Strategic Intent of Ravan

Business, Ramayana 21 Comments

First Published in Corporate Dossier, Economic Times, 11 July 2008

With ten heads, twenty arms, a flying chariot and a city of gold, Ravan is one of the most flamboyant villains in Hindu mythology. He abducted Sita, the wife of Ram, and was struck down for that. Ravan is the demon-king of the Ramayan, the lord of the Rakshasas, whose effigy must be burnt each year in the autumn festival commemorating the victory of Ram.

Yet, there is much about him to be admired – he was a poet who composed the Rudra Stotra in praise of Shiva, the ascetic-god; he was a musician who used one of his heads and one of his arms to design a lute called  Rudra Vina, in honor of Shiva. When Hanuman entered Lanka, in search of Sita, he found the demon-lord lying in bed surrounded by a bevy of beauties, women who had willingly abandoned their husbands drawn by Ravan’s sexual prowess. Rishi Agastya informed Ram that Ravan was only half-demon: his father Vaishrava, was a Brahmin whose father was Pulatsya, one of the seven mind-born primal sons of Brahma himself. So after killing Ravan, before returning to Ayodhya, Ram went to the Himalayas to perform penance and purify himself of the sin of Brahma-hatya or killing of a Brahmin.

Ram, by comparison, seems boring – a rule-upholder who never does anything spontaneous or dramatic. He always does the right thing, whether he likes it or not, and does not seem like much fun. It is natural therefore to be a fan of Ravan, to be seduced by his power, to be enchanted by his glamour, and to find arguments that justify his actions.

In the corporate world, flamboyant CEOs do get a lot of attention, especially if they also happen to be successful CEOs, with their very own city of gold built on rising stock markets. One is dazzled by the cars they drive, the lives they lead, their swagger, their confidence, their individual aura that makes them giants amongst their peers, powerful men like Trilochan-ji who command authority and demand allegiance. Trilochan-ji’s team admires the way he can pick up the phone and get things done. He has the money to buy anybody who stands in his way. And the political clout to get all the clearances. He has, in a short while, managed to grow his business at a rate that his predecessors could only imagine. Trilochan-ji’s organization is in awe of him. And everyone fears him.

By contrast, Asutosh-ji, Trilochan-ji’s cousin, is a very mild man. His business has grown rapidly too, but no one knows about it, because he does not push his public relations department too much. Why? “Because press coverage has no impact on my business.” He meticulously gathers data, plans his strategies with his team, empowers his directors to implement them thoroughly, keeps a hawk’s eye on deviations, and ensures the numbers are met. Few would notice him in the office. He dresses like others do, uses the same toilet as his employees, loves spending his Sundays only with family, and is happiest when he can give his employees a good bonus and his shareholders a good dividend. Not the best results in the market, but much better than last year. The point, he says, is not show spikes of brilliance but a steady sustainable growth. His speeches are boring, too accurate and lacks the glamour of Trilochan-ji. And when in crisis, Asutosh-ji will not pick up the phone to call a politician nor will he look for people he can buy out; he will meticulously plan his action to solve the problem without looking for short cuts. “Because,” he says, “Short cuts always have long term repercussions and I will not risk it while I am the custodian of my company’s future.”

It is simplistic to call Trilochan-ji a Ravan and Asutosh-ji a Ram simply because the former is flamboyant and commanding while the later is boring and task-oriented. What makes Ravan villain of the Ramayan is not his heads, or arms, or flying chariot or city of gold. It is his strategic intent.

What does Ravan stand for? He never built the city of gold – he drove out his brother, Kuber, and took over the kingdom of Lanka. He went around the world killing sages and raping women. Why? To establish his dominion – to generate fear. Why did he abduct Sita? Avenging his sister’s mutilation was but an excuse; it was the desire to conquer the heart of a faithful wife. And during the war, he let his sons die and his brothers die before entering the battlefield himself. His desire for victory over Sita, and Ram, mattered more than the lives of his people.

Ravan lives only for himself. His pleasure matters the most. Ironically, he is the devotee of Shiva – the ascetic, the god who demonstrates his disdain for all things material and sensuous by smearing his body with ash and living in crematoriums and atop a desolate icy hill. Ravan may sing praises of Shiva and bow to him, but despite having ten heads is unable to internalize the wisdom of Shiva. Maybe he does understand Shiva’s ascetic philosophy intellectually, enabling him to compose potent hymns, but he is unable to follow Shiva’s way in spirit. For all his prayers and poems, he remains attached to power and pleasure and wealth – all things material, and all things transitory. He is no nihilist; he is simply a weak man, a talker, not a doer.

In Hindu mythology, a leader is not one who rules a city of gold or travels on a flying chariot. It is one who lives to make a positive impact on the lives of others. Leadership is not about self-aggrandizement. It is about creating a society where people can live a full life. Ram is hero and god, not because he is a boring obedient son, but because by being an obedient son, he demonstrates his commitment to ‘others’. He lives not for his pleasure, as Ravan does, but for the pleasure of those around him. And the journey is not easy – for one can never please everybody. Trilochan-ji’s empire is a by-product of his desire to dominate and be feared while Asutosh-ji’s establishes businesses to satisfy his internal and external customers to the best of his ability. It is the difference in strategic intent that makes one Ravan and the other Ram.

  • A Castelino

    I read your article in corporate dossier and found it very enchanting. You make them very simple and easy to understand. Using mythology in explaining management principles makes it even more interesting. Keep up the good work.


    just 2 let u know i am reading ur articles whenever i get time &
    learning a lot from it .

  • Aseem Hattangadi

    A very apt article since I am a major believer and fan of Ravan (absurd as it may sound), mainly because I feel he was a misunderstood individual. No doubt he was an embodiment of all things evil, but if you dwell into his intentions and perceptions, one will realise the wisdom and great amount of thinking gone into it. I wouldn’t hesitate to also state that if asked to choose between Ram and Ravan, the latter would be my immediate choice. The article above itself states the many reasons to support what I say.

    • Unchained Melody

      If I had my way, I would exterminate every single Ravan on this planet (and today’s world is full of them). I am indeed surprised that you made such a comment. Perhaps there are things more important to you than virtue and ethics. I would never ever do business with or work under someone who had the ‘strategic intent of Ravan’.

  • kapil desai

    ur understanding of mythology is fantastic. I was always drawn on this subject thru “amar chitra katha ” now as a adult i am reading it in ur articles thru a different perspective.

    tell me “how did u develop this talent ?”. I JUST WANT TO LEARN. Will u please please teach me ??

    • By asking why…and observing patterns between stories….realizing that none exist in a vaccum…all are interconnected….

  • Snehal

    Awe some ! but little bit doubtful….

  • roopak

    Devdutt ji you are doing a wonderful work by using mythology in the age of cars and villas to teach people about the values and meaning of karma in true sense. Hindu mythology is in itself a explaining guide to all business and social problems. I salute your knowledge and methodology.

  • Swetha

    Great work! Enjoyed reading it!

  • Neeraj

    Awesome Dev Sir.

  • Anu

    We are what we choose to be. Our choices define who we become. The epic draws a parallel to everyday scenario and how we always have a choice. Thank you for the wonderful insight.

  • sagar


    inspite of all evils done by ravana
    he was great sceintist too

    i came across some scriptures where it explains how ravana built human robot dat resembles exactly like sita mata.

    He used advanced weapons at dat time.

    He is a master of sceince and technology.

    but he used it for himself dats y he finally destroyed.

    • Unchained Melody

      I don’t care how meritorious or talented a person is. If he is an arsehole, he has no right to exist. Because he will only laugh all the way to the bank making life miserable for others. Just as Ravan did. Fair or unfair, right or wrong, cruel or kind did not matter to him in the least. He simply did whatever pleased or profited him. Regardless of the tremendous torture and agony it caused others. Without the slightest compunction or remorse. Today’s world is full of arseholes like Ravan. And I would be the happiest if Ram appeared today and exterminated all of them. ALL of them. It would also reduce the burden on this planet. But we have to wait for Kalki to appear. And He will appear only at the end of Kali Yuga.

  • sagar

    more than 20 countries in the world follows ramayan and not only follows ramayan but dey feel as der happened history apart from india.

    der was a small documentary film about this telecasted in DD-national.

    surprising thing is dat,No one spread our culture der.

    ramayan is der own history!!!

  • Ranjit More

    Ravana was, in fact, one of the gate-keepers of Vaikuntha, Jay-Vijay. Following divine inspiration, the gate-keepers had apprehended the four Kumara brothers, Sanaka, Sananda, etc., who are capable of travelling infinite Bruhmaandas at will. The four mind-born sages of Brahma cursed the gate-keepers and thus they had to be born as Rakshasas thrice.

    Hiranyakasipu-Hiranyaksh, Ravana-Kumbhakaran and Sisupala-Dantavakra. Since the liberated souls residing in the spiritual realms of Bhagavan possess identical powers and energies, only they are made to act as ‘enemies’. No ordinary soul can come into the possession of such might and aishvarya – no matter how profound his austerity or karma.

    Sri Brahmadeva, who resides 1,970,000,000 miles away from the surface of the Earth, in the wonderful sphere of Satya-loka, used to travel to Earth to recite Vedas in Lanka. Such was the might of the ten-headed Ravana. Only Bhagavan could kill him. And so He did – as a fulfillment of His sporting, recreational desires.

    Love your analogies, sir. Although I wouldn’t class Sri Ramacandra as boring by any stretch of the imagination. Upon viewing Him, the Paramhamsas (the supreme class of yogis, sages) of Dandakaranya expressed overwhelmingly intense desires to unite with him. Even Sri Vishvesvara Shankara cannot contain His joy upon viewing the beautiful limbs of Raghunatha – what to speak of ordinary girls?

  • Ushasree Jakilinki

    Good analogy, but Ram could not keep any person in his life happy, his father , his mother, his wife his brother or his children. He claimed he did everything in the name of dharma but what is dharma if U cannot keep the people closest to you happy ? What is dharma which sends a faithful pregnant wife into the forest and then again chooses to crown those sons ? Ram is a glory seeker more than anything else.

    • Pritam Gupta

      Rama upheld dharma by setting an example of a king who’s main priority is to look at the well being of his people. He had to go to forest to keep his father’s promise, and thus completing a role of an obedient son. If you are a leader, then it’s only the people whom you are leading matters most, not his family or near ones. That’s why he sent Sita to forest when his people questioned Sita’s time spent in Lanka. These are the personal sacrifices that makes him revered as a king, perhaps the only Indian god to be worshipped as a king, as he never compromised with this particular role

      • Deepak


    • Deepak

      I don’t know on what basis you come to this conclusion that none of Ram’s family members were happy with him. It looks like you are trying to put your mind onto them. Perhaps if you were in their place you would have hated Ram’s guts for putting dharma above your concerns/interests/desires/wishes. Maybe you would prefer to marry Trilochan (the flamboyant but unethical CEO) to Ashutosh (the boring but ethical CEO). Of course, those who put ethics aside are far more opulent and endowed than those who retrain themselves with ethics. The richest people on this planet are corrupt politicians. Who seek profit and pleasure at any cost. Ram is a glory seeker? On what basis are you making that claim?

    • Unchained Melody

      Ram put ethics above EVERYTHING else. The desires, wishes and ambitions of people were/are hardly important in front of ethics. Ethics came above EVERYTHING else. And I do not think any of his family members had a problem with that. They were not like the selfish people of today (who care not for ethics). Let me also let you know that you have committed a serious offence by levelling charges against Ram, who was an incarnation of God Himself. And Divine laws are gender-neutral. Unlike human laws which handle women with kid gloves and let them off the hook (treating them as special) and beat the hell out of men (treating them as louts and jerks by default).

  • Unchained Melody

    Ravan was a lout and a lowlife. It would have been better if he had never existed. Today’s 21st century is full of louts and lowlifes like Ravan. And I would exterminate them if I had my way.