Nasik is a town named nose. Ravana’s sister got her nose cut off here and, in some tellings, her breasts. That really started the whole thing. It is a bit weird to see people venerating images of a man disfiguring a woman, but they do. Personally, I’ve never liked Lackshman. He disfigured my mythical aunt and later killed the mythical me (Indrajit). However, the Ramayana keeps surprising me with its humanity. This evening I sat under a tree where Lackshmana sat for 12 years in penance for killing Indrajit. I didn’t know that. It’s quite a nice gesture.
Hinduism is striking in its depth and humanity. The Gods are complicated, lovers and warriors, killers and redeemers. Destroyers, creators, etc. I have formed opinions at various times, only to find them changed. What’s left, over time, is just veneration. That is, at some point you simply don’t understand the thing anymore. You just like it. In the same way, the more I learn about the Ramayana, the less I know.
My starting point is that Rama was a bit genocidal, Lackshman his Gotabaya, and the rakshas and Ravana sorely maligned. In the superficial view this makes sense, but that superficiality is my own. Reading and visiting the epic sites, I see a lot more nuance.
Like a good soap opera, no character is entirely good or bad, and they’re changing constantly. They’re all flawed. Rama is supposed to be the ideal, but he does make mistakes. I think he’s seen as ideal in his reaction to those events (following his duty), but he still goes through a lot of human troubles, many of his own making.
Without reading or knowing too much I’d always judged Lackshman, but sitting under that tree I felt strangely in awe of him. He won, which is commendable, but then he also felt bad. I consider my own morality to be rooted in feeling bad, if only because I simply can’t do right. That is, morality is a capacity more than a fact, and it often comes tragically late. It’s not being God but loving and fearing God, I guess.That Lackshman can do tapas for twelve years for an enemy says a lot about him. A lot good. Which is a bit of a trip for me. I thought he was a thug and have been badmouthing him around town.
None of these characters are as they seemed. They are all human in action but divine in spirit and destiny. Indeed, the politics of the gods course through the drama, giving it another level of complexity. At the end there are no particular judgments that stick. All that’s left is veneration. Or, as it were, love.