Ravana's virtues

If Ravana had many faults, he had many virtues too. It is common knowledge that he had studied Vedas and other scriptures of the time. It is also known that he was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. In spite of the fact that Ram and Lakshman were his biggest enemies, he parted knowledge to Lakshman when required. But he was unpredictable. One never knew which side of his character (good or bad) would take over and at what time.

There is another incident that shows how, on occasions, Ravana could be quite fair and generous. Legend has it that Lakshman was once hurt in the battlefield and was in a coma. Try as they may, others could not revive him. Rama was worried. Somebody suggested that there was a wise ‘vaid’ (doctor) in Lanka who could be of help in reviving Lakshman’s health. But Lanka was enemy territory and at that time, on war with Ram’s army. The fort of Lanka was closed because of war and was heavily guarded day and night. It was impossible to penetrate.

Here again Vibhishana came to Ram’s rescue. He knew of a secret passage which lead one straight into the heart of Lanka. Very few people who were close to Ravana knew about it. Vibhishana was one of those few. He explained the way to Jambvan and gave him guidance to reach the house of vaid Sushena without being noticed. Jambvan entered Lanka through this secret passage and found the house of the vaid. Sushena heard Jambvan patiently and was in a dilemma. On one hand, Lakshman was an enemy of his king. On the other hand, his profession demanded that he served the ill, irrespective of his status. In his profession there was no friend and no foe, only a patient. So was the instruction of ‘Dhanvantari’, father of the ancient medicine. Sushena was in two minds but he decided to remain faithful to his profession. He started out with jambvan for the place where Lakshman was lying injured but both were captured by the alert guards. They were arrested and taken to Ravana as traitors. Ravana heard both the sides, particularly Sushena’s, that he wanted to remain faithful to his profession and that he saw Lakshman as an injured person in need of medical help.

Ravana’s verdict was just, based on the wisdom of the Vedas. He permitted the vaid to go and treat Lakshman as it was Sushena’s ‘chikitsa dharma’ (duty of a doctor) and he should remain faithful to it.

Ayodhya and Lanka

The Ramayana describes Ravana’s Lanka as ‘Suvarna Nagari’, that is, the land of gold. To this day ‘Suvarna Nagari’ is synonymous with Lanka.

Ravana, apart from being learned and an intellectual, was a good administrator. It is well known that he was a great warrior. He had taken neighboring kings under him and whatever booty he earned, most of it was spent on the welfare of his kingdom and subject. So great was his personal strength and his vast army, that it said that even ‘Indradev’ (God Indra) was wary of him, even though Ravana’s half brother Kubera, was Indra’s treasurer. According to legends, the massive doors of the fort of Lanka were made of gold. It is natural that the palaces of Ravana and his brothers were full of gold, diamonds and other precious items. Every house hold in Lanka had something made of gold.

In comparison, Sri Ram’s Ayodhya was simple, known for its peace and was called ‘Ram Rajya’ which again is synonymous with justice and fair administration. But Ayodhya was nowhere near Lanka as far as prosperity was concerned. Where in Lanka people were prosperous, in Ayodhya, the subject was happy, content but ordinary beings. They had genuine liking for their king. Lanka boasted of big ‘Ashwashalas’ (horse sheds), ‘Gajashalas’ (elephant sheds), ‘Shastrashalas’ (armory). Ayodhya had ‘Gaushalas’ (cowsheds. Milk and butter was aplenty. Vast difference between the two and yet, even today any good administered place is known as ‘Ram Rajya’ and Lanka is synonymous with treachery.

Ravana's women

It is mentioned in some scriptures that when Hanuman went to Lanka in search of Sita, he saw many women, most of them Ravana’s wives in palace’s ‘antahpur’ (a dwelling deep inside the palace for women only). Hanuman had observed that most of them were happy and satiated.

Ravana had married Mandodari who was the daughter of ‘Maya Rakhasha’. Though, Mandodari happens to be the main and important character in Ravana’s life, there were definitely other women - some wives, some concubines, some lived willingly with him and some were forced to submit to his lust. One did not expect this from a person of Ravana’s stature, what with his immense knowledge of scriptures and his intelligence which was far above others of his time. He was known to force women outside his palace. In fact, on one occasion when Sita implored that she was ‘Parstri’ (somebody else’s woman) and it was a sin on Ravana’s part to set his evil eyes on her, Ravana had said: “I am a king and it is a king’s prerogative to enjoy ‘parstris’,”.

Ravana did not believe in limits or restrictions as far as his sexual activities were concerned. As a result of which he was cursed many times by his victims. According to one version, he was cursed at least eighteen times. Most prominent of these curses was, when Ravana forced himself upon ‘Vedvati’ and ‘Rambha’ turn by turn. They cursed him that ‘henceforth if he used force on an unwilling woman, he would die instantly.’ This curse may be one reason why he did not force Sita into submission.

Now about Sita- perhaps it was not entirely because Ravana wanted revenge for his sister ‘Shurpanakha that Ravana kidnapped Sita. More likely- Shurpanakha, after Ram and Lakshman cut off her nose and ears- went to her mighty brother, fully knowing his weakness for pretty women, described Sita in such vivid terms that Ravana wanted to possess her (Sita) at any cost, even at the risk of his own life. But again, probably conscious of Vedvati and Rambha’s curse that he restrained himself while dealing with Sita and tried to woo her instead of forcing himself on her.

Ravana -The breaking of the Veena string

It is quite a surprise that Ravana was a good poet and an exponent of music. Normally, persons with negative traits, such as Ravana had, lack finer instincts and do not have inclination for fine arts and music. These activities are for mild and sensitive persons. But Ravana, in contrast to his bearings, had these hobbies.

Being a staunch ‘Shiv bhakta’ (devotee of Shiva), he had created ‘Shiv Tandava’ (dance of Shiva) which is even practiced today. There is an interesting incident in an ancient scripture which shows Ravana’s devotion to music and poetry. Once, Ravana and his wife Mandodari were on a pilgrimage. Both were deep in meditation through music and dance. Ravana was playing the ‘Veena’ (an ancient Indian instrument) and Mandodari was practicing dance on Ravana’s music. All of a sudden, a string on the ‘Veena’ broke. So worried was Ravana that this accident would distract Mandodari’s meditative and devotional dance that he cut a vain from his hand, attached it to the ‘Veena’ to replace the broken string and continued to play the instrument. Mandodari never came to know of this and continued her dance blissfully. Such was Ravana’s devotion to whatever he did. Be it battle, be it administration, be it learning, be it worship or art. Such diverse interests and activities are rare, even in scriptures.

This is also a fact that after taking over Lanka from Kubera, Ravana made it prosperous. That is why it was called ‘Sone ki Lanka’ (City of gold). It is said that every household had gold worth a fortune. And because of this prosperity, his subjects were involved in hobbies like music and sculpture.

Srawan Kumar

There is an incident in Valmiki Ramayan, that of Srawan kumar, which is thought provoking. During that time too, that is, the time of this epic, caste system was in existence. And of course, hunting of animals was not a sin but a ‘game.’

Once king Dashratha, Rama’s father, went into forest for the game of hunting deer. After roaming around fruitlessly he went deep inside the jungle, got separated from his troop and reached the bank of river ‘Sarayu.’ It was quite dark and the king was tired too. So he decided to rest under a tree for a while. Just then he heard a sound of water being drawn from another side of the river. King Dashratha thought it was a deer having his fill. The king was an expert marksman and could aim even at the sound of an object. Though it was pitch dark he aimed at the sound and released his arrow. He heard a scream of a wounded man. He realized his folly, ran to the spot and found a young boy lying in the pool of blood.

The king was taken aback and immensely regretted his act. He asked the boy who he was and tried to seek his apology. The boy, dying, said: “O king, I am Srawan, a rishi kumar (son of a sage). I am the only child of my blind parents. We are very poor, we maintain ourselves on fruits of this forest. I was taking my blind parents on a pilgrimage in two caskets balanced on my shoulders. We have no enemies, O king, why did you kill me? Now what will happen to my parents, who will look after them?”

Dasharath’s sorrow knew no bounds that he had fatally injured an innocent, more so a muni kumar, a Brahmin, and lamented in front of the boy and asked for his forgiveness. Whereupon Srawan told him: “Hey Rajan, I am born of ‘Vaishya and Kshudra’ parents. So I am not a Brahmin and there is no question of ‘Brahma hatya’ (killing of a Brahmin) on your part. Your act was not intentional. I forgive you. Look after my parents.” And he died. (The king was later cursed by Srawan’s parents, more details in later articles).

This proves that even in Ram Rajya (Ram’s reign), caste system was rigid. Brahma hatya was different from killing an ordinary soul of another lower caste. Interestingly, Srawan’s act of giving solace to the king and forgiving him was an act of a Brahmin, even though he was not one by birth.

Ravana's Lanka

Here in India, there are a few places where Ravana is worshipped. In the rest of the country, he is a symbol of all that is bad and evil. As such Ravana’s effigy is burnt every year on Dashera, the day on which Sri Ram killed him, as a symbol of Good winning over Evil.

But there is one country, Sri Lanka (earlier Ceylon) where Ravana is held in high esteem and worshipped throughout the state. Today’s Sri Lanka, a small island, is supposed to be the old Lanka which belonged to Ravana. One prominent Sri Lankan researcher (Mr. Kariella) has made an in-depth study of today’s Sri Lanka in connection with old Lanka and has declared that there are considerable evidences and similarities to believe in the story. He has also written a book of his historical research to prove his point.

There are quite a few places in Sri Lanka which are supposed to be the remnants of the old Lanka, that is, Ravana’s Lanka. For example there is a fall in a small town named Ella which is known as Ravana Dhodh (fall) from time immemorial. Throughout the country, there are many old temples dedicated to Hanuman, Sri Ram and Sita. They are all worshipped there but it is Ravana who is considered a great ruler and held in high esteem. Strangely, there is no temple solely dedicated to Ravana. The place where Sita was kept in captivity is a popular spot known as Ravana goda. There is also a cave on the top of a mountain which is known as ‘Ravana gufa' (Ravana’s cave). There may be other spots devoted to Ramayana and Ravana which we are not aware of. So Ravana and other characters connected with Ramayana are symbolically present throughout Sri Lanka. What is more, there is a modern resort named after the great ruler-‘Ravana resort’.

P.S.: I have also heard of a musical instrument called ‘Ravan haththa’. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about it. But the very fact that Ravana’s name is attached to it signifies some importance.

Ravana's undoing

Since the beginning of this series in Ramayana, we take characters and incidents ad hoc that is, in no particular order. In this page we will take the incident which was the beginning of Ravan’s downfall.

It is of common knowledge that Ravana was highly educated, intelligent and a great devotee of lord Shiva. Being a Brahmin by birth, it was natural for him to study scriptures and know all mantras and stutis (prayers). After he finished his formal education, he started a tapa (meditation)) to please his beloved deity, Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is also known as Bholenath (the innocent one) and as such it is very easy to please him. But somehow in the case of Ravana it was not so easy. Now, Ravana being Ravana, continued to meditate to please his Lord for years on end. It is also said that Ma Parvati (Shiva’s consort) was instrumental in delaying The Lord’s blessings to Ravana. Parvati insisted that the Lord should check Ravana’s perseverance. But finally after years and years of Ravana’s meditation, the Lord could contain himself no more and blessed Ravana that he (Ravana)could not be killed by a demon or an animal or a devta (God), not even Mrityudev (God of death).

Out of ego and over confidence, Ravana tried to shake Mount Kailash, the very mountain that Lord Shiva was meditating on. He tried his strength against his own mentor. This disturbed Shiva’s concentration. When he learnt that it was Ravana’s deed, he pressed his toe on the side of the mountain which Ravana was trying to lift and shake. Ravana’s hand was pressed under the mountain and try as he may could not take it out. At last Ravana realized his mistake, understood the limitations of his strength against his mentor and decided to please Lord Shiva and started to meditate all over again. It took him years of meditation to please the Lord but finally Shiva relented and released his hand. It appears that this act of going against his Lord immediately after receiving the boon was the beginning of his undoing.