Happy Dassera, Dashehra, Vijayadashmi, or whatever else you may call it in your language.

Dassera signifies the triumph of Good over evil. When I was very young, naturally having very limited exposure to the outside world and having watched Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana on TV, I believed that Lanka was like Atlantis. I thought it only existed in stories and no one really ever corroborated the theory of its existence. But as I grew older I started becoming obsessed with geography, the Ram Setu, Sita’s caves in Maharashtra and so much more. I always wondered, when Hanuman lit Lanka on fire, what happened to the regular inhabitant of Lanka? Who weren’t ‘demons’? It their king was such a terrible tyrant, the subjects must also have suffered through the tyranny! Were they rescued? Or did they die meaningless deaths? My mother eventually assuaged my fears saying that “Maybe they were terrible people too? Maybe they were exiled into Lanka because they were killers or looters and bandits who caused havoc in the lives of good people?” I mean what do you really tell a 5 year old?

For many years that answer assuaged my fears and worries. But then my hands fell on a book called Asura. And, my life turned…

Anand Neelkanthan is a writer who has had a deep impact on my life. On one end I hate him because he ruined my childhood memories of my father’s stories about Ram, his conquest to find his wife, Hanuman and his undying devotion to the Lord and so many more micro tales about the magical world of mythology but I love him because he opened my eyes to a much larger world of inequality. It’s been a while since I read Asura, so I’m a little rusty on the exact details but the gist of the story stayed with me. Ramayana says that a “tyrant” Raavan was defeated by the conqueror “Ram” and Dassera was celebrated in honour of the day he was vanquished.

I began reading Asura and stopped midway because I found that t was erasing the very foundations of what I believed in. A religion that I was born in, the stories I held so close to my heart, the characters I couldn’t let go of. I almost discarded the book when, again, my mother told me, “You believe what you choose to believe. The book is telling you a side of the story that you already knew. So finish the book. Your beliefs are not as flimsy as you think they are. You’re not going to stop believing in the good just because the definitions change. I don’t care who you believe in as long as you believe in the good.”

So I finished the book. The story wasn’t about a conqueror. The story was about two men, both right in their own ways, for extremely different reasons. The child in me wanted Ram to win, but the adult in me wanted Raavan to win too. I knew beforehand how the book was going to end. And I knew how it was going to affect me. The inner turmoil was getting worse by the day. The book says Ram was the tyrant. And Raavan was the oppressed, that he was born a Brahmin but was banished because he was the illegitimate child of a lower caste woman who bore a Brahmin’s child that he was a loving brother who cared for his malformed sister and his giant brother without any expectations in his heart. Also, he was a just king, adept at bringing justice and prosperity to a dilapidated kingdom and the ultimate rags to riches story.

Raavan was the ultimate ‘man’. A man who possessed ten different emotions and forms of himself and that, in reality is the reason why he’s always depicted as a ten faced ‘demon’ king. A demon king who ruled demons, who in the first place were classified as demons because they were malformed, fat, ugly, dark and had very little education but had a very deep sense of unity that stemmed from years of oppression from the Brahmins. How can you hate someone who brings together the oppressed and gives them their basic needs of food, shelter and clothing? How can you want to vanquish someone that inclusive?

Raavan’s only flaw was his giant ego, which is what led to his demise. Then again, I say ego because I wasn’t there. That’s what my books tell me. DID THIS BLOW YOUR MIND ?

Yeah… this feeling in your heart right now? This anger? This confusion? I carried around in me for months, telling myself that it’s just a story. But deep down, all of us know that rage branches out from unacceptance. I couldn’t accept that my Ram, My Hanuman, My Jatayu, My Laxman, My Ayodhya could be on the wrong side. How can Raavan be right ? How can he be the savior?

The way I made peace with it when I stumbled across another religious text, not related to Hinduism. It said, everyone on this planet serves a purpose. Each one is an important cog in the internal workings of a much larger universe which we don’t control. Our existence may not amount to anything in our own universe but it does in someone else’s. Anand Neelkanthan wouldn’t have written a book if Raavan didn’t exist. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if the book weren’t written. So on and so forth…. But wait… isn’t this what the Bhagwad Gita says too ? Albeit loosely… This is what Dnyaneshwar, Tukaram, Ramdas said even centuries after Ram and Raavan were gone.

I don’t ‘celebrate’ Dassera as the death of Raavan and the victory of Ram. I celebrate it for its teachings.

That all of us, have a purpose to serve, like Ram.

It tells us that a superiority complex will always lead to your defeat.

That if you don’t value your near and dear ones, you may end up paying heavily for the mistakes you make, as in the case of Raavan and Vibhishan.

That if you judge a book by its cover, it’s going to set your world on fire…in Raavana’s case, quite literally.

So kill the evil within you this Dassera. Let your prejudices burn to ashes and disappear with the wind. Be your own warrior.

And to our Buddhist brothers, Happy Dhammachakra parivartan Din.

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