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Saturday, October 16, 2010

The wisdom of Ravan

Workers look at effigies being prepared for the upcoming Dussehra festival in New Delhi

Success does not consist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one a second time. Josh Billings

Ravan abducted Lord Ram’s wife, a crime for which he was killed by Ram himself. So says the Ramayan. The epic makes Ravan the archetypical villain. And since Ram is God for most Hindus, Ravan’s actions make him the Devil incarnate. This justifies the annual burning of his effigy on the Gangetic plains during the festival of Dussehra.
But in the hills of Rishikesh or in the temple of Rameshwaram, one hears that tale of how Ram atoned for the sin of killing Ravan. Why should God atone for killing a villain? One realises that like most things Hindu, the Ramayan is not as simple an epic as some are eager to believe.
Ravan was a brahmin, the son of Rishi Vaishrava, grandson of Pulatsya. Ram, though God incarnate, was born in the family of kshatriyas. In the caste hierarchy, Ram was of lower rank. As a brahmin, Ravan was the custodian of Brahma-gyan (the knowledge of God). Killing him meant Brahma-hatya-paap, the sin of Brahminicide, that Ram had to wash away through penance and prayer. Another reason why this atonement was important was because Ravan was Ram’s guru.
The story goes that after shooting the fatal arrow on the battlefield of Lanka, Ram told his brother, Lakshman, “Go to Ravan quickly before he dies and request him to share whatever knowledge he can. A brute he may be, but he is also a great scholar”. The obedient Lakshman rushed across the battlefield to Ravan’s side and whispered in his ears, “Demon-king, do not let your knowledge die with you. Share it with us and wash away your sins”. Ravan responded by simply turning away. An angry Lakshman went back to Ram, “He is as arrogant as he always was, too proud to share anything”. Ram comforted his brother and asked him softly, “Where did you stand while asking Ravan for knowledge?” “Next to his head so that I hear what he had to say clearly”. Ram smiled, placed his bow on the ground and walked to where Ravan lay. Lakshman watched in astonishment as his divine brother knelt at Ravan’s feet. With palms joined, and with extreme humility, Ram said, “Lord of Lanka, you abducted my wife, a terrible crime for which I have been forced to punish you. Now you are no more my enemy. I bow to you and request you to share your wisdom with me. Please do that for if you die without doing so, all your wisdom will be lost forever to the world”. To Lakshman’s surprise, Ravan opened his eyes and raised his arms to salute Ram, “If only I had more time as your teacher than as your enemy. Standing at my feet as a student should, unlike your rude younger brother, you are a worthy recipient of my knowledge. I have very little time so I cannot share much but let me tell you one important lesson I have learnt in my life. Things that are bad for you seduce you easily; you run towards them impatiently. But things that are actually good for you fail to attract you; you shun them creatively, finding powerful excuses to justify your procrastination. That is why I was impatient to abduct Sita but avoided meeting you. This is the wisdom of my life, Ram. My last words. I give it to you”. After these words, Ravan died.

source: deccan chronicle

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