I never knew that Ravana was born just next-door and the moment I discovered that, I hit on the road to explore the place. Diwali is a festival of celebration for Rama's coming home, but for a change I thought let me take you to a place, which is the main cause for Rama's popularity.
My photographer, and me, to begin with took a very right decision of reaching the place by a motorbike than a four-wheeler. It was a narrow road and a bumpy ride leading to the final destination. The way to Ravana's birth place appeared quite interesting, as it was after ages that I could feel the smell of sand, animals bathing in pond filled with mud. It was a typical village, with an unforgettable ambience. This is what the birth place of Ravana called "Bisharakh" (Around 15 km from greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh) looked like. The village, it is said, derived its name from Ravana's father, Vishwashrawa.
I was yet to believe that Ravana was actually born here and to search the evidence of the same the first bit I did was met Mahant Ramadas, the chief priest of the temple, called "Ravan Ka Mandir". According to the villagers, this temple still preserves the Lingam laid by Rishi Vishwashrawa. I started with the most simple question, was he really born here? His apt reply was enough to send a tinge sensation running through my veins, "right here(while pointing finger underneath my chair. Could you believe Yamuna used to flow just outside this compound! the problem is that people don't believe, what they do not see themselves", chirped the priest.
Ramadas, popularly known in the village as Maharaj, continued in the same vein without any pride or shame of the tradition linked to Ravana. The village still has buried skeletons of humans reaching upto eight to ten feet, could you believe this asks the Maharaj. The priest himself claims to have seen the skeletons at least twice. No matter how exotic it appears, one starts believing in the claim of the villagers and the priest.
The village does not have a single temple or statue of Rama or any of his family members or the gods of Vaishnav tradition or even of Hanuman. Even goddess Durga is an unknown entity of worship here, because she supported and helped Rama in the war against Ravana. Moreover, whatever archaeological items that have been unearthed by the excavators from this village support the theory. The priest showed a broken statue of Shiva consuming â€˜Visha' (poison), a broken hand with bangles of Parvati, Shiva's consort, and a clay head of Lord Ganesha.
Bihsarakh Dham, the place where Ravana's father established his ashrama and where Ravana spent his childhood does not look quite appealing in itself. The boundary surrounding it is a recent one, built by Umed Singh, husband of late Phoolan Devi. It does not look in a good shape. When I asked why don't they ask the administration or the Archaeological Survey of India to look after the place, it seemed as if I was advocating blasphemy. The priest, the villagers got infuriated and said, "We are capable of looking after our heritage. If government intervenes it would have to fight with the Panchayat". Clearly, they were not even sure what the government or the Archaeological Survey of India is supposed to do or, that Panchayat is a part of the government.
Dussehra is not celebrated in Bisharakh because it reminds the villagers of the disgraceful end of Ravana. For that matter they do not even enact Ramalila. But quite surprisingly they celebrate Diwali with grandeur and much fanfare. When I asked, why Diwali? Does not it remind you of Rama's victory over Ravana? Response was equally stunning. "We are not Ayodhyans. We don't love one and hate others. We respect Ravana but also love Rama because he fought for the truth. That's why we welcome Rama on every Diwali", said Mohan Bhati, a villager.
But how do the people of Bisharakh feel when someone from outside reminds them of the opprobrium attached to the infamous name? Do they pride in having an association with the place? Says Amar, a young man, "We feel proud that he was born here, however, there are people who take it as a shame. But Ravana was a very powerful and intelligent ruler, wasn't he? And, definitely the most awesome villager ever born in Bisharakh. So, what is in it to be ashamed of?"
Before leaving and after surveying the village, I once again went to Mahant Ramadas to ask two final questions. One, would you allow anyone to take over this place and temple? A straightforward "No" was his answer, because anyone else would not be able to understand the emotional attachment of the people with this place. Though they would be happy to have a trust to develop and manage Bisharakh Dham.
Second, would he advocate worshipping Ravana and therefore get a temple in his name built? Again, Ramadas's response was a blank "No". "We don't worship Ravana because no one worships him; his deeds were evil, but he was a Jnani (knowledgeable). We worship Lord Shiva and will continue to worship only him because Ravana worshipped him. This is our way of paying respect and homage to Ravana" was the final reply of Mahant Ramadas.
Born in this small village, Ravana went on to become the king of the most beautiful and the wealthiest kingdom of the contemporary world. Tradition has it that Parvati, in order to compete with Lakshmi in wealth, coaxed Lord Shiva to get the most beautiful home built for her. So, Lord Shiva got an island, called Lanka built purely of gold. Parvati wanted the most competent priest to perform the house-entering Yajna (sacrifice) for her new house. Hunt began for such a priest and it ended at Ravana, who performed the yajna but demanded Lanka itself as Dakshina (donation given to the priest performing sacrifice). Thus, Ravana landed in Lanka and Lanka landed in Ravana's lap.