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Nose of Surpanaka

Modern Mythmaking, Ramayana 17 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, May 08, 2011

 

Humanity has always killed for peace. The First World War was dubbed as the ‘war to end all wars’. The atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to stop all wars. Now, Obama has killed Osama for peace. What do we kill actually? We kill that which cannot be controlled.

We cannot control the terrorist; we cannot make them see sense, so we feel justified in killing them, before they kill others. This killing is done in righteous indignation. It feels right. But why does the terrorist terrorize? If American psychologists have to be believed, they are all psychopaths and sociopaths, with genetic predisposition to violence. Such explanations conveniently enable us to deny our role in creating these monsters.

In the Ramayana, Ravan abducts Ram’s wife, Sita, only because Ram’s brother, Lakshman, cuts the nose of his sister, Surpanakha. One can condemn Ravan but his actions can be seen as a reaction to the mutilation of his sister. Likewise, Surpanaka can condemn Ram and Lakshman but their actions are a reaction to her very own abrasive and uncontrolled sexual advances. Every victim likes to believe they are innocent. Unfortunately, every victim is the mother of his or her own tormentor.

According to the karma theory, nothing in life happens without a reason. Every thing that happens to us are actually reactions to actions we have performed in the past. Thus we are never innocent: our karma creates our fortunes and our misfortunes, everything we experience every moment. So we have no one to blame, or thank, but us. We may not remember our past actions, we may not be able to trace the source, but there is no escaping our responsibility.

Karma is often accused of making people fatalistic and not taking responsibility. But not taking responsibility is also action, which has reactions, whether good or bad, only time will tell. But the modern world order rejects karma, and prefers to take action, do something about the terrorist, an action based on the Greek model of heroism.

For many people around the world, America is the monster. So they cheered and danced when the Twin Towers were blown up. For America, the Jihadis are the monsters. So New Yorkers cheered and danced when news of Osama’s death came. Both believe in their personal righteousness. No one asks: why did the terrorist seek to terrorize?

Today the world has three types of terrorists: the economic terrorist, the environmental terrorist and the cultural terrorist. The economic terrorist fights for jobs that are created only when there is industry and development, which unfortunately comes at a cost to environment. The environmental terrorist fights to save the environment and so is opposed to any kind of industry and development. As new markets are created to sustain industry and ensure development, old habits have to be changed; this threatens cultures and identities creating the cultural terrorist who fears all change, and clings to the past tenaciously.

Thus terrorism is not created in a vacuum; it is closely linked to our growing economic needs. We are a world where everyone is cutting the nose of Surpanakha and is crying foul when Ravan abducts Sita.

  • Abhilash

    Dear Dev,

    As I was reading the introduction to the article, I thought that you had a naive sense of the world. Not all American psychologists believe that the so called terrorists are psychopaths and sociopaths.

    I was about to close the window when I read more and I liked what you are getting at. I like the presentation.

    I especially liked your take on how no body is innocent and that the victim is the mother of his or her tormentor.

    Thank you.

  • Darshan

    This is so right… Every action has a reaction… karma dose exist… is it that we convinently give a blind eye towards it, If every one takes the responsibility of their action they would know what to expect in the future… life would be much easy…but this is one brain thinking how and all brains in the world think on the same line/frequency???

    I think Sir Issac Newton, understood Karma, else how could he have stated his 3rd law which states, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”.

  • anjaneya

    Dear Kindred Souls,
    The world, as we know it, would come to an end, if no one had any karmas left over. KarmaChakra is closely intertwined, like a DNA Helix, to KaalChakra. Together they form the genetic basis of existence. Why worry over who cut Surpanakha’s nose and why it was cut? Karmas play out like a nuclear chain reaction. Use it to learn what’s going on in this drama. Love, Someone on the path of realization.

  • Sanket

    Devdutt says:-
    “In the Ramayana, Ravan abducts Ram’s wife, Sita, only because Ram’s brother, Lakshman, cuts the nose of his sister, Surpanakha. One can condemn Ravan but his actions can be seen as a reaction to the mutilation of his sister. Likewise, Surpanaka can condemn Ram and Lakshman but their actions are a reaction to her very own abrasive and uncontrolled sexual advances. Every victim likes to believe they are innocent. Unfortunately, every victim is the mother of his or her own tormentor.”

    I think we can justify Ravana’s anger on seeing his sister’s nose being mutilated, but not the way in which he responded.

    How come one crime justify another.He abducted someone else’s wife and that too in their absence. Ravana was very powerful. He considered himself superior to Ram in warfare. Then why didn’t he openly challenge Ram to a fight? This is where Ravana slips and suffers in the end. Surpanaka ignites his passion for Sita by describing her as worthy of his wife.Thus, he has double motives in abducting Sita. One is his sister’s plight , other is his own lust.

    Also I feel Sita suffered a lot for mistrusting Lakshman.Her accusations of him were unfounded.There was nothing in his past behavior to suggest he had wrong intentions with regards to Sita.

    • Niranjana nagpal

      I totally agree with you. In fact many people have often defended Raavan by saying that he only abducted Sita to take revenge on account of his sister conveniently forgetting that it was Raavan, who in first place had murdered Surpanakha’s husband just because he never approved his sister marrying a person with whom he had some ego problems. What a loving and caring brother indeed.

  • Aravind S Raamkumar

    fantastic examples

  • how can anyone label the people who try to save the environment as environmental terrorist…..

  • Vivek

    Dear Devduttji,

    Infact, by mentioning about Karma, you have really questioned the mindset of today’s youth. We believe that we are the masters of our destiny. This was infact believed and preached by Swami Vivekananda himself. Its quite paradoxical that what we are going through and what we will experience in future is completely based on our Karma and also the fact that we control our future, and I can change my life the way I want as long as I have what it takes to do it.

    Seriously, sometimes things are pretty much complicated. Could you please write something explaining this paradox.

  • Medha

    “We are a world where everyone is cutting the nose of Surpanakha and is crying foul when Ravan abducts Sita”

    I have read historian J P Mittal’s book: History of Ancient India from 4300 BC to 4250 BC( In bits n parts on google books since it does not have full access)
    In which he mentions references of other books used for help in writing his book; one such book is “Notorious Women” by Ashok kumar Sharma where the latter mentions that Shupanakha herself was responsible for her mess and she faked her cutting of nose and provoked Ravana,thus giving a benefit of doubt to Rama and Lakshmana.
    Indologist P.L Bhargava is also of same opinion, he says that when ‘S’ tries to trouble Sita ,Lakshman just scratches her ears n nose and chases her away because he does not want to kill a woman.( mentioned in the book Retrieval of history from puranic myths)
    There was a serial “Raavan” telecasted on Zee T.V which was based on Ramayan as ravan saw it , interestingly the serial shows that ‘S’ tearing her own clothes and injuring her nose and makes ‘R’ believe that all this mess was R-L brothers.
    Further in Valmiki Ramayana ‘S’ actually praises R-L and says they”humiliated” me but Ravana’s first impression ,after seeing her, was that of ‘mutiliation’
    Also logicallyy, if we read the pre war dialogues of Rama and Ravan ; Lakshman-Indrajit respectively there are no references to Shurpanakha’s mutiliation which if were pointed by R-I would be very humiliated for R-L .
    My point is that first you make a ‘shoe’ and then find a foot to match it.
    The Shurpanakha humiliation episode is widely debated saying it was an interpolation, to support my claim I have given the above said examples.
    You take a ‘myth’ first and then spin a tale of how that myth is applicable in what is happening around in this world and its repercussions are natural.
    This article is a complete let down and justifies one heinous crime for another; its like Rajiv ‘1984’Gandhi saying “when a mighty tree falls, its but natural for the earth to shake a little”

    [clearly neither you nor your friend have actually read what I have written but have imagined something that I have not written….]

    No dear, we have read and understood whatever you’ve written ;-)
    An ‘aam admi’ doesn’t know how to read in between the lines :p

  • I’m impressed by your writing. Are you a professional or just very knwoeldgeable?

  • Dear Devdutt,
    My age is 13 years. I am impressed,a few thoughts which u have got the same.Though i am 13 but , I want to talk to you. can u PLEASE plz give me your phone number.

  • I’ve heard about u by my ‘LIFE SKILLS’ TEACHER,WHO WAS TELLING ABOUT MYTHOLOGY OF GREEK,AND EVEN EXPLAINED A FEW REASONS THAT Y ARE HINDU RITUALS UNIQUE,AND EVEN SAID ABOUT U.

  • Saurabh nandgaonkar

    A different but interesting perspective altogether….

  • Ashish

    Dear Devduttji,
    Excellent explanation. I am seeing that still some people are trying to judge the examples given in the story and are not focusing on the extract of the article. The article clearly explains the root cause of fight that is every victim feels that he is innocent whereas he fails to see his own deeds. If only he could do this, we would have no fight at all.
    Very good explanation.

  • Charu

    I guess to understand the psyche of a so called ‘terrorist’ one has to spend some time in ghettos where fanatics shape insecure minds into terrorizing minds. My brother Bibhudutta Jena – an environmentalist in orissa – always says snakes can’t be blamed for biting people. They bite just because they are insecure.

  • loveendures

    What made shurpanaka to have the mind of excessive sexual advances ? This is where karma concept colapses.