Dussehra marks the culmination of Navratri, the nine nights of worship of the sacred feminine – Shakti.
In a few hours from now, effigies of Ravana will be set on fire much to the delight of the gathered crowds. The burning of the effigy of the enigmatic King of Lanka is symbolic of the purge of evil — the good embodied by Lord Rama triumphing over the darkness embodied by the greatest of Asuras (demons), Ravana.
However, would it be fair to view this day from the limited prism of black and white? Is Ravana’s story an allegory for something deeper and far more profound?
Ravana, the much reviled ruler of Lanka, has divided scholars and spiritualists for centuries. While some see him as the embodiment of evil, others view him with benevolence. What almost everyone agrees on is that Ravana is an enigma.
Ravana wasn’t an ordinary being.
He was the son of Saptarishi (one of the seven greatest yogis to have lived), Vishrava, and his wife Kaikesi. Coming from a highly revered family, Ravana was accomplished in academics and martial arts. He was a seeker of knowledge and valued it greatly. A scholar so accomplished, it took ten heads and and twenty arms to accommodate all the knowledge he had attained. He is known to have authored seven books on Ayurveda which are still credited to his name including one on holistic remedies for infants.
Even Lord Rama addressed him as Maha Brahman (the great Brahman) in deference to his learning. He was a lover of the arts and a skilled musician, known the creator of Rudra Veena and Ravan hatta.
Ravana was a much loved king. He was a great administrator and his kingdom flourished under his rule. Till date, he is spoken of fondly in his home country of Sri Lanka.
However, it wasn’t his academic accomplishments that made him a king who was feared and revered. He was one of the most devout worshippers of Lord Shiva. While meditating, he cut off his head ten times as a mark of surrender to Lord Shiva, and each time a new head grew so the yogi could continue his tapasya (penance). So great was his devotion that Lord Shiva blessed him with many vardaans (boons) including the use of divine weapons which made Ravana the most powerful being to walk the earth.
With his intelligence and might, he had not only conquered humans but also celestials and other demons, making him the most powerful Asura (demon) in the three worlds.
He was almost invincible.
Ravana had many admirable qualities – he was a keeper of knowledge, a great and benevolent leader of men and a devotee whose faith could move mountains — qualities we could all aspire for.
In spite of these great attributes, Ravana ended up becoming the much reviled villain of the Ramayana. And in his story is a lesson for us all.
He committed a mistake that we must avoid at all costs.
Ravana became a victim of his own arrogance. He believed his accomplishments guaranteed invincibility and it was this attribute that would lead to his downfall. In many ways, he embodies our own sense vanity and deep seated arrogance. We fume when we feel insulted. We wish ill on those who’ve done us wrong much like he did.
His arrogance led him down the slippery slope of revenge where he ended up slain by the arrow of a man who remained humble and detached despite his greatness, Lord Rama.
Ravana had many attributes that were worth admiring and emulating. He could have used his infinite power to propel himself further spiritually. Yet, as history has shown, absolute power can corrupt absolutely. Ravana succumbed to his own ego and false sense of invincibility.
Therein lies one of the lessons of the Ramayana. There exist within each of us attributes of Rama and Ravana. Everyone of us has the potential for spiritual greatness. Rama represents the detachment and humility that is necessary for spiritual growth, while Ravana’s story represents the roadblocks -our heightened ego and sense of vanity – to realising the greatness that we are capable of achieving.
It is imperative that we make choices in our life that fuel the Rama within.
The words of Leo Tolstoy are a poignant reminder of the lesson we need to learn from Ravana.
An arrogant person considers himself perfect. This is the chief harm of arrogance. It interferes with a person’s main task in life – becoming a better person.