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Ravana

Read about Ravana at Wikipedia or Kamat's Potpourri.

RAVANA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] The demon king of Lanka or Ceylon, from which he expelled his half-brother Kuvera. He was son of Visravas by his wife Nikasha, daughter of the Rakshasa Sumali. He was half-brother of Kuvera, and grandson of the Rishi Pulastya; and as Kuvera is king of the Yakshas, Ravana is king of the demons called Rakshasas. Pulastya is said to be the progenitor, not only of Ravana, but of the whole race of Rakshasas.

By penance and devotion to Brahma, Ravana was made invulnerable against gods and demons, but he was doomed to die through a woman. He was also enabled to assume any form he pleased. All Rakshasas are malignant and terrible, but Ravana as their chief attained the utmost degree of wickedness, and was a very incarnation of evil.

He is described in the Ramayana as having "ten heads (hence his names Dasanana, Dasakantha, and Panktigriva), twenty arms, and copper-coloured eyes, and bright teeth like the young moon. His form was as a thick cloud or a mountain, or the god of death with open mouth.

He had all the marks of royalty, but his body bore the impress of wounds inflicted by all the divine arms in his warfare with the gods. It was scarred by the thunderbolt of Indra, by the tusks of Indra's elephant Airavata, and by the discus of Vishnu.

His strength was so great that he could agitate the seas and split the tops of mountains. He was a breaker of all laws and a ravisher of other men's wives. Tall as a mountain peak, he stopped with his arms the sun and moon in their course, and prevented their rising." The terror he inspires is such that where he is "the sun does not give out its heat, the winds do not blow, and the oceans become motionless."

His evil deeds cried aloud for vengeance, and the cry reached heaven. Vishnu declared that, as Ravana had been too proud to seek protection against men and beasts, he should fall under their attackes, so Vishnu became incarnate as Ramachandra for the express purpose of destroying Ravana, and vast numbers of monkeys and bears were created to aid in the enterprise.

Rama's wars against the Rakshasas inflicted such losses upon them as greatly to incense Ravana. Burning with rage, and excited by a passion for Sita, the wife of Rama, he left his island abode, repaired to Rama's dwelling, assumed the appearance of a religious mendicant, and carried off Sita to Lanka. Ravana urged Sita to become his wife, and threatened to kill and eat her if she refused. Sita persistently resisted, and was saved from death by the interposition of one of Ravana's wives.

Rama called to his assistance his allies Sugriva and Hanuman, with their hosts of monkeys and bears. They built Rama's bridge, by which they passed over into Lanka, and after many battles and wholesale slaughter Ravana was brought to bay at the city of Lanka.

Rama and Ravana fought together on equal terms for a long while, victory sometimes inclining to one sometimes to the other. Rama with a sharp arrow cut off one of Ravana's heads, "but no sooner did the head fall on the ground than another sprang up in its room." Rama then took an arrow which had been made by Brahma, and discharged it at his foe. It entered his breast, came out of his back, went to the ocean, and then returned clean to the quiver of Rama. "Ravana fell to the ground and expired, and the gods sounded celestial music in the heavens, and assembled in the sky and praised Rama as Vishnu, in that he had slain that Ravana who would otherwise have caused their destruction."

Ravana, though he was chief among Rakshasas, was a Brahman on his father's side; he was well versed in Sanskrit, used the Vedic ritual, and his body was burnt with Brahmnical rites.

There is a story that Ravana made each of the gods perform some menial office in his household: thus Agni was his cook, Varuna supplied water, Kuvera furnished money, Vayu swept the house, etc.

The Vishnu Purana relates that Ravana, "elevated with wine, came on his tour of triumph to the city of Mahishmati, but there he was taken prisoner by King Kartavirya, and confined like a beast in a corner of his capital." The same authority states that, in another birth, Ravana was Sisupala.

Ravana's chief wife was Mandodari, but he had many others, and they were burnt at his obsequies. His sons were Meghanada, also called Indrajit, Ravani, and Aksha; Trisikha or Trisiras, Devantaka, Narantaka, and Atikaya.


Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM