He has temples dedicated to him across India and is considered one of the world’s greatest scholars. He went on to write a famous book on Hindu astrology, which is not surprising considering his scholarly lineage — both his father and grandfather were considered the greatest sages of their times.
Most people will be surprised to learn that this is how scriptures describe Ravana, the most infamous ‘villain’ in Hindu mythology. While original scriptures and folk tales describe Ravana as a complex character with much that was good as well as bad in him, over generations, the Ravana in Ramayana has come to be reviled as a demon.
However, more recently, artistes have started going back to the original versions for inspiration and are now painting Ravana in a completely new light. Two months ago, author Anand Neelakantan launched his book Asura: Tale of the Vanquished, which tells the age-old tale of Ramayana through Ravana’s eyes. Last year, another set of artistes brought Ravana’s side of the story into the forefront with Ravana: Roar of the Demon King — a graphic novel by Abhimanyu Singh Sisodia, and Ravanayanan — a comic series about Ravana’s life written by Vijayendra Mohanty.
“History is always written by the victorious and very little is remembered about the person who loses. But Ravana had a story too, and this book has given me a chance to explore that,” says Neelakantan. Sisodia also feels that Ravana is one of the most misunderstood characters in Indian mythology. “While the original versions of Ramayana by Tulsidas and Valmiki describe Ravana as a powerful and erudite man with many shades to his personality, popular versions paint Ravana as a villain and nothing more,” he says.
This revolution is not just restricted to books — Ravana’s story is now being enacted on stage as well. Maya Krishna Rao, who teaches at the National School of Drama in Delhi, has been performing Ravanama since last year. It is the story of an actor who prepares to essay the role of Ravana. As she studies Ravana, she discovers new dimensions to him. Soon, she is overwhelmed by how complex Ravana is and this changes her as an actor.
But are these books and performances disturbing society’s deep-seeded ideas of good and evil? Neelakantan says that the only negative feedback he has received so far is from the supporters of Ravana, who