Today is Vijaya Dashmi, one of the most important festivals of India. It marks the victory of Rama over Ravana in the battle of Ramayana. It is celebrated all over the India with burning the effigies of Ravana. Huge 10-faced effigies are burnt in grand spectacular ceremonies. It would be reasonable to go over some facts around this issue on this occasion.
Rama is considered as an avatar of Vishnu by millions of Hindus. For them, Rama is not mere a character of some epic tale, but an incarnation of God. He is referred to as Maryada Purushottam, i.e. the best limit of the man. Ravana was a demon king of Lanka.
Ravana kidnapped Sita, the wife of Rama, and this provoked a war between Rama and Ravana. This is a common consideration. But what made Ravana to kidnap Sita? Did he really kidnapped her only because he wanted to marry her? Or because he just wanted to take animosity with Rama? Was there some other reason? Was the animosity started by Ravana alone?
We should not forget the story of Shurpanakha in this context. Shurpanakha was a sister of Ravana. She was widowed. She saw Rama in the forest while the latter was in exile with his wife and brother Lakshmana. Shurpanakha got attracted towards Rama and made him a direct proposal to marry her. She was a demon lady, she was a widow, and her act was not totally against the customs then, but what Rama did with her was totally mischievous and something that we would never expect from a Maryada Purushottam.
Rama told her the truth that he cannot marry her as he is already married and is with his wife; but at the same time, he referred her to Lakshmana saying that he is young and handsome and is still unmarried (akrit daara अकॄतदारा was the exact word used by Rama in Walmiki Ramayana). Rama certainly knew Lakshmana was married too, still he cunningly lied to Shurpanakha. Even if we cannot justify her attitude towards Rama, we should not try to justify Rama’s behavior towards her too, especially when we call him the Maryada Purushottam. Lakshmana too talks mischievously with Shurpanakha and finally cuts his nose with his sword. Can his act be justified? Shurpanakha was straightforward in her demand. She had asked Rama directly about her wishes. One would really expect Rama to make an honest rejection in such a case, but he played mischief and Lakshmana cut her nose.
In consequence, she went to her brothers complaining about these two brothers, and then unfolded the further story of Ramayana still the battle of Lanka and defeat of Ravana, that’s not a topic of our discussion today.
I just want to state that we should stop deifying Rama and should see him as a protagonist of a wonderful epic of India. He even can be a superhero, but not a unquestionable God. He was as good and bad as I am, as you are, at least not a Maryada Purushottam.
This elaboration may seem out of context, an act of infidelity to someone, but the cruel use of Rama’s deified image over the recent decades in India makes it necessary to be told to people. Rama was a human being, if he ever existed. If we chose to worship him, let it be for our good, for our spiritual exaltation rather than to create animosity between two communities. In the present context, the cry of “Jay Shriram” reminds me of nothing but some crazy young people demolishing a mosque standing upon it, some sadhwi (female ascetic) dancing joyously in front of media after this demolition, common Hindus of Gujarat made insane with this deified image of Rama killing their own brothers in mobs, some Varun Gandhi making belligerent gestures on a public platform.
Hope the day would come when I won’t need to be an iconoclast anymore!