Is the latest serial just a harmless point-of-view or a sign of swiftly eroding social values?
Ravana – shakti dekhi par bhakti kisi ne na dekhi? scream hoardings through out Mumbai, which promote the new serial Ravana. This serial claims to broadcast the less known virtues, as found in historical sources, of the well-known Ramayana villain.
The ancient classic Ramayarta has won rich appreciation from international scholars. Eminent literary historian A. A. Macdonell states, "Probably no other work of world literature has produced so profound an influence in the life and thought of a people as the Ramayana." Renowned French thinker Louis Revel, author of The Fragrance of India: Landmarks for the World of Tomorrow, elucidates, "Every civilization which is not based on the culture of the spirit is doomed to perish in brutality and blood. Oh! Rama and Sita, noble human heroes, You who give the example of a sublime spiritual ideal, in your atmosphere of peace and infinite tenderness there reigns a hope, the hope of the regeneration of humanity through the understanding of these ancient symbols and by their realization in the inner lives of men." The Ramayana has inspired virtues – fearlessness, determination, steadfastness, morality, sacrifice , dutifulness, heroism, and devotion – in over a quarter of the world's population for millennia . Ramarajya, the virtuous and glorious rule of Lord Rama in which all the citizens lived harmoniously and happily being in spired by His sterling example, has enduring appeal; even today people long for a repetition of that golden period in human history.
The original and most authentic rendition of the Ramayana is the Valmiki Ramayana. Over the centuries, many other versions have been written, which have different degrees of variations, dilutions, contaminations, and perversions of the original storyline and message. So a biased mind can, if it so desires, select suitable sections from different versions and present a new interpretation, from "Ravana's point of view" as this serial professes.
Lets objectively examine the bhakti of Ravana towards Siva. During his murderous universe conquering campaign, Ravana arrogantly tried to dislodge Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva, to prove his supremacy. He thus invited curses from both Siva's carrier Nandi and Siva's consort, Parvati. When Siva crushed the impudent Ravana's hands under the mountain, the demon, to save his life, pacified and gratified Siva with prayers and obtained celestial weapons in return. Empowered with those weapons, Ravana started a reign of terror, in which he abducted or defiled multitudes of beautiful women – even celestial nymphs like Rambha and ascetic ladies like Vedavati. Hundreds of kidnapped princesses constituted his harem in Lanka. Ravana's insatiable lust ultimately caused his downfall, when he abd ucted mother Sita, the consort of the Supreme Lord, Sri Rama. After Lord Rama destroyed Ravana, Siva personally congratulated the 'killer of his worshiper', "You have killed the scourge and the dread of the universe." Why? Because Siva could easily recognize that the demon's devotion never went beyond selfserving sycophancy. Thus those who worship Ravana as a Sivabhakta are ill-informed about the demon's mentality – or they themselves have a perverse mentality which wants to idolize a womanhunting, egomaniac, pseudo-religious terrorist.
Social historians have pointed out that the caliber of a society can be judged by the caliber of its heroes. Societies that adored matadors (bull-killers, to put it bluntly) were also known to delight in killing fell low humans. Therefore every progressive society needs healthy role models for individual growth and social harmony, models of personalities that its members hold sacred, models that inspire its members to aspire for virtue and stick to morality amidst life's inevitable trials.
The examples of Vedic heroes like Lord Rama and His devotees were so powerful, memorable and inspiring that the effect was seen in the caliber of Indians for centuries – even up to the time of British India, as noted by British statesman Edmund Burke, "This multitude of men (the Indian nation) does not consist of an abject and barbarous populace, much less of gangs of savages; but of a people for ages civilized and cultivated; cultured by all the arts of polished life while we (Englishmen) were yet dwelling in the woods. There have been in (India) princes of great dignity, authority and opulence. There (in India) is to be found an ancient and venerable priesthood, the depositary of laws, learning and history, the guides of the people while living and their consolation in death. There is a nobility of great antiquity and renown; a multitude of cities not exceeded in population and trade by those of the first class in Europe; merchants and bankers who vie in capital with the banks of England; millions of ingenious manufacturers and mechanics; and millions of the most diligent tillers of the earth."
But today India is a free nation – free from foreign rule to "freely" destroy her own glorious culture that evoked admiration even among its enemies. Modern India has been witnessing a catastrophic decline in its hero-worship standards and correspondingly its moral standards. For centuries we adored great saints, who selflessly and heroically strived for the highest social and spiritual welfare of all living beings. During British rule, we started eulogizing political leaders, who promised independence. Subsequently we turned towards movie stars, whose heroism was restricted to sex and violence on the celluloid screen. Then started a peculiar genre of movies with skewed values, in which a popular movie star (normally a hero) would play the role of a villain. So the serial Ravana, which portrays the villain as a hero, is a natural and logical fallout of a history of degradation.
"Controversy sells" is a wellknown media axiom. So the opportunistic mentality that wants to hog the limelight by creating controversy centered on a popular epic is understandable. But farless understandable is the moral irresponsibility regarding the social consequences of this perversion of values. Social analysts testify that in creased screen violence has triggered increased social violence. In Europe, a hit movie about werewolves in which the central character (the hero?) would murder people and drink their blood led to a spate of murders – especially of helpless elderly people – with their bloods spilled all over their bodies, probably after having being drunk by the imitator werewolves. So soon after Ravana starts off, we can expect Ravana-rajya to envelop our society. Perhaps one of the viewers, being inspired (?) by the escapades of the lusty "hero", will abduct the wife of the producer. Of course, the latter will consider that the success of his serial, won't ?
Caitanya Carana Dasa, is a disciple of His Holiness Radhanatha Swami. He holds a degree in electronics & telecommunications engineering and serves full-time at ISKCON Pune.