Solving the problem of evil in the twenty-first century

Ravana: Satan Depicted in a Different Perspective

In our society, we view the Devil as a single being, full of malevolent qualities, a few of them being thievery, deception, and betrayal. However, in most Asian cultures, and especially in the Hindu religion, the Devil is represented as a demonic entity, having nine heads, twenty arms, and garbed in traditional Indian garb, shedding a whole new light on how the Devil is viewed in our society versus the South East Asian region of the world.
Ravana is the name of the Demon god referred to in Hindu theology. Ravana is seen as an evil force in the spiritual world. He is also the dreaded God of War, seen as every arm he possesses yields a weapon. Ravana is infamous for kidnapping Sita, the goddess and wife of another god, Rama. Eventually, Rama forced his army of Gods into Ravana’s underworld kingdom and saved Sita. In the Vedas (the Hindu’s book of religion), Rama slaughters Ravana by shooting an arrow through his chest, since cutting off his heads was ineffective as they grew back. Although his body is expired, his haunting spirit is still said to cause destruction and chaos, as his living being would have on the earth.
There are obvious, distinctive differences between the Devil Westerners choose to imagine and the Devil South Asians imagine. The appearance is a striking difference; we view our Devil to be a single being, probably red, with a pointed tail, horns, a pitchfork, hooves and sometimes in a comical way, accessorized with a goatee. Whereas Ravana is seen as a fierce, gigantic King with several heads and armed with several swords, giving him a mystical instead of a demonic appeal. Ravana, unlike our Western Devil, is actually referenced to as an actual God instead of a spiteful being. The most important distinction is that Ravana has an actual cemented background story of his notorious acts and his eventual downfall, while our Western Devil’s story comes from the Bible and has been altered and revised over generations.
In our minds, we have a solid, set Devil image that we can place in stories and legends. But we forget that there are other representations of the Devil, such as the one told in the Vedas in Hindu theology.

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3 responses

  1. Molly Allender

    This is a very interesting exploration of a non-western view of evil. Using your explanation it seems Ravana has some similarities with other polytheist religions. The God-like status and control of the under world reminds me of Greek mythology.

    May 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm

  2. zet66

    It’s a great idea to show the representation of the devil in light of a different culture. I think you described the differences very well. Because of the Vedic literature and other Hindu scriptures, and because of the use of idols which have concrete images and identities, it is not surprising that the Hindu version of the devil would also have a defined background and image. You made a very interesting comparison between an eastern and western perspective.

    May 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm

  3. I agree, your descriptions comparing western and eastern perspectives of evil are effective in establishing the diverging devil figures. I’ve always found the Hindu religion very interesting and I’m glad you were able to illuminate the nature of Ravana for me.

    May 11, 2011 at 6:24 am

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