Rescuing The Historical ‘Asura’ From Ahistory


The educated and intellectual who have acquired the required radicality in opposing the domination and in questioning or challenging the ahistoricality of the classical culture which is executes itself or kept alive in different means and methods (Hindu orthodox customs, traditions, ritual and festivals) have been, from the last decade or so, building counter narratives to the classical culture. These counter narratives which, in course of time, would emerge as real counter cultures meant to offer religious, spiritual, social, cultural and historical equality to dalit-bahujan-adivasis within Hinduism.

However, there are visible problems in the process of building counter narratives, which, for me is at the stage of building narratives. It is in this stage itself, the educated and intellectual community of this combine has to show the maturity of building a narrative that is different from the builders of the classical narratives. Major complaint of this combine and the general secular and rational society of India on the classical religious texts, customs, rituals and festivals has been their inbuilt illogicality and lack of historicity. As far as I am aware, this is the basic criticism on the classical culture apart from its exclusivity. If that is the case, a counter to the classical should not posses any characters. If this not the objective, then, at the level of building the narrative itself, it has to be made clear that counter culture is a culture for dalit-bahujan-adivasis that only slightly differs from the classical in only in borrowing the Subaltern characters from the Hindu mythologies, legends and texts which are projected as enemies to the Suras. If we are saying so, then we are declaring the impossibility of the building authentic historical subaltern cultural narrative. I don’t think that is the case. Migrant Aryans and indigenous aboriginals is the truth. If today’s sudras (not all of them, of course), dalits and adivasis are aboriginals, they must have had a culture, including religion that was historical. Such a historicity needs to be restored. Therefore, even if one argues that the first objective is to claim Subalternity of the Asuras as they are within the classical narrative and, for that, the narrative, in the initial stage should be same as classical. I. e. the counter narrative too should be religious and ritualistic and historical. It only provides a temporary solution. It might work as counter narrative that replaces the classical gods with Subaltern semi-gods to take the dalit-bahujan masses along. It is, for me, a pointless exercise, because dalit-bahujan-adivasi masses are already know of the fact that Ravana, Naraka, Mahabali, Mahisasura, Surpanaka and Thataki are presented as Asuras and Rakshasas in the popular classical cultrue. And with its old narrative i.e. Good (suras) wins over evil (Asuras), the custodians of the classical culture are not only sustaining but also internationalising their culture. I do agree that the first step in building the counter culture is the rescue the subalterns from the textually ascribed negativity. Yet, at the same time, we need to be careful about continuing the same imagery

For that, the first step is to de-mythicalisation and de-mystification and provides historicity to the historical characters to all Subaltern characters. In all Vedic mythologies while aboriginal rules, who were representing the evil,, were ascribed with extra-human powers to qualify them to fight with the Suras in the form of large bodies, bellies, inbuilt brute force, ugly faces, long hairs, unclean bodies, long tongues, sharp and long teeth, horns and rude weapons, the Suras, who are representing good, were ascribed with well built and handsome faces, mysterious weapons, powerful vehicles which carry them over the seas and the land and so on. If we de-mythicalise these subaltern figures, we will address the cultural humiliation and will also provide historicity. Therefore, when we are producing the images of Ravana, Mahisasura, Narakasura we have to give them new looks, physical characteristics and make them look the real rulers. As truth seekers, we don’t want aboriginal rulers to be presented as demi or semi-gods/goddesses. But want them as real historical figures.. While caste-Hindu Savarnas would be interested in presenting ahistory of ancient Vedic times as history, dalit-bahujan-adivasis must rescue their ancestors from ahistory. We should separate the Subaltern history from the classical myth and truth from lie. Therefore, when dalit-bahujan-adivasis are reproducing the images of Subaltern kings as part of the counter cultrue, they should not reproduce the same images with characters described in the Hindu mythologies and epics. They have to remove all non-human or super-human or super natural characteristics ascribed to them. It is their remaging which provides reality and historicity. Image of Ravana, as source material for counter cultrue should not have ten heads, Mahisasura, Narakasura, Mahabali should not have huge bellies and long tongues or sharp teeths. Such a remaging does not present any problems. In fact, in recent times, the Dewosam Board of Kerala has reproduced new image of Mahabali. The visual presentation eliminated the pot belly, other extra flesh and unnecessary characteristics. He is presented as middle aged, well built with handsome looks. The Board has retained the long hair locks, umbrella and excessive ornaments which were part of the earlier image. Therefore, we have to start the reimaging them. In the process of rescuing them from ahistory, the visual reimaging would start convincing dalit-bahujan-adivasi masses. Then historical narratives can follow.

Dr. Y. Srinivasa Rao  is Assistant Professor, Department of History, Bharathidasan University, Thiruchirapalli, Tamilnadu


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