Stories from Mythology: Feeling bad for the bad guy

krishna-bhishma

When I was contemplating the topic of today’s mythology post, a strange thought occurred to me: I sympathize with the ‘bad’ people in many of our myths. I remember that when I was a kid, when my mother first told me the story of Ramayana, I used to feel bad for Ravana, and in the Mahabharat I had (still have) a soft spot for both Dhritarashtra and Duryodhan.

Is there something wrong with me?

Whether the answer to that is yes or no, I thought it would be interesting to make a list of stories from mythology that made my heart weep for the bad guys.

1. The Mohini myth

mohini-painting

The Gods and the Demons churn the ocean of milk for the nectar of immortality. When it appears, the Demons, ever alert to possibilities, rush to the amphora and secure it for themselves. But just as they’re about to vanish and begin their plans of grinding the Gods to the dust, there appears Mohini, an incarnation of Vishnu (though not an official one), to seduce, distract and cajole them into giving up a share of the nectar. And then, after giving half of the contents of the jar to the Gods, as the Demons get ready for their shares, Mohini disappears, leaving the now empowered Gods to fight and defeat their enemies.

This has always seemed unfair to me. You snooze, you lose. The Demons do all the work, only for the Gods to triumph owing to their superior cunning. It bothered me so much that I put an alternative version of the story into my novel, The Winds of Hastinapur.

2. The Bali-Vaman story

vamana

Bali, the king of Demons, is powerful, generous and noble. He defeats Indra in an open battle and becomes the undisputed emperor of all three worlds. The Gods must take back what’s theirs, and defeat Bali by whatever means possible. And what do they do? Once again they resort to trickery.

Disguised as a young Brahmin called Vaman, Vishnu comes to Bali’s court to beg for three paces of land. Even though Shukracharya, the preceptor of the Demons, warns Bali that this Brahmin boy is actually Vishnu in disguise, Bali grants him his wish. With one pace, Vaman covers the entire Earth and the underworld. With the second he covers the heavens. And he famously asks the king, ‘Where shall I put my third pace?’ to which Bali bends down low and says, ‘You can place it on my head, sire.’

Vaman then stamps Bali into the ground and kills him, but offers him a consolation by giving him a ‘place in heaven’ for his generosity.

3. Duryodhana

Duryodhana_Drona

I’ve always felt that Dhritarashtra and Duryodhan have a stronger claim to the throne than the Pandavas. First, Pandu was made king on a technicality and a hunch: that Dhritarashtra, being blind, cannot rule a kingdom – which he does end up doing after Pandu leaves for the forest anyway. Second, the sons of Pandu are not really the sons of Pandu. They’re the sons of Kunti, sired by five unknown men in the forest. Kunti claims they’re Gods. But who checked, right?

4. Karna

karna-FB-1200x627-3

Has there been another negative character more sympathized than Karna? Poems and essays have been written by how he was was just a pawn in the game of fate, and yet even his staunchest supporters cannot help but admit that he made some wrong choices. Or did the choices only happen to be wrong in hindsight? Given a choice between those who ridicule and insult you and those who offer you the hand of friendship, whom would you choose?

Perhaps no other man suffered as much as Karna for choosing to be loyal.

5. The Iliad

Achilles_Triumphant

In the story of the Trojan War, the Trojans always seem to me to be nicer guys than the Greeks. Yes, Achilles is the greatest warrior the world has ever seen. Odysseus is the smartest. Ajax is the strongest. Et cetera, et cetera. But Hector, Priam and all the other Trojan warriors – barring Paris, perhaps – seem so much earthier and human-like.

This story ends with trickery, too. After convincing the Trojans that the war has been won, Odysseus and a band of Greek warriors travel into the walled city concealed within a giant wooden horse, and at night, when the town is quiet with drunken sleep, they open the gates for their countrymen and begin the plunder.

In all of these it is the use of cunning that turns me off. The ethical line is rubbed off and redrawn. The ends justify the means. It is almost an admission on our part that good cannot triumph over evil without resorting to backstabbing. And that when the stakes are high enough, a little bit of ‘cheating’ is okay.

Or, as I said before, maybe there is something wrong with me.

What do you think? Does this ‘feeling sorry for the loser’ phenomenon happen with you too? Do you find yourself sympathizing with the ‘bad guy’ in any of our mythological stories?

Images Courtesy: Exotic India Art, Wikimedia

Comments

  1. I think many people feel bad for Karna. For antagonists like Ravana and Duriyodhana, their positive aspects have been highlighted in the respective epics. I think, people are both positive and negative, depending on the pov and time. Based on our sensibilities we just assume one or the other, but epics have highlighted both their qualities without saying someone is good/bad, is what I think.

    Destination Infinity

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    • I agree to an extent. But there is a certain amount of obvious foreshadowing. When Duryodhana is born, for example, all the bad omens of the world come out. There are rains, howling winds, birds of prey start shrieking, and Duryodhana himself starts braying like a donkey.

      Whereas when the Pandavas are born, everything is sweetness and light. Throughout the epic also, the narrator – who is meant to be neutral but isn’t – often refers to the Pandavas as great and to the Kauravas as evil.

      But yes, I think the Ramayana is far more forgiving of Ravana than the Mahabharata is of Duryodhana.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ayelita Ray says:

        I have only one thing to say, the same bad omens were described on the birth of Krishna were they not? So are they really…bad?

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  2. ‘Winners write history’ is an accepted fact and another accepted fact is ‘Behind every success there is a crime.’ To put two and two together, cheaters always win and hence ultimately they are the ones who write history. I have of late come to believe that all religions began with the noble aim of ensuring maximum good of maximum people but ended up in the hands of cheaters.
    This is something all religious-minded people must think about:
    1. In the Ramayana, Vali, the Vanara king, goes to war with a demon to save his people. When he doesn’t return even after a long lapse of time, Sugreeva, his brother, takes him for dead, takes over his throne and even marries his wife. When Vali returns and demands everything back, Sugreeva refuses. Vali being more powerful and valiant, defeats Sugreeva who flees. Sugreeva then meets Rama and agrees to help him in his quest for Sita if Rama agrees to help Sugreeva to defeat Vali. Rama shoots a lethal arrow at Vali when he and Sugreeva were engrossed in a duel.
    Why do I get the feeling that Rama and Sugreeva are current-day MPs who indulge in horse-trading with the sole intention of grabbing power? Quid Pro Quo.
    2. A dhobi (washerman) refuses to allow his adulterous wife into his home and declares that he was not Rama who accepted Sita even after she had ‘lived’ with Ravana. Upset at this remark by one of his citizens and purportedly driven by a ‘noble’ feeling that a King should be an ‘ideal’ for his subjects, Rama orders Laxman to dump Sita in the forest.
    Now, hadn’t Sita proved her innocence by doing an ‘agni-pariksha’? Rama had accepted it and accepted her as pure. Then can’t he, as a husband, stand by his wife and convince his subjects that he believed in her?
    If he had to dump Sita, why dump her in a forest, where she was sure to be killed by wild animals? She was pregnant then. Can’t he have dropped her back to her father Janak’s kingdom? Which right-thinking man will abandon his pregnant wife in a forest? Is this the ‘ideal’ Ram wanted to be for his subjects? And they say Rama is a god. What kind of god causes intentional harm to his devotees?

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    • Two both very good points, Nilesh.

      1. I think Vali asks Rama if the act of shooting at him from behind a tree is fair or just. Rama gives four reasons, from memory, as to why what he did was in accordance with ‘Dharma’.

      Here’s the link to that:
      http://hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/236/why-did-lord-rama-strike-from-behind-to-kill-vaali

      2. The common response of scholars to Rama’s behaviour towards Sita is that this story is not part of the ‘original’ Valmiki Ramayana. It was written much later, so should not be taken as evidence of Rama’s character. The scholars further argue that in the story of Sita’s abandonment (and of Luv and Kush), Rama is but a secondary character, and the story-teller did not take much pains to keep him in sync with the Rama of the original canon.

      Whether you buy these explanations or not, they’re what they are 🙂

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      • Sharath,

        I was just going through your blogs having started to read the book, “The Winds from Hasthinapur,” and where in I came across this particular blog and this comment from Nilesh and also your reply to the comment.

        Regarding Rama’s response to the washerman’s murmurs on Rama’s acceptance of Sita which is not at his par and further continuation of the story, I have read in one of the books Written by KS Narayanachar – Sri Ramavathara Sampurnavadaga, where in it is said that when Valmiki narrates the Actual portion of Ramayana the spectators who were the great scholars of that time were very much excited with the story demands/ask for the continuation of the story and then the story continues in that way where in he tries annihilating one another villain of the time during a span of about 35 years, if my memory of reading is right.

        Being this, I am not able to judge if this is Valmiki’s portion of the story or if this is an extension or whatever it is, and at the end before leaving Rama when speaks to Hanuman, Hanuman says that if any person on the earth is reading this portion of your story, he would not like to stay there as he doesn’t like this part of 35 years’ story (it is a saying that when Ramayan narration is happening, there stays Hanuman in some corner hearing to the story).

        And my version of the the doubt here is: Let us consider that Rama disregarded the news from his spies regarding this washerman’s murmurs, and ultimately this news when it is in one way or the other, rang in the ears of Sita some time later, what would have been the reaction of Sita towards this?????

        This is one question which I as every lady who blames Rama in Sita’s abandonment context.

        Hopes so, my reinforcements here would be of any use and would make some sence

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  3. ajaysharda59 says:

    Interesting way of looking at the facts…

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  4. Well I have mixed feelings for this. Yes there was trickery but only to create a balance. The purpose too what was the motive of the demons to be immortal, am sure it was not any good. Raja Bali being good was born as a demon and because of that goodness he got a place in heaven, isn’t it. As i said i have mixed feelings, i feel very bad for who was tricked to sacrifice his thumb. All in all a very nice article.

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    • Hi Shweta,

      I agree with mixed feelings. As for motive for immortality, what would you say is a good motive? I’m sure the Demons had their own version of how the world should be, and they would have tried to achieve that with the use of the nectar. Isn’t that the same thing that the Gods did, eventually?

      Also, with Bali, do you think a place in heaven in return for his entire kingdom is a good enough trade? It sounds to me much like a robber who cleans up everything in my house and leaves behind a ten-rupee note as consolation for ‘being a good boy’.

      But I do see the other side of the argument, that it’s all been done for the ‘good of the world’. However, even Hitler, in his mind, thought he was working for the good of the world.

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

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  5. My own opinion of this entire ‘feeling bad for the bad guy’ stems from the fact that you have been exposed to various retellings of all the stories that you have mentioned before and the fact that you have an appreciation for the finer nuances of these bad guys from them. If you had probably stuck to one version and built your opinions on the same, then you probably would have ended up rooting only for the good guys per se 🙂

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    • Interesting point, Jai. I would also say that I have a habit of questioning everything I am told. My reading into mythology widened in breath only in the last couple of years, but this soft corner for the bad guys has existed since I was a child. I can only say that my (sometimes annoying) habit of questioning and being skeptical is to blame (or to be credited, as is your view).

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  6. There are two things here. First is we try to rationalize age old concepts without knowing the ‘Why so’ from the author and apply it to the modern context and two- the stories offer numerous interpretations. Each of us see it differently for others.

    IMO, the duality of good and bad was as common as day n night or the sun or moon since the early Yugas and it will exist and continue to exist. Also, only when there is a looser in a game, will the winner gain applause, power and popularity. If there was no Ravana, Ram would not have gained the status of a God is it not?
    Last but not the least, with changing yugas, the definition of good and bad and how it is personified changed as emotions gained layers of complexity with jealousy, greed and power were added into the mix and it is humanly impossible to tease out the variances., There was one enemy (bad guy in treta yuga) and it increased to 100 in Dwapar yuga… and it multiplied in an endless loop and now it is humanly impossible to count the bad guys…

    So in light of all the points above, my take is that, these were stories written to say one and only one thing – When larger good of humanity is at stake, you do what it takes to set order… and if you notice the stories where individuals ran after their needs and greed, They were punished…even when they had divine status 🙂 Cheers n tc.

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    • Hi Usha,

      Welcome to the blog. Thanks for the comment. I agree in theory with all that you say, especially the line: ‘When the larger good of humanity is at stake, do whatever it takes to restore order.’

      My only question to that is this: Who decides what is the larger good of humanity? And who decides what is ‘order’? Throughout history, people have defined these two things in accordance with their own self-interest. Especially in the stories I talk about above, ethics seems to have been suspended in the name of ‘larger good’.

      Even today we see atrocious things being done by human beings to human beings in the name of the ‘larger good’. The United States comes to mind straight away. It’s amazing how the larger good of humanity as defined by the United States is always, always, aligned to the interests of the United States.

      I’m not disagreeing with you, just saying that the concept of larger good and order is perhaps not as easy to arrive at.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My dear Sir, You ask complex and core questions in life… and in reply, I am posting a piece from my work in progress. He he he .. Bear with me (Excuse moi with the edits).

        A lean, young man dressed in baggie pants appeared with his hands held together in front and said, ‘The world calls me Introspection…’
        Paused and continued.
        ‘There are three kinds of men’ my good friend Mr. Minds says, ‘One who learns from others mistakes and applies the learning to his life, second is one that makes mistakes and only then learns but does not apply the learning and the third kind are those that neither learn nor apply.’ I never understood the true meaning of it earlier. Now I know. The first kind make laws, the second kind abide by them while the third kind break them and become deviants. In simple words, one becomes rich, the other becomes middle class and the last becomes the poor class.
        However, there are some similarities and differences that apply to all three classes. First similarity is that economics plays an important role in every ones’ lives; second is that there is some moral code of conduct and rules for what is right and wrong. The difference is that, the rich class gains power an adage of higher economic status and defines the rules, including those of morality. If they say ‘save trees’ or ‘save animals’ everyone listens. Their economic + power = ‘economic power’ gives them the required nudge and places them above everyone else and others just listen in awe. One other important difference is that poor class lives are driven majorly by need; the middle class by some need and some greed and the rich class by dash of need and plenty of greed.Also some say, need driven actions should be defined good and greed driven, bad.’
        He paused again for a second and continued.
        ‘The differencesbetween good and evil were noticeably stark in earlierYugas, withcomplete personificationas Ram andRavana as opposite ends of the spectrum, of good and evil. That was Tretaa Yuga though! In DwaparYuga however, the differences got a little muddy with Pandavas and Kauravashaving scheming characters like Shakuni and Sri krishna on either side of good and bad. Also, in that Yuga the numbers of ‘evil’ increased (there were 100 Kauravas and had a legendary army). With changing Yugas, numerous mindsets evolved. In Kali Yuga the differences got murkier and illegible,gaining many emotional shades andcomplexity. It is humanly impossible to tease outall the variances.’
        ‘Where all this gets real complex is, when wefind good and bad people in all classes! How does one recognize good and bad? How do we identify ones’ greed? It is known and felt only by the one that possesses it. Its repercussions nevertheless are felt by everyone.’
        ‘Also, everyone is in a rat race and is driven both by need and greed.But, when circumstances become indelible baits, man is forced to cross the line. How much the balance of morality tilts and in which direction will define the consequences.The end may either be an astronomical rise or a quick, steep fall. There are many such characters in history and around us and this story is no exception. So, without further ado let’s begin.’

        ‘I am called Introspection by the world. You can call me Ai. This journey of mine is woven like a braid with three solid strands of hair layered in arguments, points of view interwoven and tied together with a ribbon of climax. There are no heros or villains in this story but only characters that side-step to fulfill either their need or their greed.’

        ‘It was the summer of 2013. One stormy night it all began unfolding right before me – The conspiracy, the cheating, the romance, backstabbing, murder, not necessarily in that order and eventually, of course the epic outcome.’

        Cheers n Tc.
        Usha

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      • Interesting. Thanks, Usha.

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  7. I did read the link you provided but was disappointed because it is, after all, a site that rationalizes myths as well as behaviour of mythological characters. The answers that Rama gave are no different from the diplomatic comments of politicians and government officials on government misdeeds, or the cover-up of shady business activities by corporations. So contrary to public sentiment, what is going on is also ‘Ramrajya’. This country can’t get any better and the definition of worse keeps varying every day.
    I do not agree with Usha’s comment that history should not be judged in modern contexts. Why ever not? What is right then is right now and what is wrong now should be wrong even in the past. Today, if I marry (or live in) with someone and dump her when she becomes pregnant, what will you or anyone else think of me? If you insist that Rama is a God, then I expect a god to do what is right. Listening to a dhobi and dumping your pregnant wife in the jungles is like hanging a person because of mud-slinging by the media. Media reports and public opinion do not constitute a truth. If Rama, or any other mythological character does not possess enough intelligence to understand the thin line between the two, and does not have the strength to take injustice by the horns and put it where it deserves to be, I fail to understand why modern man should be judged any differently than historical or mythological man.
    To give another example, when Draupadi was being disrobed, all the five Pandavas were mute witnesses. But when the dispute between the two brothers reached the question of kingdom (read – the matter of power) then the Pandavas took up arms against the Kauravas. So what is the message you give to followers of religion – that a woman’s honour is zilch compared to property? That’s what is happening in society today. Women’s honour is placed on a public platter while murder and mayhem is undertaken for obtaining/defending/extending power.
    You are a writer and I am a wannabe writer. I’m sure you must have experienced while writing your novels that some times the writer stops leading the characters and it is the characters that shape their own destinies. The writer becomes just a medium. I am of the strong opinion that whether it was Valmiki or Vyas, they were writers like we are. They thought out the basic concepts but there was a lot of writing and re-writing as well as editing. So what if there were no editors and publishing houses? Kings appointed poets and gave them grants to write. So isn’t it natural that these poets/writers were answerable to their masters? That’s exactly what has happened with mythology. Writers/poets were living off the King’s idiosyncracies and when Kings changed, the writers too changed loyalties. According to me, that’s why there are so many aberrations among the characters. Because the moment a writer began to sympathize with other characters, the king immediately sent out feelers that this was not what he wanted. So the story was changed to please the king.
    Similarly the later additions/deletions to myths were all due to the whims and fancies of the kings in power subsequently.

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    • Hi Nilesh,

      The link I sent you is a direct translation of what is present in the Ramayana. I myself have read the relevant passages (in a Telugu translation). As I said in my previous comment, you may either agree or disagree, but the storyteller has anticipated this question (Why did Rama kill Vali from behind him?) and has attempted an answer. Of course, whether you accept the explanation or not is up to you as a reader.

      I think what Usha was saying is that these stories are set in a different time, when social ethics were different. For instance, women were regarded as little more than property back in the time of the Mahabharat, and for a king, a kingdom always, always meant more than a queen. What does it tell us? It tells us of the truth prevailing in those times. Nothing more, nothing less.

      We should not look for literal truths in our epics. We must look for literary truths instead.

      I agree with your statement about interpolations and loyalties, though. That is why they say history is biased towards the victors. Which makes me trust them even less 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Okay, I had to jump in.. Sorry Sharath for hijacking your post. Apologies. I couldn’t resist.

    @Neelesh – I think Sharat has already answered the question directed to me. What I actually meant was to understand the decisions made by a man/character cannot be judged based on today’s moral values and code of conduct. Then everything will seem so wrong. If I were sita, I would have killed the guy for doing what he did to her. But that was Sita with a socialization that was very different from mine. How he/she is socialized forms the base for their decision, actions and of course consequences. The social norms cannot even be compared today.. Can we compare Ram the ruler to any of our politicians? I mean which politician will send his wife away because a dobhi cast a doubt on his wife’s character! On the contrary, the dobhi would end up dead right? We need to get under the skin of both ram and ravan to see why they did what they did. vali sugreeva fight- I have a political and power perspective. And I see this fight as Ram gaining more strength to fight Ravana.. he had to do it whether he liked it or not.. Even GOD is no exception when life gives you a kick behind eh? And in a blink your moral balance shifts! He did what he had to to get his wife back… and I like the duality in his character.. he side-steps to kill vali on the one hand but sends his wife away because some guy said something… And that adds a nice layer of complexity to his character… And as you said, it may well be that our dear man didn’t find time to edit or may be it was only one shot at the story eh?

    @Sharat – Thanks for the appreciation.

    Cheers n Tc.

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  9. @Neelesh – Didn’t read your previous post. Sorry. Agree with your point of view. 🙂 Cheers n tc

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  10. Neither the Pandavas nor the Kauravas had any right to the throne of Hastinapur. Remember Vichitravirya was impotent and Dhritarashtra, Pandu were the sons born out of Ved Vyasa..Ved Vyasa, though the son of Satyavati, was not born of her wedlock with King Shantanu, but because of her dalliance with Sage Parashara…..

    The Pandavas deserved the throne because they treated their subjects justly and fairly…

    But then, the victors write the story…Who knows, right?

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    • Hi Varun,

      I think the right to the throne of Hastinapur comes from this practice called Niyoga, a practice by which queens of impotent kings commonly used to have sons by sages or the king’s brother, and they were considered to be the king’s sons and heirs to the throne. So by that ‘logic’, both Dhritarashtra and Pandu – though not Vichitraveerya’s sons – were rightful heirs to the throne.

      And yes, you’re right, the victors write the story. Even in the Mahabharata we have no evidence that the Kauravas or Dhritarashtra treated the subjects unfairly. In fact, for most of the story as we know it, Hastinapur is under Kaurava rule, and it seems to prosper just fine.

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  11. Ankur Malviya says:

    I like our Indian Mythologies ALOT and i truely believe in them. I dont try to prove those stories to myself with our present day logic standards. Some things Cant be proved by present day Logic Standards. I dont say it was all illogical back then. But some logic might have existed in those times which probably got lost in the sands of time.
    Well, the only thing i wanted to correct here is- Lord Parshuram and Lord Hanuman are the Greatest and the most Strongest warriors of ALL age. Not achilles.
    Jai BajrangBali!

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  12. Sasikanth Gudla says:

    Hi Sharath,
    This comment is specific to the Bail-vamana story. Bali is not the bad guy but a hero even from the original story point of view, IMHO. This can be summarised by what he tells Sukracharya who advises him against giving the boon to Vishnu in disguise. While I haven’t read the Sanskrit original, I would only quote the awesome Potana’s Telugu work:

    కారే రాజులు రాజ్యముల్ గలుగవే గర్వోన్నతిం బొందరే
    వా రేరీ సిరి మూటగట్టుకొని పోవంజాలిరే భూమిపైఁ
    బే రైనం గలదే శిబిప్రముఖలుం బ్రీతిన్ యశఃకాములై
    యీరే కోర్కులు వారలన్ మఱచిరే యి క్కాలమున్ భార్గవా!

    ఆదిన్ శ్రీ సతి కొప్పుపై , దనువుపై , నంసోత్తరీయంబుపై
    బాదాబ్జంబులపై గపోలతటిపై బాలిండ్లపై నూత్న మ
    ర్యాదం జెందు కరంబు గ్రిందగుట , మీదై నా కరంబుండుట మేల్
    గాదే ? రాజ్యము గీజ్యమున్ సతతమే ? కాయంబు నాపాయమే ?

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  13. Hmm! I will dispute one point with view – re Pandavas not being rightful heirs since they were not born of Pandu. It so happens that Dhritarashtra AND Pandu were themselves not sons of Vichitraveerya, so neither should count as heir to the Kingdom by the same token. Either we accept the “Niyoga” thing AND the fact that such children are de jure heirs OR we do not. Also, if you start disputing whether they are sons of the devas or not, why not go further and assume that they ARE the sons of Pandu himself? We either discuss the epics assuming the given tales we have at hand or not. If you start picking and choosing, then there would be no point in discussing for the other guy (ME, in this case 🙂 ) may pick and choose a different set of things.

    Actually, I sort of find it funny that people talk of our epics on the “Winner writes History” basis. I mean, all these things about Rama killing Vali from hiding; the trickery involved in the killing of all the major warriors of the Kaurava army etc. were found in the same epic – the ‘history’ that the ‘winners’ wrote. 🙂 They do not come from some hidden alternative history that had now come to light. 🙂

    I see our epics as showing us moral dilemmas AND how the ‘heroes’ resolved them. These are NOT merely tales of an evening with a GOOD beating EVIL and all by GOOD means. These are tales that are expected to make you think of the nature of Evil; of how people choose between their various dharmas; of how choices may have to be made to commit a lesser evil in order to perpetuate a greater good. Instead of analyzing (without ANY more information than we have it is more speculation than analysis) whether one side WAS good OR not, if you can see it AS good and then put yourself in the place of an Arjuna – forced to choose between the dharma of a warrior AND the dharma of a Prince – then you learn about WHAT can constitute a moral dilemma. AND how you would resolve it for yourself. The epics, in that sense, are intended to provoke you into thinking about the nature of dharma. We, however, seem to prefer to start dissecting the characters of the characters than to assess our own character.

    To illustrate : Take the case of Vibheeshan and Kumbhakarn (AND, assuming that Ravan was in the wrong AND Ram was in the right). BOTH think that Ravan was wrong AND the right thing to do is to return Sita to Ram. Faced with an adamant Ravan, Vibheeshan chooses to abandon his duty to his brother and pick his duty to be righteous; Kumbhakarn chooses his duty to his brother over his duty to be righteous. BOTH come across as GOOD people since their choices were not dictated by WHAT was expedient for themselves to do but by their concept of their dharma. Like Bhishma and Karna fighting on the side of the Kauravas.

    The much maligned tale of Ram sending off Seeta on the accusations of a dhobhi. In my opinion, THAT tale was to illustrate the moral dilemma of a King, who has to be SEEN to uphold the social order, vs the husband, who ought to support his wife. When you consider 1. A King and his family CANNOT be proven innocent to the satisfaction of a populace because the reaction would be ‘Haan! Raja hai! Who would dare say anything to prove them guilty?” 2. When a King is thought of as bending the Social order to suit his whims, others tend to follow suit and 3. Even when it comes to changing the rules of an unjust social order, the first step cannot be seen to be for the benefit of the king – since that would lead to the situation outlined in 2. Consider further that there could have been no live telecast of Sita going through the fire in Lanka AND that any witness from there were all people close to Ram (like Laxman) OR people ONLY known to Ram and known to Ayodhya ONLY as the friends of Ram. What then would you do in THAT situation – you love your wife – enough so you never remarried after setting her aside; but you feel duty-bound as King to uphold the Social order. YOUR answer may be different BUT if it is not merely glib, then it will make you explore your own character.

    Yes – the ‘bad guys’ of our epics are likable. They have the “There, but for the grace of God, go I” look about them. Which is precisely the point. The epics also show how arrogance, avarice etc. can get you down the slippery slope to hell – AS THEY INTEND TO.

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    • Hi Suresh! Thanks for that long comment. And I agree with your point that our epics have never been ‘good versus evil’ per se. They’re full of ethical dilemmas that you and I face in our lives (at least the Mahabharat more so than the Ramayan).

      Thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts. Appreciate it 🙂

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  14. Hi Sharath ,
    So nice to see this site, angle of seeing epics just started inclining.

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  15. karna is my favourite character in the mahabharata. he was tricked by indra to give his kavaja kundala which resulted in his death. if he did no he would have defeated the pandavas single handedly

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  16. indianshringar says:

    I think we feel back because these so-called good guys resort to cheating while the apparently bad guys are more ethical. Ultimately, it’s the winner who writes history and will always paint the other side bad while justifying their own actions. I feel very bad for Surparnakha – how is it noble to attack a woman? So what if she’s a Rakshasi? All she did was express her desire. Duryodhan too, had the right to the throne and was a good king not evil as he’s portrayed.
    When my younger son came back from school this year on Dassera,he told me that Ravan was an evil king so Ram killed him. I corrected him and told him that Ravan was a very good and intelligent king but because he kidnapped Sita, Ram killed him. The kids need to be told that these mythological characters weren’t black and white, but shades of grey.

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    • Ahh! True indeed. Amish Tripathi said it right in his book when he actualized the very fact that, Evil is actually on what perspective we stand at. These mythologies were not a first perspective tales but a common, both sides-driven tales. But due to our adaptations of the winner’s side, we have always had a soft view for our heroes and a very harsh one for the so called villains.

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  17. Indeed and I dont know, I have found myself most of the times being sidelining with the other side. Evil is actually on what perspective you stand at.

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