Monday, October 15, 2007

Sympathy for Ravan

I have some sympathy for Ravan, the ten-headed villain of the Ramayan. The logic behind it is fairly tenuous and stretched, but I make no claims to the truth, instead I prefer to read his story as I would like it to be. My version goes something like this:

In essence, I think Ravan was at his end an unhappy soul, weary of his own existence, desperate for an escape. In his youth, foolish and arrogant, he had prayed to Brahma and asked for immortality. Brahma slipped in a couple of loop-holes so that he wasn't quite immortal, but did make him virtually indestructible, or very difficult to kill.

As time went on, Ravan realised that life was not a blessing, it was a curse. He saw that existence was fundamentally unsatisfactory, that pleasures were fleeting, that happiness was elusive. He wrote the Shiva Tandav Stotra, a hymn to Shiva, in which he lamented:

Kada Sukhi Bhavamye Hum?
When will I be happy?

Eventually, he came to the realisation that as long as there was life, there is suffering. That the only way he could escape his predicament would be to die. But Brahma's boon made him virtually indestructible, and he continued to suffer, his suffering far longer and greater than other mortals who had the release of death.

Eventually, he realised that there was a way out, if Vishnu in human form as Ram was to take his life, then he would be unburdened of the shackles of existence. It was thus that he devised a ruse to provoke Rama by kidnapping his wife Sita, by refusing to return her and forcing Ram to kill Ravan to preserve his honour and recover his wife.

It can thus be seen that when Ravan kidnaps Sita, he does not have sexual relations with her, instead mostly staying away from her. He says he is waiting for her to agree to marry him, but really, Ravan was waiting for Rama's deliverance, for the death which would be his freedom.

And that is my version of Ravan's story.