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. Lupus – that’s really interesting.

    So why could people change their varna back in the day and not now ?

    Also – why did your GGF change his sur-name to join the army ? I know there are a ton of Sikhs in the army – related to that or another reason ? Did he feel he had to change the name with the profession to match ?

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

    Back in my grad school days my Comparative Politics Prof. told us to just not bother using “culture” as an explanatory variable. That’s not to say that culture plays no role, we all acknowledge it plays a huge role. But in any sort of real-world study the temptation to ascribe anything you can’t explain to “culture” starts to approach a “God of the gaps” argument with no end. After all, it’s not like “culture” just plopped down from the sky for no reason. People back then were no more moral in their context than we are today, so they must have had justifiable reasons for organizing things the way they did just as we do today.

    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 ?

    Not only were Brahmins priests, they engaged in all academic pursuits from the study of economics, political sciences, and philosophy to astronomy, mathematics, the sciences, medicine, and the martial arts.

    Of course, the pedestal itself was informal. In theory all castes are supposed to be co-equal contributors to the health of society. much is made of shudra’s being said to have arisen from the feet of Brahma, but have you imagined walking without your feet (in an era before engines were invented)? But society could do worse than to put its academicians on a pedestal (assuming, of course, that these academicians are actually interested in the pursuit of knowledge.) Much of how the varna/jati thing was systematized was a result of the British consulting the priests and asking them how their religion organizes society. So naturally what we ended up with was a legal and social system organized under the assumption that the normative claims made by self-interested Brahmin priests were actually true and uniformly applied.

    In the idealized world practicing Brahmins were forbidden from owning property, engaging in skilled trades, or in some cases handling gold and silver. They were expected to get by on begging alms and performing spiritual services. There was a subclass of Brahmins who did engage in business dealings and the like, but they were traditionally considered to be unqualified to comment on philosophical matters as their worldly entanglements would bring their own self-interested notions into their thought processes. This subclass got bigger all the time until the academician/priestly ones became the small minority.

  3. GurMando Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the facts straight from the horse’s mouth- My GGF was quite deaf and very cranky for the short duration that I was in contact with him, especially since I would ruin his garden during my short visits, but informed sources tell me that around the time that he caught the army bug, the Brits were not too keen on recruiting Brahmins from his part of the county. He joined as a sepoy, and rose through the ranks to retire as a Major some time in the late ’40s.

  4. This guy ?

    That guy denies the existence of Raman or the Ramar Sethu so he couldn’t be named Ravanan. All Ravanan’s need their Raman to get his Sitai:)

  5. “So why could people change their varna back in the day and not now ?”

    That has to do with people clinging to their social status and wanting to pass it down to their children. Everyone wants to move up the social ladder and once there to stay there. Inherited class status is the problem world wide. Europe still has aristocracy and Kings/Queens/Princes/Princesses in some countries as do Middle East and Asia. Varna describes job categories, placing the pursuit of knowledge above all. Jati has to do with the community you are born into.

  6. Ideally, the varna system should have been fluid, not ossified (I agree that the reality is quite different).

    True enough in theory, but in an agrarian society that kind of stratification is an inescapable reality. Literacy is pretty much passed down intergenerationally as is the kind of comprehensive education that would allow you to memorize voluminous amounts of text and poetry as well as amass the kinds of critical thinking skills necessary to engage in reasoned discourse. So our examples of lower caste members becoming enlightened sages tend to be pretty rare and remarkably brilliant individuals. Essentially, Ramanuja type geniuses who can teach themselves with very rudimentary tools and little support.

    Then again, Chandragupta Maurya was said to be the son of a peacock tamer until Kautaliya saw his leadership potential evidenced in how he played with the other little boys and took him in as a pupil. Who knows what kinds of opportunities were open to people of ability. In any case, I don’t think caste (Jati) in India was any more rigid than race in the Americas pre-civil rights and there was a kind of social mobility in which entire Jatis could scale up a ladder by accruing honor to their names. Rajput clans, for example, were basically graduated to Kshatriya status.

  7. The Portuguese word “caste” combined varna (Hinduism – categorizing jobs) and jati (community one is born into). There was no corresponding Indian word that combined varna and jati. Caste was originally used to describe their society.

  8. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the facts straight from the horse’s mouth- My GGF was quite deaf and very cranky for the short duration that I was in contact with him, especially since I would ruin his garden during my short visits, but informed sources tell me that around the time that he caught the army bug, the Brits were not too keen on recruiting Brahmins from his part of the county. He joined as a sepoy, and rose through the ranks to retire as a Major some time in the late ’40s.

    Also, nobody bothered to register or write down what your varna was back then. Couple that with the fact that no administrative units extends more than a 2 day ox-cart ride and you’ve got a situation where it’s pretty easy to lie about your pedigree as long as you have the skills to the job done.

    If you came from some village then walking up and saying “My last name is Singh,” as Lupus’ story indicates, was a pretty trivial affair.

    And then they invented bureaucracy. . .

  9. More on the Portuguese “Casta” – they even had paintings on casta to break it down: “Casta is a Portuguese and Spanish term used in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries mainly in Spanish America to describe as a whole the mixed-race people which appeared in the post-Conquest period. In English, the term casta also refers to the colonial Spanish American system of social stratification based on a person’s racial heritage that evolved along with the rise in miscegenation. A parallel system of categorization based on the degree of acculturation to Hispanic culture, which distinguished between gente de razón (Hispanics) and gente sin razón (non-acculturated people), concurrently existed and worked together with the idea of casta.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casta

  10. And isn’t it pretty convenient for them to have the priest class at the top of the rung ?

    Top of the rung? Depends.

    There is the entire Jaati Vs Varna thing. Others have written about it in the past, with knowledge that I cannot match. But here is one explanation: http://www.ibiblio.org/sripedia/ramanuja/archives/aug02/msg00083.html

    Vaishayas specialize in commerce. Kshatriyas in power. Brahmins in information/ knowledge. True, each of these fields can be used to gain influence over the others, but customs damped this to some extent. (One of the first things Brahmins of are taught to do is to beg for alms.)

    This may not be appropriate in a modern world, but in the ancient world, the nice part of this kind of separation of powers is that India did not have to suffer rulers who thought that the country existed for them, and not vice versa to the extent of other places (Europe, china, etc).

  11. These varna are rather like roles. It’s like saying that a business organization needs a corporate planner, a CFO, a CTO, a GM-Sales etc., So when we talk about varnavyavastha or varnashram dharma, it is to say, unless certain roles are nurtured and preserved, society will, in the absence of any technological change, collapse. Jati is a very different thing, it is 1000s of endogamous groups, with their own folklore, and hierarchy. In fact every jati is a self-contained society, making its own laws and charting its own future. It is a sort of substructure and foundation that holds people together, and ossified becomes an oppressive system. But at its best it ensures that no dictator or fascist will ever lord over the Indics. The idea of rights and duties as social contract is to be found most clearly in the Indic mode of society.

  12. I’m just wondering do the Europeans ever get political and uptight when discussing Norse, Roman or Greek mythology and try to pass it off as history?

    PS One of my friends has this wacky theory that the original tale was that Ravana, unlike Rama, had a big dong, hence Sita cheated on him. =P

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

    I have not read any version of Kamban’s Tamil Ramayan, but I hear Ravan’s not a bad guy in that (more of a fallen anti-hero), and I wonder if Tamil Brahmins (who are supposedly “Aryans” ) revile or venerate him. Then again, now that archaeologists (and not just “pro-Hindutva” ones) are finding evidence that Max Mueller’s outdated Aryan invasion theory may have been fallacious, the assumption that Rama’s trek from Chitrakoot in the North to Lanka in the South, gaining admiration and help from “vanaras” along the way, symbolizes the conquest and banishment of the local Dravidian people, seems kind of after the fact. Someone probably needs to fill the Dalits in on that.

  14. As Al Beruni and other have pointed out, Ravana – at least in popular perception of India these days – was a learned, devout individual who goes astray. There are also some aspects of it being a curse that he received which made him do what he did (fatalism – raison d’etre etc etc).

    Thus, I am leaning towards siding with Dizzy Desi’s interpretation that this this is simplistic politics at its basic level – tokenism rejecting Hinduism, etc.

    Though lets not forget, that while the epics have a lot of great stuff, they also do have some aspects of discrimination in there (Eklavya comes to mind first, Sita too). After all they are a reflection of social mores and probably gradually altered over the centuries.

    For the Dravidian/Aryan interpretations, southern Brahmins are not exactly free of being impurified with west Asian genes as the latest nature study shows. Plus castes intermingled very little is now proven genetically

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v461/n7263/edsumm/e090924-01.html

  15. Ardy: “For the Dravidian/Aryan interpretations, southern Brahmins are not exactly free of being impurified with west Asian genes as the latest nature study shows. Plus castes intermingled very little is now proven genetically”

    Actually most southern Brahmins have less West Asian genes (in the IE sense of it) than many lower caste groups in the North/West axis. I wouldn’t say the studies close the door on intermingling given their sample sizes. There was way more intercaste sex (of which a smaller chunk led to children) than you would think thanks to human nature. This whole concept of purity is overrated. One only again needs to look at the supposedly disparate groupings of Europe to see how much screwing around happened with invasions/migrations and what have you. You think the Vikings just invaded the UK and left ;)

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

    Except that in the epic it would be the other way round – Rama is dark as midnight, and Ravana is fairskinned.

  17. Ardy – I think I heard one of the researchers on that study on BBC (on NPR)

    Very interesting to see that North and South Indians (even though there were from two distinct groups) could have more in common genetically than some castes who lived side by side to each other because of the infrequency of inter-caste marriages.

  18. South Indians can have light skin and light eyes (Ashwariya Rai), and North Indians can have dark skin and dark eyes (Abhishek Bacchan). It is not as cut and dry as you think.

  19. South Indians can have light skin and light eyes (Ashwariya Rai), and North Indians can have dark skin and dark eyes (Abhishek Bacchan). It is not as cut and dry as you think.

    Thanks-not that I’m really proud of all the fair skin and blue eyes rampant in my Mangalorean family or anything, but we are almost as weary of hearing the “you don’t look like a South Indian” thing, as much as some people from Kashmir or Assam are of the “you don’t look like an Indian” thing.

  20. “I’m just wondering do the Europeans ever get political and uptight when discussing Norse, Roman or Greek mythology and try to pass it off as history?”

    No, because they generally don’t worship those Gods any more. I believe Greece banned worship of Hellenic Gods until 2006, if I’m not mistaken. They, however, do get political and uptight when discussing the religion that replaced those Gods and try to pass it off as history:)

  21. I find Mahabharata to be more liberal than Ramayana. They have polygamy, polyandry..but in Ramayana the main hero ends up alienating his wife many times.

  22. Many excellent comments up thread.

    If we restrict ourselves to popular culture such as theatre, movies, folk songs and the like – Ravana has been portrayed as the scholarly one, with great musical talent (his playing of the Veena to please Siva for example), and an embodiment of raja dharma.

    The various incarnations of Jaya and Vijaya are also used to show tragic flaws in human nature.Ravana drew the ‘lust’ card in that framework, IMO, whilst Hiranyakashipa drew the ‘pride’ card.

    Enough examples have been given on the mobility between varnas in the puranas and epics.

    And Rama’s victory over Ravana is not the only motif for Vijaya Dasami. Durga Puja happens not just in Bengal, though obviously the Bengali way of celebrating ‘pujo’ has become the dominant one over the years.

    I grew up reading about Vijaya Dasami as the day when the Pandavas completed their 14-year exile (13 years Aranya Vaas and 1 year Agnaata Vaas). Brihannala turns into Arjuna at the stroke of Dasami, when s/he touches his Gandeevam after the year long Agnaata Vaas in Viraata’s court.And Arjuna celebrates by defeating the entire Kaurava army in ‘Dakshina Go Grahanam’ (the stealing of cows from the South side).

    And of course, we have the account of Goddess Durga killing the demon Mahisasura on Vijaya Dasami.

    I think its time we bury the Aryan Invasion Myth and see Rama as the Aryan Robert Clive or Warren Hastings.In popular culture, Rama stands for being ‘Maryada Purushottam’. Even if some people worship Ravana, they do not hate Rama.They do recognize Rama as the divine incarnate.

    The many interpretations of characters and scenes in Ramayana and Mahabharata is a natural phenomenon in the Indian scheme of story telling.Paula Richman has done a good job of collating some of these, with respect to how the relationship between Sita and Rama has been portrayed for example.

    However, she has placed the many variations of Ramayana character portrayals against the ‘original’ Valmiki Ramayana which she claims has been taken over by the Hindutva Vadis.This is not true. If we know the Indian context, it is impossible for any one to take over any epic.Any writer who wishes to convey his/her message powerfully to the masses will have the option of using Ramayana and Maha Bharata to suit the purpose. Early feminist writers used the ‘Agni Pravesh’ to create a discourse between Rama and Sita on the status of women.If they had the imagination, even the Indian Marxists could have used Ramayana or Maha Bharata to spread their ideology :) This does not mean any alternative portrayals of Rama are accepted by the masses. The intent (of all these writers) is not to contest the ‘perception’ about Rama so much as using the story as a fertile field to sow seeds of thought.

    People will read/watch the story/movie, get the message the author wishes to convey (in the feminist interpretation it could be: This is how Sita would have/ should have reacted), and then move on.They will continue to think of Rama and Sita as Gods, but be a little more aware about the issues raised in the re-telling so that they become sensitive to contemporary issues.

  23. I think its time we bury the Aryan Invasion Myth and see Rama as the Aryan Robert Clive or Warren Hastings

    Oops..what I meant was: I think its time we bury the Aryan Invasion Myth that paints Rama as the Aryan Robert Clive or Warren Hastings.

    Also, if interested, please click on my name to read a blog post by me on the caste conflict in Maha Bharata, taken from popular Telugu culture.

  24. I don’t know I don’t like the tone of this post. Is there a pattern to this? I am about as frenetic an opponent of caste. But Ramayana is not about Hinduism, it is a narrative that is cherished across India. It is central to the self-reflexivity of the transforming Indian identity. Even Syrian Christians take this work weekend off to go home (Wishing me Happy Diwali like I care, except maybe for the sweets and the scent of pathakkas through the thin October mist) It reminds me why I was always sad in the US, and wonder how soulless India would be without this festival season.

    Spirit sapping post.

  25. However, she has placed the many variations of Ramayana character portrayals against the ‘original’ Valmiki Ramayana…

    Kumar, this is a mistake many modern commentators in the West perpetuate – that is gladly supported by Indian critics who should know better. There isn’t a canonical or ultimate or Ur-Ramayana/Mahabharata or purana. Canonical forms make sense only in terms of traditions claiming revealed status. As M.J. Akbar writes here,

    And if this mood is burnished with special effects, all the better. Rome might boast that it is the ultimate destination in religious tourism, but Rome offers the visitor the political and cultural history of the West in its stones. Kolkata, in comparison, is a young city with less-than-impressive British buildings, many of them seemingly unpainted since the British left. The art of Rome is a magical explosion of individual genius. The art of Durga Puja is a magical explosion of anonymous genius. Each image is beautifully crafted with the commitment of adoration, but the Kumartuli craftsman knows that the goddess will go away, along the river, just as we all will one day. Rome preserves marble; Kolkata preserves the moment.

    The Valmiki Ramayana is very powerful poetry and it rubs shoulders with 1000s of interpretations, some of which may well be much older. Who knows?

  26. to start i should apologize for my ignorance, but wanted to bring this up out of genuine curiosity. i’m south indian (american) and we celebrated monday as vijay dasmi and never knew it had any connection with the ramayana. Navratri is a goddess-centric festival, as far as i understood and i’ve never known of the connection with rama. anyone care to help shed a little light on my insular lack of knowledge here? thanks.

  27. The Valmiki Ramayana is very powerful poetry and it rubs shoulders with 1000s of interpretations, some of which may well be much older. Who knows?

    While not the “canonical” one I think it is generally regarded as the best or most definitive one. Kind of like how Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” supplants all the other hojillion covers of Bob Dylan’s song.

    Although if we want canonical status I guess we would have to point to the fabled Hanumad Ramayana.

  28. Jyotsana, the Valmiki Ramayana was the original. That does not mean that all the other traditions should not be celebrated; however, I think so much time and effort is spent trying “to give voice to the subaltern” and deconstruct core traditions in order to divide people that the key messages are diluted. The “Ravanayana” movement is a case and point of Quasi histories and cultural reactions being developed in order to emphasize putative/theorized ethnic/racial divisions. Tamil culture from all castes and communities has so much to offer from sangam era literature onwards without these type of knee jerk and unintellectual reactions from a 60s era political movement. Like the Aryan Dravidian constructs of colonial histories past, this too belongs in the dustbin of history. Ravana clearly was a figure of great nuance and his story is emblematic of how hubris can destroy even great kings and sages. Considering the fact that he clearly was a Brahmin and that a Kshatriya triumphed over him, it is not necessary for everything to be viewed through the lens of caste especially since leftists use stories of parashurama and vamana to demonstrate Brahmin oppression and control. Caste discrimination is clearly a wrong that Indian societies of all religions–Dalits are illtreated in uppercaste dominated churches, mutineers have already touched on inter caste Sikh conflicts, and even Islamic communities have dealt with it as well; however, that does not mean that every great epic or festival must be condemned, minimized or scrutinized due to caste, religious and gender considerations as has been done here a number of times with this, the rakhi and Diwali posts. I would ask whether there is similar “analysis or satire” of Dharmic religious traditions, but I would not want to stray into the realm of the anti secular…

     Anyhow, I digress. While I do think that the various other ramayana compositions should be studies and celebrated I don't think we should use that as an excuse to minimize the authority of the valmiki Ramayana, when the very tradition that is responsible for it emphasizes its position as the original.   
    
  29. to start i should apologize for my ignorance, but wanted to bring this up out of genuine curiosity. i’m south indian (american) and we celebrated monday as vijay dasmi and never knew it had any connection with the ramayana. Navratri is a goddess-centric festival, as far as i understood and i’ve never known of the connection with rama. anyone care to help shed a little light on my insular lack of knowledge here? thanks.

    I’m Telugu and I was always curious about that myself. I seem to remember my mother telling me it had something to do with Krishna defeating some demon or other, but I was about 4 years old at the time so my memory is a little fuzzy.

    Like I said before, I think the common man’s idea of these celebrations is “YEAH! PARTY!!” Which is probably healthy. There is a lot of regional variation in what changes and why, though I think much of that regional variation gets squelched here in the states where our regional identities take a back-seat to our being Indians. The growth of mass media and the commercialization of holidays also tends to homogenize over time.

  30. AV,

    Vijaya Dashami celebrates the victory of Rama and the end of Ravana’s second innings as a mortal. Dashera also celebrates Durga’s victory over Mahishasura and his consequent liberation from mortal duties! To stir the pot in Eastern India Ashtami is the day/night when Rama ‘s puja of Durga – Akal Badhan – during a break in his battle with Ravana is celebrated. I don’t know about the many interpretations in Nepal though.

  31. What’s with all the scolding, man. Rama was the good guy, Ravana the bad guy. Yes, he is a highly cultured man with a beautiful capital city. And Rama’s people sometimes seem to act like warmongering thugs. As you grow up with the story, you think more about it and your understanding deepens. One of the early milestones would be when someone first springs the “Ravana point of view” on you, as a child, and … “boggle!” and so on. Happens to everybody. But, at a very basic level, it’s hard to imagine how a battle between a god and a non-god cannot be good versus evil. Taking offense at such a mild characterization, saying “are you calling me manichean?”, “our myths are nuanced, thank you very much”–all this frankly sounds quite patronizing. (As opposed to which culture’s un-nuanced myths?)

    There is a sense in which “Carthage” is bad–cultured, luxurious, effeminate–and “Rome” is good–warlike, austere, manly. Having a story like Ramayan integrated into your person from birth helps you understand these adjectives. If you start banning them simply for being ambiguous, you have no language left.

  32. 75 · av on September 29, 2009 1:43 PM · Direct link to start i should apologize for my ignorance, but wanted to bring this up out of genuine curiosity. i’m south indian (american) and we celebrated monday as vijay dasmi and never knew it had any connection with the ramayana. Navratri is a goddess-centric festival, as far as i understood and i’ve never known of the connection with rama. anyone care to help shed a little light on my insular lack of knowledge here? thanks

    av, Try this link on Ayudha puja. There is more here on the legends and how it is celebrated in the different southern states. The Ramayanam does not form part of the legend in the South or in the East in Bengal, while the Mahabharatham does for this festival. That is why, there is no burbibg the Ravanan effigy with firecrackers in the south or in the east.

    Ayudha Puja is an integral part of the Dasara festival (festival of triumph), a Hindu festival which is traditionally celebrated in India. It is also called “Astra Puja”, the synonym for Ayudha Puja. In simple terms, it means “Worship of Implements”. It is celebrated in Karnataka (in erstwhile Mysore State) as “Ayudha Puje” (Kannada: ಆಯುಧ ಪುಜೆ), in Tamil Nadu as Ayuda Pujai (Tamil: ஆயுத பூஜை) and in Kerala as Ayudha Puja (Malayalam: ആയുധ പൂജ). The festival falls on the ninth day or Navami of the bright half of Moon’s cycle of 15 days (as per Almanac) in the month of September/October, and is popularly a part of the Dasara or Navaratri or Durga Puja or Golu festival. On the ninth day of the Dasara festival, weapons and tools are worshipped. In Karnataka, the celebration is for killing of the demon king Mahishasura by goddess Chamundeshwari. After slaying of the demon king, the weapons were kept out for worship. While Navaratri festival is observed all over the country but in South Indian states, where it is widely celebrated as Ayudha Puja, there are slight variations of worship procedure.[1][2][3] The principal Shakti goddesses worshipped during the Ayudha puja are Saraswati (the Goddess of wisdom, arts and literature), Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) and Parvati (the divine mother), apart from various types of equipment; it is on this occasion when weapons are worshipped by soldiers and tools are revered by artisans.[4] The Puja is considered a meaningful custom, which focuses specific attention to one’s profession and its related tools and connotes that a divine force is working behind it to perform well and for getting the proper reward.[2][5] In the cross cultural development that has revolutionized the society, with modern science making a lasting impact on the scientific knowledge and industrial base in India, the ethos of the old religious order is retained by worship of computers and typewriters also during the Ayudha Puja, in the same manner as practised in the past for weapons of warfare.[6][7]
  33. The same 10 day period is variously celebrated as Dasara or Navaratri or Durga Puja or Golu festival with variations in how it is celebrated and the legends associated with them. A little more here on Vijayadashami and Vijayadasami.

  34. Not along caste lines, but Bengali literature’s first epic, Michael Madhusudan Datta’s Meghnad Badh Kavya (1861), celebrated Ravana and his son Meghnad as flawed tragic heroes, and depicted Rama as weak and indecisive. Shubho bijoya, to everyone!

  35. I would ask whether there is similar “analysis or satire” of Dharmic religious traditions, but I would not want to stray into the realm of the anti secular… Anyhow, I digress. While I do think that the various other ramayana compositions should be studies and celebrated I don’t think we should use that as an excuse to minimize the authority of the valmiki Ramayana, when the very tradition that is responsible for it emphasizes its position as the original.

    Correction: make that ” non Dharmic” (aka nonnative) Indian Traditions rather than Dharmic traditions…

  36. I would not want to stray into the realm of the anti secular…

    Yajnavalkya,

    You mean to say analysis or satire of dharmic/native traditions is ‘secular’? Just curious: where does the State figure in these discussions?

    Satanic Verses was not banned in India for reasons of secularism.It was banned for political reasons or to give the State a benefit of doubt, to avoid law and order issues.Hussain’s paintings were not banned.Nor was Lajja.The State in India has simply failed to do its duty and protect Hussain/Taslima.

    And what do we say of ‘historical’ fiction by writers like Bhyrappa?

  37. Kumar,

    Actually, I was being sarcastic as I pointed out the curious policy that the only suitable topics for satire or "honest questions" remain assorted hindu festivals, among other things hindu, as we saw with Rakhi, Dussehra et al. Many of the practices of the Indian State--as endorsed by the current government---have obviously picked up currency with members of the diaspora who support the associated party, however tacitly. 
    

    The rationale for banning the Satanic Verses was also premised on offending religious sentiment, Moreover, we saw the Law and Order factor come up not only with SV, but also with Lajja/Nasrin and the Johann Hari piece that led to rioting by members of the minority community in Calcutta or personal attacks as was the case with Nasrin in Hyderabad. So you can see how this is a slippery slope. Vir Sanghvi basically said as much in his Hindustan Times piece: http://www.hindustantimes.com/Stand-up-to-the-mullahs/H1-Article1-381886.aspx

    I personally am a free speech advocate however unimpressed I may be by the offending M.F. Husain paintings. But as Sanghvi himself noted, it’s a two way street. The question is whether all religious communities–or the Congress Govt for that matter–would accept such a policy…Secularism doesn’t mean only hindus have to be secular.

    As for Bhyrappa, I personally am against any type of kneejerk nationalist historical narratives being composed–for the simple reason that they defeat the purpose of recording and studying history. At this same time, there is absolutely no question that that does not absolve the historical narratives that have been pushed by colonialists of the British era as well as leftists both in India and even in the United States, as seen with the CAPEEM controversy. I think Murli Manohar Joshi’s efforts on NCERT fell far short of the historical method, but at the same time, I think that there must be a revamp and colonial vestiges such as AIT must be thrown out, as is this notion that India was the only civilization to have suffered invasions and had no real martial history of note, or no real sense of unity before the British. The maintenance of the “Caste, curry, and cows” paradigm is no replacement for a kneejerk nationalist narrative. Accordingly, it is possible to study uncomfortable aspects of history without “destroying the social fabric and causing communal antagonism”. The Holocaust is studied in Germany with the degree of necessary delicacy. There is no reason why associated religious violence and repression from the Sultanate and Mughal eras can be treated in the same manner–after all, Zoroastrianism wasn’t extirpated in Iran by peaceful seaborne traders…The purpose of history in this case is to study and understand what happened while using such tragedies as an opportunity for reconciliation. Without studying this history, people don’t understand the emotion behind the movements for Temples at Somnath and Ayodhya. If people are going to cry out for “context”, they shouldn’t study it selectively…

    While we are told to celebrate Tipu Sultan as this eternal symbol of Indian Secular Nationalism; the truth is he was the opposite of secular. He did routinely massacre and forcibly convert non-muslims (pogroms, which btw counted Mangalorean Catholics among the victims not to mention the British Christians who corroborated those allegations). While Indians of every religious background certainly celebrate his impressive victories–Pollilur being the most notable–over the British, that does not change the fact that he was indeed an implementer of fanatic diktats. History, after all, does have a place for nuance. It is possible to explore that at a secondary or college level without attempting to somehow wrongfully implicate Indian muslims who obviously have nothing to do with that. In short, my point is yes on communal harmony, no on double standards and historical falsification.

  38. Correction:

    There is no reason why associated religious violence and repression from the Sultanate and Mughal eras can be treated in the same manner–after all, Zoroastrianism wasn’t extirpated in Iran by peaceful seaborne traders…

    There is no reason why….can’t be treated…

  39. Yajnavalkya,

    Thanks for the detailed response.I did not miss the sarcasm in your first comment.Just wanted to place your statement in the overall discursive framework.

    I honestly don’t see a posibility for Indians (both resident and the diaspora) to learn to see the Mughal period or the Delhi sultanate the way for example one sees the holocaust in Germany, or how Iranians see the genocide of Parsis.Even the British era is now seen in the nuanced manner it deserves.But not the Mughal era.Over 200 years of received understanding won’t go away just like that.Unless the Govt exits the realm of deciding the content of the text books and leaves it to the market place of ideas.

  40. “The Holocaust is studied in Germany with the degree of necessary delicacy. There is no reason why associated religious violence and repression from the Sultanate and Mughal eras can be treated in the same manner–after all”

    My friend you do make some good points. But you cannot compare unfortunate incidents in Indian history to the Holocaust. That is just disingenuous hyperbole. Which country in the world has not had ugly incidents in its history? And Indian history cannot be studied with the delicacy of the Holocaust, its not analogous because there are few Jews in Germany while there are millions of Muslims in India. Do you think they will swallow a negative portrayal of Aurangzeb? You know well as I do they will not. But your overall idea seems to be to prepare unwitting Hindus for some sort of Islamic aggrandizement. But Hindus, especially the north Indian variety, are not pacifists (remember the Partition?) and they hold key choke-points of economic and political power in India. So don’t worry they can do a good job of holding progress of already backward communities to ransom on the grounds of history.

  41. But your overall idea seems to be to prepare unwitting Hindus for some sort of Islamic aggrandizement.

    OTOH, Yajnavalkya’s comment indicated to me that India/Indians should stop whitewashing the Hindu ‘holocaust’ during the Delhi Sultanate/Mughal era. May be an unwitting case of ‘Yadbhaavam tadbhavati?

    Lets see what Yajnavalkya himself says :)