Home > Random Stuff > Who’s the Bad Guy?

Who’s the Bad Guy?

The ball was set rolling for this post by a blog post from one of my friend’s mom, Zephyr. While her post dealt with the hidden meaning in nursery rhymes I will be putting some more controversial views here so if you have a weak disposition or are a Hindu fanatic, now is the time to close this browser window.

So lets get the show on the road. This piece has its origin in a mail sent by a friend many years ago. It suddenly came to mind a few days ago and I felt that it was time to write about it. This deals with our national anthem, Jana Gana Mana. First the original lyrics:

Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka Jaya He
Bharat Bhagya Vidhata
Punjab Sindh Gujarat Maratha
Dravida Utkala Banga
Vindhya Himachal Yamuna Ganga
Ucchala Jaladhi Taranga
Tubh Shubha Name Jage
Tubh Shubha Ashisha Mange
Gahe Tubh Jaya Gata
Jan Gan Mangaldayak Jay He
Bharat Bhagya Vidhata
Jaye He ! Jaye He ! Jaye He !
Jaye, Jaye, Jaye, Jaye He

Now for the English translation:

Thou are the ruler of the minds of all people, dispenser of India’s destiny.
The name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sind, Gujurat and Maratha. Of the Dravid and Orissa and Bengal.
It Echoes in the hills of Vindhyas and Himalayas, mingles in the music of Yamuna and Ganga and is chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea.
They pray for your blessing and sing thy praise. The salvation of all people is thy hand, thou dispenser of India’s destiny. Victory, Victory, Victory to thee.

And now for the interpretation. But before that, a bit of historical trivia. The song Jana Gana Mana was written by India’s First Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore on the request of the Indian National Congress as an appeasement gesture to the British Government and specifically to King George V after the abrogation of the Partition of Bengal. It was sung in 1911 at a Calcutta session of the INC merely a fortnight after the King’s coronation declaration in the Grand Darbar in Delhi. Mere coincidence you say! And of course it would have nothing to do with the fact that Tagore won the Nobel Prize in 1913. But you say that it was for his great works. Well, his greatest work, Gitanjali, was published in 1910 but it was in Bengali. Later, a thin translation of his works, which contained 3 poems from the original Gitanjali and many random poems from his other works was published on his invited visit to England and subsequently used to nominate and eventually make him the first non-European Nobel Laureate. But of course, Einstein won his Nobel Prize for the Photoelectric Effect and not for any of his Relativity theories so I think the Nobel Committee is idiosyncratic to a certain extent. Not to mention Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize.

But I digress. Coming back to the point, this is my interpretation of the song. “Thou” refers to the king and the song clearly states that the minds and will of all Indians is owned by him, he who is the “dispenser of India’s destiny”. The name of King George V rouses the armies of Punjab, Sind, Gujarat, Marathas, Dravid (South India Primarily), Orissa and Bengal. Now these all were the names of the primary battalions of the East India Company’s defense forces anyway. Armies from Punjab, Maratha regiments, Southern regiments and of course the Bengal regiments in their headquarters were the pride of the army at that time. Now the song goes on to glorify the king’s name by saying that it “echoes” in the geographical high points of India – the Yamuna and Ganga forming two of the the holy trinity at Sangam, the Indian Ocean surrounding the peninsula. Then the king’s blessings are sought for redemption.

Now I have no problems with the lyrics since the idea was to redeem oneself in front of the king to avoid any repercussions of the abrogation but choosing it as the country’s national anthem is a bit disconcerting. And for people who say that Rabindranath Tagore was too great to do something so petty please remember the title of “Gurudev” was bestowed to him by the “Father of the Nation” in exchange for the title of “Mahatma” in a supreme act of mutual back scratching. Tagore was a very intelligent person and like Gandhi knew exactly when and how to manipulate the public sentiment. Albeit they did not do it for personal gain but they did it, repeatedly, nonetheless. Which brings to mind the topic of Mahatma Gandhi – the well-educated lawyer who moved from a well settled practice in South Africa to Gujarat in India to help in the Indian Freedom Struggle. Yes the man was great… but a great politician. Now I know this will draw ire from many of you but please give me a chance to explain why I say so. Gandhi had a flair for the spectacular. Case in point, the Dandi March. Gandhi’s entourage grew from 78 to 50,000 during his nearly 400-km hike across Gujarat. Of course, the more convenient thing to do would have been to travel to the railhead at Dandi by train and then complete the remaining journey in a few hours on foot. But Gandhi knew that to get the masses he needed to create a furore. Master politician I say.

Now to the second part of my post which goes further back into our history – the two epics. Lets begin with the Mahabharata. The villain of the piece undoubtedly is Duryodhana. Many even today use Duryodhana as a cuss word to refer to someone who has used devious means to achieve something. But spare a though for the poor chap. His father, who was the eldest son of the king, was not allowed to ascend the throne because he was blind. Fair enough, what use is a blind king? But when the princes grew up, Duryodhana asked for his fair share, half the kingdom which was not given to him. Was he really wrong then in taking the whole kingdom and refusing to give up, famously, even land the size of a needle’s point? And the “valiant” Pandavas had their fair share of the “bad stuff” too. Whether it was the ridiculousness of sharing a wife or fooling people to come to war (the episode at the end of their exile where for a year they were to live incognito. If during that year anyone were to recognise them, the exile would continue for 14 more years. The five brothers tricked the prince of the land to come to war where they fought in full battle regalia and then reverted back to their incognito disguises and feigned ignorance). And let us not even speak of Arjun’s moral epiphany which became the seed point of the Bhagwad Gita. So here’s a man who’s been practicing and gaining more skill and weapons and experience and plotting the downfall of the Kauravas for donkey’s years to finally come to the end and suddenly have a moral change of heart. I mean, seriously what was he thinking? And why did he not think of all this in all those years of planning? And what about Karna, the wronged son? Kunti wanted to test a new magic word and had absolutely no clue what it did but when she finally managed to summon the Sun God and got herself knocked up she happily abandoned the poor child. And then in the end she had the audacity to go to Karna and beg for him to spare the lives of his younger brothers, her sons. Even then the large-hearted warrior bore her no ill will promising her “You shall still have five sons at the end of this battle”. And of course the master of them all, Bhishma who, through a self-administered vow of celibacy and renunciation, never married or took the throne for himself but effectively ran the kingdom according to his wishes for three generations by advising anybody and everybody who would listen to him.

And what about the great Ramayana. If anything it gets even worse here. So here we have a king who decides that because of a boon granted by him on his wife he should allow his eldest son and the heir to the throne to go into exile for fourteen years. Then the brother who is anointed as the heir decides to anyway be a proxy for his brother as he can’t deal with his brother’s popularity. On the other hand, Rama accompanied by Laxman and Sita live in a forest biding their time. They didn’t even try to gain any skills during the exile like the Pandavas. All of a sudden, a she demon appears and is infatuated by Laxman. But Laxman decides its a good idea to cut off her nose! Enter the bad guy, Raavan. Right? Wrong! Why is he the bad guy? Just because he wanted to avenge the dishonour of somebody chopping of his sister’s nose? Yes his means were circumspect but believe me even I would avenge such a disgrace to my sister. Anyway, Rama goes chasing after an obviously suspicious golden deer on the kiddish insistence of his highly intelligent wife and is followed soon after by Laxman who is conned into believing his brother is in trouble. Sita, who has apparently not yet snapped out of her state of dim-wittedness, decides it would be a fantastic idea to cross the protective line drawn by Laxman to give alms to a holy man who obviously is setting off the defense mechanism and so is not to be trusted. Raises doubts on her IQ if you ask me. Anyway, cut to some time ahead when Rama needs to cross over to Lanka with his armed menagerie. He actually threatens to destroy the sea if the sea did not assist him. This from a man who was supposed to be the most righteous – so lets put at peril all forms of marine life and human life too because the sea won’t help me cross over to Lanka and resuce my beloved wife. Raavan, at the end, is slain as is the wont and life duty of every villain since time immemorial. What very few people however know about the purported demon king is that he was actually a very intelligent man. Raavan was born to Brahmin parents and as such was a bright and intelligent boy. He taught himself many things right from the scriptures to the use of weapons and even politics. A well read man he was also very gifted. He was a well accomplished scholar, a capable ruler and a devoted follower of Shiva. In addition, he was a highly accomplished Veena player himself. One of my favourite topics is that of Raavan’s ten heads. Now in addition to being an extreme inconvenience the idea is also absolutely ridiculous. But the idea of ten physical heads made him a more believable demon. In actuality the ten heads were symbolic to his complete knowledge of the 4 Vedas and 6 Upanishads – something that made his intellect equal to that of ten scholarly minds put together. And coming to the protagonist, Rama I must say he was no saint either. He killed Vali by shooting hm from behind when he was engaged in battle with his brother, Sugreeva. And for what reason? Well, Vali and Sugreeva had been chasing after a monster and when Vali, to protect his younger brother, opted to follow the monster into a cave the said younger brother waited around for a couple of days and then assuming his brother to be dead, promptly proceeded to block the cave’s mouth with a rock and then took Vali’s kingdom and his wife. I feel Vali was completely justified to challenge Sugreeva and throw him out of his kingdom on his return. I am sure Vali could have lived with Sugreeva taking over the kingdom since the people needed a ruler in Vali’s absence but what is the meaning of taking your brother’s wife for your own? Yet, Vali became the villain and Rama and Sugreeva the heroes. And what about Laxman using underhanded techniques to kill Raavan’s powerful son Indrajit while he was praying? This could go on and on.

To sum up, all I have to say is that most of us believe Rama and Arjun to be the pious soul and Raavan and Vali and Duryodhana to be the bad guys without giving a thought to why they were the bad guys in the first place. Probably if Raavan would have won, we would have had a ‘Raavan’ayana in which Rama would be the bad guy. History is indeed written by the victorious. And as kids, when our parents tell us the story of the Ramayana and we, in all innocence, question them why Rama killed Raavan the answer is almost always “Because he was a bad guy” or a variation thereof. We need to be more open to the idea of viewing all people as shades of gray rather than purely black or white. But until then it is the fate of Raavan and Duryodhana to always be the Bad Guy.

Categories: Random Stuff
  1. 16 May 2010 at 08:51 IST

    Well, that was a great interpretation of hidden meanings and motives of the National Anthem! Hats off to your ingenuity! Just see that some nationalist Bengali is not after you for attributing motives!

    However, i would reserve my comments on the myths. Since we accept that there is hidden meaning in something as trivial as nursery rhymes, we have to accept that the hidden meanings of the myths are very deep and need much more than simple analysis to understand. That’s why when we tell the tales to children we make it black and white for their consumption. I am into the study of these, and will be able to comment more knowledgeably once I am even able to scratch the surface!

    • 17 May 2010 at 07:46 IST

      Actually this is a very popular conspiracy theory that I have extended upon.
      As for the epics, since childhood I have been reading the epics in various versions and editions because of my grandfather who encouraged us by purchasing books. As I progressed through the children’s edition towards the originals these hidden meanings kept surfacing time and again… for instance the Mahabharata never claims Krishna to be an avtar of Vishnu. It is the Vishnu Puran which does so. All in all, I am not trying to pass judgment but only attempting to give a different perspective by putting myself in the proverbial bad guy’s shoes… trying to paint the grey on the black and white so to speak.

    • 17 May 2010 at 07:49 IST

      One more thing… I also feel it is important that parents help the kids decipher the hidden meanings as they grow up… often I have discussed these things with my mother and as a result was able to appreciate these characters… but I have met people twice my age who still blindly point to Raavan and Duryodhana as the bad guys without considering why they did what they did.

  2. Maa
    19 May 2010 at 00:13 IST

    while i was reading i think i stopped breathing n blinking as most of d times i felt i was reading my mind till i read ur comment. thanks 4 acknowledging.
    I would like 2 add 2 d list 1 more unsung hero (heroine). Urmila – Laxman’s wife. while Ram was supposed 2 keep his father’s promise, he was actually on a 14 yr. honey moon with laxman as a full time servant n Hanuman as SOS. Laxman was happy serving his brother. Did he ask Urmila about her dreams n wishes! why did Urmila suffer n never given any credit!!

    • 19 May 2010 at 00:19 IST

      there’s nothing to “thank” about…. as pointed out by you I am giving credit where it is due…
      And yes I did forget to mention Urmila… but a very pertinent point indeed… however please note that the post was not about unsung heroes… that deserves a post unto itself… the post specifically dealt with characters labeled as “bad guys” when, though their actions may be controversial, were definitely not acting illogically or unreasonably.

  3. 23 June 2010 at 15:18 IST

    A critic’s point of view….

    but then as they say “history is not written by who is right, but by who is left…”

    • 23 June 2010 at 15:22 IST

      Left… Victors… all the same Ankush. The point being that while it is ok to tell kids the black and white version of the epics it is also necessary to nurture a more “grey” perspective in them as they grow up and mature enough to understand more complicated things…. Otherwise we have a society of people who blindly follow Rama without even giving an iota of consideration or benefit of doubt to Raavan…

  4. 23 June 2010 at 15:22 IST

    But one more thing…

    regarding Ramayana… all your thoughts are based on Ramanand Sagar’s serial Ramayan… not on the actual scripture Ramayana… If you go through it you will realize that ‘most’ of the points raised by you have been answered in details e.g. Rama had to cleanse himself from the vice of “Brahmana Hatya” for killing Ravana as well…

    So not all is as is shown….

    • 23 June 2010 at 15:30 IST

      Yes ankush I know of Rama having to cleanse himself for killing a Brahmin. And believe me the views are not based on the Ramanand Sagar version of the Ramayana… I was too little to even remember it. But a pertinent point is that many people weren’t so little. So opinions formed early on in their lives were confirmed/solidified by watching this epic TV series.
      And I never condemmed Rama for killing Raavan. Raavan had it coming because he had committed enough crimes to deserve it. I only wanted to bring out the fact that Raavan wasn’t an out and out bad guy! Its just that he was probably “greyer” than Rama…

  5. V2K
    23 June 2010 at 22:15 IST

    Very well written post sid.. i completely agree with most of the points you made. this instantly strikes a cord because i had exactly the same view in a discussion with my collegue over movie “Ravan” and why he wasn’t exactly an all-black character..

    it provides an interesting perspective to look at things impartially. just because we are told since birth that Ravana and Duryodhana are the bad guys, doesnt necessarily make them so.. one needs to look at things from both angles..

    lastly, IMO, u are improving with every post.. looking forward to read something on the ongoing WC since football is something you very closely follow..

    Keep it up dude.. ATB..

    • 23 June 2010 at 22:28 IST

      I hope to be able to write something on the WC 2010 but work keeps me busy off late… but do want to post something…

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