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The Wisdom of Ravan

The Wisdom of Ravan



Ravan abducted Ram’s wife, a crime for which he was killed by Ram himself. So says the Ramayan. The epic makes Ravan the archetypical villain. And since Ram is God for most Hindus, Ravan’s actions make him the Devil incarnate. This justifies the annual burning of his effigy on the Gangetic plains during the festival of Dassera.

But on the hills of Rishikesh or in the temple of Rameshwaram, one hears the tale of how Ram atoned for the sin of killing Ravan. Why should God atone for killing a villain? One realizes that, like most things Hindu, the Ramayan is not as simplistic and pedestrian an epic as some are eager to believe.

Ravan was a Brahmin, the son of Rishi Vaishrava, grandson of Pulatsya. Ram, though God incarnate, was born in a family of Kshatriyas. In the caste hierarchy, Ram was of lower rank. As a Brahmin, Ravan was custodian of Brahma-gyan (the knowledge of God). Killing him meant Brahma-hatya-paap, the sin of Brahminicide, that Ram had to wash away through penance and prayer. Another reason why this atonement was important was because Ravan was Ram’s guru.

The story goes that after firing the fatal arrow on the battlefield of Lanka, Ram told his brother, Lakshman, “Go to Ravan quickly before he dies and request him to share whatever knowledge he can. A brute he may be, but he is also a great scholar.”  The obedient Lakshman rushed across the battlefield to Ravan’s side and whispered in his ears, “Demon-king, do not let your knowledge die with you. Share it with us and wash away your sins.”  Ravan responded by simply turning away. An angry Lakshman went back to Ram, “He is as arrogant as he always was, too proud to share anything.” Ram comforted his brother and asked him softly, “Where did you stand while asking Ravan for knowledge?” “Next to his head so that I hear what he had to say clearly.” Ram smiled, placed his bow on the ground and walked to where Ravan lay. Lakshman watched in astonishment as his divine brother knelt at Ravan’s feet. With palms joined, with extreme humility, Ram said, “Lord of Lanka, you abducted 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. Please do that for if you die without doing so, all your wisdom will be lost forever to the world.” To Lakshman’s surprise, Ravan opened his eyes and raised his arms to salute Ram, “If only I had more time as your teacher than as your enemy. Standing at my feet as a student should, unlike your rude younger brother, you are a worthy recipient of my knowledge. I have very little time so I cannot share much but let me tell you one important lesson I have learnt in my life. Things that are bad for you seduce you easily; you run towards them impatiently. But things that are actually good for you, fail to attract you; you shun them creatively, finding powerful excuses to justify your procrastination. That is why I was impatient to abduct Sita but avoided meeting you. This is the wisdom of my life, Ram. My last words. I give it to you.” With these words, Ravan died.




With ten heads, twenty arms, a flying chariot and a city of gold, the mighty Ravan is without doubt a flamboyant villain. His sexual prowess was legendary.  When Hanuman entered Lanka, in search of Sita, he found the demon-lord lying in bed surrounded by a bevy of beauties, women who had willingly abandoned their husbands. Ram, by comparison, seems boring – a rule-upholder who never does anything spontaneous or dramatic. He is the obedient son, always doing the right thing, never displaying a roving eye or a winsome smile. It is not difficult therefore to be a fan of Ravan, to be seduced by his power, to be enchanted by his glamour, and to find arguments that justify his actions.

One can’t help but wonder: why does the poet, Valmiki, go out of his way to make his villain so admirable, so seductive, so enchanting?

Valmiki describes Ravan as the greatest devotee of Shiva. In many folk versions of the epic such as Ram-kathas and Ram-kiritis, we are informed that Ravan composed the Rudra Stotra in praise of Shiva, the ascetic-god. He designed the lute known as Rudra-Vina 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 Kailas, with Shiva’s family on top, is an integral part of Shiva temple art.

Perhaps, say some scholars, that this expresses the legendary battle between Shiva-worshippers and Vishnu-worshippers. Ram, who is Vishnu on earth, kills Ravan who is Shiva’s devotee. But this argument falls flat when one is also told that Ram’s trusted ally, Hanuman, is a form of Shiva himself. Valmiki is clearly conveying a more profound idea by calling Ravan a devotee of Shiva. And to understand the thought we have to dig a bit deeper.

Shiva is God embodying the principle of vairagya, absolute detachment. 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 him. Ravan may be his great devotee; he may sing Shiva’s praise, and worship Shiva every day, but he does not follow the path of Shiva.

In reality, Ravan stands for everything that Shiva rejects. Ravan is fully attached to worldly things. He always wants what others have. He never built the city of gold – he drove out his brother, Kuber, and took over the kingdom of Lanka. Why did he abduct Sita? Avenging his sister’s mutilation was but an excuse; it was the desire to conquer the heart of a faithful wife. And during the war, he let his sons die and his brothers die before entering the battlefield himself.

Ravan has ten pairs of eyes, which means he can see more. Ravan has ten sets of arms, which means he can do more. Ravan has ten heads, which means he can think more. And yet, this man with a superior body and superior mind submits to the basest of passions. Despite knowing the Vedas and worshipping Shiva, he remains a slave of his senses and a victim of his own ego. He arrogantly shows off his knowledge of detachment but is not wise enough to practice detachment. Deluded, he gives only lip-service to Shiva. This pretender is therefore killed by Ram, who like Shiva, is another form of God.

~ Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik

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31 Responses to "The Wisdom of Ravan"

  1. Rajesh  January 11, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    What is the source of this article about “Rama asked knowledge from Ravan?”

    Reply
    • Kishore  February 8, 2015 at 6:49 pm

      It is mentioned in the Ramayana itself.

      Reply
      • Brijesh  April 9, 2015 at 6:57 am

        Somehow valmiki seems to have forgot to write this in yuddha kanda sarga 20 and 21.
        Please point to the source of this story

        Reply
  2. Vishnu  January 11, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    Great narrative

    Reply
  3. praveen  January 11, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    Loved this article 🙂

    Reply
  4. Sanjeev  January 11, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    The Idea of Ravan is much deeper , Since Ravan was a devotee of Shiva he was granted Amrut Kalash but after living thru ages he wanted to give his life up to attain moksha however nothing could kill so he reached Shiva , Shiva said whatever has been done can only be undone by Vishnu, So without any lust for Sita as described by Scriptures Ravan Devised a Plan where Vishnu will be drawn to give Moksha, Such was the power of this brilliant and learned Warrior.

    Reply
    • Bipin  August 6, 2015 at 3:03 am

      Interesting point of view. Can you point out the source so that I can refer it once??

      Reply
      • Hansraj Chakraborty  April 19, 2016 at 8:30 am

        Heard the same theory about Ravana from my grandfather. He picked up Rama as his enemy to attain moksha.

        Reply
    • Jeevan More  May 4, 2016 at 3:02 am

      How can one attain moksha by committing a bad karma? Once a person commits bad karma he has to do penance. Ravana abducted sita which was bad karma and Ram killed him. So my point is Ravana never got chance to do penance in order to nullify this bad karma. Unless one don’t nulify ones karmas one cannot attain moksha.

      Reply
      • Jai  August 9, 2016 at 2:00 am

        Yes one can, if you look into Mahabharat. All the kaurvas including Duryodhan and Karna went to the Heavens. Because of their Bravery during the time of death and their place of death, they attained heavens(which is not true Moksha to begin with, as you dont really escape the cycle of karm and birth and death, but thats a different story). I beleive that Ravan fighting without backing off even when GOD himself came to fight him, would spare him of his bad Karm. And then shri RAM here says you are no longer my enemy as I have punished you for your deed(karm). Or maybe he could have granted him Moksha just as Gurudakshina. And if you think about it, Why does the lord of these worlds and the creator of Brahma need any wisdom from Ravan.

        Reply
  5. prabhakar  January 12, 2015 at 8:08 am

    Marvelous ”

    Reply
  6. Vikas  January 12, 2015 at 10:29 am

    Jai Lankesh

    Reply
  7. Sourabh  January 12, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Hanumaan was form of Vayu as far as I know, is it not ?

    Reply
    • Ritesh  January 14, 2015 at 11:11 am

      Hanuman was Vayu putra, But a incarnation of Shiva.

      Reply
  8. Sarthak Bhalerao  January 13, 2015 at 9:41 am

    actually Ravan’s birth was all conspiracy to get the city of gold back from Dev’s that they by cheating got from Asura’s and thus kaikesi a demon daughter was sent to seduce and thus marry vaishrava a kind of eugenicism.

    Reply
  9. Jugal  April 9, 2015 at 2:31 am

    One side you are saying, Ravan was a Bramhin and another side you say, he was a demon king. Which is correct. If Rama is a God…Why did he ask knowledge from Ravan. There is another story, Rama fought with Ravan for conquering Lanka. Sita was used to set the ground for a war and at the end she was deserted and sent to the forest.

    Reply
    • Jeevan More  May 4, 2016 at 3:16 am

      Actually in India there two separate communities which later became one. Aryans were the ones who came into India at some point in the history and Dravidians were native Indians. Dravidians worshipped lord Shiva and Aryans worshipped lord Vishnu. There were constant forms of battles between the two communities. Ramayana is one such example. Aryans called themselves sura and therefore dravdians (who were not in accord with Aryans) were asura. Dravdians are depicted as demons because of their looks but they were not demons. Most of them were God fearing and nice people. Therefore at one point to stop this constant fights between two communities scholars and priest from both communities sat together and finally decided to set an accord. They decided to worship each other’s gods. They agreed to marriages between girls and boys from both communities. This is how sanathan dharma was born.

      Reply
      • Srikanth  August 8, 2016 at 4:55 pm

        Suras ( children of additional) and asuras (children of ditto) are brothers.

        Never read or heard this aryan & Dravidian story in the whole Ramayana. Please correct your facts. Many recent scientific experiments have debunked the artificial aryan Invasion theory created by western indologists.

        Please listen the Ramayana from traditional gurus so that you understand dharma and can enjoy the sweetness of kavya.

        Reply
  10. Rajiv Ahuja  April 9, 2015 at 4:06 am

    Interesting article.

    Reply
  11. Monu  April 9, 2015 at 6:13 am

    Can you please remove word Boring for Lord Rama..I am devotee of Rama & cannot accept that you use this kind of word for my Lord. I dnt care if you believe in Ram or not..You have no right to hurt Hindu feelings..

    Reply
  12. Jishnu  April 9, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Most of it is fake,neither in Valmiki Ramayan nor in Tulsidas’

    Reply
  13. Gwen  April 10, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    Why does sanskritimagazine is encouraging and publishing article of a leftist guy foxing as a Hindu? Devdutt Pattnaik is a charlatan . He posts his incorrect imagination and opinions without evidence to back his position .

    Three year ago , I debunked his arguments in his blog and the coward deleted my arguments.

    Reply
  14. Gwen  April 10, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Mr Devdutt is saying that Ravan was custodian of Brahmagyaan. I’m NOT trying to be rude but this is a lie . There is no such thing in Valmiki Ramayana . He is also saying that Ravan taught Rama . Again , this is a lie . There is no such thing in Valmiki Ramayana .

    Mr Devdutt is also saying that women willingly abandoned their husband and were leaving with Ravan . Demonstrably false . The Ravan- Surpanakha conference in Aranya Kanda and Mandodari’s confession in Yuddha Kanda Sarga 111 verse 54 and 55 confirms Ravan’s mass rape . I’m NOT sure about women in Devdutt Pattnaik family but women will rather die than to sleep with a guy who killed their family and husband willingly .

    Devdutt Pattnaik is saying that Valmiki made Ravan admirable .Valmiki didn’t make Ravan admirable unless you admire a mass rapist . Yes, there are sociopath with demented mind who might find rape an admirable trait .

    Reply
  15. Ratish  June 7, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    What about Kumbh Ramayan; in which it narrates Sita as the daughter of Ravana.

    Reply
  16. Shiva Shanker  August 6, 2015 at 5:02 am

    Tulasi Ramayanam, says that Ravana is actually the father of Sita. When Sita was born, Ravana gets to hear an oracle from sky that due to his daughter he would die eventually. Therefore he decides to leave his daughter (whom he loved a lot) to a place from where she cannot do any harm to him at the same time he ensures that his daughter would be treated well by the new parent, in the rest of her life. He after a lot of study decides to place the daughter in a field so that King Janaka would foster her as his daughter. Having acheved his objective, Ravana happily returns to Lanka, however he would always keep an eye on the well being of his daughter. When Ravana comes to know of “Swayamvara” he on one hand was happy but on the other hand he wanted a certain kings to be the lucky ones to get the swayamvara won. Therefore he too goes to the swayamvara in a form of a participant. If Ravana had thought he could have easily lifted the Rudra Dhanusu (‘cos he being Shiva Bhakta, can easily lift the Dhanusu as it requires only a small prayer of Lord Shiva before one tries to lift it, and Ravana knew the procedure to lift the Dhanusu) but Ravana intentionally accepts failure to avoid marrying is own daughter. When Rama eventually lifts the Dhanusu, Ravana was not fully convinced on Rama’s strength. He wanted to have a fight with Rama in order to test his real strength of his would be son-in-law; in order to achieve this objective he abducts Sita (but unlike any other queens he had abducted thus far – He would never touch Sita, He keeps Sita in Ashoka Vatika (while other queens were taken into his antahpuram, Sita was kept separately in Ashoka Vatika). He ensures no male rakshashas were kept as attenders at Ashoka vatika……) All these attributes prove Ravana as father of Sita. Tulasi Ramana goes in greater details on this. Further Tulasi Ramayana is treated as autobiography of Rama as Rama himself would do corrections when Tulsidas has any confusion while writing the script, unlike Valmiki Ramayana which is Valmiki’s version of Rama’s Art of Living. Aayanam means way of life, thus Ramayanam means Rama’s way of life.

    Reply
  17. krishna  August 6, 2015 at 7:39 am

    false story mayb folklore….but this is not mentioned in Valmiki Ramayan.
    plz dont quote the stories from devdutt patnaik or somebody else…the original Ramayan version is Valmiki Ramayan…rest all just imagination.

    Rama himself is very well learnt from brahmarshis Vasishtha n vishwamita…
    why the helll wud he ask Ravan. and even the lesson what according to u ravan taught Rama is not rocket sceince. Lord Rama who is well versed with vedas n other great material wud have known it already.
    . if u r mentioning something abt Ramayan…chk if its written in Valmiki Ramayan. if u r quoting something from mahabharat …chk if its written by veda Vyas….
    other versions plz keep it for urself do not post them here n pollute the minds.

    Reply
  18. venkat  November 22, 2015 at 10:58 am

    no. The whole story has no proof that it happened. In the valmiki’s ramayana ravana died when the arrow by rama cut his neck nd not by hitting his belly.Some great poets who took the Ramayana in their own perspective,considering ravana as a good person might have written the above story. if rama had had to gain any wisdom or knowledge, why would he go to ravana? rama was well trained by many gurus. also ravana is no good man because though he was born to a brahmin,he was a rakshas.though he impressed lord shiva by his penance,he had rakshasatwa in him.lastly,rama had no time in speaking with ravana after his death because as soon as the arrow hit ravanas’ neck, it cut his body into two nd he died at the very moment

    Reply
  19. Madhu  November 22, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    ‘To kill a Brahmin is a sin” this is where the problem with Hinduism lies .now who is a Brahmin .it has been very clearly given that Brahmin is the supreme form but the caveat is it is NOT by birth.your thoughts and actions make u a Brahmin.u can be a Ayyar ,Ayangar,namboothri sharma by birth but never a Brahmin .same holds for Kshatriyas ,Vaisya and shudras.this is the central theme which has been hijacked and grossly misinterpreted and that has caused great damage to Hinduism .y
    By that sense Ravana who committed the gravest sin of abducting an unwilling woman cannot be considered a Brahmin and it was right to kill him for dharma to prevail .
    If this central theme of a caste by birth is corrected then Hinduism will be truly resurrected .we need a renaissance ,a reformation – a politico cultural one.in one stroke we can rejuvenate Hinduism .but that change shud come from within from ourselves .otherwise we will be continued to be manipulated by outsiders.

    Reply
  20. Deepanshu Singh Kushwaha  May 11, 2016 at 6:06 am

    Very wrong info about Shri Ravana, shiva doesn’t only means vairagya… do u know shiva is triguna
    Sattavic
    RAJassic
    Tamasic
    Vairagya comes in sattvic , which ravan did during his tapasya.
    Rajasic he was doing during Ramayana
    Tamasic he was inherit the Tamasic quality being half Rakshash….

    Wrong info u r giving to all.

    Reply
  21. RKPRASAD  May 11, 2016 at 10:35 am

    These Ramayan and Bharatam are only created by Aryan;s these are wrote to favour to them,Original Indians all are Devoted to Pasupathi means LORD SHIVA,Rama didn’T killed himself without help of Vibhishana….

    Reply
  22. Raawanan  August 8, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    Im still confused, then what is correct.

    Reply

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