17 October 2009

Ramayan : 880,000 years later

Ram and Laxman goes around the Red Fort ground on Sept. 28 in a procession to mark his victory over Ravana.
Young boys climb onto a scaffold for a better view of the spectacle of Ram's victorious procession at Red Fort, Delhi on Sept. 28 2009.
I was in Delhi two weeks ago, covering Ram Leela (enactment of Ramayana) during the Dusshera festivities. In essence, the festival was all about the triumph of good over evil. Towards the end of the Ram Leela, Ram, the hero of the epic Ramayana strode around the ground in his chariot pompously waving at the cheering crowd. He is back in his kingdom after a 14 year exile in the forest. And yes, he has defeated the devil himself... Ravana.
An effigy of Ravana ready to be burnt for the grand finale of Ram Leela. The demon king is supposed to have sported 10 heads while in battle with Ram. My favorite interpretation of that story is that the Demon king had turned out to be so intelligent that his IQ was parallel to that of ten heads put together. Quite the clever devil!!
This morning, on Oct. 17, the news channels were blaring stories about Diwali. About how we Indians welcome Goddess (of wealth) Lakshmi into our homes, how we keep our houses clean to welcome her, how this festival is the embodiment of feminine beauty (I really did wonder where the hell did NDTV get that from! ), blah blah blah. My sister simply said that Diwali (in North India) is the occasion when Ram returned from his exile after defeating Ravana and Wikipedia affirms this story adding that the people of Ayodhya had welcomed their beloved King by lighting lamps in the streets and hence the name Diwali (meaning row of lamps).
People arrive at the Red Fort ground to watch the Ram Leela and to enjoy the fair that was going on.
The reason for celebrating the same event twice (Dusshera/ Diwali) in a year is quite beyond my understanding. But what caught my attention was that ultimately, we were celebrating the triumph of good over evil, the symbol of evil being Ravana who had abducted a married woman (Sita). The crowd cheered on as though they were the victorious warriors from the Battle of Lanka (war between Ram and Ravana). As though, they would lay their lives for the victory of what is deemed as good. But what really happened on Sept. 28, the day of defeat for all that is evil, was this. As the Ram Leela celebrations came to an end at the Red Fort, the crowd started pushing their way through the bottle neck exit. My friend, Preeti and I were at a stall trying to get hold of a soft drink when the crowd suddenly turned chaotic. Our warriors of Ayodhya had turned to an unsuspecting foreigner, trying to grab her wherever they could lay hands on. There is little one can do to help or to escape when caught in a narrow passage with hundreds of lustful unruly men zeroing in on you. Worse still was the possibility of getting caught in a stampede. Perhaps by divine intervention, some men in the crowd decided to help. I do not have much idea about how they gained control of the mob. However, during the confusion, while i was bracing myself trying not to get robbed or molested, Preeti had already slapped a few men and kicked some in their groins. But after a few minutes I was able to stick my hand out to take a picture and a few minutes later everybody went about their business as though nothing had happened. As we elbowed our way out of the crowd, we found the young couple following us out of the ground... the boy had his arm protectively clasped around his girl. I wish they didn't have to go through this. Not in my country.
Preeti Singh : fixer, interpreter, companion and most importantly, a friend in need.
We were silent as we took a ride back home in a rickshaw that evening. Shadows of the Ram Leela, the mob, the girl.... refused to leave my head. "There isn't anything anyone could have done to prevent it you know..," Preeti tried to assure me after a while. I wasn't convinced. "These things happen all the time. The important thing is to fight back, " she added. After all these years of incarnations, evolutions and progress, nothing much has changed I thought. A woman is abducted by a demon king, her husband later rescues her after a glorious war and she is then banished from the kingdom due to questions raised about her chastity. 880,000 years later, crowds gather to celebrate the successful rescue mission of this epic hero but has no qualms in man handling the very beings their hero had once symbolically rescued from a lustful demon. Perhaps the ten headed demon king was never completely defeated in the first place... Perhaps a piece of Ravana continues to live in all of us. The shadows continue to drift across my mind...


  1. Even Ravan was probably kinder when it came to Sita. He had 10 heads, not that many hands.

    Lovely pictures.

  2. ur photos are stunning

  3. Unfortunately, I've heard that sort of tale many times since being in India: crowded areas and frustrated, opportunistic men can be a frioghtening combination if you're a woman - vulnerable or otherwise. Preeti's response was absolutely the right one.

    As for NDTV, never believe a word.

  4. I'm happy that Preeti fought back...grate post and awesome photos.

  5. Superbe reportage Jyothy ! J'adore toujours autant la qualité de tes photos ! C'est un plaisir !...

    Amitiés !
    See you...;-)

  6. Yes, I'm quite glad that Preeti is quite the brave Punjabi girl:)

  7. Love that shot of the two boys perched atop the scaffolding. Good work, as always! :)

  8. Also, kudos to Preeti and to you. If i were there, I'd have probably strangled a couple of them with my bare hands.

  9. how did u arrive @ 8,80,000 yrs??????????? :)

  10. @ Karat
    ha ha... Hail Wikipedia :)