It is very common to come across articles in newspapers, and news channels talking about the Ravan worshipping in Madhya Pradesh, specially during Dussehra.
Being an arm chair intellectual,I had been trying to Google the exact location and proceedings of this event since long, without much success. People in Bhopal also did not appear to have any clue. As probably is the case with people of this generation, failure to find useful information about this Ravangram on Google (and laziness) started putting doubts in my mind about the very existence of this village. I started wondering whether this is just another story or myth propagated by media. Escalating efforts further also posted on Facebook page and Twitter asking for information, drawing a blank, and there by strengthening mistrust of media.
Eventually one fine morning, an aquantance – that too from the MP Police department – casually mentioned about a Ravangram where there is supposed to be an idol of Ravan! I predictably pounced upon the poor soul with web researched accumulated questions of mulitple years. Dazed, he called up his friend from who he had heard the story, and came up with a place called Berasia. “Go to Berasia, and from there Ravangram is on bus route to Nateran”. So the dice was cast, and I decided to have a rendezvous with Ravan.
Off I went at about eight in the morning on the Dussehra day (25th October 2012) from Bhopal. Being on unknown territory, I decided that public transport would be an ideal choice. So I took a bus to Berasia from Sindhi Colony near Bhopal Talkies. The distance to Berasia was 40 KMs and took me about 2 hours to cover, so I was at Berasia Bus stand at about 10.30 AM. However, to my disappointment Ravangram enquiries again drew a blank! After talking to multiple people, I changed tack and started asking about Nateran instead. On which I was redirected to Mahaneem, a place some 30 kms from Berasia, which turned out to be an intersection of roads to Berasia, Sironj, Samsabad and Kareri.
After arriving at Mahaneem about one and a half hours later, asking about Ravangram still drew a blank. While wondering what to do, I latched on Nateran instead. Suddenly the bus conductor had an ‘Eureka moment’ and asked whether I wanted to go to Ravan Bamoria. I was eager enough to go to any place which at least had some Ravan in it, suffix and prefix not with standing. So promptly I was packed off to a bus to Vidisha with this genius bus conductor (of a bus to Sironj) personally going and instructing the driver of Vidisha bus to drop me at Kareria Chauraha. The road was painful, single lane with tar barely existing and interrupted now and then by tractors and villagers carrying idols of Goddess Durga for immersion. The bus was over crowded with families returning from their vacations. Eventually I was dropped at Kareria chauraha after about two and a half hours. Again I started inquiring about Ravan Bamoria, Nateran. However to my delight, the first person I asked counter questioned whether I wanted to go to Ravan or Bamoria. He said I should go to Nateran and from there Ravan (and not Ravangram !) is just 2 kilometers. So I took a bus to Nateran, about 10 kilometers from Kareria square.
To my amazement, Nateran turned out to be a Sub division town of Vidisha District, with government offices and lot of political posters, stacked up sound boxes blaring latest film music while the young turks decorate the tractor for immersion of Goddess Durga. It was about 3’O clock in the afternoon and still no trace of Mr. Ravan. The young folks were so busy that I could not raise my voice enough to ask them about Ravan. After walking for about five minutes, I ended up at a temple on the outskirts of the town. On inquiring about Ravan he simply pointed to a board across the road, which sayed Ravan gram (again!) seven kilometers. Now, how to cover these seven kms, on foot? People around confirmed that no transport was avaulable from Nateran to Ravan. There were motorbikes going towards the direction of Ravan, but had two pillion riders already. So I walked for sometime and reached a small village. On asking about the name of the village I was told it was Chameria. After some time, one bike with just the rider came along and agreed to give me a lift to Ravan.
On road the young lad asked me what I was upto, and said he had been to Ravan temple many times. He stopped in front of a yellow colored room after sometime and said this is the temple. Jai Ravan Baba was written inside and outside the place, and a stone idol was lying inside. Also some broken old pieces of sculpture were standing on one side. A Shivalinga was also to be seen. In front of this very recently (max twelve years old) constructed room was a water body. There were vistors in a Maruti Van in picnic mood, but no priests of the famed Kanyakubja community who according to the news paper articles claim Ravan to be from Ravan’s sect. While waiting for some authority about the temple to appear, I started to chat up with the family who had come for a picnic. They were from Visidha, and had come to thank Ravan Baba as a family wedding passed off peacefully with his blessings! Amazed, I asked how come they asked Ravan for help and are they from the village community? They were not from the village and it has been a tradition in their family to ask for help remotely and promise some offerings. They had come to fulfill the promised offerings -which being some flowers, sweet ‘chironji’ and coconut – after some four months. They were very convinced that ‘Kuch to baat hai’ about their Ravan baba.
After much waiting the temple authority still did not turn up. So I caught up a child playing around and asked him to take me to his home. This guy was called ‘Pradhan’ (Village? Temple? don’t know) and was sleeping at his home. He came out and said that he is running a fever after the fasts of Navratri. I asked him about Ravan Baba. He said that he had seen the idol in the same state since his childhood, the room/temple was constructed recently and the villagers prays to Ravan on occasions like marriage, house warming etc. If any family which has moved away from the village does not promise their offerings before any “Subh Karya” it is never fulfilled and their are many obstacles.
When I asked how come Ravan is here – at the middle of no where – he had an interesting legend to share. Pointing at the hills visible in the background of the temple, he said that their are huge caves in that mountain, In those caves one rakshasha dwelled in times of yore, who could not find any worthy competitor in the area. So he used to go all the way to Lanka to have a fight with Ravan. However, on seeing Ravan, half of his strength would be lost and he would come back feeling very confused. After multiple visits, Ravana himself asked this rakshash what was his purpose of visit. On explaining the problem to Ravan, Ravan suggested that he start praying his idol every day, which will enable him to retain his strength against any opposition. So he established this Ravan idol at Ravan gram. I asked him about the small sculptures lined against walls, to which he said only the black stone idol and the sword in the pond were original. Sword in the pond? Yes there is a sword of stone in the pond, I went back temple to try and locate the stone sword. There was a stone projection in the water body in front of the temple, which might be the sword he was talking about.
Just to verify, I asked the family from vidisha about what they thought about the origins of this Ravan Baba. Out came another interesting story. When Ravana was flying above the place, he was shot by an arrow and fell dead at the spot, with his sword thrown out of his hand. Who shot that arrow ? The anonimous arrow seemed to defeat the curse of gods (gods had cursed Ravana to be rakshahs until killed by lord Vishnu), hence Ravan was resurrected and sent off to his path by the gods. The stone body was left behind as was the stone sword!
What ever the origin of Ravan in the middle of remote village of Vidisha, I felt very inadequate to unearth it. In a growing circle of Aryan culture, the non-aryan past, if it existed at this small hamlet, has been completely wiped away. There might be some old construction some where in the vicinity, from where the small broken stone sculptures have been kept in the temple. The shape of a stone lying outside the temple, which used for breaking Coconuts for offering, looks like the base of an old temple pillar. The aforementioned ‘Pradhan’ was almost apolegatic about having a different god in the surroundling culture of hegemonic gods.