By Ayathuray Rajasingam –
This is a very complicated issue. The facts presented here are for readers to ascertain to clear the doubts about Ravana’s language and his social status. Though Ravana was a Hindu, there is a general impression among the Sinhala people that they were from Ravana’s descendants. However, the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka began with the arrival of Mahinda when he met King Devampiyatissa preaching non-violence. Buddhism saw its introduction in Sri Lanka about 2,500 years back. Prior to this period there were some clans namely the Nagas, the Yakkas, the Rakshas and probably Devas (rulers) who have inhabited Sri Lanka. There was no caste system but their divisions attributed to their profession. The Nagas were worshippers of serpents while the Yakkas were worshippers of demons. As such it is difficult to ascertain their religion. Ramayana epic points out that though Ravana was a mythical king and a Shiva devotee, his mother had a thorough knowledge of the culture of activities involving demons. There are other views that the Sinhala race originated with the arrival of Prince Vijaya and his 700 men, when his boat was drifted from Orissa to a place called Mantai in the upper North-west of Sri Lanka where he and his men met the queen of Sri Lanka (Queen Kuveni) and eventually married her. Queen Kuveni is alleged to be from the Yakka clan. There are similarities between the people of Orissa and the Sinhala people of Sri Lanka in respect of dress, food, customs, etc.
When the name Ravana is mentioned it goes to the period when the great epic Ramayana was composed by sage Valmiki during the period of the Indus Valley Civilization. Ravana was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. During that period Shaivaism was in existence in the Kashmir region and in Gujarat where Lord Shive was worshipped. In fact, Kashmir was a Hindu kingdom when India was referred to Bharatham. However, the most ancient Hindu scripture Rig Veda mentions of Rudra instead of Shiva. This was an incident about 7,000 to 9,000 years ago during which period there were land masses in place of some straits throughout the world. Accordingly, the strait between Rameshwaram in South India and Talaimannar in Sri Lanka is a distance of about 21 miles and the depth is about 200 feet. This should compared with the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska, the distance of which is about 18 miles and the depth is about 180 feet. This was the situation about 9,000 years back. During this period, the land mass in place of the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska as well as that of the strait between Talaimannar and Rameswaram (Thanuskodi) which with the passage of time would have submerged in sea because of a deluge. It also said that a huge land mass known as the lost continent of Lemuria or Kumari Kanda or ‘Kadal Konda Thennadu’ could have submerged in sea, probably at the same period. The lost continent of Lemuria stretches from Eastern Africa to Indonesia within which Sri Lanka could be a part of it. Moreover, Sri Lanka is known as ‘Siva Poomi’ in Tamil i.e. the land of Lord Shiva. There were five Eswarams (temples for Lord Shiva) in Sri Lanka But today only four Easwarams (Thirukeswaram, Munneswaram, Koneswaram, Naguleswaram) are seen but the fifth Easwaram known as Thondeeswaram in the South Sri Lanka was submerged in sea. It is said that Ravana visited all these four Easwarams as per Ramayana.
The period of the Indus Valley Civilization saw the a deep study of Hinduism through its ancient scriptures like the Vedas which demonstrated that the structure of society was classified as Four Orders of Human Beings known as Varnas, namely, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras, all of which were based on Gunas. The composition of Ramayana during the Indus Valley Civilization focussed on Rama’s good deeds and Ravana’s evil actions having taken into account of Varna system. The Vedas were timeless and never mentioned of caste discrimination, but spoke of Varna system. Varna systems are God-created while castes are man-made. Varnas are based on Gunas (qualities) whereas castes can be amended to suit the changing needs of society. Varnas were never constituted by birth. Since Hinduism maintains that a person is at liberty to engage in activities that he is capable of, he is assigned or allowed to do that job according to his skill. This has nothing to do with caste. It is very unfortunate that vested interests have propagated that caste is by birth because of their spiritual monopoly. It is these vested interests who created and developed the ideas of inferiority and superiority among the people, which paved way for discrimination between various groups of occupations. This is how the the Varna system turned into a caste system. This is a misconception. Just because one child is selfish and mischievous, it does not mean that the mother should be blamed. Likewise just because a few brahmins had interpolated some misconceptions into the Hindu laws with the view to consolidate their prestigious position, it does not mean Hinduism is flawed. Its liberality of accommodating everyone within its fold is what matters. Even I was ashamed of my ignorance, when the oppressed class of people were prevented from entering in our temple by other people. The Hindu Missions with broad outlook should come forward to reconstitute the caste system into Varna system in keeping with the teachings of the Vedanta gradually and restore Hinduism to its past glory.
It is also said that Ravana was a Brahmin in terms of spiritual matters but his method of treating his subjects was of much concern because of his egoism
There is a probability that four Varnas would have prevailed in Sri Lanka too during the period of the Indus Valley Civilization, given the fact there was a mass land between Talaimannar and Rameswaram or the strait would have been shallow. The Varna system prevailed in each and every clan of every State in India including Sri Lanka. One ponders whether Ravana was living during the existence of the lost continent of Lemuria or Kumari Kandam.
The usage of Tamil or Sanskrit by the priests at these Shiva temples implied that Ravana may have been fluent both in Tamil and Sanskrit, though Ramayana was composed in Sankrit. Upon a consideration of Ravana’s association with the sages especially with sage Agasthiyar in addition to his being a musician.
Ravana’s influence saw its influence even in Indonesia. Indonesian currency still bears the image of Lord Ganesha and Ravana has been worshipping Lord Ganesha. In some villages of Indonesia, Ramayana is played as drama. As such, it is difficult to ascertain what happened in Sri Lanka prior to the introduction of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as well as it is difficult to ascertain the language in force as well as the language spoken by the Nagas and the Yakkas. However, Buddhism firmly stood its ground in Sri Lanka as well as in Burma, Thailand, Japan, Tibet, China, etc. In Sri Lanka though Buddhists follow Buddhism, they also worship Maha Ganapathy, Muruga and Pathini, and Vishnu, some of which were worshipped by Ravana. Likewise in India though Ramayana was composed in many languages, generally the names of people are almost similar and common in every State throughout India and in Sri Lanka.
Moreover, there are places in Sri Lanka with names like Sita Eliya, Ravana Ela, etc after Ramayana. Moreover, there is a place called UNAWATTUNA just a few miles south of Galle. When Ravana lit the fire on Hanuman’s tail, a piece of fire had fallen at this place while flying and it was called UNAWATTUNA as the people called it a burnt soil.
Hinduism being a God-centred religion was the dominant religion while other Prophet-centred religions in India were also co-existing including Zoroasrtrinism in Iran.Though there were some enmities between Hindus and Jains which was seen after the invasion of Kalaprars in Tamil Nadu who ruled for about 300 years during which period, the concept of violence was witnessed.
With the passage of time. it is the foreign invasion that introduced the discrimination in the society as ‘haves’ and ‘not haves, which eventually overshadowed the ancient Hindu tradition of Varnas. In Tamilaham (as was used in those period) the invasion of Kalabrars introduced the concept of violence, as a result the Hindus were subject to untold hardships and endless harassment which laid foundation for the emergence of caste system. During this period, the forces within the Kalabra regime and the forces within the Pandyas regime mingled within themselves and engaged in agriculture and also engaged in inter-marriages, which resulted into the birth of Vellala caste. The soldiers of the Pandyas who defected to the Kalabras, were afforded with titles as chieftains. There is an old saying that ‘Kallarum Maravarum mella mella vellalaranar’ indicating that the Kallars (cattle thieves) and Maravars (warriors) have gradually become the so-called Vellalars. Maravars and Kallars together with Agamudiyar were all originated from Kalabras who are all warriors. This ruthless fighting qualities were found in the blood of Mudiras. Kallars, Maravars, and Agamudaiyars. This is how the caste system crept into Tamilham. Such qualities were also found in Ravana as the Yakka clan too had such qualities, at a time there was a land mass between Talaimannar and Rameswaram. As such, whether Yakkas were the ancestors of Ravana and the language used by the Yakkas remain a controversial issue.
Rig Veda says ‘Let our hearts be in equality and unity’ (Rig Veda 10/191/4). It is clear that the philosophy of Veda revolves round the concept of fraternity (brotherhood) and equality. It means no one is superior. None is master and none is slave. All men have equal rights on earth. Everyone has the same mode of birth and death.
According to Hinduism God dwells in the hearts of every Soul. This is an indication that all have same equal rights to live with dignity and liberty. Therefore it is clear that Hinduism according to Veda is based on the doctrine of ‘live and let live’. Atharma Veda says (19/69/1) ‘You may live, And let me also live’.
Moreover, Manu who was the first law-giver says ‘Slavery is pain, Freedom is pleasure, In short, this is the definition of pain and pleasure’. So Hinduism has denounced slavery and had not accepted slavery. Rig Veda goes on to say to crush whoever advocates slavery which is unknown to Hinduism. This is compounded by Rig Veda (10/133/5) which says ‘O resplendent Lord, Destroy the power of the man who wants to enslave us, whether he is alien or akin, no matter, if his strength is as vast as the sky; Break the ropes Fastened unto his bows’. If anyone attempts to encroach upon the liberty of others on account of their selfish motive and malicious mentality, they cannot be treated as brother in keeping with the philosophy of the Rig Veda that all are equal on earth. Later Poetess Avaiyaar, who had Vedic knowledge, has criticized caste discrimination much later.History has shown that such selfishness and malicious mentality have crept into Hinduism with the invasion from outside India. Hinduism is God-created and gender equality was given priority. God-created are permanent, while man-made are temporary. Prophet-centred religions were not so liberal as God-centred religion. The Vedanta which is the backbone of Hinduism, do not give importance to caste discrimination. This is the very reason why Hinduism cannot be destroyed.
All these points out that there was no caste system in existence in Hinduism during the Vedic period. The Vedic books expressly mentions that Vedic knowledge should be given to all irrespective of the division of people. Moreover, Rig Veda gave due prominence to women saints or sages. Divine Truths were revealed to women sages who were accorded a high status in the vedic society. Though Ravana acquired Vedic knowledge and with the spiritual qualities of a Brahmin while belonging to the Yakka clan, his arrogance coupled with his desire to have Rama’s wife was instrumental for being in the lower stratum of the community and eventually his destruction.
Varna system should not be interpreted wrongly to suit the existing caste system. Whether it is the Ramayana or Maha Bharatha, or other Puranas, due importance was given to the concept of Brahman, which was preached by Lord Krishna to Arjuna. Upon a consideration of the above facts, it appears that violence and egoism gave birth to man-made division, which saw Ravana belonged to the group of ‘haves’. Hinduism never believed in conversion. There is no record that Ravana believed in conversion, but was arrogant that others should obey him, which attitude emerged for man-made division within the society. He appeared to be a Brahmin when he demonstrated his devotion and perseverance while performing penance. But he appeared to be a monster when he demonstrated his cruelty, thus lowering his qualities as against love, compassion and kindness. Hence it is difficult to ascertain the group of Varna to which Ravana belonged to.
Violence in any form lays the foundation for the discrimination of society and also discourages gender inequality. Any religion that promotes violence cannot be considered as a God-centred religion. Here is a case where Ravana was driven by egoism which shattered the social structure and promoted slavery in spite of being a devotee of Lord Shiva. When the ‘haves’ are driven with violence which deviates from the path of dharma and leading to cruelty, they are considered as a people of the lower strata of the society, no matter be they priests or Brahmins by birth. How will the Sri Lankan politicians react on Ravana?