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Ravana is a character in Hindu mythology, who is the primary antagonist of the Hindu epic Ramayana. In the classic text, he is mainly depicted negatively as a brute, who infamously kidnapped Rama's wife Sita.

This depiction is, however, open to other interpretations. Ravana is also mentioned as a great scholar, a capable ruler, a player of the veena and a devoted follower of Shiva, and he has his apologists and staunch devotees within the Hindu traditions. The contrived meaning of "10 headed" as it is propagated by nationalists is that he possessed a very thorough knowledge in the 4 vedas, and 6 upanishadas (although the Upanishads number in their hundreds), which made him as powerful as 10 scholars. However, there is mention in Atharva Veda of demonic brahmans called 'Dasagva' (Ten headed) and 'navagva' (nine headed). These early mythical beings may be the actual forerunners of the later character in the Ramayana.

Ravana is also said to have authored Ravana Sanhita, a powerful book on the Hindu astrology, also known as Lal Kitab. Ravana possessed a thorough knowledge of Ayurveda and political science. He is said to have possessed the nectar of immortality, which was stored under His navel, thanks to a celestial boon by Brahma.


The name 'Ravana' obtains from the root ru - shabde raavayati iti raavaNaH 'one who makes people criers by his violent actions.'Ravana had many other popular names such as 'Dashanan', 'Lankeshwar', 'Ravanaeshwaran', 'Dashgreev', 'Dashkandhar', 'Vaishravan', all signifying the qualities.


Ravana was born to his father Brahmin sage known as Vishrava and his wife, the daitya princess Kaikesi. He was born in the Devagana gotra, as his grandfather, the sage Pulastya, was one of the ten Prajapatis or mind-born sons of Brahma and one of the Saptarishis (Seven Great Sages Rishi) in the first Manvantara. 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. Ravana was thus partly Daitya and partly Brahmin.

His brothers were Vibhishana and Kumbhakarna. Through his mother, he was related to the daityas Maricha and Subahu. Kaikesi also produced a daughter, Meenakshi ("girl with fish like eyes"), although later she was dubbed the infamous Shoorpanakha "winnow-like nails".

His 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 grandfather, worked hard in secret to ensure that Ravana retained the ethics of the Daityas.

The Ramayana tells that Ravana had close connections with region of the Yadus, which included Gujarat, parts of Maharashtra and Rajasthan up to Mathura south of Delhi. 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 Rama.

After worshipping a Shiva Linga on the banks of the Narmada, in the more central Yadu region, 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 Ravana was no commoner among the Humans or Asuras, a great chanter of the Sama Veda.

It is mentioned in one of the chapters of the Srimad Bhagavata, that Sita was actually his daughter. During one of the Ceremonial Yagnya By Lord Shiva, Ravana was given the Boon Water, which he was told to give to Mandodari. While on way back to his kingdom, both the husband & wife slept in a lonely forest. During the night, Ravana felt thirsty, so he drank that water and was impregnated. While on the way back to his kingdom the next day, he coughed ferociously and the baby, Sita, is said to have landed in Janakpur, the kingdom of King Janaka, who, while ploughing in ceremony after performing the Yagnya for the rains in his drought-striken kingdom, struck a metal vessel with the lowest blade of the plough called Seet. This is how Sita's name originated.

Tapas to Brahma

Following his initial training, Ravana performed an intense penance to Brahma (the Creator God), lasting several years. He chopped his head for 10 times in an anger towards brahma not appearing for his penance, each time when he sliced his head new head will arise and thus continued his penance. Atlast Brahama pleased with his austerity appeared after he slew his head for 10th time and offered him a boon. Ravana asked for immortality, which Brahma refused to give, but gave him the celestial nectar of immortality. The nectar of immortality, which was stored under his navel, according to which he could never be vanquished till the nectar was dried out.

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 his 10 heads that he severed, along with great strength by way of knowledge of divine weapons and sorcery. Thus ravana known to be 'Dasamukha' (Dasa = ten, mukha = face).

King of Lanka

A traditional depiction of Ravana,
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 (present day Sri 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

Following his conquest of Lanka, Ravana encountered Shiva at his abode in Kailashmarker. 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 composed and 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 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 Lord Shiva and is said to have composed the hymn known as Shiva Tandava Stotra.

After Ravana had been given the Celestial juice of Immortality by Brahma, he went on to please Shiva. He cut his head & put it as sacrifice for pleasing Shiva, but Shiva replaced his head with a new one. This was repeated Nine times, on which Shiva was happy & pleased with Ravana's resilience & devotion. Thus he also got name Dasa-sheesha.

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 brother 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, the most beautiful woman described in Indian spiritualism.

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 was known 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. He propositions her and is rejected. Ravana mocks her austerities and her devotion to Vishnu; finding himself firmly rejected at every turn, he tries to molest Vedavati, pulling her hair. 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 thee who art wicked-hearted, I shall be born again for thy 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 Rama was the agent.

Vedavati is said to have been reborn as Sita, causing Ravana's death and winning Vishnu (as Rama) as her husband.

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 thereafter. This curse is said to have protected Sita's chastity while she was Ravana's captive for nearly a year.

Depiction in other Scriptures, as Vishnu's cursed doorkeeper

In the Bhagavata Purana, Ravana and his brother, Kumbhakarna 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 Vaikuntha and to be born on Earth.

God Vishnu agreed that they should be punished, but agreed to mitigate their curse. He asked them whether they wanted 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.As according to the Vishnu Puarana, once Narada wanted to get the Shape & form of Lord Vishnu, so that he could marry a Princess on whom he had developed infatuation (although it was a Vishnu's mesmerisation. On desperate request of Narada, Lord Vishnu actually made him look like a monkey. Narada straightaway went to the Swayamvara of that Princess. The princess is said to have passed Him three times, when he didn't still realise why he was rejected(as he believed that he looked Like Lord Vishnu). Other Princesses present there made fun out of his Appearance and told him to just have a look at himself before looking at the Princess. He went to a nearby fountain & looked in the water. He was furious to find that he, in fact, looked like a monkey. Lord Vishnu was also present there. Narada cursed him saying that in Treta Yuga his beloved wife will get kidnapped by a Demon. He will be compelled to seek help from the monkeys. The two Door Keepers of Lord Vishnu, Jaya & Vijaya, were also present there laughed uncontrollably at Narada's plight.Enraged he hurled another curse at them as, that they should live on Earth as Demons at that time. Just then when the princess put the Swayamvara Garland on Vishnu's neck and she came to her real incarnation as Goddess Lakshmi. On this Narada realised his mistake and asked for apology from Lord Vishnu. Upon which Vishnu said that, it was bound to happen. Jaya & Vijaya pleaded to Lord Narada to forgive them. But a curse could never be taken back, so he limited the Curse to Three Lives. Lord Vishnu came to their rescue & said that he would each time he bring them Mokhsha by Killing them & that they would be back in his service after that.

In the first birth,in kritaYuga 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, Dhanyamalini, and a third wife. He had seven sons from his three wives:

  1. Indrajit
  2. Prahasta
  3. Atikaya
  4. Akshayakumara
  5. Devantaka
  6. Narantaka
  7. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Dushana - Viceroy of Janasthan.
  6. Ahiravan - King of the Underworld ruled by the rakshasas by Ravana and Demon King Maya.
  7. Kumbhini - sister of Ravana and the wife of the demon Madhu, King of Mathuramarker, she was the mother of Lavanasura. She was renowned for her beauty and later retired to the sea for penance.
  8. 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.

Ravana Temples

Despite Valmiki's attempt to portray Ravana [1,2] as a villain, there are several temples where he is worshipped. 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 Kakinadamarker, Andhra Pradeshmarker, supposedly installed by Ravana himself, with a statue of Ravana near by. Both Shivalinga and Ravana are worshiped by the fishermen community there.

Thousands of Kanyakubjamarker Brahmins of the village Ravangram of Netaran, in the Vidishamarker District of Madhya Pradeshmarker, 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 Kanpurmarker, Uttar Pradeshmarker. 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, Rajasthanmarker 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 Jodhpurmarker, 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 Harappamarker - the oldest civilization in India. In the nearby stepwell, a stone bears a script that resembles the Harappanmarker script.

The Dave Brahmins of Mudgal Gotra, Jodhpurmarker/Mandor who were originally from Gujaratmarker, 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 Jodhpurmarker, where daily puja is performed.

There is a theory proposed by Sinhalese nationlists that points to the southern part of Sri Lanka as the capital of Ravana, hence the name Ruhuna came to existence. "Ruhuna" is claimed to be derived from the word's Ravana Pura or Rohana Pura, despite the liguistic improbability of 'va' becoming 'ha' in Prakrit. This is probably an attempt to tie Ravana with the history of that other national hero: Duttagamini, who was a king from that region.

Popular Culture

Ravana has been depicted as a cybernetic being possessing great powers in the Virgin Comics series Ramayan 3392 A.D.. 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 combating 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 series of books 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.

Rama has also been depicted in the original(but non-canon) "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" novel, "Resurrecting Ravana" by Ray Garton. In the novel, Gile's old foe Ethan Rayne cons the granddaughter of Benson Lovecraft out of a statue of Ravana, planning to resurrect the God with the aid of the Rakshasa, lesser demons which induce close friends to argue and eventually brutally kill each other.

Ravana appears in Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga as a powerful boss and is only one of dozens of references to Hindu mythology.

In the PC Game Freespace 2, Ravana is a class of destroyer commissioned by the antagonist alien race.

Ravana-Dahan (Burning effigy of Ravana)

Effigy of Ravana is burnt on Vijayadashami, in India at many places. It is said that it is symbolization of triumph over evil (i.e. Ravana) by Rama.


  1. Ramayana By Valmiki; Ramcharitmas by Tulsidasa (Lanka Kanda Vibhishana & Rama Samvaad)
  2. Ramacharitmanas "BalaKand", 4th Chapter of Srimad Bhagavata
  3. p.6
  4. Ravana has his temples, too. The Sunday Tribune – Spectrum. 21 October 2007.
  5. Vachaspati.S, Ravana Brahma [in English], 2005, Rudrakavi Sahitya Peetham, Gandhi Nagar, Tenali, India.
  6. Kamalesh Kumar Dave,Dashanan [in Hindi], 2008, Akshaya Jyotish Anusandan Kendra, Quila Road, Jodhpur, India.
  7. Sri Alvar Tirth

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