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Ravanayan Volume 1 (Issue 1, 2 & 3) Review

Ravanayan is a brilliant retelling of the Ramayana where Ravana is the protagonist embarking on a journey to fulfil his destiny.

Valmiki’s telling of Ramayana explored the journey of Rama across his exile and his final quest to rescue Sita who was kidnapped by Ravana. It was from the perspective of Rama and all the challenges he had to face from birth as the prince of Ayodhya. A major part focuses on Rama preparing for war against Ravana, as he seeks out an army and followers to join him to battle. However, a version that tells the story from Ravana’s point of view, although not unheard of, is quite rare – rarer so in the comic book format. Indian mythology has always had multiple layers of stories spread out on epic proportions that can be overwhelming to recreate in modern times. Rather than reading the same stories over and over again, it’s refreshing to come across a different take on the existing versions. Ravanayan is a retelling of Ramayana where Ravana is the protagonist instead of Rama. We know this might pop up several questions in your head on how this story unfolds. We’re probably going to get answers to all of them as we progress through the story. However, the answer to the bigger question on whether he’s ultimately good or evil will definitely vary from reader-to-reader. Ravanayan doesn’t change the final outcome of Ravana’s loss. Rather, it tries to explore the reasons behind all his actions that not only led to his downfall but the destruction of his entire kingdom. We’ll be covering this comic in detail, so if you don’t want to spoil it for yourself, you should stop reading from this point forward.

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Synopsis

The comics starts with a prologue where a group of Dasyus (bandits) are ambushing a convoy of royal treasure. Among them is Ratnakar, who has been known to be a notorious Dasyu. A fight begins between them as the royal guards try to protect the treasure. While the battle rages on, Ratnakar is almost overpowered by a strong guard with a mace. Out of nowhere, a menacing Rakshasa (wearing a crown) arrives and flicks away the guard like he was nothing. “You are Valmiki, are you not?”, asks the Rakshasa looking at Ratnakar. He’s naturally confused but the Rakshasa insists that he is Valmiki and disappears before saying that “Destiny is in motion”. This Rakshasa is referred to as the “Lord of Lanka”, so he has to be Ravana. How does Ravana know that he was Valmiki? Did Ravana actually save Ratnakar aka Valmiki from certain death? What does he mean by “Destiny is in motion”? Clearly, the story kicks off with a gripping prologue that piques our interest to discover how did they arrive in this situation.

After the prologue, the first chapter explores the early life of Ravana. He’s given a name in the comics, Dashanan, who grew up with his siblings including Kumbhakarna, Vibheeshana and Shoorpanakha. Their character traits are a contrast from each other where Dashanan is the eldest and wisest as he’s always looking out for his siblings. Vibheeshana is the kind one while Kumbhakarna is slow on the top and lazy. Shoorpanakha on the other hand is always restless and gleeful. During one of their playful expeditions into the jungle, they come across an injured cub. While Vibheeshana is quick to help out the poor animal, Kumbhakarna is indifferent to it while Shoorpanakha suggests to eat it. At the end, Dashanan suggests that Vibheeshana can tend to the animal to which everyone agrees. While they are at it, they suddenly hear a growl from their back and the mother of the cub pounces on them. While Dashanan tries to convince everyone about the beast’s intent wanting to protect her cub, Vibheeshana and Shoorpanakha run away scared but Kumbhakarna directly goes on the offensive. The beast smacks away Kumbhakarna easily. Although Dashanan was trying to calm everyone down, looking at his brother being hurt is where he loses it. With an explosive rage, he turns into a vicious form who rips apart the beast and pummels it down to the ground. Covered in blood, he reaches for a broken tree trunk and goes for the kill. By now, their father arrives trying to persuade him not to kill the beast. However, overcome with the fit of rage, he pushes the trunk into the belly of the beast. This entire episode depicts how Dashanan cares about his family but also how he has no control over his anger. Devastated and remorseful of his actions, he runs away to solitude to calm himself. His mother finds him and tries to console him. Since he’s the son of a sage and a Rakshasi, he has the traits of both. Here we get to know how Dashanan is always dealing with an internal conflict trying to balance between the two sides. After the death of the beast, his father says, “He will come back. He always comes back.”, which means that this isn’t the first time where he has lost his temper and done something gruesome.

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The second chapter starts off by showing Dashanan’s influence over the people. On his command, he was able to break a fight just because he’s the future king of the land. He was forming a belief that he was the answer to maintaining balance on both the sides. He believed that this was his destiny. With this thought in mind, Dashanan wanted to go to the next level so that he can take a bigger step towards his destiny. So, he decided to go into tapas (voluntary act to gain spiritual power) in the name of Brahma, the spirit of the universe. Kumbhakarna and Vibheeshan joined in this quest with their own motivations as well. While years passed away in their journey of tapasya, Dashanan was finally successful in coming face-to-face with the Almighty Brahma. On being asked what he wanted, with a slight hesitation, Dashanan wishes to “live forever”.

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Dashanan believes that in order to fulfill his destiny of maintaining balance between the two worlds of humans and rakshasa, he needs to rule over them. As he’s half sage and half rakshasa, he can empathise with both the sides, making him the most suited for this responsibility. However, to ensure that the balance is maintained forever, he has to become immortal. Brahma agrees with Dashanan but states that the world will always be in turmoil and not even the Gods are capable of maintaining order. He says that Dashanan is too small to make a difference and death will eventually come to him. Essentially, Brahma explains that characters will come and go in the universe but what remains are stories. If he actually cares about fulfilling his destiny, then Dashanan must be a part of a bigger story. A story that will be a “source of light in a world dominated by darkness”. What follows is the biggest spoiler in this comics. If you’ve made it to this point and want to save the best part then you should skip this paragraph. With that out of the way, Brahma narrates the story of how God incarnated as a human in the form of Rama to fight a war against Ravana. And only after Rama killed Ravana, was there an age of peace on Earth. Then Brahma drops a shocker. In order to fulfill his destiny, Dashanan has to become Ravana. Obviously shocked with this proposal, Brahma continues to reiterate that to keep balance, this is the only thing he can do, otherwise, the world will not know about the story of Ramayana. After a moment of pause, Dashanan finally decides that he will take on the role of Ravana. Brahma states that if he takes over this role, no one will ever know about his righteous path but only know about his evil deeds. Right from the first chapter, Dashanan has been shown to be convinced that he’s the answer to bringing balance which he has accepted as his destiny. Ultimately, he accepts his fate of becoming Ravana with open arms. After returning back, he announces his new found identity and goal to bringing devastation in all the worlds out there.

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The final chapter depicts his cruel and gory journey of conquering different worlds. He begins with his cousin Kubera who’s the rightful ruler of the Golden City of Lanka. After accepting defeat to his raging cousin, Kubera gives up his throne making Ravana the new king. Next, he enters Patala, the underworld and conquers it easily. He goes on to mercilessly attack other realms and worlds, ripping apart anything or anyone getting in his way. Finally, after he’s conquered almost all the realms on land, he aims towards the sky, the city of Gods.

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Verdict: Ravanayan Volume 1

Ravanayan is a brilliant retelling of the Ramayana that has been rarely explored in comic books. Born from a sage father and rakshasi mother, it explores an arc where Ravana is fighting his internal conflicts and searching for his destiny. Even though he discovers that his path to achieving his fate will mean completely disregarding all his wisdom and righteous self, he accepts it wholeheartedly. The first volume (packing three issues) does depict a good progression from his humble beginnings as a wise individual in his childhood to the point where he turns into a ruthless monster. It’s indeed fascinating to realise that with a different perspective, there could be so much potential to tell a new story. Even though the final outcome is going to be the same, we are intrigued by the portrayal of Ravana as the protagonist. Hence, we are looking forward to how the character progresses and finally meets his fate.

The good

Vijayendra Mohanty has certainly given a well-written alternate storyline to Ravana’s journey. Along with Vivek Goel’s illustration, the focus is kept on the characters rather than the background. We loved how the story progressed and introduced secondary characters in a subtle way. In fact, we are glad that they didn’t waste pages over giving us backstories of the other characters. Dashanan’s early days as a kid being easily overcome with uncontrollable anger was a clear indication of his internal conflict. His influence over the people in the land depicted his authority even before he became king. Dashanan’s encounter with Brahma is a brilliant series of panels with some impressive commentary on the cycle of life and death, and how the universe works from the point of the view of a supreme being. It’s probably one of the most defining moments that occur in the entire story. After the initial few chapters, the artwork improves drastically, around the time when Ravana accepts his fate. There’s much more destruction and vibrant colours in the last few pages of the comics.

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The bad

There isn’t really much to complain about the story. However, we expected a deeper exploration of Dashanan’s internal conflicts while he’s trying to make decisions. In this comics, we get to see only two instances where once he loses his cool while in another, where he’s older, he takes a decision based on a realisation of his influence. It would have been great if his thoughts were presented in-depth rather than only his final actions to all the conflicts. After all, the story is about his motivations and beliefs that led him to embark on the journey of becoming Ravana.

WriterVijayendra Mohanty
ArtistVivek Goel
ColouristYogesh Pugaonkar
PublisherHoly Cow Entertainment
Rating3.5/5

Buy Ravanayan Volume 1

Disclaimer: We received this comics from Comicclan for review purposes.

Abhijit Dey

Abhijit Dey

While indulging deep into conspiracy theories surrounding comic book movie plots, he can be found rewatching them looking for easter eggs. Otherwise, his weekends are spent on gaming and browsing memes.