In April this year, we visited Ellora on my birthday and the first place we went to is the magnificent Kailas Temple – probably the only structure in the world that has been carved from the top. That the Kailas temple does not find a place in the ten wonders of the world says a lot about India’s standing in the world stage all these years … hopefully soon, this architectural wonder will find its rightful place in the wonders of the world list.
The walls of the Kailas Temple are adorned with exquisite carvings and here is one of them –
This photograph was taken on a cellphone and I have tried to increase the contrast etc so that the carving is visible. Its Ravana, with a sword, about to cut his 10th head as an offering to Lord Shiva …
Ravana was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and did penance for many years. He had a deep desire to have Lord Shiva’s darshan and when he didn’t get the darshan even after many years of penance, he started cutting his heads off (he had 10 heads). As he was about to cut off his 10th head, after cutting 9 heads Lord Shiva appeared and gave him several boons and also restored his heads. The same Ravana, composed the Shiva Tandava Stotram, extempore. Read more about it here – https://isha.sadhguru.org/mahashivratri/shiva-adiyogi/shiva-tandava-stotram/
It is the same Ravana who stole Seeta, Sri Rama’s wife and was killed on this day (Vijayadashami) in battle. Dusshera or Dasara or Vijayadashami is celebrated across India to mark this momentous happening – the demon king Ravana being killed by Sri Rama and its also the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasur. Vijayadashami is simply passed off as a celebration of the “victory of good over evil”. But its not so simple …. Is Ravana evil? If he is evil why did Sri Rama ask his brother Lakshmana to learn the Vedas and other knowledge from him on his death bed? Our scriptures are so nuanced and there are so many stories to explain complex topics like evil and good …. a person who does evil deeds like abducting another man’s wife will be punished with death, but that person is also a great Brahmin, a man of knowledge, and he willingly passes on the knowledge to Lakshmana, his adversary’s brother ! Ravana was resplendent like the Sun – he was not just knowledgeable but a great warrior. So evil is never pure evil and even a person who does evil deeds has the opportunity to become a better person. How uplifting is that ! No burning in an eternal hell. Lets not reduce Ravana to a cartoon character.
Today in many parts of India, the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghnad would be burnt – but are we telling our children the stories behind these traditions ? Goddess Durga contains Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva’s powers. She is Shakti, the life force of the universe ! Women empowerment, anyone ? Mahishasur, the buffalo headed demon King, got a boon from Lord Brahma that he would not be killed by a man or an animal – so the Gods created Durga, a woman who battled the demon Mahishasur and vanquished him – is there a more powerful story about women anywhere ? Durga Puja is not only about Pandal-hopping and having good food …. it is to remember that even Gods needed a woman to finish off a demon, are we telling our daughters to be that Durga ? She rides a lion or a tiger and does battle to establish Dharma, who better to do that than a woman ?
Happy Dussehra. Shubho Bijoya. Happy Vijayadashami – may our traditions, puranas, upanishads and vedas light our way as we find our feet again in the world stage. India and our history has much to offer and may we take pride in our heritage even as we set out to become “modern” men and women.