Vanity thought #340. Butchering dharma

Our local university is putting out a production of Ramayana with a modern twist – Lord Ramachandra now is an ordinary human being punished for his greed (when he chased the golden deer) and Ravana is not a vicious demon but a poor kid who was bullied at school for his birth defect (ten heads) who simply fell in love.

This way they explore “the humanity” of the story, stripped of religious moralizing.

On one hand this is clearly an abomination and an affront to religious feelings of the audience, but this angle of attack implies that there are people in the audience who actually care about religion.

I could also argue that Ravana wasn’t just an innocent dork, he unleashed untold suffering on a lot of people just for his own pleasure. You can’t pretend to be neutral and unbiased and have absolutely no sympathy for his victims. This is a great argument against any modern attempt at “neutrality” – there often aren’t two sides of the story, some things are just plain wrong.

The kids, though, could say that in their version Ravana isn’t terrorising anybody so no people or animals were hurt in their production.

So it is boils down to this – how much artistic freedom should be permissible and should interpretations of well established religious stories be allowed at all?

This is the sad side of our lives – religion is no more sacred. But we should also keep in mind that if we take our stories out to the public people would want to digest and internalize their lessons, they would want to own them in the same way we feel like we own Ramayana and feel that it’s our duty to protect it. It’s not a sign that they are malicious towards Lord Ramachandra, they just haven’t embraced his divinity yet.

We assume that if they like Ramayana they would become Ramachandra’s devotees right away but this is not very likely. People might like the story on its own and start playing with it, devotion, hopefully, might come later.

This is another sad sign of our times – simply attracting people with interesting stories is not enough, preaching should reach a lot deeper.

There’s always a chance that the story was changed because kids simply didn’t like to be “good” anymore, they didn’t like the rules, they were looking for a magical place where you can do whatever you want without any consequences. This would be really sad.

The worst outcome, in my view, is if neither the kids nor anyone in the audience had given it a second thought, if they just butchered Ramayana and went on with their lives as if nothing happened. Perhaps in the beginning someone thought that their rendition would be thought provoking but they failed and the only possible redeeming quality was lost somewhere in the process.

One thing is sure – when I was young messing with religion was unthinkable, it was simply rude towards people who take this stuff seriously. Times are a-changing.

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