When Hindus across India pray to Durga during the nine days of Navratri in the second half of the year, the residents of a village in Uttar Pradesh go into mourning. And when Navratri ends to bring in Dusshera, or Vijayadashmi, on the tenth day, the residents of this village conduct a maha yagna, a grand sacrificial fire, to pray for the soul of the ten-headed King Raavan even as the rest of India burns effigies of the vanquished king to symbolise the triumph of the god Ram over Raavan.
Located approximately 30 km from the national capital amid the urban sprawl of Greater Noida, Bisrakh village is believed to be the birthplace of Raavan, and according to local legend, is named after his father, Vishrava, a saint. Villagers here believe that celebrating Navratri will elicit the wrath of Raavan, and mourn his death during this period instead. On Dussehra, which falls on Tuesday this year, the entire village of 5,000 people will participate in a maha yagna organised at an ancient temple built at the spot where Vishrava is believed to have discovered a Shiva linga.
In addition to this old temple, the village has several other temples that organise yagnas for Raavan on Dussehra. This includes the recently-constructed Sri Baba Mohan Ram mandir – where a to-be-installed statue of Raavan was vandalised in August in what is seen an attempt to intimidate villagers into stopping their worship of a king many consider to be a demon god.
Yagna as scheduled
Asked if the yagna to mourn Raavan’s death will be held as scheduled this year, Akhilesh Shastri, priest at the Sri Baba Mohan Ram temple, replied in the affirmative. “I have been told that it will take place like it happens every year,” he said. “So what if we could not install his [Raavan’s] statue.”
The Sri Baba Mohan Ram temple has a wide range of Hindu deities tucked inside glass enclosures. A statue of Raavan – the first in the village – was to be installed in one of these enclosures on August 11. But two days before the event, a group of persons vandalised the temple, broke the statue and threatened the villagers against attempting to install the statue again.
“Their point was that Raavan is evil and worshipping him is considered going against traditional Hindu culture,” said Shastri.
Though a police case was registered, no one has been arrested in connection with the incident so far.
The threats do not seem to have worked as the village is determined to conduct the yagnas and maha yagnas this week as the rest of India celebrates the death of Raavan.
“The preparations for the maha yagna will start from Monday,” said Ajay Bhati, the village head. “There will be no changes in the yagna schedule and we will maintain a strong vigil to see who comes to stop us.”
Village residents have also commissioned another Raavan statue that they hope to install as soon as it arrives.
“We have given the contract to a Rajasthan-based sculptor to build us another Raavan statue,” said Bhati. “The new one will take around two months. Once it is delivered, we shall organise a panchayat and re-install the statue at the enclosure where it was meant to be installed two months ago.”
Asked about the perpetrators of the August incident, Bhati said the men had claimed that they were from a temple in nearby Ghaziabad and also boasted of links to a Hindutva group.
Amit Bhati, a resident of Bisrakh village, said: “Such incident has never happened before. So far, the yagna is scheduled to start from the first prahr [three hour subdivision of the day] of Vijayadashami and all villagers are likely to attend without any fear.”
A group of villagers around Amit, standing close to the ancient temple, nodded in agreement.
Ravaan and Lanka
Explaining how Raavan became the king of Sri Lanka, Shastri said: “The land of Lanka was a vardaan [boon] to Vishrava, who worshipped Lord Shiva. While Vishrava himself went to the Himalayas at the later stage of his life, Raavan went on to rule Lanka at the onset of the Trita Yug. It is believed that the learned king, who had knowledge of three Vedas, had foreseen his end.”
As unique as Bisrakh is in worshipping the king who abducted Sita, it is not the only village in India that mourns the death of Raavan.
Raavan’s wife Mandodari is believed to be the daughter of King Mandawar, who once ruled Rajasthan’s Mandor village. The residents of Mandor do not celebrate Dusshera either, and also worship at a village temple in which a statue of Raavan was installed around eight years ago.