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A depiction of Ravana, Hindu rakshasa King of LankaRavana, also transliterated as Raavana, Ravan or Raavan, (Devanagari: Rāvaṇa ;Tamil: Raavanan ;Khmer: Krong Reap; Malay: Rawana; Lao: Hapkhanasouane; Thai: ทศกัณฐ์ Thotsakan, lit. the person with ten necks) was a mythical king of rakshasas (demons), with great supernatural power, who is said to have ruled Sri Lanka about 6000 years ago.

When we look into the actual meaning of '10 headed'ness, it shows the positive side of Raavana. The meaning is that he was having very through knowledge in 4 vedas, and 6 upanishats, which made him as powerful as 10 scholars. And moreover he was a great worshiper of Lord Shiva.

He plays a major role in Hindu mythology, especially in the Ramayana, where he is mainly depicted negatively as a brute, and most infamously as having kidnapped Rama's wife Sita and being killed by her husband.

This depiction is, however, open to other interpretions; Ravana is also mentioned as a great scholar, a capable ruler and a devoted follower of Shiva, and he has his apologists and staunch devotees within the Hindu traditions.

Tapas to Brahma
Following his initial training, Ravana performed an intense penance to Brahma (the creator god), lasting several years. Pleased with his austerity, Brahma offered him a boon. Ravana asked for immortality, which Brahma refused on grounds that all beings must die. Ravana then asked for absolute invulnerability and supremacy before gods and heavenly spirits, other demons, serpents, and wild beasts. Contemptuous of mortal men, he did not ask for protection from these. Brahma granted him these boons, and additionally great strength by way of knowledge of divine weapons and sorcery.
King of Lanka
Tosakanth (Ravana)'s sculpture as a guardian of Wat Phra Kaew, Thailand

After winning these boons, 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 Kubera, the treasurer of the gods. Kubera had generously shared all that he owned with Ravana and the latter's siblings, who were Kubera's half-brothers and half-sister through 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
Ravana lifting mount Kailash - Ellora Caves, MaharashtraFollowing his conquest of Lanka, Ravana encountered Lord Shiva at his abode in Kailash. Here 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 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 ("Moon-blade"). It was during this incident that he acquires the name 'Ravana', meaning "(He) Of the terrifying roar", given to him by Shiva when 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.
Historical Basis
According to some people in India, mostly the supporters of the Dravidian Self-Respect Movement, the war between Lord Rama and Ravana is believed to signify the greatest conflict between the Aryans and the Dravidians. Pre-Aryan India was peopled by the Dravidians and the indigenous Aadivasis. Pushed back by centuries of relentless wars with the Aryans, the last standoff is believed to have been immortalized in the Ramayana as the Rama-Ravana war. But the fact that Ravana was himself a Brahmin, and thus an Aryan, casts serious doubts over such a racial conflict. Infact, many of the modern scholars doubt the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) itself and it cannot be treated as proven.

The conflict here is more accurately seen as one between the Ikshavakus and the Rakshasas. Ravana himself was a grandson of Pulastya, a Son of Visravas and therefore Brahman on his father's side. Ravana also had a conflict with Karthavirya Arjuna of the Heyhayas, which he also lost. It is also said that he lost to the Vanara hero Vali, and made a treaty with him. His grandfather Sumali and brothers Mali and Malyavan lost a battle with Vishnu and retreated to Sri Lanka. So Sri Lanka was possibly his own lost inheritance that he reclaimed from Kubera.
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 son 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 gods, celestials, and the serpent races.

At the time of the Ramayana, set several hundred 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.
Ravana was known for his virility and his aggressive conquests of women. Ravana had several wives, foremost of whom was Mandodari - daughter of Mayasura and an apsara named Hema.

Mandodari was renowned for her wisdom and grace as well as beauty and chastity. She is often compared to Sita, one of the most beautiful woman described in Indian mythology.
Ravana kidnapping Sita and killing Jatayu - By Raja Ravi Varma
In addition to his wives, Ravana maintained a harem of incredible size, populated with women whom he captured in his many conquests, many of them accepted and lived happily in his harem for his great manhood, power, and knowledge of different subjects.

Ravana originally used to force himself upon any woman who rejected his advances. Two significant encounters occurred that would shape the course of the Ramayana.

The first was the encounter with the sage-woman Vedavati. Vedavati had been performing penance with the intention of winning Lord Vishnu as her husband. Ravana met her at her hermitage, her beauty enhanced by the austerities she had performed. She, however, rejected his advances. After mocking her dedication to Vishnu and her penance, he attacks her, viciously, by pulling her hair.

Her chastity and reputation destroyed, Vedavati immolates herself by building a pyre while Ravana is watching.

The second was his encounter with the apsara Rambha, upon whom he forced himself. Rambha was betrothed to Kubera's son, but her plea that she was like a daughter to him did not deter Ravana.

Angered at this, Kubera's son cursed Ravana, stating that his ten heads would fall off if he forced himself upon any woman thenafter. This curse is said to have protected Sita's chastity while she was Ravana's captive for nearly a year.

For seizing Sita, Ravana used his ancient glider called Dhadu Monara. This was hoisted from a Rock called Lakegala in Sri Lanka.
Ravana serves mainly as an antagonist and villain in the Ramayana. Nevertheless, he is considered to have possessed several virtues, the foremost being his knowledge of the sacred books, medicines, and sorcery. Ravana was a great devotee of Shiva and is supposed to have composed the Shiva Tandava Stotra.

Legend says that being a Brahmin, Ravana performed the necessary vedic rituals (pujas) for Rama, a Kshatriya, before the war between himself and Rama. This was done as no other Brahmin was available at that time in Lanka.

There were occasions where Ravana has been humbled, including the encounter with Shiva mentioned above.

Another incident was when the king Kartavirya Arjuna (who had 1000 arms) was bathing in the river Narmada (where Ravana was also bathing). Arjuna's wives challenged him if he could hold the waters of Narmada, which he did.

Hence, the flow of water stopped at the place where Ravana was bathing and this made him angry. So he challenged Arjuna to battle and lost it. Arjuna then took him prisoner, until Ravana's grandfather came and asked Arjuna to release him. It is to Ravana's luck's credit, though, that he came out of all these three incidents much richer in alliances and friendship.

Ravana also met his match when he encountered the mighty Vali, king of the Vanara (roughly, "monkey men": "Vanara" has two meanings in Sanskrit, those being either "black-faced monkey" or "forest dweller", being composed of "Nara" (man) and "Vana" (forest) - i.e. "forest-living men").

By one version, Ravana is said to have got himself tied into the tail of Vali when the latter was performing his meditation, (or in another version, his regular Shiva puja). Vali flew in all four directions, around all worlds, completely unaware that Ravana was stuck in his tail. When he reached his palace, he realized that Ravana was stuck there and released him.

Another version holds that Ravana had in fact challenged Vali for a fight. Since Vali had the boon that anyone who came before him in a fight lost half his/her strength to Vali, he accepted the offer from Ravana in spite of Ravana being the enemy of his father Indra.

Ravana, having known of this special characteristic of his opponent, caught hold of Vali from behind, at a time that Vali was performing his sacred ablution. Such was the might of Vali that he thereupon clasped his arms around Ravana's. Vali, holding Ravana, thereupon completed his sacred bath in all the seven oceans.

Depiction in other Scriptures, as Vishnu's cursed doorkeeper
In the Bhagavata Purana, Ravana and his brother, Kumbakarna 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 Vaikunta and to be born in Earth.

The god Vishnu agreed that they should be punished, but agreed to mitigate their curse. He asked them whether they would want to be undergo seven births as devotees of Vishnu or three births as enemies of the Lord. Since they wanted to return as soon as possible, they agreed to be born in three births as evil-doers.

In the first birth,in Sata Yuga Jaya and Vijaya were born as Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha. Vishnu incarnated as Varaha and Narasimha and killed them both. In Treta Yuga they were born as Ravana and Kumbhakarna and were killed by Rama. Then in Dwapara Yuga. In their final birth, they were born as Shishupala and Dantavakra, and killed by Sri Krishna. After the end of three births, they returned to Vaikunta.

Ravana's family
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 was married to Mandodari, the daughter of the celestial architect Maya. He had seven sons from his three wives:

              01. Indrajit
              02. Prahasta
              03. Atikaya
              04. Akshayakumara
              05. Devantaka
              06. Narantaka
              07. Trishira

Ravana's paternal grandfather was Pulastya, son of Brahma. Ravana's maternal grandfather was Malyavan, who was against the war with Rama, and his maternal grandmother was Tataki. Ravana also had a maternal uncle, Maricha.

Ravana had six brothers and two sisters:

01. 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.

02. Vibhishana - A great follower of Sri 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 Kidnapped Sita and uphold Dharma. Ravana not only rejected this sane advice, but also banished       him from his kingdom. Vibhishana sought protection from Sri Rama, which was granted without hesitation. He is known as a great devotee of Sri Rama.

03. Kumbhakarna - One of the most jovial demons in Hindu mythology. When offered a boon by Brahma, he was tricked into asking for unending 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 Sri Rama,       Kumbhakarna was awakened from his sleep. He tried to persuade Ravana to follow Dharmic path and return Sita; seek mercy of Sri Rama. But he too       failed to mend the ways of Ravana. However, 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.

04. 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.

05. Dushana - Viceroy of Janasthan.

06. Mahiravan - King of the Underworld ruled by the rakshasas by Ravana and Demon King Maya.

07. 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.

08. Surpanakha - the evil sister of Ravana. She was the ultimate root of the kidnapping of Sita Devi. She was the one who instigated her brothers to wage a       war against Rama.
Arguments in favor of Ravana
While often thought of mainly as the infamous 10-headed demon, Ravana was also a notable scholar of the Vedas.

A not widely known metaphorical interpreation of Rvan's having ten heads is that the heads are a symbolic way to show the world about his knowledge. He was fully aware of the contents of the six Shastras. His knowledge of the six shastras as well as his knowledge of the four Vedas, ten holy scriptures in all, is by this interpretation considered the inner meaning of the belief that Ravana had ten heads. He even knew that Ram was Narayana himself, who had come in human form.

However, since there was no other way for him to reach to Narayana, he had to cultivate wanton wickedness, violence and hatred, and invite Ram to kill him. Of course, this might be called a type of devotion that is stupid and infamous. But his inner aim was to cross the ocean of birth and death, through that act of self abnegation and surrender to Narayana.

Pro-Ravana interpretation of the Sita kidnapping
Even though Ravan is portrayed as a vile villain in Ramayan, this view is open to question due to lack of any overt instances, and is so questioned by a considerable number of believers.

It can argued, for example, that Ravan's abduction of Sita was not driven by lust for her, but instead it was done to punish Ram for attacking his sister Surpanakha.

While Ram and Laxman were living in the woods, Shoorpanaka saw Ram and fell in love with him. Smitten by Ram's beauty, Shoorpanaka proposed to Ram, who however turned her away saying he is married.

Surpanakha then approached Laxman (Ram's brother) - but he, too, turned her away. The enraged Surpanakha tried to attack Sita as she was convinced that Ram discouraged her proposal because of Sita. At this point Laxman cut off Surpanakha's nose and ears.

Though Laxman did this for fear of Sita's safety, the extremity of the act upon his unarmed sister enraged Ravan and he abducted Sita to avenge the insult.

The Valmiki Ramayana does not say so much that Ravana was enraged as that he was provoked by his sister. Her winning argument for abducting Sita is this - if Ravana would not avenge his own sister - then no one would look upto him as a protector.

Nevertheless Ravan never even touched Sita while she was being held as his hostage. He visited her regularly and asked her consent to marry him. Every time Sita declined, but there is not a single instance when Ravan misbehaved with Sita.

He plays the role of a gentleman to the hilt, only because he was cursed by Kubera's son that he would lose all his 10 heads if he forced himself on any woman.

Also, as per Chanakya's Arthasastra, there are definite waiting periods prescribed for Married Women of different castes, whose husbands are living. It is also possible that Ravana was waiting for the prescribed one year period.
Ravana Temples
Despite Valmiki's portrayal of Ravana as a villain, there are people who not only adore Ravana but also worship him.

Ravana is considered most revered devotee of Lord Shiva. The images of Ravana are seen associated with lord Shiva at some places.

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.

In Sri Lanka, a thousand years ago, King Walagamba is said to have constructed cave temples for Ravana in the Ella Valley.

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 Alvar, Rajasthan is called the Ravan Parsvanath Temple. The legend says that Ravana used to worship Parsvanath daily. While Ravana was on tour to Alvar he realized 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 Alvar.

Ravana is said to have married Princess Mandodari at a place about 32 kilometers 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 Jee Ki Chanwari.

At the altar can also be found the images of Saptamatri (Seven Mothers) flanked by Ganesha and Veera Bhadra. The Saptamatri images are said to precede the time of the Pratihara Dynasty (founded in the 6th Century AD) and are in fact reminscent of the images of seven female deities of Harappa - the oldest civilization in India. In the nearby stepwell, a stone bears a script that resembles the Harappan script.

The Dave Brahmins of Mudgal Gotra, Jodhpur/Mandor, said to be Dravida Brahmins 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.
Popular Culture
Ravana has been depicted as a cybernetic being possessing great powers in the Virgin Comics series Ramayana 3392 AD. In this series, Ravana is shown to be devoid of any human feeling and only embodies pure evil.

In an animated television film named after the Ramayana, Ravana is a luxury-loving, arrogant emperor who kidnaps Sita (as suggested above) to punish Rama for the mutilation of Shoorpanakha. He is mostly shown as an ordinary man, albeit with pointed ears and the ability to change shape. When he is angry or combatting Rama, he assumes the commonly perceived features of multiple heads and (except in the first such scene) twenty arms.

Ashok K. Banker, a novelist who wrote a fantasy series featuring the Ramayan's basic storyline and characters, depicted Ravana as a dark lord capable of projecting himself into inanimate objects, of demonic possession, and of other feats of magic. Nearly all the legends described above are ascribed to him, but his character undergoes some significant changes throughout the series. He is at first depicted as an archvillain, but evolves gradually into a thing of smaller scale, ultimately to the point of seeming fully human despite his ten heads. When he goes to face Rama for the last time, Ravana is fully aware that he will die in this battle and seems to know the histories of all of his own previous incarnations. He is shot down dramatically and dies with elegance.
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