Ravana, the Foe
Mighty king of the demons who abducts Sita
Ravana, king of the demons, is Rama’s chief enemy. His vast ambition and lust drive him to abduct Sita and engage in a devastating war against Rama. He has immense power and a compelling personality, and uses them to crush anyone who stands in the way of his drive for domination. Some people find Ravana to be the most interesting character in the epic. We may be fascinated by—and may even secretly envy—a figure with so much charisma and power, and such willingness to exercise them with no thought of disapproval or consequences.
To be a worthy antagonist to Rama Ravana must be complex and larger than life in many respects. His demon kingdom is well ordered and prosperous (Ravana might claim that its trains run on time), so he is clearly an effective ruler. His erudition, including knowledge of ancient scriptures, is impressive. His sons and generals are loyal, though maybe sometimes as much out of fear as respect. His many wives seem contented and loving, and are drawn to his celebrated good looks and magnetism.
In most versions of the epic Ravana is always ready to resort to anger, viciousness, and violence to reach his ends. He forcibly abducts—and in some stories rapes—numerous women, sometimes slaughtering their menfolk in the process. He wipes out adversaries without a thought, and ultimately threatens to plunge the universe into the chaos of selfishness and evil.
VARIED READINGS OF HIS NATURE:
People of different backgrounds and regions have long disagreed on exactly how to evaluate Ravana’s character. For example, at the end of annual North Indian festival performances of the Rama epic a huge effigy of a rather cartoon-like Ravana is set afire by Rama’s arrows and everyone cheers. In South India, though, some writers and artists have seen Rama as an enforcer of traditional North Indian cultural norms, and Ravana as a misunderstood representation or misrepresented emblem of South Indian resistance.