By Nidhi Mardi
Edited by Michelle Cherian, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
To term someone Ravana today carries with it a severe form of negative connotation where Ravana is thought of as a demon, a monster slayed by Rama. However, the essence of Ravana’s character lies in his inherent belief that life in itself can only be experienced if one experiences all emotions and one who experiences them all is a complete man.
Legend tells the tale of Ravana possessing ten heads, each of which carried an emotion. He would often be asked why he wouldn’t shed all his futile emotions and keep only his intelligence. After all pride, ambition and love would only suppress his superiority. One such incident was when young Ravana encountered Mahabali, an Asura banished to the underworld having been vanquished by the Devas. While Mahabali emphasizes the futility of his nine heads, Ravana emphasizes that the essence of being a complete man lies in experiencing emotions. Without anger, pride and ambition he would be hollow and divine. In his opinion, his existence would be futile if he did not experience emotions. Hence he emphasizes his superiority over Rama who according to him lacked the ability to feel jealousy and anger and hence had chosen to be divine but would never be a complete man like him.
Ravana impresses upon Mahabali that it is impossible for him to shed his nine heads for mere success. Ravana believes that though misdirected anger can cause harm, yet it is the basic emotion of life. If Ravana did not get angry at the miserable plight of the Asura tribe, a once mighty race, now slowly stagnating under the Deva might, then he had no right to be called a worthy Asura King. If he would not be furious at the Deva nepotism, diplomacy and their deplorable treatment of the lower castes, then where would he get the inspiration to defeat them? Quoting from Ravana’s speech (Asura- The Tale of the Vanquished): “If I cannot feel frustration about the forgotten Asura arts, demolished Asura religion, pulverized Asura temples, destroyed Asura kingdoms, and cowering cowards who drag themselves on all fours in front of Deva kings and petty nobles claiming to represent Asura interests, tell me sir, what emotion should I feel? Is it not anger that will electrify my thoughts and push me into positive action? I am sorry sir, but I will never lose this emotional head – the head of anger”.
Ravana then goes on to question as to why pride and vanity should be held in contempt. He believes that it was necessary for him to be proud of his mighty Asura race and its glorious heritage. He is proud of his immense energy and will, to successfully vanquish the Deavs. He does not believe that a person ought to be meek and live a life of eternal poverty in the forest, the way the so called Brahmins preached. He has the right to bask in vanity and luxury and so must everyone who rightfully earns it. He has the right to be proud. Quoting from Ravana’s speech, “Why did the kings of the past build great temples and cities? Why did the nobles donate towards charity and religion? Is it not to exhibit their vanity and pride? Most humble men are either hypocrites or have much to be humble about. Success breeds pride and vanity. And pride is the only reward of success.”
He then tells Mahabali then importance of jealousy as being the biggest motivator. It is one of the prime reasons for the collapse of empires. Jealousy inspires men to outsmart, it’s the driving force of progress. Envy is the motivating factor. It is impractical to deny jealousy for it’s one of the basic instincts of man.
He further talks about the equanimity between sadness and happiness. How ghastly would it be if one’s beloved one departs from this world and one does not feel the sadness? How could Ravana deny himself the consolation of crying? How can one live without feeling happiness? If one does not find happiness in the beauty of the rising sun, in feeling ecstasy in the smile of a little baby, the elation at the sweet sound of music, what meaning would someone’s life have then?
Ravana believed that he could not live without fear, for fear is the greatest instinct of man and beast. Quoting Ravana “I am afraid of losing many things, worthless though they may be, but I would have gained them through my sweat and blood. I am afraid that my loved ones may fall prey to disease. I am afraid that some battles might claim my faithful brothers. Strong rain can wash away my sister and mother into the waiting ocean. I am aware with every breath I take that I take steps towards my death. But I do not fear so much as to deny its very existence. It is this fear that helps me remain prepared for dangers that I must face. It is fear that makes me understand that there are things that I cannot control and helps me to understand God and myself.” Ravana urged that he was afraid of many things. Fear sleeps silently in the hearts of all men, even the bravest of men. He like everyone else was scared of death. Only a foolish man could deny being afraid of death.
Further he believed that selfishness was a base emotion. However great, empires today stand at the base of this emotion and this is the very foundation of ambition. One can never succeed in life without a highly centered ego and the desire to achieve the treasures of this world. It is one’s ambition that inspires when one sees a pretty girl or a sparkling village. He urges Mahabali that it was the same selfishness and ambition that inspired him to build his empire and inspired him to become the king of the world. It inspired Mahabali himself to slay the great kings of the world and lead armies against the Deva. Ravana urges that he would rather be a selfish achiever, than be a selfless non-entity.
At the same time he believed that it was a pity that Mahabali and Brahma looked down on the emotion of love as a base and futile emotion. Without love, without the king of emotions, nothing in the world can exist. The purist thing in the world is the love of a mother for her baby. Ravana exclaims that he would want to feel painful need of being with his lover, he wanted to feel love for his brothers and sisters, his father who created him and his mother who loved him with all that she had. He wanted to get attached to his friends with whom he shared the spirit of togetherness and his loving wife with whom he shared his life. It is all this that would make his life worth living. He wanted to love his country, his tribe and his god which might seem trivial but which is held so dearly in the bosom of men. Quoting an excerpt from Ravana’s speech retrieved from ASURA- The Tale of The Vanquished:
“People have died for love in the past and will continue to do so as long as the world exists. I shall always love the things I have told you about. But yes, I shall love myself above them all.
Without me, nothing which is lovable has any meaning to me. I love because I exist and I exist because I love –
I love myself.’’
Ambition is the key to success. The amazing speed of progress man has achieved in the past has only been possible due to his ambition to be advanced. Ambition is the fire that generated all emotions that make Ravana. Quoting an excerpt from Ravana’s speech: “Ambition is the key to progress. Without ambition, the kings of Egypt would not be so busy building those pyramids right now. Without ambition, men would have remained hunters. There would not have been wheels, horsecarts or chariots, magnificent cities, temples and palaces, nor majestic sailing ships. Without ambition, we would not have had a Mahabali or Indra. Ambition is the horse that pulls our lives forward.”
Thus pride gave men the confidence and ambition to grow; jealousy that someone else would achieve more inspires men to work efficiently and work hard. The quest for happiness results in ever expanding ambition; it is the fear of sadness that keeps one awake at night and strive even harder. Love makes life precious in its essence and undying ambition leads mankind to progress.
Hence Ravana urged that he cannot shed even one of his heads as each one of them make him a complete man. Ravana’s aim was neither to become god nor to achieve moksha. He did not believe in heaven where one is given everything that one sacrificed in the world. He did not believe in rebirth when one is lucky to be born Brahmin. Ravana despised Brahmins. He would never want to be born one himself.
The following excerpt concludes Ravana’s speech, “I shall live like a man and die as one. I will never try to be a God. I will live exactly as my emotions tell me to. I do not want to be a model man for future generations to follow. My life begins with me and ends with me. But I will live my life to its full and die as a man should. So borrowing from your words, I shall be a man with ten faces – I am Dasamukha.”
Nidhi is currently pursuing Economics in Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University. She has a keen interest in global economic affairs. An avid reader, she loves writing on various topical issues in economics, politics and international affairs. She loves travelling and considers herself much of a movie buff.