In an interview, Saif Ali Khan, who is playing the role of Ravan in the film ‘Adipurush’, had said that the film will show the ‘humane’ side of Ravan. He added, “It’s interesting to play a demon king, less strictures in that. But we will make him humane, up the entertainment quotient, justify his abduction of Sita and the war with Ram as revenge for what was done to his sister Surpanakha by Lakshman, who cut off her nose.”
This did not go down well with a BJP leader Ram Kadam. He tweeted, “But if Adhipurush plans to show Ravan in positive light and justify the inhuman act of abduction of Sita Maa, we will never allow that to happen.” He added that his party would not tolerate if any attempts were made to hurt the Hindu sentiments. After which, Saif had apologised for his comments in a statement.
That apology did not satisfy the hurt sentiments of the bigots. Now a petition has been filed against actor Saif Ali Khan and director Om Raut of the film Adipurush in the court of Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (ACJM) in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh for Saif’s comments.
The ACJM court has fixed Dec 23 as the next date of hearing in the case. In his petition, Himanshu Srivastava, a civil court advocate, has alleged that Saif Ali Khan’s interview is a negative portrayal of “faith” and “faith in Sanatan Dharma”. He added that the actor’s comment has hurt his religious sentiments along with that of other people who saw the interview.
I am appalled at the attitude of the judge. Is he a judge or a member of the BJP or the RSS? What is there in the statement of Saif Ali Khan that hurts the Hindu sentiments? The ACJM has simply not applied his mind before admitting this rubbish petition. It should have been thrown into the dustbin at the outset and the advocate Himanshu Srivastava chastised for wasting the court’s time. Instead, he is fixing Dec 23 as the next date of hearing.
Dr. Rammanohar Lohia, the maverick socialist and a non-believer, in an article ‘Ram and Krishna and Siva’ published in 1956 had the following observations: (1) The names of Ram and Krishna and Siva, the three greatest myths of the country, are known to everybody. (2) Let us straightaway admit that Ram and Krishna and Siva never existed, at least not as their stories are told, and that their records are false or improbable and, in some cases, so disconnected as to make no logical meaning. (3) Ram was a limited individual of the same category as a truly constitutional democracy. (4) Rawan was without doubt the most learned man of his time. (5) Ram was often the interested listener to wordy duels between his partisans and their foes, which sometimes had ugly and blame-worthy sequels as in the encounter between Lakshman and Surpanaka. (6) Bali’s death was one of the few blemishes of Ram’s life. He shot an arrow at Bali from concealment. This was beyond the rules. No person of decency and limited personality ever does it. (7) Krishna was a thief, a liar, a cheat, a killer and he practised these crimes and others without the faintest compunction. (8) Devotees of Ram have intermittently tended to become wife-banishers, those of Krishna stealers, and of Siva lovers of carrion. (Ref: https://lohiatoday.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/ram_krishna_siva.pdf)
A.K. Ramanujan’s ‘300 Ramayanas’
300 Ramayanas, one of the seminal essays in Indian literary theory, deconstructs the various versions of the Ramayana story as it exists across South and South East Asia. Ramanujan studies some of the myriad ‘tellings’ of the essay throughout South and South East Asia. Many of these tellings vary from, or even contrast with, the Valmiki Ramayana most Indians are familiar with. There are more than 25 different tellings of the Ramayana in Sanskrit alone.
For example, in a South Indian folk account of the Ramayana, it is Ravana who becomes pregnant with Sita and gives birth to her when he sneezes. Ramanujan says that in Kannada, the word sita means ‘he sneezed’, and thus Sita’s name is given its Kannada etymology in this version.
On the Thai Ramakien, Ramanujan writes, “The focus in the Ramakien is not on family values and spirituality. Thai audiences like Hanuman more than Rama. Neither celibate nor devout, as in the Hindu Ramayana, here Hanuman is quite a ladies’ man, who doesn’t mind looking into the bedrooms of Lanka and doesn’t consider watching another man’s wife while she sleeps to be immoral, as Valmiki’s or Kamban’s Hanuman would.
Ramanujan’s essay also discusses Jain tellings of the Ramayana. Here Ravana is a tragic figure and his virtues are extolled. In some Jain tellings, the story has shades of what psychoanalysts refer to as the Elektra-complex, where Sita is his daughter, though Ravana is not aware of this.
Also, though Valmiki’s telling focuses on Rama, other tellings focus on different characters. In some later extensions like the Adbhuta Ramayana and the Tamil story of Satakantharavana it is Sita who goes to war and slays Ravana. In Santhal oral tellings, Sita is even portrayed as an unfaithful wife and is seduced by both Ravana and Lakhshmana.
As the rest of the country burns effigies of Ravan, a Gond village Paraswadi in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district worships the ten-headed king as god. Evening is setting in and everyone — men, women and children — bursts into a staccato of chanting, their arms flung into the air: Jai Gondwana! Jai Seva! Jai Raja Ravan! Raja Ravanna Seva!
After the installation of Ravan’s (the Gond king) idol is completed, a 10-day festival starts that defies all mainstream Hindu mythology. According to Hindu beliefs, Ravan is synonymous with evil. Each year, a 10-headed effigy of the King of Lanka is symbolically slain on Dussehra. But not in Paraswadi. This tiny village of less than 300 people, mostly the Gond tribals, is one among several villages scattered across Central India that provides a different narrative to the Ravan story. Here, Ravan is not the villain. He is venerated as a god, the dharmaguru of the tribe.
Ravan Mahotsav is an annual festival of the Gonds coinciding with the Hindu festival of Dussehra. “Gonds believe in totems. We are the warisdars of Ravan: Ravanvanshis,” says Vasudevrao Tekam, a descendant of the Gond king of Lanjhigarh in Odisha. Tekam’s disowning of Aryan terminologies is indicative of the Gonds’ counter-narrative.
According to their version, Ravan was a Gond king who was slain by Aryan invaders. He was the tenth dharmaguru of the tribe. In fact, their narration of Ravan’s story turns upside down the one in the Ramayan. “Lanka does not refer to Sri Lanka but means a ‘hilly place’ in Gondi. Ravan was connected to Central India. In a clash of cultures, the Aryans distorted Gond history. Ravan dahan started only in 1838 in Nagpur. We have been worshipping Ravan for ages,” says Motiravan Kangale, a retired Reserve Bank of India official and Gondi scholar.
Today, Ravan Mahotsavs are held in Maharashtra’s Gondia, Chandrapur, Bhandara, Gadchiroli and Amravati districts. “There’s a lot being said about Ravan. Brahmins claim he was one of them. But no Brahmin ever says that he is a Ravanvanshi. We Gonds are proud to say we are Ravanvanshis,” says Maniravan Duga, founder of the Gondwana Gond Sanskruti Bachao Samiti.
For the fear of getting lynched or burnt alive, I am refraining from quoting what Periyar E.V. Ramasamy had written and spoken about the Ramayana!
Will the Ram Bhakts, who feel offended by the comments of Saif Ali Khan, file petitions in the civil courts for the comments made by Dr. Lohia, scholar A.K. Ramanujan and the Gond tribals insulting Lord Ram, Maa Sita and the Sanatan Dharm?
“An expression is truly not a free expression if it doesn’t hurt the sentiments of some,” said a South African Supreme Court judge. Noted columnist and liberal Swaminathan Aiyar in a stinging article ‘Right to offend is an inalienable part of right to religious freedom, free speech’ (Nov 01, 2020, TOI) observes, “Many Indians argue that free speech does not extend to offensive speech. Phoeey! Every religion has strong beliefs in its own superiority, and this necessarily offends other religions. Freedom to practise any religion necessarily implies freedom to offend others, and tolerance by those offended. Those offended are welcome to protest peacefully, but not to gag or kill the offenders.”
If you talk against social evils (Child marriage, Sati, Caste system, Untouchability, Chaining women, Veiling women, Polygamy, Triple Talaq etc), it certainly hurts the religious sentiments of millions of bigots. Are we supposed to keep quiet accepting these shames?
India is a constitutional democracy and not a theocratic state bound by the dictates of religious scriptures. A judge is duty bound to protect the freedom of expression. The ACJM by admitting this worthless petition against Saif encourages the lumpen elements and shuts the door to free speech. Higher judiciary should discourage such silly behaviour of the lower courts.
Sankara Narayanan is a political commentator