Sometimes Dipavali seems less a calendar aid to remembering the purpose of our human birth than an opportunity to be competitive in the most un-fun ways. This despite knowing that the purpose of avatars was the re-establishment of dharma, and similarly, the purpose of the 547 Jatakas identified by scholars was to make people understand that a 'dharam yuddh' is a long process. That is why the Buddha is believed to have lived many lives to achieve enlightenment.
A couple of years ago, I was asked by a group of people to write a small Ramayana script for their children's Dipavali programme. I wrote it with great happiness because it's like a blessing to have the chance to retell a punya katha, that too, for children. Nothing came of it because nobody wanted their child to play Ravan, most odd, when Ravan was given total moksh by dying at the hands of the Lord.
In fact, this is a powerful and exalted role to play in our re-enactments of the cosmic lila. That's why only the strongest, tallest dancers with the most impressive physiques are chosen to play Totsakan (Dashanan) in the Thai 'Ramakien'. It is paying the Lord a compliment to pit a big opponent against Him. How special then to play Ravan, what a responsibility placed on that actor or dancer to not demean Sri Rama with a feeble enactment. That's what I'd want to tell any child who was asked to play Ravan, that it's an honourable duty to give the role everything one has, because to refuse is to dishonour the lila of the Lila.
This might make many remember that old story about the 'bhrasht yogi' or almost-liberated soul who by virtue of his good deeds was given a choice: moksh in three births as the Lord's own opponent or seven births as the Lord's well-behaved devotee. Impatient to go home to God, the yogi chose the shorter term and the three births he took were as Hiranyakashyap (killed by the Narsimh avatar), Ravan (killed by Sri Ram) and Sishupal (killed by Sri Krishna).
This story does not lessen their misdeeds in those births or glorify them. Instead, doesn't it seem like its purpose is to tell us to win our inner battles by engaging our dark side against our best better self? To pit our inner Ravan against our Ram and give our better self a proper fighting chance?
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture