The Jaina texts express the feeling that the Hindus have maligned Ravana and made him into a villain. Here is a set of questions that a Jaina text begins by asking- “How can monkeys vanquish the powerful raksasa warriors like Ravana? How can noble men and Jaina worthies like Ravana eat flesh and drink blood? How can Kumbhakarna sleep through six months of the year, and never wake up even though boiling oil was poured into his cars, elephants were made to trample over him, and war trumpets and conches blow around him? They are lies and contrary to reason.”
With these questions in mind King Srenika goes to sage Gautama to have him tell the true story and clear his doubts. Gautama says to him, “I’ll tell you what Jaina wise men say. Ravana is not a demon, he is not a cannibal and a flesh eater. Wrong-thinking poetasters and fools tell these lies.”
He then begins to tell his own version of the story. Obviously, the Jaina Ramayana of Vimalasuri, called Paumacariya, knows the Valmiki form, and proceeds to correct its errors and Hindu extravagances. Like other Jains puranas , this too is a pratipurana , an anti- or counter-purana . The prefix prati , meaning “anti-” or “counter-,” is a favorite Jaina affix! Here Ravana is noble, learned, earns all his magical powers and weapons through tapas, and is a devotee of Jaina masters. To please one of them, he even takes a vow that he will not touch any unwilling woman. He is shaken to his roots when he hears from soothsayers that he will meet his end through a woman, Sita. It is such a Ravana who falls in love with Sita’s beauty, abducts her, tries to win her favors in vain, watches himself fall, and finally dies on the battlefield. In these tellings, he is a great man undone by a passion that he has vowed against but that he cannot resist. Ramayana here is a classical tragedy tale of love and passion.
Here Rama does not even kill Ravana. For Rama is an evolved Jaina soul who has conquered his passions; this is his last birth, so he is loath to kill anything. It is left to Laksmana to kill enemies, and according to Jaina logic it is Laksmana who goes to hell while Rama finds release. Paumacariya is filled with references to Jaina places of pilgrimage, stories about Jaina monks, and Jaina homilies and legends. I found the Jaina tellings to be the most rational. They even rationalize the conception of Ravana as the Ten-headed Demon. When he was born, his mother was given a necklace of nine gems, which she put around his neck. She saw his face reflected in them ninefold and so called him Dasamukha, or the Ten-faced One. The monkeys too are not monkeys but a clan of celestials (vidyadharas ) actually related to Ravana and his family through their great grandfathers. They have monkeys as emblems on their flags: hence the name Vanaras or “monkeys.”
I’ll continue posting more from my research on Ramayanas in the days to come.