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|Titles||King of Lanka|
|Consort||Mandodari and others|
Rāvaṇa is the primary antagonist in the Hindu epic Ramayana, where he is depicted as the rakshasa and asura king of Sri Lanka.[note 1].Rama had once addressed Ravana as a "Maha Brahman" (Great Brahmam in the context of his education) Rāvaṇa is depicted and described as having ten heads and two ears in total. He is described as a follower of Shiva, a great scholar, a capable ruler and a maestro of the veena, but someone who wished to overpower the devas. His ten heads represents that his knowledge of the six shastras and the four Vedas.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Iconography
- 3 Depiction in the Ramayana
- 4 Depiction in other Scriptures, as Vishnu's cursed doorkeeper
- 5 Ravana's family
- 6 Historicity
- 7 Ravana Temples
- 8 Ravana-Dahan (Burning effigy of Ravana)
- 9 Ravanahatha
- 10 Influence on Indian culture and art
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Sources
- 14 External links
According to Sinhalese nationalists, the name Ravana (or Ravaṇa) means "Sun race", as Ra signifies the Sun and vana signifies generation. According to lankan folk stories other means for Ravana is (Ra + Vana => Raksha + Vana) see after the jungle.
According to the HindustanTimes,
In modern Sri Lanka, there has been a movement to revive Ravana as a cult figure, who represents Sinhala or Sri Lankan nationalism because he was among the first in the island's history to have resisted an alien/Indian invader.[note 3]
Ravana had many other popular names such as Dasis Ravana, Dasis Sakvithi Maha Ravana, Dashaanan, Raavan, Ravula, Lankeshwar, Lankeshwaran, Ravanaeshwaran all signifying the qualities of his life. Variations of the names (alphabetically) include the following:
- Bengali: রাবণ Raabon
- Burmese: ရာဝဏ [jàwəna̰]
- Devanagari:रावण Raavaṇ
- Gujarati: રાવણ
- Indonesian: Rahwana
- Javanese: Rahwana or Dasamuka (from Daśamukha or 'ten-faced')
- Kannada:ರಾವಣ Raavana
- Kashmiri: Raavun
- Khmer: Rabana or Rab, Krong Reap
- Lao: Raphanasuan
- Malay: Rawana or Wana
- Malayalam: രാവണന് Raavanan
- Maranao: Lawana
- Marathi: रावण Raawan
- Nepali: रावण Rawan
- Thai: ราวณะ Rawana or corrupted as ราพณ์ Rap, but more commonly ทศกัณฐ์ Thotsakan (from Dashakantha or 'ten-necked')
- Tamil: இராவணன் Iraavanan
- Telugu:రావణాసురుడు Rāvaṇasurdu
- Sinhalese: රාවන Ravana
- Yuan: Rahbanasun
- Marwari: Raavan Murarka
- Oriya: ରାବଣ Rabana
- He is known as Dasis = Dasahis = Ten Heads
Ravana is depicted and described as having ten heads. Sometimes he is depicted with only nine heads because he has sacrificed a head to convince Lord Shiva. He is described as a devout follower of the god Shiva, a great scholar, a capable ruler and a maestro of the Veena. Ravana is also depicted as the author of the Ravana Sanhita, a book on Hindu astrology. Ravana possessed a thorough knowledge of Ayurveda and political science. He is said to have possessed the nectar of immortality, which was stored inside his belly, thanks to a celestial boon by Brahma.
Depiction in the Ramayana
Birth of Ravana
According to the Ramayana story, Ravana was the son of a rishi, a Brahmin father, and a kshatriya Rakshasa mother, thus attaining a status of Brahmarakshasa. He being a rakshasha and a kshatriya at the same time, was an Agnihotri and an upaasaka of Lord Shiva for the purpose of attaining great powers.
Ravana was born to a great sage Vishrava (or Vesamuni), and his wife, the daitya princess Kaikesi. He was born in the Devagana, 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 (or Sumalaya), 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. Ravana was a Daitya or Rakshasa and he belonged to the caste of Brahmins. Ravana later usurped Lanka from his half brother Kubera and became the King of Lanka and became a Kshatriya thereon.
Rama had once addressed Ravana as a "Maha Brahman" (Great Brahmam in the context of his education).
His brothers were Vibhishana and Kumbhakarna (some sources mention of another brother called Ahiravana). Through his mother, he was related to the daityas Maricha and Subahu. Kaikesi also gave birth to a daughter, "Chandramukhi" ("girl with moon-like face"), although later she was dubbed the infamous Shoorpanakha "winnow-like nails".
Father Vishrava noted that while Ravana was aggressive and arrogant, he was also an exemplary scholar. Under Vishrava's tutelage, Ravana mastered the Vedas, the holy books, and also the arts and ways of Kshatriyas (warriors). Ravana was also an excellent veena player and the sign of his flag had a picture of veena on it. Sumali, his maternal grandfather, worked hard in secret to ensure that Ravana retained the ethics of the Daityas.
The Ramayana tells that Ravana had close connections with region of the Yadus, which included Gujarat, parts of Maharashtra and Rajasthan up to Mathura south of Delhi. Ravana is believed to be related to Lavanasura, also regarded as a Rakshasa, of Madhupura (Mathura) in the region of the Surasenas, who was conquered & killed by Shatrughna, youngest brother of Rama.
After worshiping Lord Shiva on the banks of the Narmada, in the more central Yadu region, Ravana was captured and held under the control of King Kartavirya Arjuna, one of the greatest Yadu kings. It is very clear from the references in the Ramayana that Ravana was no commoner among the Humans or Asuras, a great chanter of the Sama Veda.
Tapasya to Shiva
Following his initial training, Ravana performed an intense penance (or tapasya) to Shiva, lasting several years. During his penance, Ravana chopped off his head 10 times as a sacrifice to appease him. Each time he sliced his head off a new head arose, thus enabling him to continue his penance. At last, Shiva, pleased with his austerity, appeared after his 10th decapitation and offered him a boon. Ravana asked for immortality, which Shiva 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.
Ravana also asked for absolute invulnerability from and supremacy over gods, heavenly spirits, other rakshas, serpents, and wild beasts. Contemptuous of mortal men, he did not ask for protection from these. Shiva granted him these boons in addition to his 10 severed heads and great strength by way of knowledge of divine weapons and magic. Thus Ravana known as 'Dasamukha' or 'Dashaanan' (Dasa = ten, mukha/anan = face).
King of Lanka
Lanka was an idyllic city, created by the celestial architect Vishwakarma for Shiva and acquired by Kubera, the treasurer of the gods upon advice of his father Visravas. Visrava had asked for "sone ki lanka" (Lanka made of Gold) from shiv as 'dakshina'(It is the gift Brahmin gets for his services) for the house warming ceremony he had conducted for lanka. Kubera had generously shared all that he owned with Ravana and the latter's siblings, who were Kubera's half-brothers and half-sister from his stepmother Kaikesi. However, Ravana demanded Lanka wholly from him, threatening to take it by force. Vishrava, their father, advised Kubera to give it up to him, as Ravana was now undefeatable.
Although Ravana usurped Lanka, he was nevertheless regarded as a benevolent and effective ruler. Lanka flourished under his rule, to the extent that it is said the poorest of houses had vessels of gold to eat and drink off, and hunger was unknown in the kingdom.
Devotee of Lord Shiva
Following his conquest of Lanka, Ravana encountered Shiva at his abode in Kailash. Ravana at first went to meet Shiva. Nandi the vehicle of Shiva, refused to let Ravana in. He got annoyed and started teasing Nandi. Nandi in turn got annoyed and cursed Ravana that Lanka would be destroyed by a monkey. To show Nandi his love for Shiva, Ravana attempted to uproot and move the mountain on a whim. Shiva, annoyed by Ravana's arrogance, pressed his littlest toe on Kailash, pinning him firmly and painfully under it. His ganas informed Ravana of whom he had crossed, upon which Ravana became penitent. He plucked his nerves and used them as strings to compose music and sang songs praising Shiva, and is said to have done so for years until Shiva released him from his bondage.
Pleased with his resilience and devotion, Shiva gave to him the divine sword Chandrahas (Chandra-Moon, Has-laugh, literally 'the laughter of the moon' but referring to the shape formed by a crescent moon which resembles a smile). It was during this incident that he acquired the name 'Ravana', meaning "(He) Of the terrifying roar", given to him by Shiva – the earth is said to have quaked at Ravana's cry of pain when the mountain was pinned on him. Ravana in turn became a lifelong devotee of Lord Shiva and is said to have composed the hymn known as Shiva Tandava Stotra.
Lord Shiva had given his sword Chandrahasa with a warning that if it was used for unjust causes, it would return to the three-eyed one and Ravana's days would be numbered. After Ravana had been given the Celestial nectar of Immortality by Brahma, he went on to please Shiva. He cut his head & put it as sacrifice for pleasing Shiva, but Shiva replaced his head with a new one. This was repeated Nine times, on which Shiva was happy & pleased with Ravana's resilience & devotion.
Emperor of the Three Worlds
His abilities now truly awe-inspiring, Ravana proceeded on a series of campaigns, conquering humans, celestials and other demons. Conquering the netherworld completely, he left his brother Ahiravana as king. He became supreme overlord of all asuras in the three worlds, making an alliance with the Nivatakavachas and Kalakeyas, two clans he was unable to subdue. Conquering several kingdoms of the human world, he performed the suitable sacrifices and was crowned Emperor.
Kubera at one point chastised Ravana for his cruelty and greed, greatly angering him. Proceeding to the heavens, Ravana fought and defeated the devas, singling out his brother for particular humiliation. By force he gained command over the devas, celestials, and the serpent races. At the time of the Ramayana, set several years later, Ravana is shown as dominating all human and divine races – so much so that he can command the sun's rising and setting.
Depiction in other Scriptures, as Vishnu's cursed doorkeeper
In the Bhagavata Purana, Ravana 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.
Lord Vishnu agreed that they should be punished. They were given two choices, that they could be born about 7(Seven) times as normal mortals and devotees of Vishnu, or 3 times as powerful and strong people, but as enemies of Vishnu. Eager to be back with the Lord, they choose the latter one. Ravana 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 of Vishnu (Hiranyaksha by Varaha and Hiranyakashipu by Narasimha) and the curse of third birth was fulfilled by Dantavakra and Shishupala in the Dwapar Yuga when they both were slain by Krishna, the eighth avatar.
This section deals with many members of Ravana's family. Since they are hardly mentioned outside the Ramayana, not much can be said about them. They are presented here as they are in the Ramayana, which is viewed by some as being only the point of view of Rama devotees, but is the most complete account of the story that is known.
Ravana had six brothers and two sisters:
- Kubera – the King of North direction and the Guardian of Heavenly Wealth. He was an older half-brother of Ravana: they were born to the same father by different mothers.
- Vibhishana – A great follower of Rama and one of the most important characters in the Ramayana. As a minister and brother of Ravana, he spoke the Truth without fear and advised Ravana to return the kidnapped Sita and uphold Dharma. Ravana not only rejected this sane advice, but also banished him from his kingdom. Vibhishana sought protection from Rama, which was granted without hesitation. He is known as a great devotee of Rama.
- Kumbhakarna – One of the most jovial demons in Hindu history. When offered a boon by Brahma, he was tricked into asking for eternal sleep! A horrified Ravana, out of brotherly love, persuaded Brahma to amend the boon. Brahma mitigated the power of the boon by making Kumbhakarna sleep for six months and being awake for rest six months of a year (in some versions, he is awake for one day out of the year). During the war with Rama, Kumbhakarna was untimely awakened from his sleep. He tried to persuade Ravana to open negotiations with Rama and return Sita to him. But he too failed to mend the ways of Ravana. However, bound by a brother's duty, he fought on the side of Ravana and was killed in the battlefield. Before dying he met Vibhishana and blessed him for following path of righteousness.
- Khara – King of Janasthan. He protected the northern kingdom of Lanka in the mainland and his kingdom bordered with the Kosala Kingdom, the kingdom of Rama. He was well known for his superior skills in warfare.
- Dushana – Viceroy of Janasthan.
- Ahiravan – King of the Underworld ruled by the rakshasas by Ravana and Demon King Maya.
- Kumbhini – Sister of Ravana and the wife of the demon Madhu, King of Mathura, she was the mother of Lavanasura. She was renowned for her beauty and later retired to the sea for penance.
- Surpanakha – The sister of Ravana. She was the ultimate root of the kidnapping of Sita. She was the one who instigated her brothers to wage a war against Rama.
- Meghnaad (also known as Indrajit because he defeated Lord Indra), the most powerful son
According to the Uttra Kanda section of Ramayana, the Raksha(also known as Raksasas) clan were the mythical inhabitants of Sri Lanka who were said to have lived among the Naga, Yakkha and Deva. They were led by Malyavantha, Sumali and Sukesha of the Raksha, who were ousted by the Deva with the help of Lord Vishnu, and then subsequently ruled by King Ravana.
The Raksha vanish from history after the their mention in the Ramayana, except in Sri Lankan folk stories. European scholars consider the story of Ravana and the Raksha to have been made in historic times, due to the knowledge of Sri Lankan locations mentioned in the stories, and therefore the story is considered not to be based on fact. The Mahavansa also makes no mention of a great Raskha civilization and there is no archaeological evidence suggesting a civilization ruled by King Ravana existed.
According to Udayakumar, Periyar E.V. Ramaswami
... used the Ramayana to radicalise the Tamils in southern India against Brahminical supremacy and the domination of North Indian Sanskritic culture. For him, Rama, Sita, and all the rest of them were northerners without "an iota of Tamil culture", but Ravana, the king of Lanka or southern Tamil Nadu, was a Tamil.
There is a huge Shivalinga in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, supposedly installed by Ravana himself, with a statue of Ravana near by. Both Shivalinga and Ravana are worshiped by the fishermen community there.
Thousands of Kanyakubja Brahmins of the village Ravangram of Netaran, in the Vidisha District of Madhya Pradesh, perform daily puja (worship) in the Ravan temple and offer naivedyam / bhog (a ritual of sacrifice to the Gods). Centuries ago King Shiv Shankar built a Ravana temple at Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. The Ravana temple is opened once in a year, on Dashehra Day, to perform puja for the welfare of Ravana.
A Jain temple in Alwar, Rajasthan is called the Ravan Parsvanath Temple. The legend says that Ravana used to worship Parsvanath daily. While Ravana was on tour to Alwar he realised that he forgot to bring the image of Parsvanath. Mandodari, Ravana's wife, is said to have made an image of Parsvanath immediately. And hence the Ravan Parsvanath temple at Alwar.
Ravana is said to have married Princess Mandodari at a place about 8 kilometres away from Jodhpur, which is now called Mandor. There is a mandap (altar or pavilion) where Ravana is said to have married Mandodari, and which the local people call Ravan Ki Chanwari.
At the altar can also be found the images of Saptamatri (Seven Mothers) flanked by Ganesha and Veerabhadra. The Saptamatri images are said to precede the time of the Pratihara Dynasty (founded in the 6th century AD) and are in fact reminiscent of the images of seven female deities of Harappa – the oldest civilisation in India. In the nearby stepwell, a stone bears a script that resembles the Harappan script.
The Dave Brahmins of Mudgal Gotra, Jodhpur/Mandor who were originally from Gujarat, claim to be the descendants of Ravana. The say that since time immemorial they are performing the shraddh (death anniversary) of Ravana on Dashehra Day every year. They offer pind daan and take a bath after that ritual. They recently erected a Ravan temple in Jodhpur, where daily puja is performed.
There is a theory proposed by Sinhalese nationalists that points to the southern part of Sri Lanka as the capital of Ravana, hence the name Ruhuna came to existence. "Ruhuna" is claimed to be derived from the word's Ravana Pura or Rohana Pura, despite the liguistic improbability of 'va' becoming 'ha' in Prakrit. This is probably an attempt to tie Ravana with the history of that other national hero: Duttagamini, who was a king from that region.
Murudeshwara temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, lies in the holy beach town in the Bhatkal Taluk of Uttara Kannada district in the state of Karnataka, India. It is situated between the Honnavar and Bhatkal town (about 12 km) and it lies on the coast of the Arabian Sea. The significance of this holy town dates to the time of Ramayana. Ravana wanted to attain immortality by penance dedicated to the Atmalinga(the divine Lingam of Shiva procures invincibility and immortality to the Hindu Gods). Lord Shiva appeared before Ravana and asked him what he wanted. Ravana requests the Atmalinga as his boon. Lord Shiva agreed to give him the boon with a condition that it should never be placed on the ground. It is believed that the Atmalinga was ever placed on the ground, all the powers would return to Lord Shiva again. Having obtained his boon, Ravana started back on his journey to Lanka. Sage Narada, realised that with the Atmalinga, Ravana may obtain immortality and create havoc on earth, approached Lord Ganesh to help him. As Ravana was nearing Gokarna, Lord Vishnu blocked the sun to make it appear as dusk. Ravana had to perform his evening rituals but was worried because with the Atmalinga in his hands, he would not be able to do his rituals. Lord Ganesh, disguised as a Brahmin boy approached Ravana. He requested him to hold the Atmalinga until he performed his pooja, and told him not to place it on the ground. Ganesh struck a deal with him saying that he would call Ravana thrice, and if Ravana did not return within that time, he would place the Atmalinga on the ground. As predicted, before Ravana could return after completing his rituals, Ganesh had already placed the Atmalinga on the ground. Vishnu then removed his illusion and it was daylight again. Ravana got really angry that he was tricked again and tried to uproot the Atmalinga and destroy it but could not. In a fit of rage he threw the case covering it to a place called Sajjeshwara, 23 miles away. Then he threw the lid of the case to a place called Guneshwara (now Gunavanthe) and Dhareshwara, 10–12 miles away. Finally, he threw the cloth covering the Atmalinga to a place called Mrideshwara in Kanduka-Giri (Kanduka Hill). Mrideshwara has been renamed to Murudeshwara.
Ravana-Dahan (Burning effigy of Ravana)
This ancient instrument is said to have belonged to a sovereign of India 5000 BC. Again, it also replicates the ancient instrument called Ravan Hatta which is found even today in Rajasthan.Mythology credits this creation to the great Sri Lanka King Ravana from Ramayana.
The Ravanahatha was played on one string which was 22 inches long encompassing the 3 Octaves.Whereas the Violin encompasses the 3 octaves on 4 strings with a finger board which is 5 1/4th inches long.This 5 1/4th when multiplied by 4 is 21 inches which was the size of the Ravan Hatta. Both are played with a bow.
Influence on Indian culture and art
A Ramleela actor wears the traditional attire of Ravana. One of the most important literary works of ancient India, the Ramayana has had a profound impact on art and culture in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The story ushered in the tradition of the next thousand years of massive-scale works in the rich diction of regal courts and Brahminical temples. It has also inspired much secondary literature in various languages, notably the Kambaramayanam by the Tamil poet Kambar of the 13th century, the Telugu-language Molla Ramayana, 14th century Kannada poet Narahari's Torave Ramayan, and 15th century Bengali poet Krittibas Ojha's Krittivasi Ramayan, as well as the 16th century Awadhi version, Ramacharitamanas, written by Tulsidas.
The Ramayana became popular in Southeast Asia during the 8th century and was represented in literature, temple architecture, dance and theatre. Today, dramatic enactments of the story of Ramayana, known as Ramleela, take place all across India and in many places across the globe within the Indian diaspora. The Ramayana has inspired works of film as well, most prominently the North American Seeta Sings the Blues, which tells the story supporting Seeta through song.
According to one not-so-famous legend[which?], when Seeta's swayamvar was announced, Ravana also went to participate, and he arrived before Lord Rama. Some of the officials (on Seeta`s instructions) told him that his sister was being kidnapped. On hearing this, Ravana immediately departed from the swaymavar and returned to his castle, only to find his sister well and sound. On returning to Seeta's swayamvar, he saw that she was already engaged. Ravana was outraged and issued the threat to Seeta that one day he would return to make her his wife and take revenge of rama to marry sita as HE(ravana) wanted to marry her.
- Identified with modern-day Sri Lanka
- The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International comments on Srimad Bhagavatam 9.10.26: "Rāvana's wife Mandodarī and the other wives knew very well how cruel a person Rāvana was. The very word "Rāvana" means "one who causes crying for others." Rāvana continuously caused trouble for others, but when his sinful activities culminated in giving trouble to Sītādevī, he was killed by Lord Rāmacandra."
- See also Transcurrents – Sinhalization of Ravana and Un-deification of Rama
- The Hindu, Ravana is a hero for Sinhala nationalists
- spokensanskrit.de, "Ravana"
- Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 9.10.26
- Prgiter (1997), Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, p.277
- A.K. Warder (1994), Indian Kāvya Literature, Volume 4, p.130
- Ramayana By Valmiki; Ramcharitmas by Tulsidasa (Lanka Kanda Vibhishana & Rama Samvaad)
- Māni Mādhava Chākyār (1996). Nātyakalpadrumam. Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi.p.6
- Ramayana Research. (2008). A Short History OF Heladiva. Available: http://ramayanaresearch.com/heladiva.html. Last accessed 14 March 2010.
- H. Parker (1909). Ancient Ceylon. New Dehli: Asian Educational Services. 7.
- H.R Perera. (1988). Buddhism in Sri Lanka - A short history. Available: http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/bud-srilanka.pdf. Last accessed 02 10 10.
- Udayakumar 2005, p. 55.
- Ravana has his temples, too. The Sunday Tribune – Spectrum. 21 October 2007.
- Vachaspati.S, Ravana Brahma [in English], 2005, Rudrakavi Sahitya Peetham, Gandhi Nagar, Tenali, India.
- Kamalesh Kumar Dave,Dashanan [in Hindi], 2008, Akshaya Jyotish Anusandan Kendra, Quila Road, Jodhpur, India.
- Sri Alvar Tirth
- Udayakumar, S.P. (2005). Presenting the Past: Anxious History and Ancient Future in Hindutva India. Greenwood Publishing Group
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