“Smelling the fragrance of Rama and Lakshmana, like a dog smelling a tiger, certainly you will not be able to stand.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.31-32)
In the days of the VHS tape, with every copy of a recording made the quality of the subsequent version would diminish. There was something known as a “highly generated” copy, which meant that it was a copy of a copy of a copy, and so forth, many generations removed from the original.
A similar tendency is there when original historical accounts described in the Vedas are translated, reinterpreted and presented in different languages throughout the course of time. Add the increased tendency towards sense gratification and sinful life in future generations and it is not surprising to come across commentaries such as these:
“Ravana wasn’t so bad of a guy. He was simply defending his sister. He stood up for her. Rama was really at fault for Sita’s plight in Lanka. Ravana fought against Him valiantly, eventually succumbing to the might of Rama’s mantra-enhanced arrows. The mean Rama then made His blameless wife ascend a fire pit to prove her purity. Ravana would never have done something like that.”
Yes, turn the villain into the hero and try to denigrate the character of the person who is piety personified. Yet from a single incident we get several obvious indications of Ravana’s affinity towards adharma.
1. Stealing another man’s wife
Adharma is not sustainable. At its root, it is simply the wrong way to do something. For instance, if the objective is to loosen the screw, turning to the right is adharma. This is tightening the screw, which is the opposite of the desired condition. Other basic examples are eating soup with a fork, driving on the left side of the road in America, and consuming a massive feast in order to lose weight.
The original accounts of the story of Shri Rama are found in the Ramayana. Not surprisingly, the epic Sanskrit work is named after the main character, who is an incarnation of God. No one would know Sita, Rama’s wife, or Ravana, the king of Lanka, without the existence of this work. There are other descriptions of the historical events found in Puranas and similar literature of the Vedic category, but the most authoritative work, the final word, so to speak, is Valmiki’s Ramayana.
From there we learn that Ravana’s sister first attempted to attack Sita in the forest of Dandaka. It was in Sita’s defense that Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, disfigured Shurpanakha. There was some playful joking and perhaps a misunderstanding in intent, but the threat to Sita was real. Ravana’s sister returned to her family and explained what had happened, actually blaming Sita for the entire incident. Then a massive army came and attacked Rama. How massive? Fourteen-thousand fighters, up against one man. Rama defeated them. He defended His wife, which was the dharma for both the warrior order and a capable husband.
Ravana then hatched a plan to steal Sita. This is quintessential adharma since a man should be satisfied with what he has. If he desires something, stealing is not the best option. Would Ravana like it if others stole from him? Killing is wrong precisely because the killers expect to have their lives protected. Why not offer the same respect to others?
2. Using underhanded tactics
Ravana was angry. He wanted revenge. In truth, he wanted to satisfy his senses, as he heard from Shurpanakha just how beautiful Sita was. In his era, it would have been dharma, or pious, to fight with Rama openly. Challenge a rival warrior and let the best man win.
That was not the chosen approach. In fact, Ravana’s advisor Maricha cautioned against that plan. Rama already beat fourteen-thousand, so why wouldn’t He wipe the floor with one? Ravana resorted to deception. He used underhanded methods to get his so-called revenge. No respectable king would boast after the fact of having used a false guise and a distraction from his advisor.
3. Running away in fear
Theft and deception. Add cowardly flight into the mix and you have Ravana’s plan perfectly understood. He was a proud ruler, boasting of his accomplishments to any who would listen. Yet in this plan he ran away like a coward. Sita Devi would later dig the knife in by reminding the king of how low he was. She compared him to a dog and Rama to a tiger. Just by smelling Rama, Ravana would run away in fear.
Ravana could have waited around in Dandaka for Rama to return. He could have informed the victim about the crime after the fact. Rather, he stayed in Lanka, hoping that no one would ever find out. The Supreme Lord is not so weak. Though He is kind to His devotees, to the point of abandoning the kingdom of Ayodhya to maintain their honor, He does not tolerate a wrong committed against them. He would show Ravana the gruesome face of time, arriving in the form of swiftly-coursing arrows penetrating the body that previously seemed impenetrable to injury.
Body strong seeming impenetrable,
With fighting ability demonstrable.
Yet still to trickery resorting,
Sita by force escorting.
To world a valiant king perception,
But in practice cowardly deception.
Signs of adharma from single act,
Lord personally justice to enact.
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