Dussehra: Some Celebrate Ravana

Nearly simultaneously, it’s the High Holy Days, Eid (last week), and now in the Hindu tradition, Dussehra, the celebration of the defeat of Ravana by Rama. (For my “Bong” friends, I believe it was also just Durga Puja over the weekend.) But not everyone celebrates religious holidays the same way. Case in point:

ravana icon dussehra.jpg

I was intrigued to see a headline from an Indian newspaper offering a surprising twist on Dussehra: “Dalits celebrate ‘Ravana Mela’ to oppose ‘Dussehra’.” There isn’t a whole lot there to explain how this has come about, or how widespread it is (the article only indicates that the group involved is the “Dalit Panther” organization in Kanpur, and that it’s been going on for about ten years). Another big question that remains unanswered from the news coverage I have seen is how the local community reacts to the pro-Ravana interpretation of Dussehra these folks are presenting. Is there active opposition, or is it tolerated? (Wikipedia lists a number of Ravana Temples in various places throughout India, including Kanpur, though it’s not clear whether caste is a factor in Ravana worship in general.)

Though I haven’t been able to find very much information about the “anti-Dussehra” practitioners, they do raise some interesting issues. One is their premise that the Ramayana is a caste narrative.

There is a hallowed tradition of differing interpretations of texts like the Ramayana in India. For instance, I know from reading Paula Richman’s work that there has been a long tradition, going back to the 1950s, of Tamil/Dravidian activists interpreting Rama’s quest as an anti-Dravidian crusade. In an article from the groundbreaking anthology, Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition, Richman wrote about a Tamil activist named E.V. Ramasami, who published a Ravana-centric Anti-Ramayana in 1956, and actually went to jail for it. (See more about E.V. Ramasami’s later years at Wikipedia). However, the main focus in E.V. Ramasami’s approach, if I remember correctly, was regionalism: he saw Ravana as a defender of the “South” against Rama’s “Northern” incursions (caste was, admittedly, also a major factor for him). The Dalit Panthers are doing something a bit different.

But I wonder whether the caste interpretation is just in the mind of Dalit activists, or whether it goes the other way as well. Is there also a tradition amongst high-caste Hindus of interpreting the conflict between Rama and Ravana along caste lines? If so, that might help explain where the Dalit activists are coming from. Then again, if Rama vs. Ravana is really just a broader “good vs. evil” struggle, the injection of caste might be seen as idiosyncratic and unproductive.

106 thoughts on “Dussehra: Some Celebrate Ravana

  1. I’m not sure “Going back to the 1950′s” really qualifies as a “long tradition” in the context of how old the Ramayana is.

    Also, the Rama vs. Ravana is not a “good vs. evil” struggle. That sort of Manichean dichotomy is mostly exclusive to Christianity (and a lot of the neo-Platonist and Mithraist cults that sprung up around the same time). While many modern readings of these stories tend to superimpose this perspective onto the Ramayana and Mahabharata, it’s an anachronistic viewpoint which grossly oversimplifies the complexities and nuances of the text.

    Part of the point was that Ravana was not purely evil. He was regarded as a great devotee of Shiva and a noble and just king in his own right. Lanka was one of the envies of the world. You don’t have to be “evil” to be the villain. In Ravana’s case, it was merely his arrogance and pride that brought him down. The lesson isn’t that he’s evil and needed to be destroyed. It is that even a prestigious, learned, and otherwise noble man can still be kind of a dick, and through his arrogance bring about the ruin of himself and everything he loves.

  2. The event has been organised at Pukhraya by the ‘Dalit Panther’, an NGO opposed to the burning of Ravana’s effigy on ‘Dussehra’ celebrated by the Hindus as the victory of good over evil.

    If ‘Dalit Panther’ is an NGO in india then LTTE is/was an NGO in SL. I am surprised that this bullss*&^ is coming from PTI – standards must have fallen. Dalit Panther has been in existence for a long time – as a kid I remember seeing ochre-graffiti by Dalit Panther ‘enthusiasts’ on the walls of government offices. The typical day job of these Panthers is to picketing and beating-up non-union workers.

    One thing that is quite interesting is that the name “Dalit Panther” predates Tamil Tigers and Khalistani Lions. I wonder why Panthers chose the smallest of the three cats. Who knows may be there is a name registration service for terrorist thugs – à la ICANN – and Tigers and Lions were taken.

    However, the focus in E.V. Ramasami’s approach, if I remember correctly, was regionalism: he saw Ravana as a defender of the “South” against Rama’s “Northern” incursions.

    .

    Dravidian supremacist exitst today too check this this. Nothing new there. I am sure people have interpreted Ramayana in many ways – one rather popular interpretation is by a Dravidian called Kamban.

    But I wonder whether the caste interpretation is just in the mind of Dalit activists, or whether it goes the other way as well. Is there also a tradition amongst high-caste Hindus of interpreting the conflict between Rama and Ravana along caste lines?

    Ravana was half Brahmin and a devout Hindu – These two attributes would automatically disqualify him form membership of “Panther” committee.

    Happy Dussehra!! to all.

  3. This is surprising to me as I thought Ravan was generally supposed to be a Brahmin, and is actually worshipped by some Brahmin communities for his learning.

    “While most Hindus end their Dussehra celebrations by burning the effigy of Ravana to symbolise the victory of good over evil, the 10-headed demon king of Hindu mythology is worshipped in two Madhya Pradesh districts. The temple has an ancient idol of Ravana in a reclining position believed to have been constructed between the ninth and 14th century. In the village, the demon king has been worshipped as a symbol of prosperity for over 600 years by Kanyakubja Brahmins, a Brahmin sub-sect to which Ravana was believed to have belonged.” (link)

    If I remember right, in Satyajit Ray’s Sadgati, the village priest has a statue of Ravan in his backyard.

  4. I’m not sure “Going back to the 1950′s” really qualifies as a “long tradition” in the context of how old the Ramayana is.

    Fair enough. What I meant was that there is a longer tradition of variations on the Ramayana, including the various regional language versions (with generally only minor variations in the story), as well as the Jain version (which is significantly different). In the same Paula Richman anthology I linked to, there is a great essay by A.K. Ramanujan, one of the only scholars I know of who could read the Sanskrit (Valmiki), Tamil (Kampan), Hindi (Tulsidas), and Bengali (Krttivasa) versions of the Ramayana in the original languages; he has a clever way of thinking about how to catalog the variations. (His essay is called “Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation”)

    The E.V.R. protest in the 1950s could be seen as a distinctly modern, 20th century event, or it could be seen as at the tail end of an ancient tradition of variation in the narrative (what Ramanujan would call a “telling”).

  5. I wonder why Panthers chose the smallest of the three cats. Who knows may be there is a name registration service for terrorist thugs – à la ICANN – and Tigers and Lions were taken.

    I’ve always thought they were modeling themselves after the American “Black Panthers,” from the late 1960s.

  6. Rama vs. Ravana is really just a broader “good vs. evil” struggle

    Amardeep, you are mixing up traditions and cultures in a quite uninformed way. This good vs. evil thing is quite distant from hindu culture. If you read the sources, Ravana is often represented is a brahmin, deeply knowledgeable in the vedas, who is transformed by lust and arrogance to perform evil acts. He chooses poor advisors, snubs Vibhishan his brother who advises him to settle with Rama. When he is finally killed, his “avidya” finally slips away and he understands the folly of his actions.

    There is a long tradition of debate around Shri Rama and various portions of the ramayan. Most controversial is the exile of sita, but the killing of bali also figures in many hindu discussions and debates. So there is nothing new in championing Ravana or challenging some aspects of Shri Rama’s actions.

  7. I’ve always thought they were modeling themselves after the American “Black Panthers,” from the late 1960s.

    BAGHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

  8. I’ve always thought they were modeling themselves after the American “Black Panthers,” from the late 1960s.

    It is quite possible. So it seems “dalit panther” was created by people who take Communism as a hobby like this Vijay Prashad dude.

    I cannot find much about panthers on the net, but I remember the graffiti nuisance. BTW Panthers are on facebook. Looks like they are trying to breed a super-cat. :)

  9. I’ve always thought they were modeling themselves after the American “Black Panthers,” from the late 1960s.

    It is quite possible. So it seems “dalit panther” was created by people who take Communism as a hobby like this Vijay Prashad dude.

    I cannot find much about panthers on the net, but I remember the graffiti nuisance. BTW Panthers are on facebook. Looks like they are trying to breed a super-cat. :)

  10. There is a tale – apocryphal, and mischivous too – that EVR at the height of his career seriously considered changing his name from Ramaswami Naicker to Ravanaswamy Naicker. And then someone reminded him – he too had learned the Ramayanam at his grandma’s knee (like most of us) that Ravana is the Brahman. Rama is of uncertain origin and passed himself as a Kshatriya. EVR wasn’t too happy about to be told that, since he took great pride in being a Naicker (a Kshtriya-like jati) but let it pass.

    Ravana as we should know is an incarnation of Jaya – of the Jaya-Vijaya duo – the dwarapalakas or gatekeepers of Vaikuntham, Vishnu’s abode. Jaya and Vijaya were cursed to be born as mortals when they kept a rishi waiting outside the gates (they have nothing on doctor’s offices though!) too long. Alarmed and grieved they ran to Lakshmi and begged that the curse be revoked. Tough luck, no way. Finally a compromise was worked out. The banishment wouldn’t be forever – nine births as virtuous folk or three births as troublemakers. J-V did a quick take and without hesitation chose the latter. Quicker the better. Thus came Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu; Ravana and Kumbhakarna; Sishupala and Dantavakra. There is a steady progression in J-V’s greyness, and by the time of Krishna avatar (Sishu and Danta) they are almost teddybears. Naturally they were thrilled to be vanquished by the Vishnu – to be felled by a divine is divine!

    J-V’s avatars on earth were great bhaktas of Shiva and Brahma from whom they obtained almost invincibility. Ravana especially was a great bhakta of Shiva, learned of in the 64 arts. A just, kind and humane ruler, whose subjects adored him.

    Everyone knows this. What is the fuss about?

    And now for a lovely interlude from the 1960s Tamizh classic Sampoorna Ramayanam starring the great TK Shanmugam as Ravana

  11. AFAIK, Ramayana has often been interpreted as an allegory for North-South relations. The Dalit/caste Hindu interpretation is something I’m unfamiliar with.

    Ravana was the greatest devotee of Shiva and very learned man. What is literally interpreted as “ten heads” in pop culture is actually just a metaphor for his great wisdom. The story of the Ramayana has a long history of being told from Ravana’s perspective, even before the 50s, especially in South India. There’s also the problematic translation of the word “rakshasa” to English as “demon”. Rakshasa does not carry the same sort of Abrahamic, good and evil baggage that the word demon does.

    The dancer and actress Shobana most recently did an interpretation of Ramayana from Ravana’s perspective. Here’s a review of the show’s premiere in Hyderabad that discusses the issue in further detail. Among other things, it discusses how the various narratives of the Ramayana became the one version that I’m guessing most people would be familiar with as a means to building the Indian nation-state.

    Also, Mani Ratnam is currently making a film called Ravana, in Tamil and Hindi, which is supposedly sympathetic to Ravana and where Sita falls in love with him.

  12. This is an interesting topic. I believe Mani Rathnam’s new movie Ravana which is a contemporary take on Ramayana plans to show Ravana as a gray character not just in a negative light. Have to wonder how that will go over with some people who see it as black and white?

  13. There is a long tradition of debate around Shri Rama and various portions of the ramayan. Most controversial is the exile of sita, but the killing of bali also figures in many hindu discussions and debates. So there is nothing new in championing Ravana or challenging some aspects of Shri Rama’s actions.

    I know this (see my earlier post called “Versions of the Ramayana” a couple of years ago). But what I’m specifically asking about here are caste resonances. It’s interesting to hear some commenters say they thought Ravana was a Brahmin, while others are saying that he’s a half-Brahmin.

    I also want to underline that I’m particularly interested in popular understandings. Obviously scholars tend to have an open-minded attitude to Ravana, and might find it easier to think of Ravana (and Rama?) in terms of shades of grey. But when the masses of ordinary Hindus blow up effigies of Ravana on Dussehra, are they doing it with that awareness? My sense has been that they are not: that Ravana represents something like “evil,” and that Ravana’s triumph is “good.”

    If people grew up with variations on this, I’m curious to hear about it. I’m also curious about how and how these stories are transmitted: via a parent, a Pujari, a teacher…?

  14. One of my first impressions of Ravana, picked up from the comic that introduced me to the Ramayana, was that he was from Sri Lanka. I remember when I was a kid and my parents told us that an older student from Sri Lanka was going to be visiting our home I hid the comic, thinking that his portrayal in it might offend her if she came across it. I also thought I had read about people burning effigies of Rama in response to the burning effigies of Ravana, but I can’t find reference to that.

  15. Also note the short film “We Are Not Your Monkeys” by Anand Patwardhan.

    http://www.patwardhan.com/films/wearenotyourmonkeys.htm

    The title is a reference to how Hindu mythology routinely portrays lower castes and dalits as demons and monkeys.

    Besides the caste issues with Ramayana, there is also the fact that when the enemy is portrayed as unredeemably evil (consider “weapons of mass destruction”, “enemies of freedom”, and such) it is almost always a ruse to conceal the moral corruption of the purported “good” combatant.

  16. Amardeep wrote:

    Is there also a tradition amongst high-caste Hindus of interpreting the conflict between Rama and Ravana along caste lines?

    Please keep in mind that Ravana himself was a Brahmin. His father was the sage Vishrava.

    According to Wikipedia:

    The Dave Brahmins of Mudgal Gotra, Jodhpur/Mandor who were originally from Gujarat, claim to be the descendants of Ravana. The say that since time immemorial they are performing the shraddh (death anniversary) of Ravana on Dashehra Day every year. They offer pind daan and take a bath after that ritual. They recently erected a Ravan temple in Jodhpur, where daily puja is performed.
  17. But when the masses of ordinary Hindus blow up effigies of Ravana on Dussehra, are they doing it with that awareness? My sense has been that they are not: that Ravana represents something like “evil,” and that Ravana’s triumph is “good.”

    My sense is that it goes along the lines of “OOH! Fireworks! PRETTY!” and everything else is just an excuse to have a party.

    Actual Hindus don’t typically make a point of deconstructing each and every one of their customs for no discernible intellectual payoff.

  18. The Dave Brahmins of Mudgal Gotra, Jodhpur/Mandor who were originally from …

    AFAIK.

    After Ravana’s demise, Dave Brahmins of

    Mathoo

    (apbhransh matthewes) vansha travelled across the seas and became sangeet (music) visharad, while those belonging to

    Charpal

    (apbhransh – chappelle) became pundits of Natya Shastra.

  19. Interesting post Amardeep.

    My 3 yo cried and screamed with fright at the burning of Ravana’s effigy at the local celebrations. A kind uncleji watching us nearby tried to explain to him that the bad guy is getting burned just like in Star Wars :)

  20. Anant Patwardhan on interpreting hinduism…hmm, OK, lets find some western analogs

    How about Richard Dawkins on interpreting christianity…or robert maplethorpe on christian relics…

    You get the idea, nothing wrong with these folks, just that they might have a certain perspective..

  21. I’m not surprised by liberal PC sepia commentators frothing over the learned, elite, and wealthy Ravana.

  22. Nice try Murali. Ask yourself if the image of Hanuman draws adoration. Ask yourself if the monkey in Indian & East Asian lore is associated with intelligence or stupidity. This is why Patwardhan is a hack, there is plenty to work with regarding ongoing caste discrimination in the name of traditionalist Hinduism of the elites but he has to go play with imagery that has completely different connotations in the West in order to rile up his patrons in their college tweeds. Is there a germ of truth to Adivasis being the inspiration for the Vanaras? Who knows, it is possible. But it is disingenuous for both you and Patwardhan to draw a straight line between that and “license to exterminate”. If Patwardhan wants the smoking gun it’s called the “Laws of Manu” but calling out the obvious doesn’t get you grants or tenure

  23. I’m not surprised by liberal PC sepia commentators frothing over the learned, elite, and wealthy Ravana.

    His dark skin, notwithstanding!

  24. I thought he was the bad guy? or is this Aryan Fair skinned invader genes against local dark skinned Dravidians syndrome?

  25. I thought he was the bad guy?

    That depends on your interpretation of bad. Are you open minded about it ?

  26. The title is a reference to how Hindu mythology routinely portrays lower castes and dalits as demons and monkeys.

    Anand Patwardhan gets a failing grade for making things up (I don’t want to say “pulling things out of…”)

    Let’s see Rama’s friend Guha and Shabari are both of the forests, with whom he breaks bread and shares a meal, are certainly not “upper-caste” folk. Goonie, Kaikeyi’s maid who poison’s her padrona’s mind against her padrona’s stepson, Rama, isn’t put to death. The many vanaras – some of them simian, others vulpine (Jatayu and Sempati), ursine (Jambavan) are all beloved of Rama, well into his next avatar as Krishna, when Krishna marries Jambavan’s granddaughter. Hanuman, Ganesh, Garuda, the various avatars of Vishnu – matsya, kurma, varaha, hayagriva, are all much beloved and even revered. Hanuman and Ganesh are easily the most popular deities for kids – my personal favourite though is Ganesh – and Anand Patwardhan thinks we create characters like these to demonise “lower castes”. Bakwas!

    Actually I am telling Anad Pat,

    Listen you blockhead, we know our purana, don’t try to fool us, We are not your monkeys
  27. It’s interesting to hear some commenters say they thought Ravana was a Brahmin, while others are saying that he’s a half-Brahmin.

    I thought he was only half-Brahmin because his mum was a Daitya and his dad was was some kind of rishi. Although I am not sure if daitya’s had varna system.

  28. Yup, Durga Puja was this weekend…I skipped festivities in town and “went home” to celebrate with my family. The parentals are pleased!

    I’ve always wondered about the Sri Lankan point(s) of view on the Ramayan, given Ravana’s status in the epic. Thoughts?

  29. Ravana’s dad Vishravas and grandad Pulastya were both Rishis. And Rishis most of the time are of unknown “provenance”. Which is why in Tamizh it is said that Rishimoolam and Nadimoolam (searching for the origins of Rishis and rivers) is a disappointing/pointless/dangerous/distasteful pursuit. They are best left alone. Rishis aren’t strictly speaking Brahamans. Paurohitya – or sanskar leader or ceremony facilitator which is what Brahamans are supposed to do, isn’t the work of Rishis. All puranas allude to Brahamans as being a separate group of folks. Rishis perform the yagnas, drop by to offer transcedental advice, deliver curses, function as surrogate fathers to continue royal clans (as in Mahabharata), and other things. Ravana was a Brahman by virtue of being born to a Rishi who was actively into the business of paurohitya.

  30. I thought he was only half-Brahmin because his mum was a Daitya and his dad was was some kind of rishi. Although I am not sure if daitya’s had varna system.

    daityas were not uniformly ‘evil’ either. Check out the story of Kacha – sent by the Devas – treacherously cheating the virtuous daitya teacher Shukracharya into giving up the magic power of Sanjeevani . Sometimes I wonder if our modern sensibility has a long way to go before catching up with our ancestors.

    Richman wrote about a Tamil activist named E.V. Ramasami

    Not to be snarky but this was hilarious. A reverse analog would be, say, an American commentator reading from a Chinese text to discover about an American ‘activist’ called Martin Luther King Jr.

  31. many vanaras – some of them simian

    I have always wondered if the vanaras were or were inspired by Neanderthals.

  32. Looking further at the Anant Patwardhan link is revealing….it is truly a crazy idea that monkey/cow/elephant are a lower form in traditional hinduism.

    The prevalent mass enthusiasm among hindus for both hanuman and ganesh are actually a bit much in my opinion – a little more disney that I can handle.

    Here is a link to a modern US hindu temple dedicated to Hanuman

    http://chinmayamaruti.org/cmb/aboutus/temple.html

    Presumably this is to put the Boston dalits in their place??????

  33. I’m not going to even read the comments, sorry. But I just wanted to say that from my perspective, Ravan is only partially reviled. He is, at some level, a model for our worst selves, a reproach for what we should be wary of, and also a reassurance that it will all work out in the end. He’s not just a demon. He’s also half the second incarnation of Jay/Vijay, gatekeepers of Vishnu and entirely above us. Like Hiranyakashipu before him and Sishupal after him, he does terrible things. But he is also a mighty king. In the Valmiki Ramayan, Hanuman is both contemptuous of Ravan’s arrogance and laudatory of his erudition, carriage and might. The family glory is also completely transmitted to Vibhishan, who lacks the arrogance that mars it, so I have trouble seeing the Ramayan as a tribalist narrative. In my tradition Lanka is highly regarded as Vibhishan’s kingdom. This is similar to the description of Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha, where Prahlad Maharaj is eternally beloved and his grandson Bali is a Mahajan. Later, Sishupal himself is Krishna’s own cousin. In my tradition, Jay and Vijay volunteerily come back a fourth time as Jagai and Madhai, and in their injury-free redemption they demonstrate our constant capacity for change.

  34. Wunderbar, daityas were not uniformly ‘evil’ either, and Indra is usually a shifty character in the puranas, managing to hang on to his riches by the skin of his teeth. And of course while Indra has a lot of powers he gets creamed when real warriors take him on. Ravana is supposed to have put Indra in his place, although Vali saw off Ravana! And that’s what happens, when Vali mortally wounded and gasping for life asks Rama,

    “Why did you have to ally with this worthless brother of mine, Sugriva?”

    “I am trying to win back my wife from Ravana,” replied Rama,

    “Really? If you had asked me, I would have singlehandedly accomplished that for you, I mean all by myself, with one hand tied behind my back. It wouldn’t be the first time I whupped Ravana’s wazoo. A few million years back, when my son Angad was still to start walking (now he flies around) Ravana foolishly chose to attack my kingdom. I beat up his entire host, and trussed him like a little chicken to hang over Angada’s cradle like a plaything!”

    The few million authors of the Ramayana and Mahabharata drop so many hints now and then that these two epics are simply sideshows of a far grander tale, of a few trillion years ago, that even men like Rama wouldn’t have been big enough to take part in. And those millions include you and me, and all of us now, for every time these tales are narrated, enacted, or discussed, they are rewritten.

  35. Presumably this is to put the Boston dalits in their place??????

    A lot of the Dalit political activists are, like Prema, a little obsessive about shoehorning everything they see in India into their frame of Hindu/Brahmin oppression. That’s the only reason you see inanity like the “Low castes are monkeys” thing.

    It is kind of a shame that they get as much attention as they do in the academia, because there are lot of good non-profits and NGOs (run by people from every caste) that do actual substantive work to educate, uplift, and reconcile people subjected to the injustices of caste-based discrimination. Of course none of that ever gets as much press as half-educated (and frankly quite racist) political activists shouting “RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE!” all the time.

    Suffice it to say, a lot of what has been written about “Brahminism” and “Hinduism” by political activists is just plain bullcrap being used to justify a political agenda. Just because the bull happens to be of a leftist persuasion or of a historically disadvantaged breed doesn’t make its crap any less malodorous.

  36. I had a teacher in school (growing up in India) who suggested that the word ‘Vanar’ interpreted as monkeys in the Ramayan are really aborigines / jungle tribes with the word ‘Vanar’ comprising ‘Va’ which means ‘Or’ in Sanskrit and ‘Nar’ meaning ‘Man / Human’ in Sanskrit. Hence ‘Vanar’ would be interpeted or as alternate humans or “sub-human” jungle tribes.

  37. The few million authors of the Ramayana and Mahabharata drop so many hints now and then that these two epics are simply sideshows of a far grander tale, of a few trillion years ago, that even men like Rama wouldn’t have been big enough to take part in.

    The Avatars have kind of downgraded in their splendor haven’t they? Apparently as time goes on we just keep getting easier to impress to the point where even routine miracles start to seem world-bending and phenomenal. We had a great boar that could do battle with a demon large enough to submerge the entire landmass, an enormous turtle that can churn the entire ocean, and a half-man/half-lion who spontaneously appears in a shattered pillar to eviscerate an immortal demon lord. And then progressively distilled down to Rama, who is cool and everything, but is remarkable primarily for being an awesome archer (and moral exemplar I guess.) And then we got Parashurama who is quite literally known as “Rama with an axe.” And of course, the whole story culminates in the arrival of Kalki, who will be notable for. . . riding a white horse.

    Man how bleak does our future look when obtaining a white horse is enough to distinguish your pedigree as savior of all mankind?

  38. I was told by a Sri Lankan colleague that Ravana was considered the hero in his country.

    Hmmmm.. may be he was talking about Raven.

  39. 34: Hence ‘Vanar’ would be interpeted or as alternate humans or “sub-human” jungle tribes.

    Omit the last two words and the sentence makes sense and illuminates. The insertion of ‘jungle tribes’ feels like an unjustified politically motivated insertion.

    In fact, rather than demeaning anyone, the word ‘Vanar’ is recognition that animals are not so different from us.

  40. Amardeep, Get ready for a 300+ comments barrage. Calling one, calling all!

    As has been pointed out, the EVR / Dalit Panther worship of Ravana is not based on any serious study of theology. What the religion says about Ravana doesn’t really figure into their calculations, nor are they looking for consistency. This is basically their equivalent of flag burning. Its a simple equation –

    Hindus worship Rama and burn Ravana. Hinduism has perpetuated millions of years of oppression on dalits/harijans/untouchables/assorted castes (D/h/u/a c) So D/h/u/a c will worship Ravana and revile Rama.

    Since Ravana is not the equivalent of the devil, most Hindus will look upon this with amusement. No chance of 300+

  41. Careful now DizzyDesi, according to a spanking I got from many commentators on another thread, Hinduism has nothing to do with the caste system…..apparently if you say that you are being hateful to Hindus….

  42. GurMando,

    Caste isn’t Hinduism, literally speaking, since it is description of what the Portuguese imagined. Jati and varna are two different things, both of which attract a lot of after-the-fact interpretation by the thinkers, intellectuals, and everyone in general. Strong words and outrage at my mealymouthedness welcome.

  43. So – is it fair to say that it is at least a part of the culture ?

    Here’s a question for the experts here – if caste-ism is not a part of the religion – then why are Brahmins considered the highest / one of the high castes ? And isn’t it pretty convenient for them to have the priest class at the top of the rung ?

    Again – this is a laymen’s question – not attacking – just axing.

  44. But when the masses of ordinary Hindus blow up effigies of Ravana on Dussehra, are they doing it with that awareness?

    because the “masses” are incapable of nuance, of course.

  45. Check out the story of Kacha …

    Thanks but no thanks, I do not hang that way – not interested in story of Kacchas. Got any stories of Kacchies ?

  46. GurMando Ideally, the varna system should have been fluid, not ossified (I agree that the reality is quite different). The reason priests/scholars were at the top of the rung was because vidya/knowledge was considered greater than worldly possessions.On a related note, Rama asked Lakshmana to sit at Ravana’s feet, while he lay dying at the battlefield, and request him to teach Lakshman statecraft. Even today, don’t we consider a PhD higher in the pecking order than, say, a manual labourer?I Ideally there should be movement across varnas. Vishwamitra became a Rishi, so did Valmiki. My maternal great grand-father, a brahmin, changed his surname to Singh to join the army. His descendants bear the new surname.