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The Children Of Mahabali

February 13, 2018

The Aryan-Dravidian divide in India is a never ending debate. Much water has flown under this bridge, yet what keeps the issue alive at least for those like me is, questions like, “if Asuras are indeed evil incarnations, then why is Mahabali celebrated in Kerala? why is his homecoming observed as Onam. why is the king revered as the son of the soil. why are ‘we’ still waiting for Mahabali’s return ???!!!

In the land that comes alive with ‘Onam’ not surprisingly there is no celebration of Deepavali, festival of lights when the whole of India is lit up.

Has it ever crossed your mind, why is it for centuries that the Dravidian Keralites have preferred to wait for Mahabali than rejoice at the homecoming of Rama?

The geographical lines between the four (now five) Dravidian southern states of India have been drawn up in under 60-70 years. For centuries, nothing otherwise divided the Dravida Nadu engulfed between the Coramandel coasts that were defined by the Eastern and Western Ghats on either sides bounded by the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea respectively. The southern peninsula of India was like one single entity. The Chera-Chola-Pandya kingdoms flourished side by side. The Cheras ruled what is now called Kerala. The Pandya-Cholas reigned over Tamil Nadu.  The Andhra-Karnataka regions were under the sway of the Vijayanagara Empire. Barring a few small princely states like Mysore and Travancore, rest of the south came under the British crown in 1857.

If you can speak any one Dravidian language, then you can understand the other three : Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. It is easy to guess that the Tamil language got adapted to local conditions. Even with Tamil Nadu, we have slangs varying from district to district.

How Mahabali lost ground in other southern regions and remains rooted in Kerala is though a mystery. Given Kerala is home to Adi Shankara of Kaladi, it is interesting to note that Onam is still the most gaily celebrated festival in ‘God’s own country.’

Amit shah, no wonder, reportedly asked Keralites to stop celebrating Onam !!! Because Onam and Mahabali are direct and open contradictions to the Aryan-Dravidian-Divide-Is-Myth society who want to make all of India appear one happy, good but homogeneous family without individual regional identities.

Well, we have to think Anand Neelakantan for clearing most of our doubts. Thanks to the author, fiction his could be, I got a clear perspective of what is what.

I grew up doing the Ramayanam (Sundara Kandam) parayanam too on weekly basis, along with my parents and my younger sister. It was our saturday ritual. My mother was working as a teacher. So every saturday we sat together and read from Valmiki’s Tamil translation. The first week, my mother would begin the Puja with offerings to the divine. The finishing week, we invited people for a feast on banana leaf at home. Among the four of us, we read four chapters per week. It took us a couple of months to complete Ramayana recitation a single time, and we repeated the cycle hardly breaking for a week. Can today’s kids imagine such rituals.

After my mother, I lost connection with many things in my life, Ramayana being one. Two years back in Chennai Book Fair, I happened to chance upon a brand new Valmiki Thamizh translation of Sundara Kandam in Ramayanam, with original Sanskrit slokas to begin with. I went for it without a second thought and got it with me here to Middle East. Ever since I am reading Ramayana two chapters at a time in my Puja, twice a week. I am no more the little girl who read the Ramayana obligingly and boringly, with my parents. Now I am an adult, a wife and a mother, a responsible person.

Besides, I have named my son after Ram, the legendary Hindu God. Not because of my Ramayana connection. Only because, my sister-in-law chose the name for my baby. So the name connects me and Lord Ram to eternity. Until my son left for abroad, I used to call him ‘Shriraam’ a million times everyday. Not just call, scream! Shout! Even if I cut it short to ‘Shri’ still the half name meant invoking Lord Ganesha (called Shri in north) and Goddess of wealth and fortune Lakshmi. I loved and love most my son’s name because, every time I call to him I know I am bringing positive vibes into my home, into my being, into our lives.

A lot of questions still do pop up in my mind as I read the chapters or Ramayan presently. Not withstanding my sentimental attachment to Ram. I guess, these have got to do with my sense of justice, sense of reasoning, nothing more. As I grow older, I am tiring of fakes, I am losing patience for ‘make-believe.’ I am yearning more and more for truth and truth alone.

Like my son, who questioned the three lines on the squirrel’s back in Ramayana: ‘Why did not the Hindus investigate the biological reason behind it, than calling it the caress from Lord Ram for centuries?’ I was dumbfounded because, neither did i ever think of it any other way. Until then that is. ‘Ma, that’s the reason, we Indians will always be followers and the Caucasians will be the inventors’ said he. How true.

I did not tell him, every time I read about the destruction of Ashoka Vana, I wince despite me. Every time I read about Kishkintha and the uprooting of the garden and trees, I get angry.  Any beautiful thing marred, scarred horrifies me. It is simply me. It has nothing to do with Ramayana or my religiosity or lack of it.

I am fortunate to be a Hindu I know, because as a Hindu I can get away questioning my faith, my Gods. I won’t be beheaded for so-called ‘blasphemy.’ But there are numskulls among Hindus who will not want questions to be asked. Who do not like questions to be asked. Who do not encourage questions to be asked. Who do not want questions to be answered.

I did not complete the book ‘Asura’ but I was enormously pleased with the author with the way he shaped the book. For reassurance whether my thoughts were logical, I chatted up with my son’s friends – eight of them, from different parts of India. In the age bracket 23-27 years to be precise. Nice boys, all having completed their masters, so let there be no doubts about their academic basics. Seems I am the last to read the book. Coming from different backgrounds from Tambrahm to Punjabi Sikh, the guys said they loved the book. It sounded convincing, it was the most plausible explanation for what or how the Hindu history could have evolved, they said. It is still a fiction, none of us lost sight of the inevitable fact. But how things develop, how things get exaggerated, how things get underplayed, how things get manipulated … all this becomes clear as you turn page after page of ‘Asura.’ So may be, I was not off the point. A lot of Indians thought like me. They were open to ideas, that is what impressed me most. They were not rigid. They were willing to explore the most antagonistic idea which was comforting. They were ready to test new grounds, they did not say their faith was unshakable. They had their doubts, which raised my hopes.

Even before reading Asura, through out my life, I have come across various interpretations of Ramayan. In one of them, Seetha indeed is always portrayed as long-lost daughter of Ravana. In fact, I have been told of this an other supposition right from my childhood. Every other kid growing up in my generation probably heard both versions of Ramayan – one in which Ravana is vying for Seetha’s love and attention and one in which Ravan’s daughter is Seetha (which he is unaware of).

Anand Neelakantan exploited the Ravan-Seetha father-daughter angle. His plot development at every stage was meticulous including the description of the ‘Pushpaka Vimana’ the flying chariot that the ancient Hindus supposedly pioneered  in, in another plane of time, lost to civilization to be redeemed in modern science age. Bhadra, the classical Panchama(dalit of today)’s of how he came to be relegated as the most downtrodden class is a moving tale. The inhumane custom of throwing food into banana leaf in a sand pit made in the road side in the King’s way or the Chariot path for Bhadra and his ilk continued upto a hundred years back in India, especially Kerala. Today, we talk of conversion. If you ever are to be born as unfortunate as Bhadra, convert will what you will have to do. Conversion seemed to be the only option in my mind as I wanted Bhadra to have his self respect, to be treated as human, not sub-human, the way the caste Hindus ridiculed him and subjugated him to menial tasks. Kerala temples, pristine as they seem outward, still reek of caste prejudices. Will a thousand year ‘reservation’ take out this heartless social stigma attached to the destitute class thanks to the bigoted elites like the Namboodhiris and Nairs. Bhadra shook me up totally in and out. Bhadras of India have been taking out human waste for millenniums, living in the shadows, cremating the dead, washing the filth. Don’t they deserve dignity at all. Panchamas like Bhadra fell even outside the four varna fold of Hindu Dharma. It means, they were deemed the lowliest creatures historically. Since the days of Chanakya’s ‘Arthashastra.’

What is Manu Needhi. What is Chanakya Needhi. Those who want to know the true implications of Manu dharma be reborn a Panchama upto 20th century CE. The class that wants reservation removed still cannot give up their own exclusive reservations for over two thousand years in the precincts of the so-called Agama Hindu temples. Hypocrisy and discrimination right in the abode of the Lord.

Apart from Bhadra, also very nice characterization of Jambumali to Kumbakarna and Vibheeshana, from Mandodhari to Surpanaka and from Varuna to Indra and Kubera among other things. Of course, Yama takes the cake! Could not have situated him better! Vali and Angadha to Ayodhya and Mithila to Kishkintha complete the scene. Vivid description of Lanka, Trikoota Hills. It is not as if the scheme of things were probably exactly like this, but imagination fails me when it comes to looking for an alternative theory. Fertile imagination! One notable omission though: Vayu.

Wonderful interpretation of events and characters makes you think and rethink. Reportedly, the book gave the boys restless nights. It has shaken them, no doubt. A pleasant surprise for me was, how GenNext is willing to give Ravana the benefit of doubt. That they are willing to listen to Ravana’s story.

But at the end of the day, you know the winner writes the history, not the vanquished. Ram prevailed and Ravana was sacrificed so that Ram could become the hero. At least as per the author.

Anyways. Funny this time, when I resumed my Ramayana reading. First of all, I had conflicting emotions. Unlike non Hindus, I can question my Gods. I can doubt my Gods. I can challenge my Gods.  And I can even abandon/disown my Gods. Precisely this is the greatest gift of Hinduism. I started my Puja asking questions to my Lord first. I confronted Hanuman asking him explanation for destroying the Ashoka Van. I told Ram, the sense of justice in me was indeed sown as seed by none other than Him. When Ram sent Seetha to the woods pregnant with the twins, He must have known He had also sired lineage of Indians who will live on to question Him, question everything whatsoever.

I couldn’t understand earlier why Mani Ratnam made the Tamil-Hindi film ‘Raavan.’ but I get it now. Some of us are made this way. We do not bow down. We cannot be cowed down. We will stand up erect again and question the system.

Ravana to me, now, is also a hero. Finally I know, as a Dravidian, like my fellow Dravidians, I could be after all the so-called Asura tribe who knows. Anand Neelakantan is not a historian or researcher or genetic study expert or anything. Yet I know, the North Indians living over the Tropic of Cancer up and above the Vindhyas could be the Devas really. And the Pale-skinned… No prizes for guessing.  I saw the Sanskrit department in Heidelberg university in Germany. ‘Lufthansa’ gives it all away. Luft = air in Sanskrit. Hansa = swan in Sanskrit. Undeniable German link to Hindu India.  It is easiest to accuse Max Mueller of many things including corroboration. But then, how will you explain the unearthing of ‘Lord Varaha’ (Vishnu) in Germany, some 30,000 years ancient.

Whether the Aryan-Dravidian divide is myth or not, as a woman i find it offending that my Prime Minister Modi ji made a snide remark indirectly referring to Surpanaka. Surpanaka was still a woman, may be not Sita. Every woman need not have to be Seetha just as every man need not have to be Ram. Seetha might  have had her flaws and Ram unquestioningly had His share of flaws. Divinely human. I refuse to believe Gods are Gods in the sky. Gods to me first walked this Planet Earth as foremost humans. Some illustrious ancestors of ours went on to be hero-worshiped to become later our ‘Gods.’ From Shiva to Ram and Krishna, this is how Hindu Gods came to be. My summation.

As for Surpanaka, the solution was simple in my opinion. A mere ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would have sufficed. Matters got complicated with Lakshmana’s uncalled for violence. A little self-restraint could have prevented the Lanka war and loss of life and property. Seetha’s abduction first of all.

I wish Ram still had had a one-to-one battle with Ravana instead of Him having waged a war against Lanka. It was after all for a personal cause. Destruction of any kind is unacceptable to my logical, reasoning mind. Not that I do not revere Ram. But I know, even Ram will agree with me quietly. That is the beauty of Hindu Dharma.

Meanwhile, another surprise awaited me when I visited my son. Everyone kept calling my boy ‘Ram’ – no more as ‘Shri’ or ‘Shriraam.’

Ram will live so long as India lives. But in the land of Ram, Ravana also is a presence. Ravana’s story also has a justice. Ravana also can do with a patient hearing.

Kerala now is celebrating Diwali in last few years. It is contradictory that the Malanadu can hail both Mahabali and Rama at the same time. Onam will always be the greatest festival in the west coast of India that venerates the king of the vanquished original aboriginal tribe of India, the Asuras (perhaps). Are we Dravidians the Asuras. This is my million dollar question. From being a remote possibility, it seems to be the ground reality finally.

Years back a north Indian friend once told me that all south Indians are ‘Asuras!’ I was appalled at the suggestion and thought she must be cruel. Remember this was long, long before Anand Neelakantan’s tale of Ravana. My own grand mother used to comment on our ‘Nadar’ neighbours from south Tamil Nad districts such as Ramanathapuram and Tirunelveli as ‘Asura’ tribe because of their duskiest complexion and rugged facial features and bodies. I used to think, my granny was a big racist! Now I am no more sure.

Furthermore, I don’t care. I don’t associate Asuras anymore with anything evil or sinister. But we do seem to have inherited some supposed typical Asuric characteristics in us like weakness for liquor, lethargy and deep-rooted corruption in every system. As for the handsome Devas of north India, vile they are! No doubt! By sheer cunning, they will control and manipulate us the foolish Asuras!

Mahabali they say, still lives. Mahabali, like Ram and India, will live to eternity.

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