Why do South Indian Heroes look like Ravana?

“Why do South Indian Heroes look like Ravana?” he asked innocuously, supremely unaware of any potential to cause offence. I was at my institute’s stores issuing some stuff, when the counter-clerk, engaged in a debate with a colleague about film heroes, suddenly turned on me and startled me with this question.

My trouble sensor was sniffing one of my old bogeymen – an Aryan vs. Dravidian fight. A South Indian who lived most of my life in the North, I’m a veteran in this fight. Dravidians are short, dark, have names beyond pronunciation, cooperated with the British, while Aryans are tall, fair, have good names and fought the British. So they’re better. But Dravidians are mathematical wizards, man the higher bureaucracy, and have won more science Nobels* than Aryans, so they’re superior – my equally puerile counter-argument, which in my boyhood generally sealed the debate.

But to encounter a new broadside in the hackneyed debate was a shock. "Why do South Indian Heroes look like Ravana?"

I must admit some of them do look like Ravana. Ambareesh, the Kannada superstar or Vijaykanth, the Tamil one do suit the description of Ravana - Nearly jet-black skin, huge mustachios and and a goonda-like physique. One does have better-looking types like Madhavan, but that doesn’t count with the North Indians.

“Well, you see” I began, “Ravana was the builder of the greatest city of Lanka. You guys believe that we Southerners worship Ravana, and that is quite true actually. Ravana was dark, had a great moustache. He was a great scholar who knew all the Vedas and Puranas and all the languages of the earth, including that of fishes and birds. He was of limitless muscular strength, and had defeated the Aryan god Indra and was matched in strength only by Vali.

“The Lanka that he had built was a city whose roads were paved with gold, and its walls were built of marble. He saw to it that none of his subjects ever starved, or had any needs. His granaries and treasuries were never just full, but overflowing. Thousands of petty kings paid homage to him. You must have heard of the ruins of Harappa on the Sindhu river. That is actually the site of original Lanka. Archaeologists have proved it.

“Sita was his daughter#, but in his youth he had erred and buried her as a baby in Janak’s kingdom. But now he heard that she was married to a Prince Rama who turned out to be a good-for-nothing. He had been thrown out of his kingdom Ayodhya in favour of his abler brother. Full of remorse that he had not treated his daughter properly, Ravana brought her away to Lanka.

“But you Northerners paint it as if Ravana was a kidnapper. But it is the victor who writes the history. Ravana’s fatherly feeling did him in; perhaps he should have left his daughter to her fate. Instead he invited the wrath of the bloodthirsty Aryan, Rama.

“The Aryan race is naturally hot-tempered and violent. See the murder rates in UP-Bihar, or look at the Pathans and Punjabis. Rama was no different. He descended with a horde of monkeys upon Lanka. Aided by that villainous cheat Vibhishana, he laid Lanka to ruin.

“He assassinated Ravana and burnt the city of Lanka. And to add insult to injury, he did it on Dasara day, when we worship our great goddess Chamundeshwari. The great Dravidian civilization was destroyed completely. The people had to leave the city and their belongings and flee far into the South. Their land was taken by the invading Aryans. Our ancestors discovered an island in the south, and tried to recreate our ancient city there. That is why it is called Sri Lanka. That barbarian Rama left scars that still hurt us deeply after thousands of generations.

“Even today, we look up to King Ravana as our role model. The builder of cities, the nurturer of men, and the scholar of unmatched prowess. We try to be like him. In a South Indian movie, we live out a fantasy. We try to reverse our great tragedy, when the Dravidian civilization was destroyed by the Aryan one. What if our great King Ravana had not been killed, and Rama defeated instead?

“In a South movie, the villain is generally tall and fair and cunning, who has come to shatter our peaceful lives. The hero is dark and strong and wise, who will resist the villain and finish him. That is why South Indian Heroes look like Ravana.”


* C.V. Raman and S. Chandrashekhar (both Physics) vs. Hargobind Khurana (Medicine).
# In the Tamil version of Ramayana by Kambar, Sita is Ravana's daughter.

Disclaimer: All of this is concocted, and has little in relation with the official myth. But it seems to answer convincingly the stupid question that I have to face from time to time.


Bala said…
interesting. This perspective - ravana as the hero and rama as the villain- is the main theme of "Ravana Kaviyam" a work of poetry by "Pulavar Kuzhandhai" (one of the early DK/DMK literary figures).

Verses from Ravana Kaviyam were in Tamil Nadu stateboard syllabi for 9th standard tamil a decade back (i studied a whole chapter).Dont know about now.. still there i guess.

It must have been difficult for the tamil writers of ramayana (like kambar) to write something that obviously vilifies a tamil king and portrays "dark villains living in lanka". So they go on a tangent often, giving the anti-hero view - there is an entire chapter devoted to vali ("Vali Vadhai padalam") in kambar's ramayanam. Also there is kumbakarna - the good natured sidekick villain and tortured explanations for ravana's actions (he couldnt touch his daughter ;-))
Braveheart said…
Very interesting read, I must say :)
-- Akshaya
Ozymandias said…
This essay was written merely to illustrate how puerile the debate is, though a whole lot of folks take it seriously. For all our differences, our similarities outweigh them. But people notice differences, not similarities. Which is why we are the bloodiest species in biology. Time to realise we are just one species, and very young at that!
suniti said…
Interesting argument. There have been many instances where scholars have tried to show the known villains in a different perspective. But you can not get away from the fct ( maybe even that is an Aryan Myth ) that Ravana's only sin as far as I think was his arrogance :) But that is a fault common with rest of the indians, so wont go into it. How about picking a real hero- say Bali- and telling his story, if you want to illustrate supremacy of south? He was praised by both Aryans and dravidians like.

- Suniti, the kannadiga :D
Ozymandias said…
The piece had nothing to do with the supremacy of the south. I have no such notions. South Indian food is another matter altogether, though.

I agree that Ravana was punished only for his arrogance, so you could say that the Ramayana was a parable to caution folk. But the piece originated as a cocky response to a fellow who just assumed that South Indians, who with their dark skins and huge moustaches resemble Ravana, worship him! Ravana's ignorant arrogance is still with us, while Rama's humility is quite an unknown among Indians (except when a whiteskin shows up).
Anonymous said…
Amazing comments here! i have to say though living in the UK where all darkskinned guys are called"Paki" be they from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh gives a different view to this whole north/south debate. In the eyes of the white man we are all the same - and more commonly all the bad traits associated with the north - are branded on to all of us - i.e Pakis are smelly(spices), unclean, dishonest(courtesy of our North businessmen) and barbaric(the daughter/daughter-in-law burning). So the next time one of our northern brethren open their mouth to spill some gems of wisdom point them towards Europe.
Thilini-srilanka said…
yes, interesting story, but are you sure that lanka was a city in india,before they discover the the island lanka.coz we hv our own historical legends,about Ravana, our king.
anyway this is very nice.
RaviSekhar said…
Dravidian culture follows shaivism and Thrimurthi(shiva,vishanu,Brahma) and other demi god system.

Here shiva(ardhnareeshwar) is Supreme along with amba and vishnu and Brahma are supportes for creating ,preserving and for destruction. Indra,Surya,Chandra like all are as for perticular work(kryiya or action or direction).Here all of the gods are having temples showing their praise.

From Dravidism,indians(now referring as Dravidians)spread their view god as Shaivism (Hinduism) .After that other areas of world started following the Idea of viewing god similarly but not in the exact way as Indians.So because of that reason in all olden cultures indian culture is resembled. After so many thousand of years other breed people who are following hinduism(not exactly as indians) came to our country.

In that scenario so many breeds came to India.One among them are aryans.Aryans feel that they are from Demi god Surya's Family (Raghu Vamsam)and they are great and their forefathers are great.and they are gods for them.

They started dominance as they are some what strenghtened people.after that they pushed the ancient indians from well established cities to forests and hill areas.Real Hindus were pushed to South India(forests and hills) and hill areas in north india.

They scripted in way that Ancient Indians are Asuras, Rakshasas, Vanaras,Tribes.They scripted in a manner that Their "Surya as Surya Nrayana" after that the Sri Rama(aryan king )as mahavishnu.they wrote vedas(as per their political view not in the spiritual view).

and they scripted the society as 4 castes Brahmins,vaishyas,Khatriyas, sudhras(panchamas).Who accepted them given first three categories based o their work.the other callled as shudras.So many ancient indians changed to this system for the sake of leading life.But if time comes they are fighting for their nation and culture.

Generation gone.Some native kings fighted back if time comes.the fight is continued the generations.The Strongest native indian king Ravana,some of the ancient indian kings who were blind supporters of their culture)are killed by Sri Rama(Aryan King)
The aryans Scripted him as the God and other indian kings as asuras.

Here the aryans scripted him as Lord vishnu and he is supreme.

Generations gone .time changed. still the ancient Indians(some people following sahivism) are living in Tamilnadu,andhra, Karnataka,kerala,some hill parts of north and central India, Srilanka, singhpore,Malasiya.

Some people mingled their culture with aryans culture.

After that some tamil native strong kings are back and they asked the people convert back to shaivism(Real ancient Hinduism)where shiva is supreme not Sri Rama(aryans scripted as vishnu) but some people are not converted.

Some people are still in a feel that Vishnu and aryans Rama are same.So the Tamil kings are ready to destroy our own vishnu temples(vishnu ,brahma are supporters to shiva)for destroying aryan cultuure.The example is Govindaraja Swami temple.That temple is worshipped by dravidians but destoyed for the sake of Primary issue of rcecovering our own culture from misguided aryans's culture.

So what I want to say is Our culture is Dravidian culture and our Supreme god is Shiva and Supporters of shiva are Vishnu and Brahma(thrimurthulu).So Vaishnavism,Shakthism are also parts of shaivism.

But now in a feel that vaishnavism is aryans (vishnu is supreme) and shaivism is Dravidians(shiva is Supreme).But fact that is vaishnavism ,shakthism are branches of shaivism . Aryan 's culture is to show aryans kings as gods(sri Rama =Vishnu) and he is supreme.
Sourav said…
Wel written. But why do you count only Science Nobel awards to justify superiority of South Indians? Why not count the Economics and Literature Nobels as well? Humanities also needs intellect, not just science!
Nithya said…
nostalgic!! I'm happy that people do know history beyond India's freedom struggle.
Kriti Maroli said…
I believe that the fact that you mentioned about south indians being dravidians and north indians being aryans in a huge myth in itself.Very few Indinas are Aryans . If they do exist they will be from the extreme North West with a good dose of Dravidian blood in them too. The rest of the Indians other than the tribals and many people in the North East, are Dravidians or Dravidian hybrids. This is irrespective of whether you speak an Indo European or Dravidian language. Even in your so called precious Aryan Punjab the Dravidian blood is aorund 60% to 40%. So most Indians overwhelmingly have a Dravidian heritage. Speaking an Aryan or Dravidian languge as your mother tongue does not mean that you are autamatically an Aryan or Dravidian by race, A ruler or new religion or invasion can change the language of a region. As for the Sinhalese there is nothing Aryan about them in fact other than a few european halfcastes , Most of them are darker and more Veddah looking than the indigenous Eelam Tamils. Sinhalese DNA shows 70% South Idnian Tamil and 25% Bengali DNA and 5% Veddah. None of these people are Aryans. The Tamils largely Dravidian. Bengalis. Indo European speaking Dravidians or Dravido/Monglos. Funny interesting read by the way,i saw your note on reshma's fb profile.
Kriti Maroli said…
I take back my words after reading this interesting article:

I still stick on to the argument that north indians and south indians are no different race, the difference in color is probably because of the difference in the distance from the equator:)
Well said mate. If only every other Indian was as enlightened in their view of the Indian genetic makeup.
Anonymous said…
Please read raavana kaaviyam by pulavar kuzhanthai. We need to take ramayanam and raavana kaaviyam in historical perspective. All northern myth are by the munis. But most of the South Indian epics are not written by munis. Munis had an upper hand with kings. They are like Egyptian astrologers in the court.
I don't know which ravan are you talking about. Ravan was aryan blood, an indo-europid stock, not an indo-aryan. He was son of rishi pulsatya and daitya/gaint kaiksei. So the myth that he was of tamil stock is false.
indeewar j said…
Usually tamils are darker than aboriginal veddah group of srilanka. Even indian tamils are more lower caste than srilankan tamils and they used to be very dark skinned. In my opinion Sinhalese are indo Aryans so as ravana. Sinhalese consist of four tribes siv hela yaksha,naga ,deva and north indians. Most tamils in sri lanka are captured south Indians by Sinhalese kings anthropological studies have shown they are closer to veddas and Australian aboriginals.Even compared to sinhalese sri lankans tamils are bit dark skinned and aboriginal looking because mixing with Indian Tamils.
Above genetic study whould prove that,
In 2008 a study looked at SLC24A5 polymorphism which accounts for 25-40% of the skin complexion difference between Europeans and Africans[29] and up to 30% of skin colour variation in South Asians.[30][31] The study found that the rs1426654 SNP of SLC24A5, which is fixed in European populations[32] and found more commonly in light skinned individuals than dark skinned individuals (49% compared to 10%), has a frequency of 50-55% in the Sinhalese and 25-30% in Sri Lankan Tamils
Ravan is a Sinhalese and also indo Aryan belong to early indo Aryan sattlers. Sri lankans Tamils beveled to be slaves ravana brought from southern India, South Indian Tamils consist of war missionaries and slaves ravan brought from Africa.According to sri lankan professor mirando obesekara.
Even in ancient times sinhalese reffered tamils as hadi demalu or pitch black tamils. When chola kings attacked sri lanka. This proves light skin allele still common among Sinhalese even thousand years ago. European contribution has nothing to do with it.

Ravan is Sinhalese and he does look like an indo aryan like majority of Sinhalese does. South Indians have nothing to do with ravan.

Popular Posts