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Hindu mythology: Profit versus profit for all: ​​Heroism is not linked to following or breaking the rules

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-Devdutt Pattanaik

In Hindu mythology Ravana is considered a successful king. He rules over the golden city of Lanka. However, Ram is considered a spiritually successful king. His reign over the kingdom of Ayodhya is admired as the model to achieve. In Lanka, there is profit,
laabh.

In Ayodhya, there is profit for all,
shubh-laabh. Ram is visualised as the one who follows all the rules. He is called “maryada purushottam” Ram. Ravana, his antagonist, is the one who breaks all the rules. He wants the whole world to function, as per his desires.

Thus, the Ramayana is a tale of a conflict between a rule breaker and a rule follower. Let us contrast this with the conflict found in the other great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata.

Here, Krishna is the friend and guide of the Pandavas. They are fighting Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, their cousins. Krishna is renowned for breaking rules. He is “leela purushottam” – the one known for not playing by the rules of the game.

He enables the Pandavas to overpower Duryodhana, killing Bhishma, Drona and Karna who support Duryodhana. Duryodhana, in the entire epic, never breaks a single rule. He abuses Draupadi publicly; but only after she has been gambled away by her husbands. He does not return the Pandavas’ kingdom to them as he argues they have not followed the rules of the contract.

Thus, in the Mahabharata, conflict arises between a rulebreaking hero, Krishna, and a rule-making antagonist, Duryodhana. Thus, between Ramayana and Mahabharata, we find a complex discussion on following and breaking rules.

Heroism is not linked to following or breaking the rules, as in the Bible or the Quran. Between Ram and Krishna, Krishna is not considered a successful king as at the end of his reign, his kingdom, Dwarka, is destroyed, due to the unfortunate consequence of his manipulations.

Ram’s kingdom thrives, even though he suffers great personal tragedy. He is a great king, not a great husband. Yudhishtira is not the model king either. Because he carries forward his hatred of Kauravas, even after death while Ram has no qualms venerating Ravana, for his good qualities – as an astrologer, musician, poet.

In our lives, we encounter many people who are successful, despite breaking the rules. It, of course, doesn’t mean all successful people break the rules. Likewise, we meet many people who are successful because they follow the rules.

But again, that doesn’t mean that all people who follow the rules are successful. Many-a-time, we meet people who break all the rules, but demand complete loyalty like Ravana, and who are able to make themselves appear as victims.

We are surrounded by people who live by their own rules. Yet they insist that we must obey and follow them, giving them our 100% allegiance. At the same time, we meet many Duryodhanas who are so clever that the court never finds them guilty of breaking any law.

India is governed by many Ravanas and Duryodhanas. India’s rich do not see Ram and Krishna as their models, even though they organise huge parties on Ram Navami and Krishna Janmashtami. Our elite openly defy the law and manipulate it as well.

We are a country where we don’t find Ram and Krishna. To find them, we must first find out what distinguishes Ram and Krishna from Ravana and Duryodhana. Following rules mindlessly does not make a person Ram as Bollywood tries to portray.

Breaking rules with a mischievous smile makes no one Krishna either. Ram and Krishna see kingship as a responsibility while Ram and Ravana see their kingdoms as their property. Ram and Krishna are kings to make people’s lives better; Ravana and Duryodhana are kings to make their lives better. In other words, Ravana and Duryodhana chase profit (
laabh) while Ram and Krishna chase profit-for-all (
shubh-laabh).

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