Sinhalization of Ravana and Un-deification of Rama
October 6th, 2007
By: Dr.Rajasingham Narendran
Ramayana is an epic that pre-dates the Mahabharatha. The Ramayana, though originally composed by Valmiki Rishi in Sanskrit, has been reproduced in many languages through the centuries. The Tamil version composed by Kamban, reflects the best in Tamil poetry, values and culture, although following the line of the story in Valmiki’s original. The Ramayana has also influenced the cultures as far flung as Thailand, Indonesia, Timor, Philippines and Cambodia. Lanka plays an important role in the Ramayana, as the plot unfolds in its manifold facets representing all aspects of human life, behaviour, thought and values, set against the background of what are eternal truths, un-impeachable ethics and divine values. The lessons to be gleaned from the Ramayana, will remain valid and valuable to humankind, as long as we aspire towards higher humanistic goals and cease our head long descent into soulless consumerism and the accompanying barbarism. It is an epic made for eternity. It is a story holding a meaning to males and females of all ages, pursuits and stations in life. It is a priceless jewel in humankind’s crown!
[King Ravana, at Thirukoneswaram Temple, Trincomalee - Pic:HA]
Ramayana is a complex story, involving the life and times of King Dasaratha of Ayodhya, his wives-Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumithra, his four sons-Rama, Laxshmana, Bharatha and Sathrukna, Rama’s consort- Sitha; King Ravana of Lanka and his brothers-Kumbakarna and Vibhishana, his sister-Soorpanaka, his wife-Mandothari, his uncle-Maarisan, his children-principally Indrajit; the Vanaras led by Vaali, Sukreevan, Hanuman, Angathan and Jambavaan; and the big bird-Jadaayu. Rama is a Vishnu Avatar- a re-incarnation of Lord Vishnu (The ‘Protector’ in the Hindu Trinity) and Ravana, a Rakshasha /Asura, who is a great devotee of Lord Siva (the ‘Destroyer’ in the Hindu Trinity) and a great exponent of carnatic (South Indian Classical) music. Hanuman is ‘Vaayu Puthalvan’ (son of the ‘God of winds’). Many perceive Rama as the hero (representing ‘Good’) and Ravana as the villain (representing ‘Evil’) in this epic. However, as the story unfolds in all its complexity, this simple classification does not hold water on many occasions. Both Rama and Ravana come out as great men, who are fallible at times. They are better than most of us at their best-characters to be emulated, and fallible as all of us are at their worst- providing lessons on what to avoid. The essence of Ramayana transcends its principal characters and reaches out to humankind with eternal values worthy of emulation.
The epic Ramayana re-tells a prevailing legend involving the lives and times of Rama and Ravana, thousand of years after the real events, in a poetical format and in a religious context. The characters represent personalities that are super-human in many dimensions and hence it should not surprise us that they are considered divine or blessed by the divine in this epic. There are temples dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi springing up in India today- a day and age in which we consider ourselves to have become ‘rational’ men and women! Astronomical calculations indicate that the Rama-Ravana war took place 880,148 years ago as of April 2006. Valmiki’s Ramayana (Travels of Rama) was probably written between 4th to 2nd centuries BC. The Kamba Ramayana popular among the Tamils was written in the 13th century A.D. Whether Valmiki poetized and recorded an oral history transmitted down the centuries, or based his work on written records lost to us now will be never known. However, the inherent complexity of the story, and its imaginative and instructive presentation in this epic, point to a golden period of human history we have lost, probably forever.
In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala nationalists, who had hitherto clung to the history as told in the Mahawamsa (6th century AD) as the rationale for their claims to exclusive ownership of the island, have increasingly in recent years delved much further back into the past, to claim exclusive lineage from Ravana and his people. In a publication titled ‘Sinhela (Hela) History’ (http:// www. Sinhalacentre.demon.co.uk/helahistory.htm), Sinhela (Hela) history is defined as the story of the indigenous inhabitants of Heladiva (’Sri Lanka’). It claims that the ‘Sinhela (Hela) Nation’ possesses an unwritten history of 30,000 years and written history of 2500 years. This publication also states that the ‘Unitary Heladiva’ – Hela meaning ‘Pristine’ and Diva meaning ‘Island’- (emphasis mine) is the land of the indigenous Sinhela (Hela) people whose culture and traditions are based on Theravada Buddhist teachings and practices. A ‘Hela’ is defined as anyone who identifies with the Hela culture; practices Hela traditions; and recognizes Heladiva as the motherland of the Hela nation.
It claims that the once united Hela nation (the indigenous people of Heladiva) at the time of Vijaya’s arrival, was divided into four tribes, which still spoke the one language – ‘Hela Basa’ and because there were four Hela tribes the island was known at that time as ‘Sivuhela’ (’Sivu’ meaning four) or by the shorter version of ‘Sihela’. The four Hela tribes were – Yakka, Nagha, Asura and Raksha. Significantly, this article also states that, “Today, the Sinhela’s (Hela) are a bewildered race facing a situation they have been unable to comprehend. Given the gross distortions peddled by the immigrant ethnic Tamils, as well as by the immigrant ethnic-Tamil-controlled-Government (emphasis mine) with its control of the news media, the real situation of the country has been concealed from the Sinhela (Hela) nation”.
It is also further stated that one of Heladiva’s celebrated Kings was Ravana who, according to Indian history, first invented the airplane, 5000years ago. It is claimed that the Indian festival of Divali commemorates the ultimate defeat of King Ravana by the overwhelming numbers of Indian troops of Rama and Hanuman. The ten heads attributed to Ravana is explained as a tribute to Ravana’s intellectual might, which gave birth to his (at least two-seater) aeroplane. Ravana’s ten- headedness is further explained as the colloquial way of saying that he had the brains, or intelligence, of ten men.
P.K.Balachandran in an article titled ‘ Ravana is hero for Sinhala nationalists’ (Hindustan Times of 4th Nov.2007) states, ” The Ramayana is not part of mainstream Sinhala religious tradition in Sri Lanka, because Buddhism has been the religion of the majority of Sinhalas for long. But ancient Sinhala works like Rajavaliya and Ravanavaliya identify Ravana as a Sinhala king and extol him as a great one. In modern Sri Lanka, there has been a movement to revive Ravana as a cult figure, who represents Sinhala or Sri Lankan nationalism because he was among the first in the island’s history to have resisted an alien/ Indian invader. Ravana’s ten heads represent the ten crowns he wore as a symbol of his being the sovereign of ten countries “. Balachandran also states that the book ‘Sakvithi Ravana’ published in 1988 by Ahubuddu claims that Ravana reigned over Sri Lanka from 2554 to 2517 BC. While Ravana’s ancestors ruled over what is now the Pollonaruwa district, Ravana himself is claimed to have ruled over the whole of Sri Lanka.
According the astronomical calculations cited earlier, Ravana’s people could have been in the island (Lanka) longer than a million years back. Would this in anyway prove that these people were the exclusive ancestors of the present Sinhala – speaking people in Sri Lanka? What proof is there that Ravana did not speak Tamil or a proto-Tamil language, as Ramayana confirms that he was a Lord Siva worshipper (Saivite) and an un-surpassed exponent of classical (carnatic) music, who swayed Lord Siva himself with his rendering in the ‘Naattai’ ragam. Saivaism constitutes the major religion of the Tamils to this day and four of the five major Siva temples (Pancha-Easwarams) are located in Sri Lanka. Rameswaram- the Siva temple in which Rama himself worshipped according to legend is the only one among the Pancha-Easwarams located in India. The Tamil language has a literary tradition of over 2100 years, while Sinhala as a language developed only after the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, with its beginning as proto-Sinhala between the 3rd and 7th centuries AD. The indigenous people of ancient Lanka could very well have been Proto-Tamil-Saivites, a substantial number of whom subsequently adopted Buddhism and the Sinhala language. What evidence is there to prove the contrary? What makes ‘Helamites’ think that the Yakkhas, Nagas, Asuras and Rakshas were not the progenitors of the Tamils? To the Tamils of India, Lanka was known as Ealam/ Illankai throughout history. In the Kamba Ramayana, Ravana is referred to as the Illankai Venthan- King of Illankai. Lanka is the Sanskritized name for Illankai. Poets from Ealam are recorded to have participated in the ‘Thamil Sangams’ held in Madurai early in the Sangam period (100 BC to300 AD).
Tamil and Malayalam were dialects of one language called ‘Tamil’ by speakers of both until the 9th century AD. The manner in which Tamils is spoken and several words used by Jaffna Tamils point to this old affinity between Tamil and Malayalam. Further, there is much in common between the food habits and art forms of the Tamils and Sinhalese of Sri Lanka and the people of Kerala-Iddiappam/Iddiarppa, Pittu, Appam/Arppa and Kandyan dancing. The separation between Tamil and Malayalam as distinct languages was not completed until some time in the 13th or 14th centuries. Why could a similar phenomenon not have unfolded in Sri Lanka? It is not possible for Sri Lanka to have had a history uninfluenced by South India from times immemorial. To assume that the thirty miles that separated our island from mainland India would have been a barrier for the Tamils in India is the height of stupidity. Jawaharlal Nehru in his ‘Glimpses of World History’, states,
“A considerable trade flourished between South India and Europe. Pearls, ivory, gold, rice, pepper, peacocks and even monkeys were sent to Babylon and Egypt and Greece and later to Rome. Teakwood from the Malabar Coast went even earlier to Chaldea and Babylonia. And all this trade, or most of it, was carried in Indian ships, manned by Dravidians. This will enable one to realize what an advanced position South India occupied in the ancient world”.
Would such a people have ignored verdant Sri Lanka within their easy reach? It will be also futile to ignore the likelihood that Sri Lanka was linked to the Indian subcontinent at one time. The legend of vast extents of land in the Australasian region being lost to a massive deluge (an ancient tsunami) cannot be ignored. Sinhala legend alludes to vast areas of the ancient Kingdom of Kalyani being deluged. Kaviripoompattinam- a centre of Tamil-Buddhism was also similarly deluged. The recent tsunami and the associated retreat of the seas along the South Indian coast revealed several structures that had been under water for centuries.
Let us learn to face facts as they are now and find solutions to our problems, instead of clutching selected strands of history to prove the un-provable. Sri Lanka today consists of people who have descended from the original inhabitants- living before even Ravana, people who have migrated and settled over several centuries since and those who are the result of the intermingling of these two strands. There is nothing called a pure Sri Lankan or ‘Hela Divan’ as some irrational elements would like to proclaim. Modern day DNA studies also confirm that we have very much in common genetically. To call all Tamils, ‘Immigrants’, is an unpardonable travesty of truth and to consider the Sinhala-speakers residing in Sri Lanka as the only legitimate heirs to the island is a despicable lie. Large segments of the Sinhala-speakers of today have proven Tamil ancestry. To twist history or legends to suit a criminal end game, is a blot on all Sinhala people.
Deepavali (Festival of Lights) celebrates the victory of Lord Krishna over Nagasura (the evil ruler of Pradyoshapuram in India) and is not a celebration of the victory of Rama over Ravana as claimed by those who have chosen Ravana as their true ancestor, over the interloper Vijaya. It is a celebration of the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. The Krishna Avataram happened long after the Rama Avataram. Ravana is not demonized in the Ramayana, especially in the Kamba Ramayana, read with devotion by Tamils. There are regular debates in literary circles in Tamil Nadu, whether Rama or Ravana was the better character in the Ramayana. Such debates were also widely held in Tamil literary circles in Sri Lanka regularly until darkness descended on the Tamils here. The Saivite-Tamils of South India, revered all the people of Lanka, as the people from the great land of Ravana! Ravana is a revered figure among the Tamil-Saivites. Further, Buddhism historically was not the exclusive preserve of the Sinhalese in South Asia. Tamils, both in India and Lanka had adopted Buddhism in large numbers at one time, as it was a breeze of fresh air that swept away the cobwebs and dust in the form of rituals, foolishness and casteism that had buried the essence of Hinduism. Great Tamil epics such as Silapadikaram, Manimehalai and Kundalakesi germinated and blossomed in the hey day of Buddhism among the Tamils.
The Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists should remember that their nationalism based on their historical achievements as a people, their language and their religion-Buddhism, is not something any one, least of all the Tamils, object. What is objectionable and obnoxious is the attempt to denigrate and destroy the essence and foundations of other parallel nationalisms, that are the birth right of the other peoples living in Sri Lanka / Hela Diva. Ananada K. Kumaraswamy ( born to a Jaffna Tamil father and an English mother), the greatest intellectual Sri Lanka produced and who spent a major part of his life researching medieval Sinhala art has said,
” A nationalism which does not recognize the rights and duties of others but attempts to aggrandize itself at their expense, becomes no longer nationalism but a disease generally called Imperialism”.
While Ravana is emerging as the hero for the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, Rama is under siege in Tamil Nadu, India. The Dravidian movement that found its feet in the prevalent anti-Brahmin sentiment, is largely agnostic and had cast the events in the Ramayana as a contest between Aryan forces represented by Rama and Dravidian forces led by Ravana.
This latter sentiment is not that of the vast majority of Tamil Hindus. Sri Raman / Sitha Raman/ Ramachandran/ Janaki Manaalan/ Ayodhya Raman/ Dasaratha Kumaran / Pattaabi Raman- are some among the many names by which Rama is adoringly called by his Tamil devotees. Rama worship is entrenched in Tamil culture and the Ramayana is entwined in their daily lives in many ways, including to being alluded in several popular proverbs. The Sethu Samudram dredging project, which would have led to the destruction of sections of the Ramar Bridge/ Monkey bridge/ Adam’s bridge is mired in much controversy. This sand dune cum coral formation that connects the southern tip of India with northern Sri Lanka, is identified in the Ramayana as a bridge Rama built with the Vanara forces led by Hanuman, to invade Lanka, where Ravana was holding Ram’s wife Sitha captive. This bridge is clearly visible in contemporary satellite photographs. This bridge is undoubtedly of religious significance to Hindus. What is important to note is not whether the bridge was built by Rama or not, but the fact of its existence was known toValmiki approximately 2500 years back! The existence of this bridge would have been known to the people of India much longer, as the story of Ramayana was known to them thousands and thousands of years before Valmiki. When we do not know details regarding our grand parents lives and do not know even the names of our great-grand parents, that the existence of this bridge was known, remembered and recorded over several millennia, is an astounding event.
To question the collective memory of a people as recorded in the Ramayana is foolishness indeed. The DMK under Muthuvel Karunanithi has barged into an area, where even angels will fear to tread, by questioning whether Rama had a degree in engineering to design and build this bridge. Did the builders of the Madurai Meenachiamman temple and the Tanjai Sivan temple-standing monuments to the building skills of our ancestors- have higher degrees in civil engineering? Karunanithi has also gone on to call Rama a drunkard. Karunanithi was insulting the very foundations of his people’s faith with an insensitivity born in arrogance, if not ignorence. It is this very same Dravidian movement that at one time disparagingly questioned where Saraswathy- the Hindu Goddess of learning- called ‘Naa Mahal’ ( resident Goddess of the tongue or human sound) would be performing her excretory functions!
The attempt to un-deify Rama by the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, is the continuation of the tendency of politicians- a breed of present day men who think they are wise, because they have unbridled power, the gift of the gab and a servile media that propagates their foolish words- to undermine transcendent legends unmindful of repercussions on human values. They forget facts such as the values Rama represents to a people and his positive impact on their thoughts and actions. Legends such as that of Rama are part of the cultural ethos of a people and their collective inheritance. Such legends should be protected from the depredations of foolish and power hungry politicians. It does not matter whether Rama ever existed or not, but the story of his life- whether factual or mythical- serves an important function in humanizing humankind.
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