Ramayana and Mahabharata, the two Hindu epics are a fantastic study in the various shades and hues of the human psyche. Although written over 1,000 years ago (or so we believe) these are still very relevant because at a fundamental level humans and the drivers of human emotion and action haven’t changed over the centuries.
For me personally, the most challenging task is to remove the religious context, read it as pure fiction and be objective about my views on the ‘characters’ – mainly because I am a strong believer! When I detach the spiritual side from the objective side, I am presented with a treasure chest that throws deep insight into the human psyche which I find RIVETING!!
Each time I read the Ramayana I ask myself these questions – so who is really good and who is bad? What is used as a yardstick for good or bad? Who makes up these yardsticks? In the current day context, are these yardsticks valid? I am faced with many questions …. and the mind struggles with the answers mainly because the mind is preconditioned by what it has been taught from the time it could think! My definition of good is often at odds with the definition of good in the Ramayana.
If I remove the halo of ‘Avatara Purusha’ from Ram’s head, he comes across as a very average and self centred man. He cared for his reputation more than he cared about those he loved. To him his duties as a king took precedence over his duties as a human being. Yes, he loved his wife and was devoted to her but there was no acceptable justification for the way he treated her. He fulfilled his duties as a king and ruler but he miserably failed in his duties as a husband, father and human being. Sita was his responsibility as much as his kingdom – so why did he not take that responsibility seriously. Because, this didn’t offer a path to everlasting glory?? What kind of a man would banish his pregnant wife for a whim. Why Sita tolerated this, I will never understand. Yes there are many explanations in the book but personally, I can relate to Draupadi’s fiery and feisty nature more than I can to Sita’s earthy patient nature. Now, if treating a person with kindness is a yardstick for being ‘good’, Ram fails miserably. They say of all the sins in the world ‘hurting a woman’ is the worst sin. By this definition he is sinner too!
By contrast, Ravan who is personified as evil himself is not so evil when you read the story. Yes he is smitten by Sita’s beauty and falls in love with her. He abducts her hoping that one day she will agree to accept him. Yes, by the moral standpoint of current day society, capturing another man’s wife is wrong and to capture an unwilling woman is wrong but there ends the streak of evil. He is portrayed as a god fearing, learned man with a good heart. Not once does he force himself upon Sita. He could have. Of course, there is the notion that he didn’t do so because of the curse upon him that if he forced a woman, that would bring about his destruction. Even so, I’d like to think that on face value of the facts presented in the book, he had more conviction and was much more in tune with his finer emotions that Ram. Yes, there are shades of evil but he is largely a good man.
My fascination for these sorts of stories is that when you look at the characters, there is no person who is entirely good or entirely bad. It is people like us who develop these cliché’s and stereotypes. There are shades of grey and it is the shades of grey that make humans so fascinating.
Maybe I am not the only one who thinks these kind of ‘offbeaat’ thoughts! Mani Ratnam’s Raavanan certainly presents all my thoughts beautifully on screen. Loved the movie, loved the way he told my story exactly the way it played in my mind. I believe most people in the audience would have wanted Veera (Ravana) to live happily ever after with Ragini (Sita) and that is telling something about his story telling skills! Alright, I know I am going to cop a lot of abuse for saying things like this especially because if you look at this from a religious context, there are much deeper messages that what meet the eye, but I am a simple person!!
And one last word, there are varied views and reviews about Raavana but I bow to Mr Mani Ratnam’s guts to take on taboo topics and deliver them with conviction! No, Raavanan didn’t touch me like Mouna Ragam or Nayakan but his class is undeniable!