The book, ‘Asura: The Tale of The Vanquished’, says that Ravana did not really have ten-heads. Instead, it was metaphorical. Each head represents one base emotion in man – Anger, pride, love, jealousy, ambition, intelligence, fear, selfishness, happiness and sadness. He was called Dasamukha or ‘Ten-headed’ for embracing all aspects of humanity and its emotions.
I love to know the other side of the coin. Whenever anyone narrates any story, whether real, reel or mythological, I itch to know the point of views of the other characters involved. Sometimes I ask point blank if the other point of view tallies; sometimes though I keep my trap shut and leave things to imagination. After all, there is not just one truth. There are many truths—depending on the perspectives. (Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon or Gillian Flyn’s Gone Girl, anyone?)
Anyway, the point is I love reading about alternative view-points – especially when it comes to mythology. Currently, I am reading this book called ‘Asura: The Tale of The Vanquished’ by Anand Neelakantan. It tells the tale of Ramayana through Ravana’s point of view. Essentially, it is ‘Ravanayana’.
Almost every child in India knows that Ravana is the ten-headed villain from the Epic. Why he is ten-headed is not a question many thought of asking. I didn’t either. Until, that is, I started reading this book, which has a wonderful explanation.
The book says that Ravana did not really have ten-heads. Instead, it was metaphorical. Each head represents one base emotion in man – Anger, pride, love, jealousy, ambition, intelligence, fear, selfishness, happiness and sadness.
Ravana’s gurus tried to teach him how to shun all these emotions except one – intelligence or logic. They said this will help him achieve greatness. The rest of the emotions, the Gurus said, will only serve to distract him in one way or the other. By suppressing all the other ‘heads’ or ‘emotions’, Ravana will be able to achieve balance in his mind and thus achieve greatness.
“The only thing worth preserving is your mind. Your mind absorbs the knowledge you gain from your Gurus, your books and your life, and refines it to great wisdom. It is what you have to develop. Every living minute, you have to strive to feed your mind with fresh and positive inputs. This will give clarity to your vision and immense power to your action. You will make fewer mistakes and also learn faster from them.”
This is what his Guru taught him.
Ravana, of course, refuses to do so. And then he proceeds to give a beautiful explanation for the need for each and every single emotion, even if it is negative like selfishness. Here’s an excerpt below:
“The amazing speed of progress man has achieved in the past few years would have not been achieved without that small flame of ambition in the minds of a few men, which was fanned to become a huge fire by the other emotions you have urged me to shun. Pride in one’s capability gave men the confidence and ambition to grow; jealousy that someone else would achieve more prodded him to work hard and more efficiently; the quest for happiness resulted in ever-expanding ambition; the fear of sadness kept him awake at night and pushed him further; the fear of failure made him more careful and God-fearing; selfishness glued his family, city, clan, tribe and country together and made him strive even harder. Love for life and the things which made life precious, made him protect his achievements. And I am sure an undying ambition for more will lead mankind to progress. Progress, which we cannot even imagine, can never understand in our short lifetime.”
In the end, he says that he wishes to neither be a God nor achieve Moksha. All he wants is to live a fulfilling life as a human, and exactly as his emotions tell him to do. Otherwise, he would be but an empty skeleton. This is why he is called ‘Ten-headed’ or ‘Dasamukha’, according to the book.
I could not agree more. For years I have contemplated about the need to sacrifice or supress some parts of our persona for the sake of betterment. As a Brahmin, I’ve often been told to not do many things, because it apparently takes me one step closer to the perfection that is God. But over the years I have realised that life is empty without these imperfections. There are so many aspects of life which are harmful. That said, they do add some colour to life. I would rather live a fulfilling life when I am alive than worry about life after death, or worse, how I would be reborn – as an animal or human or Brahmin (believe it or not, these are some legitimate threats I’ve heard)
Agreed it is important to constantly aim to improve over time; the goal should be to do away with your imperfections, but that doesn’t mean you supress it altogether. There will always be times when you will give into your natural instincts like anger or fear.
This brings me to the conclusion that it is moderation that is important, not complete suppression. Everything is better in the right quantities. Even complete suppression could backfire – like a volcano that bursts suddenly after gaining steam for hundreds of years.
At the end of the day, I appreciate and accept my humanity. More so, I want to embrace it whole-heartedly. There will be days when I get angry, afraid, jealous, over-ambitious, proud, happy or sad. Otherwise I would be like the stone which sits in silence and observes the world, wouldn’t I?
I think the key point here is ‘limit’ and ‘objectivity’. It is ‘not getting carried away’. Any of the base emotions, when in excess, can wreak havoc; even love or happiness. The question, then, is – where to draw the line? And most importantly, who decides whether the line is correct or wrong? And that is something I have always struggled with – limiting myself and walking on the thin line that separates the right from the wrong!