuurNaa rakSo gaNa samaakulaa ||
dR^iDha baddha kavaaTaani mahaaparighavanti ca |
chatvaari vipulaanyasyaa dvaaraaNi sumahaanti ||
tatreshhuupayantraaNi balavanti mahaanti cha |
aagatam para sainyam tais tatra pratinivaaryate ||
The great Lanka was rejoiced and gayful, full of elephants in rut, abounding in chariots and inhabited by gangs of ogres.
Four fairly big and extensive gates are fitted with strong doors along with huge beams for locking those gates.
Strong and mighty ballista capable of hurling darts and stones have been attached to them. The enemy troops which arrive there are warded off by those catapults at the very gates
There are two powerful female characters in the Ramayana who create the motivation for the actions of both the protagonist and the antagonist
The contrasting characteristics of Sita and Soorpanaka are the reflection of the contradicting status of women in the Aryan and the so called “rakshasa” Dravidian land.
SOORPANKA was the younger sister of Ravana and a widow. Ill treatment of widows is even today prevalent in some of the remote regions of the country but Ravana appointed Soorpanka to rule the parts of the mainland in his stead.
When she encountered the young ram, she approached him and proposed marriage , this is a incident always explained in a bad sense in conventional discussions, but this incident elucidates the freedom of women in the rakshasa society and the prevalence of widow remarriage in the so called “tyrant” Ravana’s rule
SITA on the other hand is supposedly the epitome of chastity. She lead her entire life as an “obedient wife” (so much for gender equality) but at the end of the day was asked to jump into the fire to prove her loyalty to her husband (the crazy concept that the ignition temperature of a women’s body would be higher than temperature of fire if she is loyal to her husband!)
Comparing the status of the two women any imbecile would be jump to the logical conclusion that the life of Soorpanka(the so called rakshasi) was in a much better state than SITA who had jump into the fire for a husband whose biggest achievement in life was to live with a single wife(every tom dick and harry is able to do it today!)
The contribution by great kambar:
As I mentioned earlier it is not a wonder that the Aryan poet Valimiki called the defeated Dravidians as “RAKSHASAS” but the “great” kambar with his ingenious mastery over chaste tamizh translated the Valimiki Ramayana. So impeccable was his work that he succeeded in making the “RAKSHASAS” (tamilians) believe that they are the demons of the world!
(The success of Valimiki and kambar is the driving force for bollywood stars like SRK to make cheesy movies mocking the tamilians, releasing it in Chennai and expecting a houseful show.)
Did the Ramayana really happen?
This is a question that we may never know the answer to, but the locales, characters and their ethnicity are exaggerations of ancient civilizations that were very much real. The Ramayana is the standing proof of a great kingdom that existed in the south, a society that flourished in wealth and social values. Values like equality and freedom that eludes women of India even today. So the next time anybody narrates the Ramayana to you remember that it is not a story of personal feud, but rather a clash of two societies. The defeated society was in every way as glorious (if not better) than the victorious.