Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Ramayana - Sita haran

Again, Ravana was a great devotee of Lord Shiva (Shiv bhakta). He had pleased Lord Shiva by his tough and severe penance over years and had received the Lord’s blessings. He was almost undefeatable (ajeya), and could not be killed easily by Man, God or Demon (manushya, devta, rakshasha).

Ravana was not a womanizer or a lecherous person. On the contrary, nowhere in the different versions of Ramayana is he shown to have any interest in women other than his wife Mandodari. Being a king and a person of endless resources (sone ki Lanka), he could have had his pick of beautiful women, but he didn’t. He was a good king and his subjects were prosperous and happy. He is shown to have good rapport with his wife and often said to have taken her advice.

Also, Ravana could change his form at will. This is an art of deceit and he was a master in it. But, to be fair to him, except for that one incident, where he changed his form and became a Brahmin (bhikshu) to kidnap Sita, he is not known to have used this power anywhere else in the epic. Another point - Ravana could have forced Sita into submission any time he wanted to, but he did not.

Why then, such a person as Ravana with such wisdom, strength and character stooped so low as to kidnap Lord Rama’s wife Sita and invite the latter’s wrath? He almost invited his own destruction. What did he gain? And thereby hangs a tale.

This interpretation of Ravana’s act and his character was given to me a few years back by one very senior retired civil engineer who, after retirement, took an academic interest in Ramayana and made it his business to read and interpret all known and unknown versions of the Ramayana that he could lay his hands on. Here is how it goes.

Amongst all his virtues, Ravana had one negative trait. And what is more, he was aware of it. He was a little arrogant. Otherwise, he had a prosperous kingdom and he looked after his subjects well. Once, a great and well known sage visited Lanka. (The civil engineer had mentioned this sage’s name but unfortunately, I am unable to recall it). This sage had learnt about Ravana’s knowledge and wisdom and wanted to meet Ravana and discuss some aspects of politics (rajniti) and religion (dharma). After making him comfortable, Ravana asked the sage what he could do for him. The sage replied that he wanted to discuss philosophy of politics and religion with him. Ravana agreed and they had marathon discussions on these subjects and several other subjects to the satisfaction of the sage, and lasting several days. All through this, the sage was a state guest, Ravana took good care of him and was humble in his behaviour. Still, the wise sage detected a faint smell of arrogance in him.

Finally, while parting, Ravana requested the sage with folded hands to give him some advice and add something to his knowledge. Whereupon the sage replied:

“O king, you yourself are a great mine of knowledge and virtues. You are a great Shiv Bhakta and blessed by Lord Shiva himself. You look after your kingdom well and you citizens are happy. What can I suggest you? Still, let me tell you this. Listen carefully. In this birth you are a king and ajeya. But you are not immortal. Death will come upon you. You are not free of this unending cycle of births and rebirths. You may be a king in your next birth. You may be not. You may be a tree or an animal or something else. But you will not be free of this cycle and not attain Moksha.

Ravana was not arrogant or foolish enough not to understand implications of what the sage had said. He immediately fell at the feet of the sage and begged to be shown the path to freedom from rebirths (Moksha).

The sage said: “If a man who is all perfect (manushyatam) kills (vadha) you, you will get Moksha.”

Ravana: “But how will I know such a man? What are his characteristics? Where can I find him? And above all why would he kill me?”

The sage said: “An ordinary man cannot kill you. A perfect man is the one who is better than you in his virtues and deeds. You will find him very humble. Such a man is Purushottam or Parampurush. You will have to find him yourself and you will also have to find a way to make him kill you.” I can not tell you anything more. You will have to work it out for yourself and not confide in any body else.”

So saying the sage took Ravana’s leave and went on his way after blessing him. Now Ravana started to think about what the sage had said. He lost interest in every thing and was disturbed. He realized that all this prosperity and possessions were meaningless and futile if he was to be born again like any ordinary mortal. His wife, Mandodari noticed the change and asked the reason. But Ravana could not confide in her. He was now determined to attain Moksha. He set about the task of finding a Prampurusha that the sage had suggested but could not find anyone for quite some time.

Ultimately, Ravana heard about Lord Rama and his exile (vanavasa). Through his trusted spies (guptachars), he found out everything about Sri Rama and his background and instinctively knew Rama was the man. Now the question was how to convince Rama to kill him so that he (Ravana) could gain Moksha. Sri Rama would not agree to that. In that case, Sri Rama’s followers and devotees would queue up to gain Mokha in that same manner. And that would mean interfering with the destiny of the people. So that was out of question.

Again, Rama would not kill him for any ordinary offense or crime since brave men are always forgiving. (kshama virasya bhushanam). And Rama was brave. Ravana had to give enough reason to Rama to kill him. So he planned, changed his form and kidnapped Sita. Except for that one incident, He never again attempted to touch Sita. He had no intention to. In fact, Ravana had kept her in Ashok Vatika (garden) and had arranged an elderly and kind caretaker (dasi) to be with her all the time. Though he had threatened Sita on several occasions, he never intended to harm her. Had he wanted, he could have easily kept Sita in one of his many secluded palaces. Instead he chose to keep her in the open.

When Sri Hanumana visited Lanka, he located Sita in Ashok Vatika, introduced himself to her as Sri Rama’s humble servant and devotee (Ram Bhakt). He then got himself arrested and be presented in front of Ravana. Here too, when questioned, Hanuman introduced himself as Sri Rama’s servant and messenger and advised Ravana to release Sita or be prepared for war with Sri Rama. Ravana refused intentionally, insulted Hanumana knowing fully well that Rama had no option but to attack Lanka. War was inevitable. Now it was a matter of honor. Ram had to follow his kshatriya dharma, kill Ravana, win and retrieve his wife Sita and her honor. After Ravana’s refusal to Rama’s messenger Hanuman, all doors for negotiations were closed. Ravana knew it. Rama knew it.

Thus Ravana invited his own death, compelled or tricked Rama to kill him in order to attain Moksha. Attain he did.

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