Lord Ravana is the primary antagonist in the Hindu epic Ramayana, where he is depicted as the King of Lanka. Lord Ravana is depicted and described as having ten heads. His ten heads represents that his knowledge of the six shastras and the four Vedas. In the Ramayana, Lord Ravana is the antagonist, kidnapping Lord Ram’s wife Sita to exact vengeance on Lord Ram and his brother Lakshman for having cut off the nose of his sister Surpanakha.
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. Lord Ravana is also depicted as the author of the Ravana Sanhita, a book on Hindu astrology. Lord 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 Lord Brahma.
Birth of Lord Ravana
According to the Ramayana story, Lord Ravana was the son of a Rishi (sage), a Brahmin father, and a Kshatriya (warrior) Rakshasa (demon) mother, thus attaining a status of Brahmarakshasa.
Lord Ravana was born to a great sage Vishrava (or Vesamuni), and his wife, the Daitya princess Kaikesi. He was born in the Bisrakh village, Uttar Pradesh, India 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). 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. Lord Ravana later usurped Lanka from his half brother Lord Kubera and became the King of Lanka and became a Kshatriya thereon.
Lord Ram had once addressed Lord Ravana as a “Maha Brahman” (Great Brahman 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 Lord Ravana was aggressive and arrogant, he was also an exemplary scholar. Under Vishrava’s tutelage, Lord Ravana mastered the Vedas, the holy books, and also the arts and ways of Kshatriyas (warriors). Lord 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 Lord Ravana had close connections with region of the Yadus, which included Gujarat, parts of Maharashtra and Rajasthan up to Mathura south of Delhi. Lord 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 Lord Ram.
After worshiping Lord Shiva on the banks of the Narmada, in the more central Yadu region, Lord 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 Lord Ravana was no commoner among the Humans or Asuras.
Lord Shiva & Lord Ravana
Following his initial training, Lord Ravana performed an intense penance (or Tapasya) to Lord Shiva, lasting several years. During his penance, Lord 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, Lord Shiva, pleased with his austerity, appeared after his 10th decapitation and offered him a boon. Lord Ravana asked for immortality, which Lord 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.
Lord Ravana also asked for absolute invulnerability from and supremacy over gods, heavenly spirits, other Rakshas (demons), serpents, and wild beasts. Contemptuous of mortal men, he did not ask for protection from these. Lord Shiva granted him these boons in addition to his 10 severed heads and great strength by way of knowledge of divine weapons and magic.
The King of Lanka
After winning these boons, Lord Ravana sought out his grandfather, Sumali, and assumed leadership over his army. He then set his sights on capturing the island city of Lanka .
Lanka was an idyllic city, created by the celestial architect Vishwakarma for Lord Shiva and acquired by Lord Kubera, the treasurer of the gods upon advice of his father Visravas. Lord Kubera had generously shared all that he owned with lord Ravana and the latter’s siblings, who were Lord Kubera’s half-brothers and half-sister from his stepmother Kaikesi. However, Lord Ravana demanded Lanka wholly from him, threatening to take it by force. Vishrava, their father, advised Lord Kubera to give it up to him, as Lord Ravana was now unbeatable.
Although Lord 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, Lord Ravana encountered Lord Shiva at his abode in Kailash. Lord Ravana at first went to meet Lord Shiva. Nandi the vehicle of Lord Shiva, refused to let Lord Ravana in. He got annoyed and started teasing Nandi. Nandi in turn got annoyed and cursed Lord Ravana that Lanka would be destroyed by a monkey. To show Nandi his love for Lord Shiva, Ravana attempted to uproot and move the mountain on a whim. Lord Shiva, annoyed by Ravana’s arrogance, pressed his littlest toe on Kailash, pinning him firmly and painfully under it. His Ganas informed Lord Ravana of whom he had crossed, upon which Lord Ravana became penitent. He plucked his nerves and used them as strings to compose music and sang songs praising Lord Shiva, and is said to have done so for years until Lord Shiva released him from his bondage.
Pleased with his resilience and devotion, Lord Shiva gave to him the divine sword Chandrahas (‘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) with the terrifying roar”, given to him by Lord Shiva – the earth is said to have quaked at Lord Ravana’s cry of pain when the mountain was pinned on him. Lord 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 God and Lord Ravana’s days would be numbered. After Lord Ravana had been given the celestial nectar of immortality by Lord Brahma, he went on to please Lord Shiva. He cut his head & put it as sacrifice for pleasing Lord Shiva, but Lord Shiva replaced his head with a new one. This was repeated nine times, on which Lord Shiva was happy and pleased with Lord Ravana’s resilience and devotion.