Ravana: An evil incarnate or man of virtues?
Even though Ravana is widely seen as the 'demon' king of Lanka, what's not so well known is that he was also endowed with several positive qualities.india Updated: Oct 04, 2008 16:15 IST
He was larger than life, had 20 hands, 10 heads and was blessed with amazing supernatural powers that enabled him to vanish, throw rain and fire or launch thousands of arrows during war. Even though Ravana is widely seen as the 'demon' king of Lanka, a symbol of evil and chief villain of the epic Ramayana, what's not so well known is that he was also endowed with several positive qualities.
As the grandson of the creator of the universe, Brahma, son of the sage Vishrava and younger brother of Kubera, the deity of wealth, Ravana belonged to an august lineage. He is also believed to have been a devout follower of Shiva, a scholar and connoisseur of arts.
These positive elements were, however, also accompanied by serious flaws that are, in part, inherited his asura mother, Kaikesi. Thus, an insatiable, all-consuming ego turned out to be Ravana’s Achilles’ heel which neutralised his numerous divine qualities. In this respect, he is often held as a classic example to show that even though one is well endowed with good qualities, a single frailty in character is enough to drag one down.
“While Ravana was aggressive and arrogant, he was also an extraordinary scholar. Under his father’s tutelage, he mastered the Vedas, the holy books and also the ways of kshatriyas (warriors). He is even credited with writing a commentary on the Vedas and verses on medicine. An excellent veena player, he was also a great devotee of Shiva and composed the Ravanstuti. But Sumali, his maternal grandfather and asura king, worked hard in secret to ensure that he inherited a demonic character.
After all, no one is born good or bad.
One can’t blame Ravana completely for all the wrongdoing he is accused of,” says Satkari Mukhophadhyay, noted Sanskrit scholar, Ramayana expert and consultant with the National Mission of Manuscripts at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.
According to a legend, Ravana performed the necessary Vedic rituals for Rama, a Kshatriya, before the war between himself and Rama. The latter wanted the best brahman available at that time to perform the rituals. Ravana magnanimously agreed to perform the rituals even though they were aimed at seeking divine intervention for his own death.
Mukhopadhyay also expressed the view that Ravana’s abduction of Sita was not unprovoked. Only after his sister Surpnakha was humiliated and her nose was cut by Laxmana did Ravana take the extreme step of abducting Sita to teach Rama and Laxmana a lesson. Contrary to popular belief, however, Ravana never touched Sita during her captivity, which goes to show that he respected her.
Despite his rather intriguing personality, it seems that Ravana, too, has many ardent followers. There is a huge Shivalinga in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, supposedly installed by asura titan himself. A community of fishermen living in the area worships both a statue of Ravana as well as the Shivalinga.