Ravan – King of Lanka
Rishi Shringi guided Dasaratha on the performance of the Putrakameshti Yagnyam. At that time all the devas, gandharvas etc who assembled their on invitation, discussed Ravan with Brahma.
O bhagavan, A rakshas named Ravan, with your blessings, by his valour, is troubling all of us. We are not able to control him. Out of regard for the boons that you have given him we forgive all his actions. The sun cannot heat him, the winds cannot move him and the ocean does not ‘tremble’ any waves. That bad minded one is the hater of the three worlds
Ravan was born to a great sage Vishrava (son of Pulastya) and daitya princess Kaikesi (daughter of Sumali and Thataka). He was born in the Devagana gotra, as his grandfather, the sage Pulastya, was one of the ten Prajapatis or mind-born sons of Brahma and one of the Saptarishi (Seven Great Sages Rishi) in the first Manvantara.
Kaikesi’s father, Sumali, king of the Daityas, wished her to marry the most powerful being in the mortal world, so as to produce an exceptional heir. He rejected the kings of the world, as they were less powerful than him. Kaikesi searched among the sages and finally chose Vishrava, the father of Kubera. Ravan was thus partly Brahmin and partly Daitya.
Under Vishrava’s guidance, Ravan mastered the Vedas, the holy books, and also the arts and ways of Kshatriyas (warriors). Ravan was also an excellent veena player and the sign of his flag had a picture of veena on it. Sumali, his mother’s father, worked hard in secret to ensure that Ravan retained the ethics of the Daityas (Asura) . Ravan, by birth was a Brahmin and by action, Asura.
Maricha and Subahu were Ravan’s maternal uncles. Sumali was against the war with Ram.
Ravan had six brothers and two sisters.
1.Kuber – half-brother of Ravan: they were born to the same father by different mothers ( Devranini),
8. Minakshi (the fish-eyed one) known as Surpanakha.
Ravan was married to Mandodari, the daughter of the celestial architect Maya, Dhanyamalini, and a third wife. He had seven sons from his three wives:
Indrajit, .Prahasta, .Atikaya, Akshayakumara, Devantaka, Narantaka and Trishira
Following his initial training, Ravan performed a tapasy to Brahma lasting several years. During his penance, Ravan chopped off his head 10 times as a sacrifice to appease brahma. Each time he sliced his head off a new head arose, thus enabling him to continue his penance. At last, Brahama, pleased with his austerity, appeared after his 10th decapitation and offered him a boon. Ravan asked for immortality, which Brahma refused to give, but gave him the celestial nectar of immortality. The nectar of immortality, stored under his navel, dictated that he could not be vanquished for as long as it lasted.
Ravan also asked for absolute invulnerability from and supremacy over gods, heavenly spirits, other rakshas, serpents, and wild beasts. Nara (man) and vanara (monkey) were not included in those blessings. As a result, Ram, in the form of man, killed Ravan with the help of vanaras. Brahma granted him these boons in addition to his 10 severed heads and great strength by way of knowledge of divine weapons and magic. Thus Ravan known as ‘Dasamukha’.
Kuber was also Visrava’s son and Ravan’s step brother. The city of Lanka was created by Vishvakarma for Kuber. It was a splendid city of gold. When completed, Visrava gifted the city over to Kuber. This angered Sumali, grandfather of Ravan and he instigated Ravan to capture the throne of Lanka. Initially, Ravan was hesitant but ultimately gave in to his maternal grandfather’s demands and challenged Kuber into a combat. Visrava, their father knowing Ravan could not be defeated because of Shiva’s boon, advised Kubera to hand over the kingdom of Lanka to Ravan and thus Ravan became the king of Lanka. Ravan also took his Pushpaka Vimana.. Ravan defeated the Devas, including Yama, who was held back by Brahma’s word. At a later time, his son Meghanatha defeated Indra and became Indrajit.
According to some views, at one stage in his life, Ravan became so powerful and egoistic that he felt he could defeat his benefactor Lord Shiva himself. With that intention he reached Mount Kailash, Shiva’s abode. He became so blind in his ego that he inserted his toes beneath the mountain with the intention of overturning the mountain from its base. Shiva was mighty displeased with Ravan’s misdeeds and put pressure on the mountain top with his foot. Ravan’s toes were stuck under the mountain. He suffered tremendous pain and could not free his toe. Ravan realized his mistake, started his japas (penance) for years to appease Shiva and continued his japas till Shiv was pleased. Shiv blessed Ravan and gave him his sword Chandrahasa with a caveat that if it was used for unjust causes, it would return to the three eyed one and Ravan’s days would be numbered. Ravan used the sword to kill Jatayu when kidnapping Sita and it disappeared when he used it to kill Jatayu.
By force Ravan gained command over the devtas, celestials, and the serpent races. Ravan gave kingdom of Patallok (netherworld) to his brother, AhiRavan. Since Kuber had earlier criticized Ravan for his greed and cruelty, he imprisoned Kuber and other Gods, so much so that even the Sun god obeyed Ravan. Conquering several kingdoms of the human world, he performed the suitable sacrifices and was crowned Emperor.
Ravan was known for his virility, lust and his aggressiveness for women. Ravan had several wives. Mandodari was his principal wife who was daughter of Mayasura and an apsara named Hema.
Ravan used to force himself upon the women who prevented his advances. There are two stories regarding it. The first was the encounter with the sage-woman Vedavati, the ‘vocal daughter’ of the Rishi Kusadhwaja. Vedavati had been performing penance with the intention of winning Lord Vishnu as her husband. Ravan met her at her hermitage, her beauty enhanced by the austerities she had performed. He proposed to her and was rejected. Ravan mocked her austerities and her devotion to Vishnu; finding himself firmly rejected at every turn, he tried to molest Vedavati, pulling her hair. This greatly incensed her, and she forthwith cut off her hair, and said she would enter into the fire before his eyes, adding, “Since I have been insulted in the forest by thee who art wicked-hearted, I shall be born again for thy destruction.” So she entered the blazing fire. There is story that she was then born as Ravan and Manaodri, first child. Ravan was preached before his marriage that their first child would cause his death. So after his first child was born, he sent Subahu, Rakshas to kill the beautiful baby girl Subahu was unable to kill the girl and lied to Ravan that he had killed her. The baby was found by King Janak and brought up as Sita, causing Ravan’s death and winning Vishnu (as Ram) as her husband.
The second story is about Ravan’s encounter with an apsara Rambha. He also tried to capture Rambha, who was engaged with Kuber’s son (Nalakuvara). She pleaded that she was like his daughter-in-law but Ravan was not discouraged. Nalakuvara was so angered that he cursed Ravan stating that if he forced himself upon any woman, his ten heads would fall off immediately. This curse helped Sita’s chasity when she was captive of Ravan for about a year.
Ravan was a scholar of all four Vedas. According to one opinion he took great interest in astrology and knew quite a lot about it. He probably knew that Ram was actually God Vishnu in the form of Man. After kidnapping Sita, he kept her in Ashok vatika instead of his palace. Ravan knew of his imminent death and wished that if he was to die, better to die at the hands of Lord Vishnu and attain Moksha.
Depiction in other Scriptures, as Vishnu’s cursed doorkeeper
In the Bhagavata Purana, Ravan and his brother, Kumbhakarna were said to be reincarnations of Jaya and Vijaya, gatekeepers at Vaikuntha, the abode of Vishnu and were cursed to be born in Earth for their insolence.
These gatekeepers refused entry to the Sanatha Kumara monks, who, because of their powers and austerity appeared as young children. For their insolence, the monks cursed them to be expelled from Vaikuntha and to be born on Earth.
God Vishnu agreed that they should be punished. They were given two choices, that they could be born about 7 times as normal mortals and devotees of Vishnu, or 3 times as powerful and strong people, but as enemies of Vishnu, for which they chose the latter one. Ravan and his brother Kumbhakarna were born to fulfill the curse on the second birth as enemies of Vishnu in the Treta Yuga. The curse of first birth was fulfilled by Hiranyakashipu and his brother Hiranyaksha in Satya Yuga when they were both vanquished by earlier avatars (incarnations) of Vishnu and the curse of third birth was fulfilled by Kangsha and Shishupala in the Dwapar Yuga when they were both vanquished by Lord Krishna.
Ravan was a scholar of all four Vedas. According to one opinion he took great interest in astrology and knew quite a lot about it. Ravan also authored Ravan Sanhita, a powerful book on the Hindu astrology. Ravan possessed a thorough knowledge of Ayurveda and political science . He probably knew that Ram was actually God Vishnu in the form of Man. After kidnapping Sita, Ravan knew of his imminent death and wished that if he was to die, better to die at the hands of
Lord Vishnu and attain Moksha.
Ravan was dying and Ram was sitting near Ravan’s feet attaining knowledge. When Ravan’s oration was near complete, Ram realized that Ravan had tears in his eyes .
Whereupon Ram said: “Hey Dashanan You have vast, unparallelled knowledge on every subject. You have answers and solutions to all questions, so why these tears?”
Ravan said: “I know I have great knowledge and wisdom. I have toiled for years to attain these. But I did not realize the importance of my own wisdom.. I taught you, I imparted my knowledge to you but I myself did not follow the rules of moral (niti) in my own life. I also taught you to put your good thoughts into action immediately and dwell upon thoughts for a few days, which are against common opinion. Look, what I did in my own life. I wanted to convert salt sea water to sweet water for the good of mankind during my life time. I know I could have done it. It would have taken a few years but I could have achieved that task. I lazed out and now my time has run out. But in the case of Sita, I acted instantly whereas I should have waited for a few days. When my sister informed me about a beautiful woman Sita, I immediately made plans and kidnapped her. As a result, all my near and dear ones are dead and there is no one to weep for me on my death.”
Some opine that Ravan was an evil character. That is the reason why he is burnt or his effigy is burnt on the day of Dashera. The process is symbolic of ‘Satya’ (truth) defeats ‘Asatya’ (that which is not true). One meaning of Ravan, according to some is ‘one who thunders’ or ‘one who has thunderous voice.’ Ravan is also known as ‘Dashanana.’ It is said that when he laughed, even mountains on earth vibrated. While one school of thought believes that his ten heads represent his extraordinary knowledge which was ten times more than the most knowledgeable, others think they indicate ten vices or evils in him. They were- ‘ahankar’ (ego), ‘krodh’ (anger), ‘alasya’ (laze), ‘lobh’ (greed), ‘kam’ (lust), ‘chori’ (loot or theft), ‘hinsa’ (violence), ‘moh’ (attachment), ‘mud’ ( fat), ‘chheh’ or ‘droh’ (cheat). Thus, different people have different interpretations about his ten heads.