Raksha Bandhan 2018: The story of Ravana and Surpanakha
Happy Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi 2018: Kids love stories from mythology and so do adults! There is much to be learnt from the “evil” brother-sister duo Ravana and Surpanakha.
By Kavita Kane
There are several brother-sister duos who appear in our mythology. Some are seen as black and threatening, while most are shown as good and auspicious, celebrating the relationship of sibling revelry not rivalry. But be they be “good” or “bad”, the love and loyalty between them is unquestionable.
The most “evil” pair of brother-sister in the epics is undoubtedly Ravana and his younger sister Surpanakha. They are unique because both are considered antagonists in the Ramayana, are equally unpleasant and “wicked” unlike other pairs where one of the sibling is good and the other bad, as seen with Kamsa-Devaki, Hidimb-Hidimba and Shakuni-Gandhari.
The reason is clear—Ravana and Surpanakha in the Ramayana are almost cast as two halves of the same whole, sharing a bond deeper than that of their other siblings (Kumbhakarna, Vibhishana). They are similar in nature, even fierce rivals when it comes to power and violence. They are two different individuals—a man and a woman; one brother, the other a sister—yet representing the same evil, that of thwarted ego.
Ravana and Surpanakha represent the other aspect of the “self”, like a twin, thinking and acting similarly. They are like sibling soulmates, both connected and bonded in certain common emotions, often contrary, love, hate, revenge.
Both have special powers. If Ravana is a great scholar and blessed with a celestial boon from Brahma with the nectar of immortality, Surpanakha was a master sorceress, expert in the art of magic, witchcraft and shape-shifting.
Both represent the dualistic nature of the universe, with both embodying the different spirits of evil. They are the children of Rishi Vishravas and the “danav” (demon) princess Kaikesi, following the pattern of split moral forces: more evil than good.
Both have deep love for each other. Ravana is said to have waged a war on Ram for the humiliation and violence (chopping off her nose) inflicted on his sister by the Ayodhya princes. Surpanakha was sure of his love, which is why she flees to her brother for help and justice. She wants her revenge and demands Ravana take action against the two brothers. Blinded by rage and love for his sister, Ravana agrees and so leads the way to violence and war with Rama through the abduction of Sita.
There is another thread in folklore which says that it was a different revenge story of this brother and sister. Surpankaha loved her brother Ravana as much as he was fond his sister. But Ravana is said to have killed Surpanakha’s husband after which she secretly swore revenge on her brother and instead used Rama and Lakshman to fight her war with Ravana as she knew it was only Rama who would be able to vanquish her unconquerable brother, Ravana, the king of Lanka.
But in the common imagination, these brother-sister duo are symbolic of a common evil, partners in their journey of death and destruction yet bonded by strong, unusual bond of love, loyalty and protection—the Raksha Bandhan.
Brother-sister duos in mythology:
(Kavita Kane is the author of Karna’s Wife: The Outcast’s Queen, Sita’s Sister, Lanka’s Princess and Menaka’s Choice.)
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