Ravana: Roar of the Demon King gives the narrative voice to Ravana himself, and from the outset he proves to be something of an omniscient narrator, aware of his past and the future to come, of his place in the pantheon of mythological characters. There have been many retellings of the Ramayana focussing on the villain of the epic, and this one attempts to set itself apart by not merely setting itself in the timeline of the main Ramayana story but rather exploring beyond it, to see Ravana from his childhood.
The book begins with Ravana narrating the story of his birth to a demon woman and a Brahmin, going on to describing his youth, how he grew up with his siblings Vibhishana, Kumbhakarna and Meenakshi who later earned the title Soorpanakha. All the characters are instrumental in the Ramayana, and in the book they are portrayed as almost “ordinary” children, playing and arguing with each other, with a strong bond between them. The purpose behind describing the childhood of Ravana – called Dashananda at the time – is clearly to reveal aspects of his character that would not otherwise be apparent: he is a wise, pious and talented man, but unable to learn the pivotal lesson of non-violence and possessing an arrogance that would lead to his eventual downfall.
Ravana is depicted as a good, doting king who opened his kingdom to all of the asura kind, naming himself protector of those who had nowhere else to go in the world. He is ambitious enough to challenge the gods and win over their kingdom, he is cursed for attempting to force himself on Rambha, the celestial beauty. As Ravana’s ambition grows, the art reflects how he becomes more ‘demonic’ in appearance, with eyes that burn red and clad in terrifying suits of armour. The final half of the novel is the familiar Ramayana tale Ram is introduced and firmly held as the epitome of virtue; even Ravana acknowledges his superiority in his retrospective view. This part of the story seems almost hurriedly told, perhaps because there is a presumption that the readership is already aware of the incidents. Ravana’s death itself, despite following an impressive physical unleashing of the ten heads, is somewhat anticlimactic in that it receives barely a page for treatment. The novel ends with the promise of rebirth, or reincarnation for Ravana who desires to make amends for his mistakes and the bitter fruits of his arrogance and ambition.