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Statue of Ravana from the 18th century CE
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Ravana is described as having been a great devotee and follower of Shiva, a great scholar, a capable ruler and a maestro of the Veena, but someone who wished to overpower the Devas. He is a Chakrawarthi king. His ten heads represent his knowledge of the six shastras and the four Vedas. In the Ramayana, Ravana kidnaps Sita, who is the wife of Rama to exact vengeance on Rama and his brother Lakshmana for having cut off the nose of his sister Shurpanakha and tries coercing her to marry him and forget her husband.
Ravana is worshiped by Hindus of Bisrakh, who claim their town to be his birthplace. He is considered to be the most revered devotee of Shiva. Images of Ravana are seen associated with Shiva at some places. He also appears in the Buddhist Mahayana text Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, in Buddhist Ramayanas and Jatakas, as well as in Jain Ramayanas.
The word Rāvaṇa (Sanskrit: रावण) means roaring opposite of Vaiśravaṇa meaning "hear distinctly" (passive). Both Ravana and Vaiśravaṇa, who is popularly known as Kubera, are considered to be patronymics derived as "sons of Vishrava".
Rāvana was a title taken on later by Dashānana, and it means "screamer" in Sanskrit (Ravana would sing hymns). Further, roravana is Sanskrit for "loud roaring." In Abhinava Gupta's Krama Shaiva scripture, yāsām rāvanam is used as an expression to mean people who are truly aware in terms of the materialism of their environment.
Ravana has many other popular names, such as Dasis Ravana, Dasis Sakvithi Maha Ravana, Dashaanan, Ravula, Lankeshwar, Lankeshwaran, Ravanasura, Ravanaeshwaran, and Eela Vendhar.
Ravana is depicted and described as having ten heads, although sometimes he is shown with only nine heads because he has sacrificed a head to convince Shiva. He is described as a devout follower of Shiva, a great scholar, a capable ruler and a maestro of the Veena (pronounced veh-nah; a chordophone instrument). Ravana is also depicted as the author of the Ravana Samhita, a book on Hindu astrology, and the Arka Prakasham, a book on Siddha medicine and treatment. Ravana possessed a thorough knowledge of Siddha 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.[page needed]
Depiction in the Ramayana
Ravana was born to great sage Vishrava (or Vesamuni), and his wife, the daitya princess Kaikeshi in the Treta Yuga. People of Bisrakh village in Uttar Pradesh claim that Bisrakh was named after Vishrava, and that Ravana was born there. But according to Hela historical sources and folklore, Ravana was born in Lanka, where he later became king.
Ravana's grandfather on his father's side, 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 (age of Manu). His grandfather on his mother's side, Sumali (or Sumalaya), king of the Raksasas, was the son of Sukesha. Sukesha's parents were King Vidyutkesa, who had married Salakantankata (daughter of Sandhya), who had abandoned Sukesha, but by the grace of Shiva he survived. Sumali had 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 and his siblings were born to the couple. They completed their education from their father, with Ravana being a great scholar of the Vedas. The brothers performed penances on Mt Gokarna for 11,000 years and won boons from Brahma. Ravana was blessed with a boon that would make him invincible to the creation of Brahma, except for humans. He also received weapons, chariot as well as the ability to shapeshift from Brahma. Ravana later usurped Lanka from his half-brother Kubera and became the King of Lanka. He appointed Shukracharya as his priest and learnt the Arthashastra (Science of Politics) from him. Rama once addressed Ravana as a "Maha Brahman" ("Great Brahman" in the context of his education).
After worshiping 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 clear from the references in the Ramayana that Ravana was no commoner among the Humans or Asuras, but a great chanter of the Sama Veda.
Ravana's family are hardly mentioned outside the Ramayana, which is viewed by some as being only the point of view of Rama devotees. According to that:
- Ravana's granduncle was Malyavan, who was against the war with Rama and Lakshmana.
- Ravana's parents were Vishravamuni (son of Pulastya) and Kaikesi (daughter of Sumali and Kethumathi).Kaikesi had ten brothers, the famous generals in Lanka’s army being Dhumraksha, Prahastha and Akampana, which would effectively make them Ravana's uncles and three aunties named Pushpothkatha, Kumbinashi and Raka. Kaikesi’s father, Sumali was instrumental in making Ravana, the king of Lanka, by advising him to get boons from Brahma, defeat Kubera, and establish the Rakshasa rule in the three worlds
- 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 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.
- 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 the 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 the path of righteousness.
- Khara (Ramayana) – 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. He was killed by Rama.
- Dushana – Viceroy of Janasthan.
- Ahiravan – King of the Underworld ruled by the rakshasas by Ravana and the demon king Maya.
- Kumbhini – Older 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.
- Shurpanakha – 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.
- Ravana was married to Mandodari, the daughter of the celestial architect Maya, Dhanyamalini, and a third wife. His sons from his three wives were as follows :
- Meghnaad (also known as Indrajit because he defeated Indra), the most powerful son of Ravana
- In the Bengali ballad "Meghnad Bodh Kavya" by Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Beerbahu is said to be Ravana's son.
Devotee of Shiva
One of the most original, which is not found in earlier manuscripts, tells how Ravana orders his court priest Brhaspati (all the gods being his slaves) to read the Chandi stava (mantras of Chandi), that is, the Devi Mahatmya, in order to stave off defeat if he can recite it. According to the Krttivasa text, Ravana arranged for a peaceful yajna (sacrifice) and to start the recitation of Chandi, Brihaspati was invited. Accordingly, Brihaspati recited the same correctly.
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.
Vishnu agreed that they should be punished. They were given two choices, that they could be born seven times as normal mortals and devotees of Vishnu, or three 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.
Conflict with other kings and Asuras
Ravana had gotten into a conflict with some other major Asuras.
- In Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh is where he is said to have fought, but lost, to Kartavirya Arjuna, and he was tied up; later Kartavirya got the name Daśagrivajayi (the conqueror of Ravana just like Indrajit got his name by defeating Indra) and released him on the request of his grandfather sage Pulastya. Ravana vanquished.
- Marutta (Chakravarti King of Ushiraviga),
- Gadhi (Vishwamitra's father),
- Dushyanta (Bharata's father),
- Suratha (King of Vidarbha),
- Gaya (Chakravarti king of Dharmaranya), and
- Paurava (King of Anga).
- Ravana killed Anaranya, the king of Ayodhya although the latter cursed Ravana to be slain by Rama.
- Ravana was vanquished by the Ikshvaku King Mandhata, an ancestor of Rama.
- Ravana had wrestled his brother Kubera for the Pushpaka car.
- In the Ramayana, he fought Vali the Kishkindha king, but was defeated by him.
- He also fought with the Nivatakavachas, the descendants of Prahlada, but being unable to defeat them, struck an alliance with them.
- Another time he was vanquished by the sage Kapila.
- One time, upon hearing a discourse from Sage Sanatkumara, Ravana attempted to invade Vaikuntha. Only Ravana managed to enter Vaikuntha's capital Shwetadwipa where he was hopelessly outmatched by the inhabitants over there and was forced to retreat.
Modern descendants of Ravana
The Kanyakubja Brahmins of Vidisha district worship Ravana; they personify him as a symbol of prosperity and regard him as a saviour, claiming that Ravana was also a Kanyakubja Brahmin. 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 a year, on Dashehra Day, to perform puja for the welfare of Ravana.
The Sachora Brahmins of Gujarat also claim to descend from Ravana, and sometimes have "Ravan" as their surnames.
There is also reference to "Ravani", lineage of Upadhyaya Yasastrata II, who was of the Gautama gotra and was a son of Acharya Vasudatta, and described as "born of Ravani".
The Gondi people of central India claim to be descendants of Ravana, and they also have temples set up for him, his wife Mandodari, and their son Meghnad. They also state that Ravana was an ancient Gond king, and the tenth dharmaguru of their tribe. Every year on Dussehra, the Gondis of the village of Paraswadi carry an image of Ravana riding on an elephant in a procession.
Temples built by Ravana
Baijnath Temple was a Shiva temple in Himachal Pradesh state, also known as Ravankhola ("Place of Ravana").
In Kakinada Andhra Pradesh there is a Shiva temple containing a huge Shivalinga, supposedly installed by Ravana himself, with a statue of Ravana near by. Both Shivalinga and Ravana are worshiped by the fishermen community there.
Ravana-Dahan (burning effigy of Ravana)
The ancient instrument known as a ravanahatha is said to have belonged to a sovereign in present-day India around 5000 BC. It replicates the ancient instrument called the Ravan hatta which is found even today in Rajasthan. Mythology credits this creation to Ravana.
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.
Texts attributed to Ravana
There are also texts attributed to Ravana. The Ravan Samhita is an astrological text or scripture narrated by Shiva and written by Ravana.
The Ravanakumara Tantra is a part of the tantric rituals of the Kriyakalagunottara Tantra, and it is an 11th-century Sanskrit work for the treatment of children's diseases. It is also known as the Ravanaproktabalacikitsasutra ("Sutra Spoken by Ravana on the Curing of Children's Diseases").
Ravana appears as the composer of the 16th century C.E. text, Arka Prakasa, which is a dialogue between the king of Lanka and his wife Mandodhari about which herbs and chemicals can be used in a mixture to cure illnesses, such as syphilis.
Ravana is also the composer of the 16th century C.E. scriptures Nadi Pariksa and Nadi Vijnana on knowledge about the veins.
Ravana is the composer of the Ravanabhet, a Vedic text on the phonetics of the Sanskrit language.
Ravana is also the composer of the Ravaniya, also known as Ravanabaith, a text on the phonetics of the Telugu language.
The Prakrta-Kamadhenu grammatical text on the Prakrit language is attributed to "Ravana Lankesvara".
The Samkhya scripture known as the Ravana-bhasya, also known as Ravanabhasya, is believed to be written by Ravana.
The Vaisesika scripture Katandi (a commentary on the Vaisesika Sutra) is attributed to Ravana.
Ravana is also the name used by a commentator of the Shaiva Rudrapurascharana.
"Ravanacharya" is the scholar who wrote the Padaratna, a commentary on the Rig Veda.
Ravana is the composer of the Shavite scripture Shiva Tandava Stotram.
The Khamti Ramayana as well describes Rama as a Bodhisattva incarnated to get tortured by Ravana.
In the Laotian Buddhist text Phra Lak Phra Lam, Rama is a Bodhisattva and the embodiment of virtues, while Ravana is a Brahmin ("mahabrahma") son of Virulaha who is highly materialistic.
In the Cambodian Buddhist text Preah Ream, Buddha is an incarnation of Rama and Ravana. He is a rakshasa.
In the Lankavatara Sutra, Gautama Buddha pays a visit to Lanka, and in the scripture he is addressed as a Rakshasa. He is normally identified as a demon.
In the Karandavyuha Sutra, the god Yama asks if the visitor in hell (Avalokitesvara) whom he hasn't seen yet is a god or a demon, and asks whether he is Vishnu, Mahesvara, or the rakshasa ("demon") Rama.
Jain accounts vary from the traditional Hindu accounts of Ramayana. The incidents are placed at the time of the 20th Tirthankara, Munisuvrata. According to Jain version, both Rama as well as Ravana were devout Jains. Ravana was a Vidyadhara King who had magical powers. Also, as per the Jain accounts, Ravana was killed by Lakshmana and not Rama in the end.
In Ayyavazhi religion
Pulavar Kuzhanthai’s Ravana Kaaviyam, is a panegyric on Ravana. The book is made of 3100 poetic stanzas in which Ravana is the hero. The book was released in 1946. The book was banned by the then congress state government. The ban was lifted only in 1971.
TV serial depictions
- Identified by many with modern-day Sri Lanka
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