Deconstructing Raavan - Why Raavan never dies.

Every year, on Dussehra, in several parts of India, gigantic effigies of Raavan (and his brother and son) are burnt to mark the victory of 'good' over 'evil'. It's a major attraction for children as well as adults and often the Ramlila maidans are filled to the brim, to watch the entire process when Lord Ram sets ablaze the beautifully decorated effigies of Raavan, his brother Kumbhakarna and son Meghnath. The reason for this celebration of triumph of 'good over evil' is that this day also marks the rescue of Sita from Raavan by Lord Ram. 

Delve a bit deeper into who Raavan was, why he had 10 heads and in fact why Lord Ram spent several days in penance after killing Raavan, and you begin to wonder if the death of Raavan deserves celebration at all. Raavan, a great devotee of Lord Shiva, was considered to be supremely knowledgeable and was well-versed in the Vedas and Shastras - in fact his 10 heads indicate the six shastras and the four vedas that Raavan mastered. Obviously, there is more about Raavan than what meets the eye when you see his burnt effigies as marking the triumph of good over evil. According to an interesting Assamese folklore (Sita, Devdutt Patnaik), if one cups one's hand over one's ears the sound one hears is that of Raavan's funeral pyre still burning! Try it for yourself - I did! 

Finally, what did this triumph of 'good over evil' ultimately lead to? A trial by fire? I quote from Sita (Devdutt Patnaik) - the first few words that Lord Ram said to Sita when she finally came before him, dressed like a bride - 'I, scion of the Raghu clan, have killed Raavan, the man who abducted you. Thus I have restored the honor of my family name. Let it be known that this was the reason this war was fought, not to save you. Let it be known that your presence before me does not bring me any joy; you are like grit in my eye, a blot on my family name, for you have chosen to live under the roof of another man through the rainy seasons instead of killing yourself. I would like you to go freely wherever you wish....' . What followed was a trial by fire - where Goddess Agni withdrew as Sita walked through fire, stating - 'I burn only impure things. But she is pure of body and thought'. One would have thought that the test ends here and they would live happily ever after - but what followed upon their return to Ayodhya, is perhaps sadder. To maintain the family's reputation and to ensure that a king's wife was above all doubt, in an unfortunate turn of events, Sita was asked to return to the forest. 'Sita was not pure enough for Ram, they say. If I resist, forever, will I be the object of ridicule'.

Lakshman, who seems to be the only person who is angered by this decision and the unjustness of it all, tries to reason with Lord Ram - 'People are fools. People are cruel. Do not submit to them. You have a choice. You are king. Do not indulge this vile desire of the people.' Lord Ram's response,  'A good king must listen to his people, and respect the rules of his family, however distasteful they may be.' And, so Sita is sent to the forest with Lakshman. Sita, whose abduction led to Raavan being killed by Lord Ram, thereby marking the triumph of good over evil!

One would imagine that Sita must be very unhappy after all this. And so she says to Lakshman, 'I am not happy with this situation, but I accept it and will make the most of it. Thus, I submit to karma without letting go of dharma'.

The story doesn't end here and we all know that when Lord Ram was finally willing to accept Sita, provided she passed the test of chastity, Sita returned to Mother Earth. 'The Earth accepts all seeds with love. She bears the judgment of her children with love. If I have been as true as the Earth in my love for Ram then may the Earth split open and take me within.'

What do we make out of it? Neither is one entirely good or bad nor can there be an end to all good or bad. We all have strains of good and bad. Light and shadow will always co-exist. Then why make Raavan the demon god, representative of all things bad? Why give him a lease of life every year and then 'pretend' to end it, blindly following this age-old tradition? Accept each situation for what it is, without standing in judgment regarding what is good or evil. Question reality and tradition. Seek knowledge and yourself. Let us look at virtues like kindness and compassion and try to emulate these. God and good exists in each one of us and we can make it shine through in the smallest acts of kindness. Do we need to rely on excessive ritualism, effigy burning and/or idol worship to prove to the world that we believe in God? As a society, we have a long long way to go to end the endless symbolism and ritualism attached to what guides/motivates human behaviour.

Let this day be celebrated by small but 'real' acts of kindness than by burning effigies of 'Raavan.'

Let's atleast make a start at our individual level. Be more human. Connect with people and our inner selves, and become a part of the collective energies which drives the Universe as opposed to blindly following tradition, rituals and the norms of society. That, for me, would be a real celebration.

Wish you all a very happy Dussehra.