Story of King Ravana from Ramayana – Part 3

Mother Nature has provided an amazing geographical example visible to naked eyes on how the same parent could produce 2-different off-springs. Dead Sea (North) & Sea of Galilee (South), aka the Kineret are the two largest Lakes of Israel which is mentioned in the Bible too. What is noteworthy is that located just 63 miles apart from each other both are Fed by River Jordon. Yet ironically while the highly saline Dead Sea water is not potable & literally dead to macroscopic aquatic organisms such as fish & aquatic plants, etc.(Such examples are one too many & for Kannadigas, the millennium old akka-thangi kola (Sisters pool) at Melukote is the prime example). The charming deep blue Sea of Galilee is not only the major supplier of drinking water to Israel (also used in Jordon & Syria), but also home to great ecosystem, is teaming with different species of fish, birds and lush green vegetation. So what makes them different? The Northern Sea of Galilee is fed from the North & it feeds back the Jordon River to the South. However, Southern (Dead) Sea receive but never flows out & even the tributaries in the east also only flows in!! The Dead is far below the mean sea level & it has no outlet because water flows or moves down wards not upwards.

Indian mythology is full of colorful, flavorful stories linking generations in train of connection about Devas (gods), Asuras (Demons aka Danava, Daithya, Rakshasa), boons, curses, avataras, etc. Often the links are so elaborate, I wonder how could it be but then it supposed to have happened so the links maybe plausible. Showcasing the interplay of the benevolent, not so benevolent & the malevolent forces in nature. The universe is not all milk & honey, but a circle of continual frictions, ongoing challenges; strive for ascendency; as also the mutual tolerance & existence between sets of forces opposing each other in varying degrees.

When we try to understand it, it’s easy to know that there is always a lesson to learn.. even the curses can be a boon or boons could be a curse sometimes like Kumbakarna. And the curses are there for a purpose in the meticulously woven cosmic circle.

I see the combination both of their character (& the rest family of Ravana) in every creature especially the human beings. Why we are born/created in the first place no one knows but nothing happens in the universe without a reason… & in the sophisticated fabric of creation we are all connected in a unique way no matter when, where or in which era we are born. It is said that “You are this universe experiencing itself, very briefly, as a human.” In my life (most of it spent outside India), I have met & worked with scores of good people (coming from different back ground, different religions & different nationalities) enriching my life experience & making me a better human being. That leaves a big question mark.. where are the bad people living?!? Even though I have had few bad experience sometimes… luckily I had the ratio of good people on the upper scale. Come to think of it, Good-Bad or Pious-Evil are the 2-faces of the same coin… one doesn’t exist without the other. It’s just what we nurture becomes prominent. Only thing is absence of good makes one evil & absence of evil magnifies the goodness (law of physics!?) No one stays good or bad or without them all the time except the God, who is called as BrahmaN… that’s the reason even the Devas/Devis & Sages curse when they are angry!!

Finally, just an observation… There is a disturbingly recurrent pattern in terrorist activities recorded in the world that many terrorists turn out to be brothers (it is said that upto 30% share family ties – that’s a reasonable percentage to ponder about!!)? Just a strange thought…. does the Ravana trend of sibling pairing in crime repeating to this day? Did Jaya-Vijaya leave their DNA traces of bad merits to earthling before purifying themselves… I know its crazy… Crime brothers… a perfect tandem pair… an all in the family brain storming secret vault tied with a sacred thread of DNA – with easy communication, security, trust &, sense of purpose & ideological calling.. Wow…  Some interesting pairing of the grim roster includs 19th-century French anarchists, militants in Southeast Asia & the Jewish extremists who assassinated PM Yitzhak Rabin of Israel in 1995, out of 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US, there were 3-sets of siblings, Chechen (2004) suicide bombers in Russia  were sisters, Boston marathon (2013) bombing, French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris (January 2015) & then the most recent one is the Brussels attacks…

I really enjoyed writing this & hope you all enjoyed reading it. Let me know how did you like it. Thank you.

NOTE:

BrahmaN or AtmaN (what we call as the God), is the Supreme Self & the Ultimate Reality is beyond time, space, causation. {BrahmaN, not to be mistaken with one of the Trimurthis, the Brahma the creator}. BrahmaN is always the knowing subject & is not an object of perception. The eyes cannot perceive Him, the mind cannot reach Him, the gross worldly intellect cannot grasp Him, the speech cannot describe Him. The speech returns back along with the mind, as it is not able to describe Him in adequate terms. The Atman connotes the highest Universal Principle, the Super Soul, all pervading consciousness in whom the entire creation dwells (the animate and inanimate entities and material). BrahmaN manifests everything & cannot be manifested by anything else. BrahmaN has neither name nor form & the attributes are hard to comprehend: is infinite, unlimited, Omni-present, Omni-potent, limitless, self-effulgent, self-luminous, imperishable, unborn, undecaying and undying. BrahmaN is that unheard hearer, that unseen seer, that unthought thinker, that unknown knower, that from which this world has come out, that in which this world exists, that in which it gets dissolved is BrahmaN. The list goes on…..

 

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Story of King Ravana from Ramayana – Part 2

Brahma’s promises:

Both Ravana & his brother Kumbhakarana, performed severe penance for thousands of years, seeking power & immortality from Lord Brahma. But Brahma (incidentally their great grandfather) declined to grant the immortality saying only BrahmaN is immortal & whoever is born, has to die & I cannot change that law of nature, for anyone! However, as requested by Ravana, in lieu he gave the alternate boon that no Devas/Devis-heavenly beings-ganas-yakshas-rakshas-snakes-all wild animals cannot kill him & his life would be concentrated at his naabhi (navel) aided by the nectar of Immortality. Also obtained some divine magical weapons too & Brahma exited in a hurry… before the list could go any further!! On the other hand, Kumbakarna made the spelling mistake while asking for boon  as the Devas fearing for their survival, with the help of Godess Sarasvathi (Godess of learning), managed to trick him into saying “Nidrasana instead of Indrasana” (throne of sleep instead of Indra’s throne) ending up sleeping all his life instead of ruling as king of heaven!!

Armed with loads of boons (now a day’s wealth/power plays the role of boon at least in India), Ravana started flexing his muscles in all directions & in all the 3-worlds as he was almost invincible & there was absolutely nothing or no one could stop him. Ravana failed to add humans as he never thought that any human would be capable of killing him. On the tenth day of the battle, Vibhishana advised Sri Rama to strike the arrow on his naval to kill him. Armed with the boon he managed to drive out Kubera & usurped the kingdom of Lanka along with it the prized Pushpaka-vimana too. The celestial architect,  Vishwakarma is supposed to have redesigned the beautiful, idyllic city & built the palace in gold.

The catch 22 weapons: Yama

Ravana is also known as the conqueror of Yama, the Lord of death.. Boons could back fire too… when standing in front of the bhaktas (Devotees), sometimes the Devas & Devis loses their balance & like how a parent does not know how to say no to their offspring, they too involuntarily yield to the whims of their devotees… {For some reason the following episode reminds me of the hit & run cases of Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai, etc., etc., rich parents pampering their off springs with expensive cars & the thrill seeking youngster ending up killing someone with speed}. Fearing the fearless Ravana & his atrocities, Lord Indra, the king of heaven asked Sage Narada to find a solution to help him safeguard his crown (olden day UN!… may be better still).

As usual Narada wanted to do something & one day he went to Ravana & suggested that he pick-up a fight with Yama, & defeats him which would make him rather famous. Ravana was not very fond of Narada but the suggestion sounded very lucrative, if he could defect Yama, the Lord of Death then everyone would fear him more.

Yama aka Dharma Raja (King of righteousness) was protector of the Law, judge of the “ultimate court” who decides the path (naraka-swarga or hell-heaven) to each & every soul. The only certainty in a living being is the death. Hence everyone has to meet him one day or the other.

The reason Narada wanted Ravana & Yama to fight was that Lord Brahma had granted Yama an infallible weapon called Kala Danda (time stick). The weapon once fired would kill anybody before it… no matter what boons he had to protect himself. So if at all there is a chance of killing the invincible Ravana it would be through Kala Danda!! {Among all kinds of killers, time is the ultimate because it kills everything Bhagavad Gita 10.33 }.

After sowing the seed of greed in Ravana, Narada quickly went to Yama. As Narada was conveying the unexpected message to a shocked Yama, Ravana already reached there with his army. The army started the fight, creating loss in Yama’s army. Then Ravana & Yama fought for 7-days & night & finally Yama decided to use his Kala-danda. Meantime Brahma came running there… & requested Yama not to use his ultimate weapon. Then Narada understood the situation… what a fix… If Yama fired the weapon, only two things could happen – either Ravana could die or he could survive. If Ravana died, Lord Brahma’s boon to Ravana that he could not be destroyed by any Deva, would become false! (Like modern day politicians!) If Ravana survived, his boon to Yama’s Kala-danda as the ultimate weapon of destruction, would become false! Sage Narada shook his head wondering why his father made such rash promises & expected others to keep it up for him. Meantime, Brahma created an illusion & made everything look like a dream… while Yama disappeared, Ravana went home happily for winning the war!!

The trigger of the Ramayana:

Ravana abducted Sita disguised himself as a mendicant seeking alms while his uncle Maricha guised as golden deer lead Rama & Lakshma away from her. Abduction became the cause of his death & liberation from his second life on earth. The reason for the abduction is not clear as only he could answer – if it was his lust or was he in love with Sita or his humiliation that he could not win her hand at Swayamvara? Or was it the insult to his favourite sister by the Rama & his brother Lakshmana (blinded by brotherly love & family honour)? Or simply he wanted to get killed & go back to his gate-keep’s post as soon as possible. Or perhaps it’s the culmination of everything? Ironically even to this day humans react in most of the situation mentioned yeh?

Ravana is portrayed as a womanizer, & it is his obsession of women which brought him a curse resulting in his death. A beautiful Sage-woman Vedavati was performing penance with the intention of winning Lord Vishnu for a husband. When Ravana saw her at her hermitage in the jungle was enchanted by her pious beauty. When she rejected his advances, Ravana proceeded to forcibly take her. Vedavati who was in love with Lord Vishnu could not tolerate it, she created a pyre & let herself be consumed by the fire. However before dying she prophesied that she would return to the mortal world as the cause of his death {as his own daughter – many say that Sita is in fact was his daughter & thus his lusting after his own daughter is one of the reasons for his downfall}. Vedavati is said to be re-born as Sita, thus becoming Lord Vishnu’s (as Rama) wife, & became the cause of mighty Ravana’s conquest & death.

It was puzzling to me as why he never forced himself on Sita & waited for her to consent before he married or force himself on her, which does not fit into the bill of womanizing! But there is also a legend which says: After seeing the beautiful Apsara (celestial dancing girl) Rambha, Ravana tried to molest her who was pleading him to let her go. Incidentally Ramba was betrothed to Kubera’s son Nalakuvara. Ravana was enamoured of her, & her plea of his would be daughter-in-law did not deter him. Nalakuvara then cursed that Ravana’s heads to fall off, if ever he forced himself on any woman. This curse is said to have kept Sita chaste, while she was his captive for nearly a year.

Ravana’s Shiva devotion:

Like all the sons, Ravana was very fond of his mother Kaikesi. One day when he went to meet her, she was at the sea shore worshiping a Shiva Linga made out sand. As a undisputed, mighty & wealthy king, he was sad to see his mother with the Sand Linga & promised her that he would get a very special Linga for her worship from Lord Shiva himself. So, he set out immediately towards Kailasa & tried to go straight to see Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva’s Vahana (vehicle) cum Gate keeper Nandi, blocked his way & refused to let him enter (history repeats in another form!) Already reached the status of invincible, Ravana did not like it & an argument broke out. In the end, angry Ravana tried to dislodge Mount Kailash on which Lord Shiva was meditating. Knowing Ravana’s arrogance, Lord Shiva pressed the mountain with his toe crushing Ravana’s forearms, which made Ravana to let out blood-curling screams in agony, hence to be known as Ravana (one who screams). Again here the process of lesson on humility continues. Stuck under the mountain, Ravana decided to appease Shiva & calm down his anger, pulled out his own nerves with his bare hands, wound them around his toes & used them as strings to play music. He used his own body as a Veena & sung praises of the Lord. In the bargain Ravana became one of the greatest devotees of Lord Shiva, even offering one of his heads & composed the Shiva Tandava Stotram. (A statue of Ravna at Koneswaram temple, Sri Lanka depicts this). Lord Shiva eventually relented &, pleased with his devotion, gave him the Atma Linga (the one found at Gokarna, Karnataka) to be taken to his mother. However, he was deprived of his hard work, through the plots of Devas, once again fearing for their status & the power Ravana would eventually obtain (this time with the help of Lord Ganesha, son of Lord Shiva). Ravna also acquired knowledge of magic & expertise in usage of divine weapons, Chandrahas, a divine sword (with a note of warning that if it were to be used unjustly, it would return as the three-eyed one & destroy him). Ravana has many other names, including Dashaanana, Dashamukha, Ravula, Lankeshwar, Ravaneshwaran, Dasis Ravana, Dasis Sakvithi Maha Ravana, etc., etc.

If Ravana is considered a villain in India, in Sri Lanka he is considered a hero, the Greatest Emperor in Asia. Evidence of His lost Palace & many other sites are found along with artifacts including his mace & even the Ashoka Vana/Vatika where Sita was kept is also exists… some say that the Fortress at Sigiriya Rock (I had the privilege of climbing to the top in 2015) in Matale district near Dambulla belongs to Ravana. Even though it’s in ruins, it’s clearly visible that such a fete is humanly impossible!! Evidences were also found in India, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, etc. whether people believe or not the legend lives on.. bring different perceptions. In the end, all happened for Jaya/Vijaya to come out clean & to teach us a lesson. So the cause & effects are always one behind the other.

Note: The third birth: The third & final was towards the end of the Dwapara Yuga as Shishupala & Dantavakra (an ally of Sri Krishna’s enemy Jarasandha) to be slayed by Lord Krishna along with Balarama (Mahabharata). After which they went back to Vaikuntha. If you are wondering who was guarding the Vaikuntha during their absence?  Well it was me of course!!}

To read more about Ravana, and my unique analogies to modern history, check out my 3rd and final article.

Sheer Magic of creation….

Witnessing both the side of the process of creation with naked eye….

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We called it the Midnight flower, and I saw the flower for the first time when I was in middle school. The fine silky texture of the spotless white petals almost gave an illusion of transparency. We had a vine in the pot for quite some time which grew from a small shoot to a tall lanky-gangly stemmed plant & one fine day it had many light carmine red buds formed along the edge of the leaf-like stem . The plant usually begins to set flower buds in July through September & it can be just a single one or as much as the leaf can accommodate. My mother, an avid gardener had managed to get a small cutting from somewhere. Since we saw it for the first time, as kids we used to wonder what is going to pop out of it. We watched it daily to gauge when it will bloom. Then the small little buds became bigger, swelling up dramatically in its shiny reddish shade.. so we still waited wondering if it was red flower or what… then Mum, in her colourful enthusiastic way, explained to us that it was going to be a beautiful, out of ordinary white flower with carmine red coloured outer petals the size of a dinner plate but only one problem we have to wait for it to bloom at night… as it is a midnight bloomer & the full flower will open only at midnight. by morning it will die… we could not understand the logic.

The nocturnal bloom concept was new to us. We knew of the fragrant parijatha (Nycanthes arbortrisis with small flower with snow-white petals & a orange-red pipe stalk) which opened in the evening.. with the full bloom at night & fall down in the morning, but it still would be opened & the scent would be still there for us to see and smell. Moreover in the evening its half opened too. So what is so different about this flower? This easy to grow, fast growing tropical plantdid not appeared capable of producing such stunning breath takingly beautiful blossom!! Even by appearance the stem does not look having the capacity to hold a single flower of such large dimension let alone FIVE or more at one go.

Finally the day came & we got the pot inside the living room so we can enjoy it as long as we wanted… my mother’s enthusiasm was contagious & even my dad was a willing partner in the whole drama. Even some of our neighbours were there! Telephones were not common & we were the ever ready message carriers about the imminent D-Day blossom!

It started opening up filling the room with fragrance. The buds began to open around 8 or 9 pm… (And be wide open by midnight). What a sight…. Luckily not one or two but five bloomed that day… When they are ready to open, they do so in dramatic fashion, literally before your eyes – you can practically see the movement of the flower. As if the whole process of birth & death is enacted right before your own naked eye in just one-third of a day!! A divine spiritual experience, believe me it’s worth witnessing the large (about 11 inches long & 5 inches wide), funnel-shaped, white flowers at least once in your life & it is worth losing a little sleep.. Perhaps that’s why people call it Brahma Kamala named after the creator. Everyone was spellbound & calling everyone around sharing the joy – come & see or did you see this & that. It was as if a new baby had arrived at home… & we all even took torch & try to look inside…. And I refused to go to bed without seeing the full bloom only to fall asleep on sofa… morning when I woke up the flower had already closed… making me so very sad… Mum said she tried several times to wake me but I would not budge… it was an electrifying moment.. as if the time stood still & seemed like the full moon had appeared in our living room… I cried my heart out.

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Each bloom lasts only for one night & by sunrise the flower is spent. So I had no choice but to wait for the next one. Back in those days, we all were very active children & there was no TV & the longer we were awake mother would make us study more. So we all learnt from small age to sleep early… hence I could not keep my eyes opened!! . We did see it again, but the enthusiasm & the magic was not the same as the first time…. Something like the first kiss! We children were the happiest because we would also get sweets/chaklis or something to eat too. The blooms appear intermittently during the summer months. Some plants bloom every year, while others have an alternate blooming cycle.. However, for years we continued the practice of waiting for it to bloom with the torch & sharing the joy! Eventually grew out of it like a child out of toy, becoming midnight flower Sanyasin!

A colleague of mine from Rathnagiri (Alphonso land) told me when they were little boys they knew the unique qualities of the flower & would say, if anyone can manage to put a flower in a case with a currency note or gold or diamond, the box would be filled with multiple of the same on its own… in other words sheer magical. I am sure there on too many different experiences around.

Years later in July 2013, the same drama was enacted far away from India at my neighbor Shruthi Cariappa’s house. Unfortunately I could not re-live the nostalgic memory as I was on vacation. Many of their friends were invited & there was dinner later it seems… a photo was posted on the facebook too. Many of the pictures posted here are from them. The timing is shown earlier my guess is that perhaps the plant brought from India has its biological clock set to Indian timing!!

There is also supposed to be another similar flower (selenicereus) in pulish-pinkish magenta. I never had the previlage of meeting…the pretty lady.

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Details on the flower, the plant, and growing it:  Epiphyllum oxypetalum (DC.) Haw. Commonly known as midnight flower, Dutchman’s-Pipe Cactus, Queen of the Night, Orchid Cactus, Jungle Cactus, Night Blooming Cactus, Night Blooming Cereus. In Kerala it is called Ananthasayanam or Nishagandhi flower. Ananthasayanam – infinite bed/seat – where Vishnu is sleeping on the Aadishesha, the thousand headed snake floating in the ocean of milk & the hood of Adishesha shielding the Lord. I was told by colleague that in Kerala this flower is considered sacred & this rare bloomer is usually welcomed by lighting a lamp. As it blooms in the evening, people consider it as a divine visit.. As the divine personality of God would visit us by a whisper of air or a butterfly touch, this flower blooms with an unusual divine fragrance around midnight& shuts off by morning. The inner core of the bud has the shape of a sleeping Sree Ananthapadmanabha (Maha Vishnu). Traditionally it is believed that menstruating ladies & non-veg eaters are not supposed to touch the plant. And it is said to bring good luck & wealth (lucky bamboo & money plant has a competitor!!)

It is supposed to be a tropical orchid cactus native to Central & Northern South America but it has been cultivated all over the world perhaps because it is unique. It’s an erect/semi-erect, branching cactus, can grow up to 20 feet tall with cylindrical stems bearing elliptic, leaf-like, scalloped, dark green stem/branches. These plants are very easy to grow even as a houseplant. Simply place each leaf cutting (roughly two to four inches in length) – cut end down (can root either way) vertically into some well-draining sandy potting soil. Pack the soil tightly around the leaf to remove any air pockets & make sure the whole bottom of the leaf has good contact with the soil. It should be rooted with three to six weeks. Root-bound plants tend to bloom better, so don’t repot your plant very often. Since it is a cactus water sparingly but regularly & make sure not to allow water to stand as it will rot. The soil should be allowed to dry between watering. Like vanilla if you stress the plant a bit, the flowers are better & bigger in size but quantity will be less. (But you should know what exactly you are doing). It will usually take two to three years before you have a plant that begins blooming. The plants are supposed to bear small, 4 inches long, oblong, purplish-red, angled edible fruits very similar to the pitaya or dragon fruit. But I never saw any in our plants at home or at our neighbours may be because the cooler weather condition or a particular species of pollinator required like vanilla which was absent or there was no chance of pollination as we always took the plant inside the house.