According to some views, at one stage in his life, Ravana became so powerful and egoistic that he felt he could defeat his benefactor Lord Shiva himself. With that intention he reached Mount Kailash, Shiva’s abode. He became so blind in his ego that he inserted his toes beneath the mountain with the intention of overturning the mountain from its base. Shiva was mighty displeased with Ravana’s misdeeds and put pressure on the mountain top with his foot. Ravana’s toes were stuck under the mountain. He suffered tremendous pain and could not free his toe. Ravana realized his mistake, started penance to please Shiva and continued his japas for years till Shiva was pleased and released his grip and pressure on the mountain. Shiva again blessed Ravana, gave him unique weapons and after that Ravana became a Shivabhakta for life.
Ravana gave kingdom of Patallok to his brother, Ahiravana. Since Kuber had earlier criticized Ravana for his greed and cruelty, he imprisoned Kuber and other gods, so much so that even the Sun god obeyed Ravana.
Ravana had two more brothers-Vibhishana and Kumbhkarna and a sister Surpanakha. Amongst them, Vibhishana was a devotee of Sri Ram. When Ravana kidnapped Sita, Vibhishana tried his best to change Ravana’s mind and for Ravana to compromise with Ram and release Sita with honor. Vibhishana was declared a traitor and thrown out of the kingdom. Vibhishana asked for Ram’s shelter and got it. The rest is history.
Ravana, it is well known, was a great devotee of Shiva. He did penance for hundreds of years to appease Shiva and in turn got Shiva’s blessings that he could not be killed or defeated by gods, rakshasas or yakshas. Nara (man) and vanara (monkey) were not included in those blessings. As a result, Rama, in the form of man, killed Ravana with the help of vanaras.
Ravana was a scholar of all four Vedas. According to one opinion he took great interest in astrology and knew quite a lot about it. He probably knew that Ram was actually God Vishnu in the form of Man. After kidnapping Sita, he kept her in Ashok vatika instead of his palace because fairy Rambha had cursed Ravana on one occasion saying that if ever Ravana forced himself upon any woman, his head would separate from his body instantly. So Ravana knew of his imminent death and wished that if he was to die, better to die at the hands of Lord Vishnu and attain Moksha.
Even to this day, one can see Ravana’s Anarya culture’s influence in many parts of our country. Tamil Nadu for one boasts of more than three hundred temples dedicated to Ravana. People worship Ravana. in Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh, there is an idol of Ravana which is three meters in height. In one village Patalkot in Chhindwada where natives believe that they are decedents of Ravana. It is said that Ravana went to Patallok to worship Shiva form this place, hence it is known as Patalkot even today.
Some opine that Ravana was an evil character. That is the reason why he is burnt or his effigy is burnt on the day of Dashera. The process is symbolic of ‘Satya’ (truth) defeats ‘Asatya’ (that which is not true). One meaning of Ravana, according to some is ‘one who thunders’ or ‘one who has thunderous voice.’ Ravana is also known as ‘Dashanana.’ It is said that when he laughed, even mountains on earth vibrated. While one school of thought believes that his ten heads represent his extraordinary knowledge which was ten times more then the most knowledgeable, others think they indicate ten vices or evils in him. They were- ‘ahankar’ (ego), ‘krodh’ (anger), ‘alasya’ (laze), ‘lobh’ (greed), ‘kam’ (lust), ‘chori’ (loot or theft), ‘hinsa’ (violence), ‘moh’ (attachment), ‘mud’ ( fat), ‘chheh’ or ‘droh’ (cheat). Thus, different people have different interpretations about his ten heads.
As the story goes, Ravana was born in a Brahmin family, his father being a ‘rishi’. As a child Ravana was bright, strong and intelligent. He had very good memory. His father, rishi ‘Visrava’ had taught him Vedas, Shastras and mantras. But Ravana’s mother was from a family of rakshasas or daityas. Her name was Kaikashi. Kaikashi’s father was a king of rakshasas whose name was Sumali. So Ravana’s father was Visrava rishi where as mother was a queen of daityas Kaikashi and as a result Ravana inherited virtues and habits of both, rishis and daityas. Though a rakshasi, Kaikashi followed Aryas’ beliefs and habits.
In those times, that is, Tretayuga, there were two factions, Aryas and Anaryas. Aryas followed certain rules, social laws and norms, believed in worship, fast, were vegetarians and stayed within framework of a society. Those who did not follow these rules, who believed in free life, consumed liquor (somras), ate meat. and lead lawless lives were called Anaryas. Kaikashi’s father Sumali and his family were Anaryas, but Kaikashi herself followed Arya habits. Visrava rishi, Ravana’s father, married her because of her good virtues in spite of the fact that she was a born rakshasi.
Ravana was the eldest son of Kaikashi. His father Visrava wanted him to be the greatest scholar on earth. He did attain great knowledge, was expert in shastras (scriptures) and was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. But he was more under the influence of his maternal grand father Sumali, an Asura.
Kuber was alsoVisrava’s son and Ravana’s step brother. The city of Lanka was created by Vishvakarma for Kuber. It was a splendid city of gold. When complete, Visrava gifted the city over to Kuber. This angered Sumali and he instigated Ravana to capture the throne of Lanka. Initially, Ravana was hesitant but ultimately gave in to his maternal grand father’s demands and challenged Kuber into a combat. Visrava, knowing Ravana could not be defeated because of Shiva’s boon, advised Kubera to hand over the kingdom of Lanka to Ravana and thus Ravana became the king of Lanka. As per this belief, Lanka originally belonged to Kuber. Ravana, on his part, further improved the city with palaces, gardens, and beautiful roads. He also extended his empire capturing, Kushdweep, Malaydweep and Agandweep etc.
Almost all kings and kingdoms around the sea paid protection tax to Ravana and so he was called ‘Rakshak’ (protector). Later, his Anarya instincs began to get better of him. He had made up his mind to capture all three worlds- Prithvilok, Patallok and Swarglok and from there on he was called ‘Rakshas’ (devil) instead of ‘Rakshak’ or protector.