Diwali marks Ram’s return to Ayodhya, victorious from the battle with Ravan. Ahead of the festival this year, we look at the many versions of the epic, which has shaped our culture, arts and politics. It is a splendidly various tradition, from the rationalism of the Jain Ramayana to the humour of the Mapilla Ramayanam. It is both a political ideal and a deeply personal experience. It is the mega-story that contains a multitude of narratives of India.
About a decade ago, an effigy of Ravan, several metres high, was about to be burnt in Jodhpur. Only, just as the sun was about to set, it started to rain, drenching Ravan to his bamboo bone. Unfazed, ‘Ram’ “poured kerosene, petrol, whatever they could lay their hands on,” and set it on fire. Ravan burnt, but only in part.
The crowd went away satisfied, but there was a small group of people who lived nearby who lingered on, grief-struck.
Anil Kumar Dave, 35, a Class IV government employee at a government hospital in Jodhpur, was one of them. His uncles, brothers and other men in the family waited for the crowd to thin and the last of the embers to die. Then they picked the remaining pieces of the effigy, recreated the missing face and limbs of Ravan with flour, and put precious stones and ghee in its mouth, and carried out other rituals. “When a person dies an unnatural death such as in an accident, and loses their limbs, then they are supposed to be cremated with a full body. Else, suffering befalls their progeny,” says Anil. Once again, Ravan was burnt, but on a pyre and according to Hindu rituals, he says.
At his home in Brahmapuri, Jodhpur, the family now huddles around Anil’s uncle Bhanwarlal Dave, 72, who holds on to the precious photographs of perhaps the only such ritual ever performed. Anil’s and over a dozen families in Jodhpur’s Brahmapuri area belong to Mudgal gotra (clan). They identify themselves as direct descendants of Mudgal, a Brahmin rishi related to Ravan’s grandfather Pusatlya, and therefore, as descendants of Ravan. Pusatlya is also believed to be one of Brahma’s sons, hence they also identify themselves as Brahmins.
According to folklore, Ravan had arrived in Rajasthan to marry Mandodari, a native of present-day Mandore in Jodhpur. Some of his relatives stayed back. In Mandore, a chabutra still stands today, carved out in a rocky hill, which locals believe as the place where they were married. Inside the chabutra are stone carvings of Ravan. Nearby is a small rectangular pool, where “Mandodari used to bathe.” “We clean it during the monsoons and kids like to play in it,” says Kaluram, 45, who lives by the chabutra.
In 2007, Ajay Dave decided to build a temple to his ancestor on a road just behind the imposing Mehrangarh Fort in the district. “They had arrived with Ravan when he came here to marry Mandodari. However, some of our ancestors were old and decided to stay back, that’s why we are here,” he says.
Made of chittar (Jodhpur sandstone) by sculptor Chunnaram, the 7-foot idol weighs nearly 125 kg and portrays Ravan as a Shiva bhakt (devotee).
Facing him, across a small garden, is a sculpture of Ravan’s wife Mandodari. Next to Mandodari is an image of Mudgal rishi, his cemented enclosure still under construction. “For ages, we had worshipped pictures of Ravan inside our homes. My grandfather Shyamlal Dave, 85, told me that it has been so since his grandfather’s time. So we discussed and decided that we should build a temple,” says Ajay, 31, who is also the priest at the temple.
While the temple was being set up, it was opposed by the local unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), with the then district magistrate “postponing” the puja as it was hurting the “religious sentiments of some sections.” But apparently, VHP eventually yielded. Bhanwarlal Chaudhary, sangathan mantri of the VHP in Jodhpur, said that “when we opposed it, they said that they are just worshipping their forefathers.”
Pandit Rajesh Dave, mahanagar mantri of VHP, says, “We still oppose it and it is wrong. I’m from the same community, but these people are mad to worship Ravan and should be sent to a mental hospital. But since barely anyone goes to the temple now, we have decided to not let it garner any attention through our protest.”
Ravan is now worshipped daily at the temple in the morning with a handful of devotees, and on Dussehra, the followers of Ravan don’t see his effigy while it is burning. They see the smoke from a distance, bathe, change clothes and say their prayers. “He is our brother by caste.
And how can people burn a Brahmin? It is wrong,” says Amardutt Dave, 58, a deputy chief traveling ticket inspector in the railways.
Dave is also known as Lankesh, another name for Ravan. His son Gurudutt is known and addressed as Meghnad, the most powerful of Ravan’s seven sons. His house and vehicles have the slogan ‘Jai Lankesh’ written on them and like Ravan, his in-laws are also from Jodhpur.
“There was no one who could match him in gyan, bhakti, shakti (knowledge, devotion and power),” says Ashwani Kumar Dave, 40, Anil’s brother. “He saw Sita as a motherly figure and wanted to attain moksha. Being killed by Lord Vishnu in Ram avatar was the only way to do so, hence he abducted Sita. He never intended to harm her,” says Anil. “He may have been arrogant, but he was a good being. So we worship him for his goodness; the message for us is to not be arrogant, nobody is going to sit on any throne forever,” he says.
*The story was originally published with the headline Where Ravan is the Good Guy
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