Good and evil

This Sunday Swapan Dasgupta had an interesting piece in the STOI wherein he analyzed the Ramayana-

Yet, the Ramayana tells a tale of Kumbhakarna’s wisdom. On two different occasions, he berated Ravana for “‘neglecting good counsel” and told him bluntly “you have soon to reap the consequences of your wicked deed of abducting another’s wife.” Indeed, his speech to Ravana before embarking on his doomed mission is an enlightened treatise on statecraft.

At the same time, Kumbhakarna was unwavering in his commitment “to do what an affectionate friend is ready to do for his friend in distress.” Torn between his intellect and his sense of loyalty, he chose the latter…

For the valiant Meghnad, also known as Indrajit, there was never any choice. To him, loyalty was paramount. He told the “‘villainous renegade” Vibhishana: “Friendship, pride in birth, feeling of brotherhood and religious sentiments do not govern thy conduct… If a stranger be accomplished, and one’s own people be without any accomplishments whatsoever, still a stranger is always a stranger and one’s own people always continue to be his own. He who abandons his own party and joins another, is doomed to ruin…”

Over the centuries, popular opinion has sided with Indrajit. There are countless individuals named after the brave son of Ravana; Vibhishana’s name died with him. The man honoured by Ram for preferring dharma over his own King and people has become a byword for treachery.

The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are full of characters like Meghnad and Kumbhakarna, people who can differentiate between good and evil but side with evil because of a misplaced sense of “duty” or because they subscribe to a tribal mentality. A person who does that cannot claim to be virtuous.

Its indeed ironical that people don’t name their sons after the one man who did the right thing, but after the man who tried to kill Rama, and paradoxical that they burn his effigy along with those of his father and uncle. But then, people do the strangest of things, just like the characters in the epics.

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