As we celebrate Dussehra, we recount Ramayana and the lessons that come with it. For us, the Ramayana isn’t just a story of Lord Rama winning over Ravana and rescuing Sita. It is about good winning over evil despite the many obstacles. It is the story that gives Indians hope and motivation to keep fighting for what they know is right.
But we all know that every story has two sides.
And for Sri Lankan Hindus, who only comprise 12.6% of the total population, the story has a very different perception of Ravana.
Ravana was born to the great sage Vishrava and his wife Kaikesi. In fact, his father was one of the Saptarishis during the age of Manu. Coming from a highly-revered family, Ravana was given the right education, both in terms of academics and martial arts.
It’s a known fact that Ravana had ten heads, and people often say that this gave him the special gift of knowledge. It is assumed that having 10 heads meant he was a very knowledgeable man and by that logic, a great king who had great knowledge about administration. In fact, there are seven books in Ayurveda whose authorship still stands in his name, thereby establishing him as a great physician. It is said that he wrote a book of ayurvedic remedies for infants on the request of his wife.
Remember the pushpaka vimana which Ravana used while abducting Sita? Within mythology, it was the flying object that Ravana invented. This story only goes to show that his knowledge wasn’t just medicinal, but also scientific. He had a bend towards innovation and came up with his unique vehicle.
And it wasn’t just his knowledge that made him a man that people both admired and feared.
He was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. Ravana would meditate for days at an end to please him. No matter how he was as a human, one couldn’t deny that he was a very passionate devotee. Lord Shiva was so impressed by him that he bestowed on him the power to use divine weapons, an honour that only a hardworking devotee could earn.
Hence, for Sri Lankans, even the start of the war between Ravana and Lord Rama is very different. Indians believe that none of it had happened had Ravana not abducted Sita. However, the Sri Lankans believe that it all started with Lakshmana cutting off Surpanakha’s nose after she proposed Lord Rama. For them, what Ravana did was anything that a big brother would have done to avenge the injury caused to his younger sister.
Sri Lankans don’t worship Ravana as a god but they regard him as a great king for all that he is famed to do. For them, he was the king who resisted invaders. For them, he is the tragic hero who was betrayed by his own brothers when he tried to avenge his sister’s honour. For them, he was the king who was blessed with knowledge that his ten heads contained. For them, he was the king whose devotion to Lord Shiva won him powerful weapons.
They don’t have festivals for him and neither do they build temples in his name. But they do look at him as a great king who met a tragic end.
Isn’t it weird how the same person can have two contrasting truths?