Lanka, was during the Treta Yug a well watered region and a prosperous country, ruled by Kubera the Vedic Deva of wealth. A beautiful island situated at the southern most tip of Bharat ( India ), Lanka later on became known to the Greeks and Romans as 'Taprobane' - the small island of Tamra Parni. Megasthenes the Greek ambassador gave the name Tabrobane to this region during his visit to the court of Chandragupta Maurya - the grandfather of Ashoka. Lanka was also known as Ratna ( gems and pearls ) or Svarna ( gold ) Bhumi. It was also known as Dhanacheri for its wealth and Dipuravanam - the Island forest. Created by the celestial architect Vishwakarma, for Lord Mahadeva Shiva, it was Kubera who acquired it from Lord Shiva as a gift. The epic Ramayana mentions several ancient Hindu tribes who occupied Lanka under the rule of Kubera - they were the Yakshas, Rakshasas, Kinnaras, Gandharvas, Pissachas - all mentioned in other sanskrit scriptures as having special superhuman powers and a very sophisticated Vedic lifestyle. There were also the Daityas - the descendants of Diti, wife of Rishi Kashyap the mind born son of Lord Brahma - and the Devas, descendants of Diti's sister Aditi, also married to Rishi Kashyap. Both the Daityas and Devas have been described as sworn enemies in Valmiki's Ramayana as well as all Puranic epics, who often fought several wars for supremacy over each other- the Daityas sometimes being outwitted by the Devas with the assistance and intervention of Lord Vishnu.
The island was popularly known as Kubera Lanka, a place full of great wealth and gold, where the Devas and Yakshas headed by Lord Vishnu had defeated in battles and eventually expelled all Rakshasa clans, who had once held power over the region. Among them were three Rakshasa brothers - Malyavan, Mali and Sumali - all had been expelled by Lord Vishnu to live in the Pataala regions ( Nether regions ) upon Earth. For the sake of power, Sumali encouraged his daughter Kaikasi to approach Rishi Vishrava for marriage. Sumali knew of the fact that the Rishi Vishrava could give his daughter powerful as well as illustrious progeny who would one day be the cause of the downfall of the Devas and Yakshas and eventually regain his kingdom of Lanka back from them. Vishrava also was aware of the consequences and warned Kaikasi of the outcome of such a union. However, Kaikasi the Daitya princess was adamant and they both later married and Ravana, Kumbhakarna, Vibhishan & Shurpanakha were born. Ailavila, Vishrava's wife, furious with the Rishi, decided to call her son Kubera to take her away with him to Lanka and leave the Rishi's hermitage for good. Kubera reached the city of Lanka with Ailavila, upon the flying craft Pushpak.
Ravana, a learned Brahmin of great repute, power as well as strength gifted to him by the Vedic Devas, was the great grandson of Lord Brahma the Creator. His grandfather Rishi Pulastya was one of the ten Prajapatis ( Lord of creation, caretaker to the world) or mind-born sons of Lord Brahma created as one of the Sapta Rishis ( seven sages) during the first Manvantara ( era ). Pulastya had two sons, the renowned Vedic Rishi Agastya and Rishi Vishrava. Valmiki mentions in his epic Ramayana how the clans of Rakshasas or Daityas and Yakshas originated from Rishi Pulastya, many of whom settled all over ancient Bharatvarsh ( India ). Vishrava married Ailavila and begot Kubera or Kuvera (God of wealth according to Vedic traditions, also known as Vaishravana) who became the king of Yakshas and ruled over Lanka at the time. Pleased by Kubera's auterities, Brahma appointed him as the Guardian of the Cosmos and head of the celestial treasury.
Ravana, named at birth by Rishi Vishrava as Dashagreeva Dashanan ( one with ten heads ), is an impressive and imposing figure throughout Valmiki's epic Ramayana. He has been largely misunderstood as well as demonised by many historians and 'writers' whereby his character has been largely distorted and reduced to some evil womaniser, a ' Rakshasa who would pick up women and insult their chastity ' - something which is foreign to Vedic traditions. These so called writers have truly failed when it comes to comprehending the facts behind Ravana's persona - one that even the Vedic Devas admired. Known to be the foremost and exceptional devotee of Lord Shiva, Ravana practised arduous austerities to obtain the merits of Dharma as well as superiority over mortal and celestial beings and time and again was blessed by Lord Shiva and Brahma.
Lord Hanuman, when He went to Lanka as Lord Rama's envoy, addressed Ravana as follows:
[5-51-16]–तत् भवान् दृष्ट धर्म अर्थः तपः कृत परिग्रहः |
Tat Bhavaan drishta dharmartha tapah kruti parigrahah
' O Ravana, You are well learned in the ways of Dharma and are wealthy in your knowledge through the merits of your austerities ( which you have performed ) ' - Hanuman was indeed astonished as to how such a learned Ravana can fall prey to Adharma or unrighteousness, lose his way in life by committing the sin of abducting Devi Sita and questioned the King of Lanka the reason for such arrogance and therefore warned him of his imminent nemesis.
The legend of Ravana's birth begins with the Puranic references to how the celestial Dvara Palakas ( heavenly door keepers) Jaya and Vijaya were cursed by the Kumaras, the four mind born sons of the Creator, Lord Brahma. Wishing to have a darshan of Lord Vishnu, who at the time had given specific orders to the two guards not to allow anyone into Vaikunth Loka, the four Rishi sons arrived at the entrance of Vishnu's divine realm. Both the guards, Jaya and Vijaya, refused entry to the sages, who by now were in rage and instead cursed the two to take birth as Asuras upon Earth. On hearing all the commotion outside, the Cosmic Being who was reclining and resting upon the celestial serpent Seshnaag, intervened and requested that the sages take back their curse. Unable to modify their curse, the sages requested Lord Vishnu for assistance. As a relief, Jaya and Vijaya were given two options to choose from : either be born as ordinary mortals for a hundred births or be born as sworn enemies of Lord Vishnu and return to Vaikunth each time. The two guards opted for the second option whereby they were first born as : Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu when Lord Hari manifest Himself as Varaha and Narasimha Avataras; second time as Ravana and Kumbhakarna when the Cosmic Being manifest Himself as Shri Rama Avatara; third time they were born as Kamsa and Shishupal when Shri Krishna was Vishnu incarnate upon Earth. Each time, they were killed by Lord Vishnu's incarnations and were able to regain their posts as door keepers of the Divine realm.
Ten Heads, Twenty Arms?
Ravana has been conceived in scriptural tradition with ten heads and twenty arms - a reference to him possessing a very thorough knowledge over the four Vedas and six Upanishads, which made him as powerful as ten scholars. From a very early age, Ravana showed keen interest in studying the sacred Vedas and under the careful guidance of his father Rishi Vishrava, mastered all the arts of weaponry and warfare. His mother Kaikasi and his maternal grandfather Sumali soon realised that even as a child, Ravana had great capability of one day re-capturing Lanka and once again re-establishing a Daitya kingdom on the peaceful island - an ambition that Kaikasi kindled in Ravana when he was a child. He was hence also called Dashanan meaning the one who had 'Dasha', that is 'ten', 'anan' or heads. It is also believed that the ten heads were due to the reflections of crystals on a string that Rishi Vishrava placed around Ravana's neck at birth. However, Rishi Valmiki described him primarily as single headed and with normal two arms but possessed of the divine power of having ten heads and twenty arms at will as he had mastered all the ten sacred knowledges of ancient Vedanta as well as the science of warfare. Multi headed and multi armed figures, both divine and demonous, are a common phenomenon in Hindu tradition. This often symbolised their multi faceted personality and role both for good and evil. Ravana too had such a multifarious personality. He was not only possessed of invincible might, many celestial weapons, divine power of entering into any form at will and traverse any space on Earth, in sky or into ocean, had time and death under his yoke and Lanka, his capital, all consisting of gold but was also a highly learned Brahmin, well adept in the Vedas and scriptures and was a great ritualist and exceptional devotee of Lord Shiva. He was an excellent Veena player as well as an classical arts enthusiast, that it was common knowledge at the time that his palace courts would be filled with numerous musicians and dancers during all times, therefore making Ravana the envy of Lord Indra, the God of Rain. It is believed that Ravana invented the violin intruments known as RavanaHaat and Rudra Veena. In fact, Ravana is an enigma who dared to challenge the celestial Devas, and almost got away with it. As per Valmiki's depiction of him, Ravana always dressed in ornaments and garments of gold only and was the emperor supreme upon Earth - a historical figure who had presided over a well-ordered and technologically superior nation of contented inhabitants where even the working classes were known to have gold utensils in their homes. Poverty and strife in Ravana's Lanka were unheard of.
After Kubera was persuaded by his father Vishrava to give up Lanka to his half brother Ravana, the Yakshas all moved away to the Himalaya regions. Ravana, a fervent Shiva devotee, on the other hand encouraged settlements of Daitya and Rakshasa clans in Lanka and saw to it that only Lord Shiva's worship was established in his domain. His conquests were far and wide on Earth where he continuously built sacred sites dedicated to Lord Shiva. Worship of Lord Vishnu was prohibited in his kingdom and anyone caught propitiating Vishnu through Yagna rituals were persecuted heavily.
Yogi, Scholar and Ardent Shiva Devotee
Lankapati Ravana is said to have performed an exceptionally long and rigorous penance by chopping off his ten heads one by one to propitiate Brahma, at the end of which he was blessed by the Creator with the nectar of immortality which he stored in his navel. His immense penance, learning, and devotion to Brahma earned him the latter’s gratitude. Valmiki recites in his epic of how as a young child of six years of age, Ravana after seeking his mother Kaikasi's blessings, had left his father's hermitage to set off into the forests to worship Brahma the Lord Creator, much to the disappointment of Rishi Vishrava who feared the outcome of Ravana's plans of severe austerities. Kumbhakarna, Vibhishan as well as Shoorpankha too had followed their elder brother into the forests dutifully, all performing austere penances alongside of him to obtain special celestial powers. Brahma conferred on Ravana the boon of total invulnerability, making him immune from destruction by Devas, Rakshasas, Yakshas, wild beasts and other creatures for as long as the nectar remained in his navel. Taking ordinary mortals as weak and of no match to his physical might and superiority, Ravana did not ask Brahma for protection from ordinary men. Brahma in return granted Ravana the strength to acquire great knowledge and powerful celestial weapons. He also acquired the capacity to change his form through sorcery. A highly learned Brahmin, Ravana has to his credit over a dozen of texts of which Arkaprakasha, Kumaratantra, Indrajala, Prakrata Kamadhenu, Prakrata Lankeshvara, Ravana Samhita, Rigveda Bhashya, Ravanabheta, Krishna Yajur Veda etc. are some of the best known. He is known to have compiled Sama Veda with the relevant musical svaras (notes) and his Shiva TandavaStotra is yet the most popular hymn ever sung in praise of Lord Shiva. His ten heads thus stood for this multiplicity of his genius.
Valmiki describes Ravana as the greatest devotee of Shiva, though we have to delve further and deeper as to what exactly Valmiki is conveying here. Lord Shiva the Mahayogi, the Supreme is the Vairagi without any material attachments. He demonstrates His disdain for all things material by smearing His body with ash and living in crematoriums. The material world does not matter to Shiva. Ravana, His devotee may sing Shiva's praise, perform austere worship to Lord Shiva every day, but he does not follow the path of Mahadev Shiva. In reality, Ravana represents all that Mahayogi Shiva rejects. Ravana is fully attached to worldly things - usurps Kubera Lanka through force though he never built the city of gold.
It is Lord Shiva who gave Dashanan the name Ravana - RagaVanan - after Ravana had pleased Mahadev with his recital of Sama veda and Shiva TandavaStotra. According to Vedic scriptures, Ravana after driving out his half brother Kubera from Lanka and conquering it, had once tried lifting Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, and wished to transport the entire Divine family of Lord Shiva to his citadel of Lanka and keep them there forever. Upon realising Ravana's intentions, Shiva pushed Kailash down with His toe and trapped Ravana beneath it for several years. Ravana realising his mistake began austerities dedicated to Lord Shiva and finally managed to free himself. So pleased was Lord Mahadev with him that the Deva gifted Ravana with His invincible sword known as Chandrahaas ( moon shaped blade ), a Golden Atma JyotirLingam and the boon to subdue Mrityu or Death. He designed the lute known as Rudra Veena ( violin ) using one of his ten heads as the lute’s gourd, one of his arms as the beam and his nerves as the strings. The image of Ravan carrying Mount Kailash, with Lord Shiva’s family on top, is an integral part of Shiva temple art.
Brahma Hatya - Brahminicide
It is a known fact that Shri Rama admired Ravana and was very much impressed by his wisdom, strength as well as intelligence. Both Lord Rama and Ravana lived in an era when the ancient Vedic society considered the killing of Brahmins, known as BrahmaHatya, a great sin, which was severely punishable by the Kshatriya kings of the time. According to Sanatan Dharma, Lord Rama was Vishnu incarnate upon Earth as a Kshatriya to vanquish Ravana, a Brahmin- but why would Vishnu take the trouble to manifest Himself to annihilate Ravana and be held responsible for the sin of BrahmaHatya? Firstly, the legend of Jaya and Vijaya describes how Jaya is born as Ravana and ultimately Lord Vishnu has to manifest Himself to bring Jaya back as per His promise. Secondly, Valmiki describes how Shri Rama had to atone for the sin of killing a Brahmin by performing a ritual known as Ashvamedha to repent for His committing the crime of BrahmaHatya. He had to wash away the sin through penance and prayer. Another reason why this atonement was important was because Ravana was Shri Rama's Guru. As a Brahmin, Ravana was custodian of BrahmaGyan, knowledge of Supreme Being and Devi Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge. Killing him meant destruction of sacred knowledge and of Goddess Saraswati, a crime which was at the time a highly unforgivable act. Both Rama and Ravana were kings, were charimatic, brave, learned as well as dynamic but it was one crucial fact that differentiated the two - Ego. It was, in essence, Ravana's ego which was his tragic flaw that ultimately led to his own downfall. Kaikasi, Ravana's mother, ensured he was reared on a constant diet of ambition, conquest and avarice - all these are demons which can grow within ourselves and these ultimately led to Ravana's nemesis. Rama, on the other hand was humble, full of humility and compassion and treaded the path of Dharma. Yet how is it that Ravana was Shri Rama's Guru?
It was Vibhishan who had revealed to Lord Rama the secret of the immortal nectar which Ravana had stored inside his navel and how to kill Ravana. Shri Rama aimed that final arrow on the afternoon of an autumn day, several millenniums ago.The battlefield ground was littered with dead bodies of soldiers and carcasses of elephants and horses. Scattered were the skeletons of chariots which carried proud heroes of those days. Sunset and the dark night of the new moon were a few hours away. Yet, Ravana realised another kind of darkness that was descending from the sky, slowly, to envelope his chariot and his being. He noticed, far off , Matali, who was driving Shri Rama's chariot at the behest of his master Indra, the King of Devas, turned back to whisper something to Rama. Rama nodded and then picked up a deadly weapon from His quiver and aimed at him. Ravana now knew his end was very near. Mandodri's ( Ravana's wife ) words of advise kept coming back to Ravana's mind to return Devi Sita back to Lord Rama. All this while, snatches and instances from his life floated in front of his eyes - his mother Kaikasi, talking to young Ravana, then known as Dashanan, about his half brother Kubera's wealth, thus kindling the first fire of ambition in his heart which propelled him to this position of strength and wealth; Vedavati's curse, Deva Indra's humiliated face as his soldiers took away the prized possessions from DevaLoka ( heavens ) to Lanka; how he searched as far as Gandhara ( modern day Afghanistan ) for a suitable bride for his youngest brother Vibhishan who no longer was on his side; Shurpanakha's humiliation at the hands of Lakshman and as a result of this how he had decided to seek vengeance by abducting Rama's wife to satisfy his own pride and ego; the death of his son Meghnad Indrajeet - until all of a sudden Ravana realised Shri Rama had released the weapon of Death towards him. Its bulk was propelled by the great Vayu, Lord of wind. The celestial weapon emitted fire, while the soldiers watched in silence, as if they were wondering if a countermove by him would be possible and more importantly effective. At this point, Ravana invoked Lord Mahadev as he released his arrow towards Rama, but did not watch the feeble resistance his arrow offered to the projectile of Death that was approaching his chariot with immense speed. As he extended his hands asking Rama for forgiveness, Death struck his chariot. The arrow had struck him straight inside his navel, therefore destroying the nectar of immortality he had so managed to keep safe for so long.
Lying on the ground, beside his chariot, in a pool of blood, Ravana had realised he has only a few moments to live. Immediately Rama ordered his brother Lakshman to go over to the great king of Lanka and obtain all his knowledge on politics and all that had to be known from this great scholar. The obedient Lakshman rushed across the battlefield to Ravana's side and whispered in his ears : O Daitya king, do not let your knowledge die with you. Share it with us and wash away your sins.' Ravana responded by ignoring Lakshman and turned his face away. An angry Lakshman returned to where Shri Rama stood and said : ' He is as arrogant as he always was, too proud to speak to me.' Shri Rama comforted Lakshman and asked him softly: ' Where did you stand and how did you speak while asking Ravana for knowledge? ' Lakshman replied : 'Next to his head so that I can be able to hear what he had to say clearly.' Shri Rama smiled, placed his bow on the ground and walked with joined palms to where Ravana lay in agony. Lakshman watched in astonishment as his divine brother knelt at Ravana's feet. With palms joined, with extreme humility, Shri Rama said : ' O Lankapati Ravana, you crossed all limits of Dharma by abducting my wife, a terrible crime for which I have been forced to punish you. Now, you are no more my enemy. I bow to you and request you to share your wisdom with me as a Guru would with his pupil. Please do that for if you die without doing so, all your wisdom will be lost forever to the world.' To Lakshman’s surprise, Ravana opened his eyes and raised his arms to salute Lord Rama : ' O Raghava, Standing at my feet as a student should, unlike your rude younger brother, you are a worthy recipient of my knowledge. I only wish now that had I spent my time upon Earth as your Guru rather than as your enemy, my life would have been worthwhile. I am several years senior to you O Raghava and hence the accumulation of so much sacred knowledge on my part. I know fully who You are O Vishnu and You are the knower of all that is to be known. But I will share with you the art of good governance so that when you return to Ayodhya and become a great ruler over Your subjects, You will be remembered and revered for centuries to come. Again, the reason why I abducted Devi Sita is so that I may meet You very soon. She is MahaLakshmi Your divine consort and my Divine Goddess mother whom I had kept in the Ashokavatika gardens. Her presence on the land of Lanka itself was a great boon and blessing for me, though I committed a heinous crime out of pride and ego of abducting Your wife. In life You must know that object which is attractive is indeed the beginning of your destruction, though ignorant mortals tend to run towards such things impatiently and in their ignorance they experience sorrow in the end. But that which is unattractive from the beginning, one tends to shun them immediately, though it may be the elixir of life. To satisfy my pride and ego I saw the destruction of my sons, my brother Kumbhakarna, shunned Vibhishan away and saw the death of so many souls on this battlefield. One must kerb one's lust, ego, anger as well as greed for the sake of one's kingdom and country. This is the wisdom of my life, O Rama. My last words. I give them to you.'
Ravana thus uttered his last words and attained Moksha and went back to Vaikunth as Jaya, the celestial guard of Lord Vishnu's Divine realm .
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