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King of Lanka
Ravana British Museum.jpg
Predecessor Kubera
Successor Vibhīṣaṇa
Consort to Mandodari
Offspring Indrajit
Father Vishrava


sister = Surpanakha
Religious beliefs Shaivism - Hinduism

Rāvaṇa (Sanskrit:रावण, /ˈrɑːvənə/)[1] is the primary antagonist in the Hindu epic Ramayana, where he is depicted as the king of Lanka.[note 1] Rama had once addressed Ravana as a "Maha Bhatt" (Great Brahman in the context of his education). Rāvaṇa is depicted and described as having ten heads. He is described as a follower of Shiva, a great scholar, a capable ruler and a maestro of the veena, but someone who wished to overpower the devas. His ten heads represents that his knowledge of the six shastras and the four Vedas. In the Ramayana, Rāvaṇa is the antagonist, kidnapping Rama's wife Sita to exact vengeance on Rama and his brother Lakshmana for having cut off the nose of his sister Surpanakha.


Mandodari,Ravana's wife.She is extolled as one of the Panchakanya("five exalted ladies")

Ravana described as a follower of Shiva

Various explanations of the name "Ravana" can be found. The literal translation from Sanskrit: रवण (rAvaNa) is "Singing", Sharp. In Sanskrit the literal translation of सीता रावणं न गणयति स्म (sItA rAvaNaM na gaNayati sma) mentioned as Sita did not care for Ravana.[2]

In Tamil, literal translation the name Ravanaswaran mentioned as "A person with ultimate rights" (Iraavanan = "Ira" (Tamil: இரா) "Avanan" (Tamil: ஆவணன்), "a boy with incomparable beauty" and "A Man with strong principles".[3] A third explanation from Pargiter, "Ravana" may originally have been a Sanskritisation of Iraivan, the Tamil or Dravidian for a lord or king.[4][5]

Ravana had many other popular names such as Dasis Ravana, Dasis Sakvithi Maha Ravana, Dashaanan, Raavan, Ravula, Lankeshwar, Lankeshwaran, Ravanaeshwaran all signifying the qualities of his life. Variations of the names (alphabetically) include the following:

  • Template:Lang-as Template:IPA-as
  • Bengali: রাবণ Raabon
  • Burmese: ရာဝဏ Template:IPA-my
  • Devanagari: रावण Raavaṇa
  • Gujarati: રાવણ
  • Indonesian: Rahwana
  • Template:Lang-jv (from Daśamukha or 'ten-faced')
  • Kannada:ರಾವಣ Raavana
  • Kashmiri: Raavun
  • Khmer: ក្រុងរាពណ៍ or ទសមុខ (ten-faced) or ទសកណ្ឌ (ten-necked)
  • Lao: Raphanasuan
  • Malay: Rawana or Wana
  • Malayalam: രാവണന്‍ Raavanan
  • Maranao: Lawana
  • Marathi: रावण Raawan
  • Nepali: रावण Rawan
  • Thai: ราวณะ Rawana or corrupted as ราพณ์ Rap, but more commonly ทศกัณฐ์ Thotsakan (from Dashakantha or 'ten-necked')
  • Tamil: இராவணன் Iraavanan
  • Telugu: రావణ Rāvaṇa
  • Sanskrit: Rāvaṇa
  • Sinhalese: රාවන Ravana
  • Yuan: Rahbanasun
  • Marwari: Raavan Murarka
  • Odia: ରାବଣ Rabana


Ravana a maestro of the veena

Ravana is depicted and described as having ten heads. 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. Ravana is also depicted as the author of the Ravana Sanhita, a book on Hindu astrology. 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 Brahma.[6]

Depiction in the Ramayana

Birth of Ravana

Kubera Ravana's Brother,Lord of Wealth and the North-direction

Brahma-Ravana's great grand father.

Vibhishana(right-brother of Ravana),Rama and Sita worship god Shiva at Rameshwaram looks on with Lakshamana, Tumburu and Narada

According to the Ramayana story, Ravana was the son of a rishi, a Brahmin father, and a kshatriya Rakshasa mother, thus attaining a status of Brahmarakshasa. He being a rakshasha and a kshatriya at the same time, was an Agnihotri and an upaasaka of Lord Shiva for the purpose of attaining great powers.

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[7] 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 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 a Daitya or Rakshasa and he belonged to the caste of Brahmins. Ravana later usurped Lanka from his half brother Kubera and became the King of Lanka and became a Kshatriya thereon.

Rama had once addressed Ravana as a "Maha Brahman" (Great Brahmam 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 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 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 worshiping Lord Shiva 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.

Tapasya to Shiva

Following his initial training, Ravana performed an intense penance (or tapasya) to Shiva, lasting several years. 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 known as 'Dasamukha' or 'Dashaanan' (Dasa = ten, mukha/anan = face).

King of Lanka

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 Shiva and acquired by Kubera, the treasurer of the gods upon advice of his father Visravas. Visrava had asked for "sone ki lanka" (Lanka made of Gold) from shiv as 'dakshina'(It is the gift Brahmin gets for his services) for the house warming ceremony he had conducted for lanka. Kubera had generously shared all that he owned with Ravana and the latter's siblings, who were Kubera's half-brothers and half-sister from 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

Ravananugraha theme.

Following his conquest of Lanka, Ravana encountered Shiva at his abode in Kailash. Ravana at first went to meet Shiva. 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. 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 plucked his nerves and used them as strings to compose music 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 (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 Lord Shiva and is said to have composed the hymn known as Shiva Tandava Stotra.

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.[8] After Ravana had been given the Celestial nectar 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 and pleased with Ravana's resilience and devotion.

Emperor of the Three Worlds

Ravana in Sanskrit drama of Kerala, India- Kutiyattam. Artist: Guru Nātyāchārya Māni Mādhava Chākyār[9]

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 devas, celestials, and the serpent races. At the time of the Ramayana, set several 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.

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.

Lord Vishnu agreed that they should be punished. They were given two choices, that they could be born 7 times as normal mortals and devotees of Vishnu, or 3 times as powerful and strong people, but as enemies of Vishnu. Eager to be back with the Lord, they choose the latter one. Ravana and his brother Kumbhakarna were born to fulfill the curse on the second birth as enemies of Vishnu in the Treta Yuga. 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) and the curse of third birth was fulfilled by Dantavakra and Shishupala in the Dwapar Yuga when they both were slain by Krishna, the eighth avatar.

Ravana's family

Queen Mandodari and the women of Lanka mourning the death of Ravana. Bas-relief of 9th century Prambanan temple, Java, Indonesia

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's grandfather was Malyavan, who was against the war with Rama.

Ravana's parents were Vishrava (son of Pulastya) and Kaikesi (daughter of Sumali and Thataka). Kaikesi had two brothers Maricha and Subahu which would effectively make them Ravana's uncles.

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 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 the kidnapped Sita and uphold Dharma. Ravana not only rejected this sane advice, but also banished him from his kingdom. Vibhishana sought protection from Rama, which was granted without hesitation.
  3. Kumbhakarna – One of the most jovial demons in Hindu history. When offered a boon by Brahma, he was tricked into asking for eternal 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 Rama, Kumbhakarna was untimely awakened from his sleep. He tried to persuade Ravana to open negotiations with Rama and return Sita to him. But he too failed to mend the ways of Ravana. However, bound by a brother's duty, 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.[10] 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 Mathura, she was the mother of Lavanasura. She was renowned for her beauty and later retired to the sea for penance.
  8. Surpanakha – The sister of Ravana. She was the ultimate root of the kidnapping of Sita. She was the one who instigated her brothers to wage a war against Rama.

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. Meghnaad (also known as Indrajit because he defeated Lord Indra), the most powerful son
  2. Atikaya
  3. Akshayakumara
  4. Devantaka
  5. Narantaka
  6. Trishira
  7. Prahasta

In the great Bengali ballad, Meghnad Bodh Kavya by Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Beerbahu is said to be Ravana's son. Thus, it can be reasonably thought that Beerbahu is famous in another name.


According to the Uttra Kanda section of Ramayana, the Raksha (also known as Rakshasa) clan were the mythical inhabitants of Sri Lanka who were said to have lived among the Naga, Yakkha and Deva. They were led by Malyavantha, Sumali and Sukesha of the Raksha, who were ousted by the Deva with the help of Lord Vishnu, and then subsequently ruled by King Ravana.[11]

The Raksha vanish from history after the their mention in the Ramayana, except in Sri Lankan folk stories.[12] European scholars consider the story of Ravana and the Raksha to have been made in historic times, due to the knowledge of Sri Lankan locations mentioned in the stories, and therefore the story is considered not to be based on fact.[12] The Mahavansa also makes no mention of a great Raskha civilization and there is no archaeological evidence suggesting a civilization ruled by King Ravana existed.[13]

According to Udayakumar, Periyar E.V. Ramaswami

... used the Ramayana to radicalise the Tamils in southern India against Brahminical supremacy and the domination of North Indian Sanskritic culture. For him, Rama, Sita, and all the rest of them were northerners without "an iota of Tamil culture", but Ravana, the king of Lanka or southern Tamil Nadu, was a Tamil.[14]

Ravana temples and temples related with Ravana

Thotsakan (Ravana)'s sculpture as a guardian of Wat Phra Kaew, Thailand

There are several temples where Ravana is worshipped.[15][16][17] Ravana is considered most revered devotee of Lord Shiva. The images of Ravana are seen associated with lord Shiva at some places.

Ravana Mandir, Bisrakh, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India.

There is a huge Shivalinga in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, India. 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 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.

Ravana is said to have married Princess Mandodari at a place Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, India. This is so because in Mandsaur, Ravana is worshiped.

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

The Dave Brahmins of Mudgal Gotra, Jodhpur/Mandor who were originally from Gujarat, India 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, India where daily puja is performed.

Koneswaram temple, then-Dakshina Kailasam is a classical-medieval Hindu temple complex in Trincomalee, a Hindu religious pilgrimage centre in Eastern Province, Sri Lanka. This temples is associated with Ravana and his mother. They had worshiped Shiva at the shrine.

Kanniya Hot water spring in Sri Lanka has the history from the King Ravana era. It says that King Ravana stuck the earth with his sword in several spots for his mother's funeral event and several fountains were started on those places. The water was hot and it is now a tourist attraction in Sri Lanka.

Murudeshwara temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, lies in the holy beach town in the Bhatkal Taluk of Uttara Kannada district in the state of Karnataka, India.

Ravana-Dahan (burning effigy of Ravana)

An Effigy of Ravana with burning sparklers on Dusshera. Dashehra Diwali Mela in Manchester, England, 2006.

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.


This ancient instrument is said to have belonged to a sovereign in present-day India 5000 BC. It also replicates the ancient instrument called Ravan Hatta which is found even today in Rajasthan. Mythology credits this creation to the great Sri Lanka King Ravana from Ramayana.

The Ravanahatha was played on one string which was 22 inches long encompassing the 3 Octaves. Whereas the Violin encompasses the 3 octaves on 4 strings with a finger board which is 5 1/4 inches long.This 5 1/4 when multiplied by 4 is 21 inches which was the size of the Ravan Hatta. Both are played with a bow.[18]

Influence on Indian culture and art

Ravana with Hanuman in Tholu Bommalata, the shadow puppet tradition of Andhra Pradesh, India

A Ramleela actor wears the traditional attire of Ravana. One of the most important literary works of ancient India, the Ramayana has had a profound impact on art and culture in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The story ushered in the tradition of the next thousand years of massive-scale works in the rich diction of regal courts and Brahminical temples. It has also inspired much secondary literature in various languages, notably the Kambaramayanam by the Tamil poet Kambar of the 13th century, the Telugu-language Molla Ramayana, 14th century Kannada poet Narahari's Torave Ramayan, and 15th century Bengali poet Krittibas Ojha's Krittivasi Ramayan, as well as the 16th century Awadhi version, Ramacharitamanas, written by Tulsidas.

The Ramayana became popular in Southeast Asia during the 8th century and was represented in literature, temple architecture, dance and theatre. Today, dramatic enactments of the story of Ramayana, known as Ramleela, take place all across India and in many places across the globe within the Indian diaspora. The Ramayana has inspired works of film as well, most prominently the North American Seeta Sings the Blues, which tells the story supporting Seeta through song.

According to one not-so-famous legendTemplate:Which, when Seeta's swayamvar was announced, Ravana also went to participate, and he arrived before Lord Rama. Some of the officials (on Seeta`s instructions) told him that his sister was being kidnapped. On hearing this, Ravana immediately departed from the swaymavar and returned to his castle, only to find his sister well and sound. On returning to Seeta's swayamvar, he saw that she was already engaged. Ravana was outraged and issued the threat to Seeta that one day he would return to make her his wife and take revenge of Rama to marry Sita as he (Ravana) wanted to marry her.

Jaina version

Jaina accounts vary from the Hindu accounts of Ravana. Ravana was called Dasamukha (ten-headed one) because when he was young, his mother gave him a necklace made of nine pearls. She could see his face reflected ninefold. Hence, he was named thus. Also, as per the Jaina version of Ramayana, Ravana is killed by Lakshmana and not Rama in the end.[19]


  1. Identified by many with modern-day Sri Lanka


  1. "Ravana". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2., "Ravana"
  3. "Ravanan"
  4. Prgiter (1997), Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, p.277
  5. A.K. Warder (1994), Indian Kāvya Literature, Volume 4, p.130
  6. Ramayana By Valmiki; Ramcharitmas by Tulsidasa (Lanka Kanda Vibhishana & Rama Samvaad)
  8. Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam. ed. India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 81. 
  9. Māni Mādhava Chākyār (1996). Nātyakalpadrumam. Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi. p.6
  11. Ramayana Research. (2008). A Short History OF Heladiva. Available: Last accessed 14 March 2010.
  12. 12.0 12.1 H. Parker (1909). Ancient Ceylon. New Dehli: Asian Educational Services. 7.
  13. H.R Perera. (1988). Buddhism in Sri Lanka - A short history. Available: Last accessed 02 10 10.
  14. Udayakumar 2005, p. 55.
  15. Ravana has his temples, too. The Sunday Tribune – Spectrum. 21 October 2007.
  16. Vachaspati.S, Ravana Brahma [in English], 2005, Rudrakavi Sahitya Peetham, Gandhi Nagar, Tenali, India.
  17. Kamalesh Kumar Dave,Dashanan [in Hindi], 2008, Akshaya Jyotish Anusandan Kendra, Quila Road, Jodhpur, India.
  19. Ramanujan, A.K. (1991). "Three hundred Rāmāyaṇas: Five examples and Three thoughts on Translation". in Paula Richman. Many Rāmāyaṇas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. University of California Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-520-07589-4. 


  • Udayakumar, S.P. (2005). Presenting the Past: Anxious History and Ancient Future in Hindutva India. Greenwood Publishing GroupTemplate:Inconsistent citations 

External links

Preceded by
Emperor of Lanka Succeeded by