The Ramayana is often used as a bed-time story by grandmothers and grandfathers across most of India. The victory of good over evil was the valuable lesson that grandparents neatly packaged in an hour-long narration of the lives of mythological characters — Rama, the protagonist and Ravana,the antagonist.
The most popular versions of the mythological tale show Rama as a dutiful son and Ravana as an egoistical ruler. The two battle over Sita and in the end Rama wins. The fall of Ravana is celebrated by Hindus as a victory of good over evil.
But, here's the thing every story has two sides and every history has an alternate one. Esentially, the definitions of good and evil are not static, but dynamic and depend of who's telling the story. Histories are usually written by the victorious, one must wonder about what would Ravana's history have looked like, if he had won that battle against Rama.
Ravana was a great scholar and a great devotee of Shiva — one of the principal deities in Hinduism and often referred to as the God of destruction in Hindu mythology. Ravana was the great grandson of Brahma for his grandfather, the sage Pulastya, was one of the ten mind-born sons of Brahma. Ravana saw great advancements in science and medicine. He authored Ravana Sanhita, an anthology of Hindu astrology and his description as a ten-headed person, Daśamukha or Daśagrīva, is a reference to his vast knowledge and intelligence. The pushpaka vimana or the aeroplane which he flew when he kidnapped Sita is held as an example of great scientific achievements made during his regime. He was also a physician and wrote seven books on Ayurveda. Some even go as far as to insist that Ravana was a Buddhist king. He built one of the most advanced civilisations in the world.
Ravana's attributes are unending, so why do we celebrate his fall? These are the attributes of an accomplished person and if he were still alive, he would be a revered guest-of-honour.
And, there are many in India who decry the dark depiction of the 'noble' ruler.
Till date there are also some villages who don't burn effigies of Ravana because they consider it ill-fortune. Baragaon (formerly known as Raavana), a village in Uttar Pradesh, doesn't celebrate Ram Leela because it causes death in the village.
Other villages like Paraswadi, with a population of less than 300 people, mostly Gond tribals, provides a different narrative to the Ravana story. Here, Ravana is not the villain. He is venerated as the dharmaguru of the tribe.
The Hindu carries their version, according to which, Ravana was a Gond king slain by Aryan invaders. He carried forward the legacy of Kupar Lingo, the supreme deity and heroic ancestor of Gonds, who gave them their lifestyle values.
For these tribals, Ravana has become a symbol to counter the onslaught of Hinduism and saffronisation, led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).Today, Ravan Mahotsavs are held in various Indian villages like Gondia, Chandrapur, Bhandara, Gadchiroli and Amravati districts. Some Brahmins claim that he was one of them and identify themselves as descendants of Ravana.
In fact, some Dravidians (who identify themselves as the descendants of Ravana) too celebrate 'Ravana leela'. A report by The News Minute suggests that a Chennai-based Dravidian Periyarist fringe group celebrates Ravan Leela to protest against the age-old practice of Ram Leela.
The Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam group has also written a letter to PM Modi asking the government to stop Ram Leela in Delhi every year because they feel Ravana and his brothers were Dravidians, and when their effigies are burnt in Delhi it is insensitive towards the Dravidian people.
In Ravana, a fraction of Indian population searches for an alternative to the wide-spread saffronisation. The great scholar of the ancient time has become a symbol to drive cultural unity.