Burning Ravana’s effigy undemocratic

Mallepalli Laxmiah

It’s the festival season and the entire country is celebrating Dussehra, an occasion when everyone is looking forward to the prime event of this seasonal festival; the burning of Ravana, the ten headed Asura king from Sri Lanka who was vanquished by Rama.

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Mallepalli Laxmiah

In a small Gondu tribal hamlet of Parasvada in a remote part of Gadchiroli District, Maharashtra, the demon king, in contrast to the entire country, is worshipped and sung praises to in a procession. The tribals in that hamlet proclaim not be Hindus, but descendants of Ravana himself. This mirrors the real diversity of our country. The diametrically opposite manner the people in our country celebrate the same festival can rarely be seen elsewhere in the world. Ravana being a demon to the entire country and a deity for these tribals is probably something for us to be proud of. Moreover, Dussehra is considered a festival that celebrates war, and at the same time there is someone propagating peace. The festival is a true depiction of the boiling pot of cultures our country has always been.

In an address on Vijayadasami on October 14, 1956, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar referred to Asoka’s conversion to Buddhism after the Kalinga war on the day of Vijayadasami and spoke in great depth on how his conversion was a means for him to become an able administrator and a better man. The world changed for the better when Asoka converted to Buddhism. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar took great inspiration from this historic event. On that day, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar along with lakhs of people  had taken to Budhism and created history.

Why Nagpur?

There was a strong misconception that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar chose Nagpur as that was RSS’s stronghold. But he struck them down by stating that after winning the several wars the Aryans fought against the Nagas, they subjected the defeated to heinous atrocities. Buddha stood by their side and Nagas were the first Buddhists, and spread Buddhism across the world. Nagas were native to Nagpur and that is where the name is derived from. That was the reason he chose Nagpur. The Buddhists in India refer to Vijayadasami as Asoka Vijayadasami and Dhammachakra Parivartan Divas.

According to the Hindu faith Dussehra is Goddess Durga’s nine days of celebration, the vanquishing of Ravana by Rama in an epic war. Some equate the ten heads of Ravana to the ten forms of evil. If we attempt to equate them to Buddhism’s message, it will throw a new light on our culture and celebrations. Our history might hide bitter realities difficult to digest. At the same time, ignoring such realities will only be a fallacy. We as a modern society harbor the responsibility to engage history and question it to find out the truth behind our legends and history.

Kamam, krodam, moham, lobham, madham, mathsaryam, swartham, anyayam, amanaveeyam and ahankaram were supposed to be the symbolic ten heads of Ravana and Rama had along with Ravana had vanquished his ten evils. Ancient texts also say that this is the reason this festival is called “Dus-sehra”. On giving this some thought we can find the juxtaposition in Buddha’s Noble Eight fold path -Right view, Right intention, Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right concentration and Right mindfulness. The intention behind following the eight fold path was to compel the progress of society towards a more stable and peaceful society. Hinduism at that time incorporated the same message by amending the Eight Fold path by a little bit. Some historians believe that this attempt was also to diminish the importance of Asoka in India’s history. Romila Thapar had engaged herself in intensive research into our history and observed that as Asoka was instrumental and personally oversaw the propagation of Buddhism as opposed to Vedic Hinduism, there is no mention of him in any of our puranas or Hindu history. We can easily place that the exact same day that Asoka took up Buddhism and gave up war is the day of Ayudha Puja during Vijayadasami.

Asoka’s rule and that period in time are well documented in Pali scriptures like ‘Mahavansha’ and ‘Dipavansha’, which were discovered around 5th Century A.D. in Sri Lanka. Even now these scriptures are given no historical importance in India. In 1915 Maxi sasanam caused a few more details of Asoka to come into the open. Asoka’s stupas and pillars threw more light unto his time and rule. Historians like Vincent Smith, Rai Chowdary, Bhandarkar, B. M. Baruwa and Neelakhanta Sastri conducted several research missions in order to bring out the forgotten history of Asoka. Even as of today it is quite visible that several forces are trying to keep Asoka’s rule and his path of Dhamma in the dark and away from common knowledge while some pseudo historians have been creating confusion about Asoka’s rule.

Inspiring Asoka

Since Asoka is such an inspirational King, leader and Administrator our National flag adorns the Dharma Chakra and the symbol of the four lions on Asoka’s Pillar was made our national emblem. Our first Prime Minister while speaking about the flag and emblem had announced that Asoka’a rule is not only an inspiration to India but to the rest of the world, and when India’s diplomats visit the world they will carry these symbols and enter the host countries with peace and friendship but not with aggression or a will to dominate. Even as of today Asoka is remembered as a propagator of peace and one with immense love for his people. Even today because of Asoka’s greatness Asoka Vijayadasami preaches us Asoka’s path of rightfulness in guise of Vijayadasami.

We must take the virtue in our history as an inspiration. Instead, we seem to have an inclination to take up hatred, enmity, intolerance and arrogance from our epics. One of the most important examples of this behavior is exhibited in the burning of Ravana’s effigy every year. Our countrymen worship Rama, Krishna and the Pandavas and no others. There is nothing wrong in worship but to propagate hate in the name of worship is never right.

Ravana is a historic symbol of evil, so we burn his effigy but in our neighboring country Sri Lanka Ravana is a Deity worshipped across the island nation. There are a few places in our own country where Ravana is worshipped in Temples. In recent times just as Rama had become a political symbol in India, Ravana is slowly attaining a political image in Sri Lanka. It may not come as a surprise if this scenario effects the ties between our nations. A recent event in Lingupalli village, Meerdoddi mandalam of Medak District, where a picture of Rama was burnt instead of that of Ravana on Dussehra those perpetrators were arrested under section 153 of IPC on the charges that they were attempting to promote communal disharmony and cause unrest in society. Then we must pose an important question at this juncture. What if the Tribals of Paraswada argue that their religious sentiments are hurt as a result of our age old celebration of Dussehra by burning Ravana? Can they urge all those who burn Ravana to be arrested and punished as per our existing law?

Our country’s citizens respond sharply when our Gods are insulted in other countries. A recent example is of a young Australian couple being detained by police as the young man was sporting a Yellamma Goddess tattoo on his calf. The public did not standby either, they harassed and manhandled the tourists. What if the Sri Lankans and Gondu tribals react the same way to the burning of Ravana?

Every year in Ram Lila Maidan, our leaders and politicians eagerly participate in the burning of Ravana’s effigy which is displayed with great pomp and show. It is against the principles of democracy to encourage such activity and a black mark on the integrity of our country. Though it is age-old, it is an impediment to our progress and opposed to our country’s strength which is unity in diversity.

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