The epic Ramayana was written by the great sage Valmiki and told us the tale of Good over the bad, the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana, the multi-headed asura king. Yet there is more to the emperor of Lanka than meets the eye. A complex character who was a devout king is often epitomized as the villain unparalleled.

Ravana Art
Art by Molee at DeviantArt

Ravana is the perfect example of two sides of the coin. In most countries he is tainted as the villain who kidnapped Sita and started the war, a cruel oppressive ruler who misused is knowledge and boons. Yet in Sri Lanka Ravana has an image of a different king and a human. He is described as a devout follower of the god Shiva, a great scholar, a capable ruler, and a maestro of aveena, known as the Ravanhattha.

The story goes that Ravana went to visit Lord Shiva and to impress his mother by moving the Kailash Parvat (Mount Kailash) to Lanka. 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. As he lifted up the mountain, Shiva was angered by his arrogance and pushed it back down, trapping Ravana. The King of Lanka had torn off one of his own arms and made a musical instrument, ripping out sinews to form the strings. He used the newly invented Ravanhattha to sing the praises of Shiva, creating music of such beauty that Shiva wept and forgave him. Such was his faith and respect for his mother as well as Shiva.

Birth Of Ravana

Ravana had a remarkable pedigree. 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) in the first Manvantara. Ravana was born to a great sage Vishrava muni, and his wife, the daitya princess Kaikesi. Kaikesi’s father, in turn, was the king of Rakhesha Sumala. Kaikesi searched among the sages and finally chose Vishrava. Ravana had six brothers and two sisters.

Kubera, the King of North direction and the Guardian of Heavenly Wealth. Vibhishana, a follower of Rama, Kumbhakarna, the one who was awake for 6 months a year and asleep for the other 6, Kharan Dushana, Ahiravan, Khumbini, and Suparnakha, the one who instigated her brothers to wage a war against Rama.

Ravana later usurped Lanka from his half-brother Kubera (Father of Ravana and Kubera was Sage Vishrava) and became the King of Lanka. He appointed Shukracharya as his priest and learned the Shastras from him.

Previous life

According to Hindu Puranas, Ravana and his brother, Kumbhakarna were reincarnations of Jaya and Vijaya, gatekeepers at Vaikuntha, the abode of Lord Vishnu. Both were cursed to be born on 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.

Jaya and Vijaya

After the curse, Lord Vishnu agreed that they should be punished. They were given two choices, either 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.

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.

Ravana and his brother Kumbhakarna were born to fulfill the curse on the second birth as enemies of Vishnu in the Treta Yuga. And finally, the curse of third birth was fulfilled by Dantavakra and Shishupala in the Dwapar Yuga when they both were killed by Lord Krishna.

Penance to Shiva, Brahma, and Boons

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 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, a chariot as well as the ability to shapeshift from Brahma.

It is said that 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 is known as ‘Dasamukha’ or ‘Dashaanan’ (Dasa = ten, mukha/anan = face). His ten heads were Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Moha (delusion), Lobha (greed), Mada (pride), Maatsyasya (envy), Manas (mind), Buddhi (intellect), Chitta (will) and Ahamkara ( the ego) – all these constitute the ten heads. And so Ravana had all these ten qualities.

Lanka and Ravana

Lanka was an idyllic city, created by the celestial architect Vishwakarma himself, and was the home of Kuber, the treasurer of the gods, when Ravana demanded Lanka wholly from him, threatening to take it by force. Although Ravana usurped Lanka, he had been a benevolent and effective ruler. Lanka flourished under his rule.

Lanka under the scholarly Ravana saw great advancements in science and medicine. The Pushpaka Vimana or the airplane which he flew is held as an example of great scientific achievements made during his regime while Ravana also holds a high position as a physician and there exist, to this day, seven books on Ayurveda in his name. He is also believed to have authored Ravana Sanhita, an anthology of Hindu astrology, and his description as a ten-headed person, Daśamukha or Daśagrīva, is believed to be an ode to his vast knowledge and intelligence.

During his immature attempt to seize Kailash, he became a lifelong disciple of Lord Shiva. Then, 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 Shiva and is said to have composed the hymn known as Shiva Tandava stotram.

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.

Personal life

Ravana had two wives. He had seven sons from his two wives. Mandodari, the daughter of the celestial architect Maya and divine Apsara Hema (Hema is a daughter of Maharshi Kashyapa & Muni, daughter of Daksha Prajapati) and Dhyanmalini.

There is a school of thought that paints Ravana as a womanizer. There is a mention of Vedavati, who is the daughter of Brahmarishi Kusadhvaja, who is the son of Brihaspati, Lord-Guru of the Devas, the Gods. Having spent his life chanting and studying the sacred Vedas, he names his daughter Vedavati, or Embodiment of the Vedas, born as the fruit of his bhakti and tapasya.

Ravana, the emperor of Lanka, and the rakshasa race found Vedavati sitting in meditation and is captivated by her incredible beauty. He proposes to her and is rejected. Ravana mocks her austerities and her devotion to Vishnu; finding himself firmly rejected at every turn, he grabbed her hair and assaults her. 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 you, I shall be born again for your destruction.” So she entered the blazing fire, and celestial flowers fell all around. It was she who was born again as Sita, and was the moving cause of Ravana’s death, though Lord Rama was the agent.


In another instance, Ravana is also said to have tried to abuse Rambha, an apsara engaged to Lord Kubera’s (the god of wealth) son. After learning Ravana’s advances, Kubera cursed him that if he tried to force himself upon any woman, all his heads would fall off. This is one of the reasons why he did not touch Sita when she was abducted.

Ravana and Rama

The 29th Raghuvanshi king Anaranya was killed by Ravana, Anaranya cursed Ravana that one day one king of the Ikshvaku lineage will kill Ravana and Sri Rama killed Ravana.
After the abduction of Sita and repeated attempts to seek her release in the most peaceful manner which were rejected by Ravana, the war took place which resulted in the demise of Ravana and his sons.

Cause of Ravana’s death

Many believe that it was Vibhishana who betrayed his own brother Ravana and became the reason of the latter’s death. However, as per legends, it was Mandodari, who was unaware of how indirectly she became a part of the treachery that led to her husband’s death by the hands of Lord Ram.

Vibhishana Meet Lord Rama
Vibhishana Meet Lord Rama – Source

It became obvious that killing Ravana was turning next to impossible, so Vibhashana disclosed the secret about Ravana’s navel, where his soul was kept hidden due to a boon. He also informed Lord Rama that no mortal weapon could ever diminish Ravan’s soul, but only a magical arrow, which was kept in the safety of Mandodari. On Lord Rama’s nod, Hanuman flies back to Ravana’s castle in the middle of battle, in disguise as a Brahmin saint. He secretly enters Mandodari’s room and tricks her into revealing the location where she hid the magical bow. Just when he was about to fly away after obtaining it, Mandodari realized how she was tricked into disclosing the weapon of her husband’s death. After she saw Ravana’s lifeless body, she cursed Hanuman saying, “For whom you tricked me, shall be taken away from you one day. Like today, I have to live in grief; you too shall live forever in grief.”

The advancements during Ravana’s reign

Pushpaka Vimana

Ravana and Air Craft or Dandumonaraya

The Pushpikaya or Dandumonaraya which is highly interested by the modern world was the official vehicle of King. This was made out of wooden and fuel was a kind of mercury. The starting of the Dandumonaraya was done by heating mercury with the help of a diamond. Another special feature of the Chiththakuta or Sigiriya was that a lift made out of wooden operated from up to down and this was the only Fort in Sri Lanka with this nature. It was stated that a lift shaft was drilled at the edge of the lion mouth towards the up and the wooden lift had installed.

Ravana – the healer

Ravana had written various classical Ayurveda in the Sanskrit Language.

  • Kumara Thanthraya (Kumara Therapy) – Over thousand Powerful medical prescriptions for leprosy and other deceases.
  • Udissa Thanthraya (Uddeeya Thahtharaya) – About hypnotism treatments and occult sciences.
  • Treatments through pulses – Diagnoses of diseases through pluses.
  • Explanation of meaning  – This book ends with the following sentence: This is the end of this book prepared for the purpose of cure hundred diseases written by Ravana the king of Lanka.
  • Vatika Prakaranaya – Decoction dissertation
  • Kumara Thanthraya – It was stated in these books that an Ayurveda Seminar had been held in Himalaya under the leadership of The King. Accordingly, Ravana can be treated as a bright doctor, psychologist and also the Chairman of the Medical Council.

Ravana and Angam Shastraya

During the period of Ravana, this particular fighting system had seven divisions. It was a fighting system practiced by the Tribe of Yakka. Ravana had been able to add another one division to this fighting method. Even today, this fighting method that had been developed by King Ravana is practiced by some people. Adding another division to this angampora game can be seen when King Rajasinghe the First alias Prince Tikiri added “Ilangakkara” division to this martial art. It was the last adding to this fighting method.

Ravana’s end

TO say that Ravana was killed in the great war by Lord Rama would be an understatement. His death was brought on by a series of events, his pride, and lust. So in a literal sense, Ravana was killed by the person who shot the Astra (Brahmastra) that killed Ravana – Lord Rama.  The person who told Rama on how to kill Ravana – Matali, the charioteer of Indra gives the idea of firing the Brahmastra to Ram to kill Ravana at his weakest part, umbilicus. The person who triggered the event chain – Shurpanakha, when she tried to kill Sita after Rama / Lakshmana declined to marry her.

Life Lessons by Ravana

Lord Rama was very impressed with Ravana’s knowledge and wisdom—which is why after defeating him, he praised Ravana and deputed brother Lakshmana to seek the blessings of the dying Ravana.

Lord Rama asked his brother Lakshman to go to him and learn something about the world, which no other person except for such a learned Brahmin like Raavan could ever teach him.

Lakshman obeyed his brother’s order and stood near dying Raavan’s head. But Raavan did not say anything and Lakshman returned to Rama. Rama then told Lakshman that whenever one wants to learn something from a person, you should never stand near his head, but his feet.

Lakshman again went to Raavan and this time he stood near his feet. Raavan seeing Lakshman standing near his feet told him Three main secrets that would anyone’s life successful.

  1. The first thing Raavan told Lakshman was that one should complete any auspicious work as soon as possible and keep delaying the inauspicious work as much possible. He supported this teaching by saying, “शुभस्य शीघ्रम्” (Shubhasya Shighram).
    He told Lakshman that he could not recognize Rama and therefore delayed arrival at the shelter. Hence this is his condition.
  2. The second thing he taught Lakshman was never to underestimate one’s enemy. He said that he did this mistake of understanding the monkeys and bears lesser or incompetent and he lost the battle against them. He said, when he asked Lord Brahma to make him immortal, he said no one else except for monkeys and humans could kill him. This is because he believed that both these living beings were not capable to kill him.
  3. The third and final thing Ravana told Lakshman that one should not reveal one’s life secret to anyone in the world. Here also Raavan made a mistake as Vibhishana knew the secret of his death. Ravana knew this was his biggest mistake in life.

SO whether we see him as a villain or an intellectual personalty, he remains a powerful figure in Hinduism.

(Last Updated On: June 10, 2022)