Perception about Ravan undergoing metamorphosis, especially in poll-bound Punjab

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Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, October 15: Going by the popular version of the epic that is Ramayana, Ravan is evil incarnate, the villain whose effigy is dominated by the colour black. However, this Dussehra has witnessed a new phenomenon. The admirers of the mythical villain are growing with perception about him witnessing marked  shift from negativity to positivity. The perception is getting influenced by changing socio-economic environment. According to the changing perception, Ravan fought for the honour of his sister, abducted Sita but kept her in his palace with respect. However, her husband Ram banished her after he brought her back after killing her abductor but only after the strategy was crafted by Ravan’s defector brother who crossed over.

The effigy of the 10-headed villain is normally in black with some colours added at some places. However, Punjab Congress too this time changed its perception and decided to opt for a white Ravan that they called “Chitta Ravan” in Ludhiana. This was not to the liking of the Akali activists and their supporters- the Punjab police. They raided the Dussehra venue allotted to the Congress in the midnight and threw out the Congress men with police issuing orders against the  burning of “Chitta Ravan”. There might have been some amendment in the Punjab police rule book that the Congress did not know. There is no law otherwise that the effigy of Ravan has to be in black. People in the South don’t celebrate Dussehra. This action of the police and the Akalis gave a big issue to the aggrieved party. More of that later.

Scholar S Gopal in his book ‘Anatomy of Confrontation’ has talked about different versions of  the epic and how it has been changing over the years. It is  bit longer excerpt.

Here is what he has written:

“Ram katha was part of a floating tradition of bardic stories which were picked up and reworked into various versions….From the Buddhist sources comes the story as narrated in Dasaratha Jataka dating anywhere between the fourth and second centuries BC and which in effect is the briefest of summaries of part of Ram katha. Some scholars have argued that this version predates Valmiki while others maintain it is later. There is a significant change in the story, for here Sita is not the wife but sister of Rama. At the end of the exile when Rama  returns to Ayodhya, Sita is made queen-consort of Rama and they rule jointly for sixteen thousand years….Sibling incest is not to be taken literally but seen as a cultural signal.

“The Jaina version of Ram Katha, the Paumacharayam, is aggressively different from the others and sets itself as a counter epic. It reworked the Ramayana as written by Brahmin authors and which it describes as a false tradition propagated by Brahmin heretics, the Brahmins being heretical from the Jaina point of view. The Jaina version, framed in the perspective of Jaina ethic and doctrine,  was in a way mirror image of Valmiki version as revised by the Brahmins.

“The Jaina version starts by giving genealogy and background not of Rama but of Ravana and then of Hanuman. We are told that rakshasas were not demons but normal humans. Ravana was not a ten headed monster but was described as such because he wore a necklace pf nine large gem stones which reflected his face. Similarly Hanuman was not a monkey but the leader of a clan with a monkey emblem on its standard. His role as mediator rather than one who loyally serves Rama….

“By the early second millennium AD there has been an enormous geographical spread of the Rama story. This has less to do with Ram- bhakti as such and more with the fact that in its variant forms, local traditions were expressing themselves in common cultural idiom which was widely dispersed and understood. A distinction, therefore, has to be made between the story as a cultural metaphor and as sacred literature. In the reworked Valmiki text, it remained the sacred literature of Vaishnavas, but many other texts are treating it as a culture metaphor. The latter were popular in central Asia, China and Tibet….In one version the area of north Vietnam (Anman) is identified as Ayodhya of the text and that to the south of it (Champa) as Lanka, a considerable shift in geographical identification. In some versions Sita appears, unknown to him, as the daughter of Ravana.”

Gopal has been quoted here to reinforce the fact that Ramayana has been evolving over time and hence its different versions. If perception about Ravan is now changing among the younger generation, especially in this region, it is part of the  same historical phenomenon.

However, the move of the Punjab Congress to give him the white colour had political overtones. The party today came out with yet another version of Ravan. The party MLAs  staging indefinite sit in at the gate of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal residence, painted Badal as Ravan. The Congress is taking the issue of drugs to a new level. It is the Akali Dal and the Ludhiana police that have handed over an issue to the Congress by its overzealous handling of the situation. There should be no objection to a white Ravan as the epic continues to evolve in accordance with the changing situation.

AAP might smell collaborative political manoeuvring in this action of the Congress and the police aided Akali activists to keep this party away from the seat of power in Punjab.

Editor-in-Chief

Jagtar Singh

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