“Oh, never star/ Was lost here, but it rose afar!/ Look East, where whole new thousands are!/ In Vishnu-land what Avatar?
-Robert Browning, “Waring.”
Campfire Comics is a New Delhi publisher that takes a “Classics Illustrated”-like approach to canonical tales both Western and Eastern (Tom Sawyer! Oliver Twist! Zeus! Krishna!). On the Eastern side, we get “Ravana: Roar of the Demon King,” (written by Abhimanyu Singh Sisodia and digitally painted by Sachin Nagar). Born from a literally unholy marriage of the Brahmanic and the Demonic, Ravana is one of the more villainous troublemakers in the Hindu pantheon.
Being largely unfamiliar with Hindu religion, I enjoyed “Ravana,” which re-tells one of the gnarliest stories from the “Ramayana,” and does its best to redeem, or at least justify, the ways of this Luciferian character. Lucifer had one God to contend with. This being Hinduism, there are a lot of gods to defy.
Born innocently enough as Dashananda; a student of the four Vedas and six Upanishads which were to earn him a ten-headed representation; a master of the veena, (a fattish proto-zither); and a warrior in the kshatriya tradition, Ravana the Roaring One starts well enough in life. But his training gets pretty grizzly when in an attempt to summon/piss off Brahma (the ultimate Creator), Ravana cuts off his own head.
Kids, do NOT try this at home.
The religious logic of summoning the Creator through self-beheading escapes me, but Brahma simply makes it so Ravana’s head grow right back. So an angry Ravana cuts it off again. This happens NINE TIMES until Brahma gets tired of the bloodshed and finally puts in an appearance on the tenth beheading.
The 10 heads are similar to the 7 Christian deadly sins, so symoblically kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), madha (arrogance), matsarya (jealousy), manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), chitta (consciousness) and ahamkara (ego).
I suppose that a demon who is willing to cut off its sinful tendencies so persistently is bound to please Brahma, so the Big Guy grants Ravana a potion for immortality, (that goes right into Ravana’s navel, tucked nice and safe), gives him a book with all sorts of witchy spells, and sets on him on his way to do horrible things like kidnap the beautiful Sita, which is a major faux pas given that Sita is already married to Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, one of the BIG THREE along with Brahma and Shiva. Eventually, all of Ravana’s peccadilloes add up, and Rama shoots him down with a magical bolt, since head-chopping doesn’t work on Ravana.
Overall, this has worked as enough of an appetizer as I hope to expand my knowledge of the canon beyond the West. I’m currently reading “The Tale of Genji” and hope to go on the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Jataka and the Four (or six, depending who you ask) Chinese Classics. All these have been absent too long from my education!