It is the fourteenth day of the Battle of Lanka when we hear the superiors call for a quick huddle before the battle. The surrounding men immediately run, fly, creep, and crawl to join the rest of our cohort. The call has been initiated by the commander of the southern battlements, who has mounted on top of his chariot to address all of his men. His left arm is wrapped with bandages where the enemy’s various arrows have impaled him. His once-powerful face now winces in pain as he tries to hide the fear bubbling within. “Soldiers!” he calls out. Even his thunderous voice has lost its rumble.
“Our mighty prince has been slain by the usurper’s brother. The entire eastern faction of our army has been destroyed. A vast number of the bodies strewn across the battlefield were once your brothers-in-arms.” He takes a look at his men and sighs, “At this point, I could still continue instructing you to mindlessly decimate the heads of every single monkey dancing on the field. But I’m afraid it is time to admit that we’ve chosen the wrong war to fight.”
“Now, I could not care less about this contest between our lord Raavan and the invader Ram. But ever since that giant ape set our city on fire, this has no longer been just a tale of some prince from the Sapt Sindhu rescuing his damsel in distress. We know of only one place in this world where people of our kind can live in peace, where our deformities are treated as a sign of strength, rather than as a disease. And those impudent Vanaras,” he spits on the ground. “They brought the fight here. Their cause endangers our loved ones, who depend on us for protection from these forces. We have not sold our souls to the demon king Raavan, rather to the king of Lanka who is doing everything he can for our people’s well-being.”
The infantry bangs their shields in unison, “The enemy may have their beasts and godmen and daivi astras, but they are weaker than we can ever be. And since the lives of our people depend on this war, we are stronger than they can ever be. So don’t give in to the fear. Use it as your greatest weapon. Mask the fear and spread it among your enemies in return. Laugh out loud when all you want to do is scream. Bare out your fangs, sharpen your horns, use your claws, wings, tails; everything at your disposal. They call us the rakshasas after all. Let’s live up to that name, shall we?”
And with one final roar, the soldiers of Lanka unleash their inner demons on the battlefield.
Rakshasa: Misinterpreted Entities?
Ever since the dawn of civilisation, the concept of good versus evil has remained as a fundamental testament for preaching religion. This created prejudice over those who are presumed to be the agents of evil, in accordance with the widely acclaimed ‘holy scriptures’. And isn’t that the problem here? People are ‘presumed’ to be something else, for which there is no factual evidence other than ‘texts left to us by the Gods’.
If someone wants to read the Ramayana, he or she wouldn’t be able to read a factual description of what actually happened. The person can only get to know Valmiki’s take on the story. So how can one ascertain that his point of view matches with the details of the events that conspired?
The one-dimensionality of the story renders an incomplete picture. We may never be able to recover the absolute truth because of the unreliability of human thought. Facts pertaining to memory are often distorted when the information jumps from one person to the next. With each and every person who listens to an incident, the facts are slightly modified depending on the listener’s characteristics. A new version is created inside their heads as they listen to the story while simultaneously forming a different narrative for itself.
And considering how each individual has a particular bias towards certain classes or groups of people, anyone can be named as a Rakshasa. For all we know, maybe the ‘Rakshasas’ were just a class of people who were born with deformities and had gotten into some tough jams with the wrong people. As a result of their unbearable appearances and a few mistakes, they’ve been labelled as the atrocious demons we know today.
At the end of the day, wars are won by the side with better PR.
Now let us assume that the excerpt mentioned in the beginning actually exists in the Ramayana. Wouldn’t it expand the range of interpretation of this epic? The fairest approach for recording an event in the books of history is by having a representative from both parties compile both halves of the story. This is done to effectively showcase both sides of the same coin so that the audience can arrive at a logical and unbiased conclusion. Perhaps the Rakshasas would be known in a completely different manner if Valmiki had included the voice of the oppressed in this case.
There have been various attempts in portraying the tale of the other side. A prime and highly specific example for this is the bestseller ‘Asura: Tale of the Vanquished’. This is an essential read for those who wish to grasp the narrative of the losing side in the Ramayana War.
The late Japanese film auteur, Akira Kurosawa, also illustrated this in a powerful depiction of perspective story-telling in his universally acclaimed ‘Rashomon’. This film led to the discovery of an astonishing phenomenon known as the Rashomon effect. The significance of this effect is that it indicates the existence of not just an absolute truth, but many parallels yet mutually contradicting truths.
There’s always going to be someone who’ll come up claiming that the moon landing was fake, or that the JFK assassin was a time traveller, or that every single conspiracy theory ever made is actually true. Rather than simply brushing aside everything that sounds even remotely controversial, we should work on making it our duty to inspect and interpret each and every side.
Then there are people like me, declaring that the name Rakshasa is derived from Lord Brahma saying ‘Rakshama’, which is the Sanskrit translation of ‘protect me.’ And upon further Googling, one would find out that it’s actually a cry for help to Lord Vishnu when the bloodthirsty beings he had created from his own breath start eating him alive. Yet therein lies the question; from where does this answer come from?
Remember that there are always two sides to every story. Understanding is a three-edged sword; your side, their side, and the truth in the middle. Get all the facts before you jump to conclusions. J. Michael
Written by Sanjay Kumar
Featured Image by Denisha Ved
Picture courtesy: khabardekho.com, Google, criterioncast.com