Since I attended a horror convention yesterday, I figured I might as well look at a villain for my weekly mythology post. One who came to mind pretty quickly was Ravana, the bad guy in the Ramayana. In the epic, he kidnaps a princess, and Rama has to reach his castle and rescue him, with help from animals along the way. So, basically the same plot as the Super Mario series, except Mario never puts Peach to a test of fire to make sure she never did the nasty with Bowser. Yeah, people I’ve heard summarize the epic tend to present Rama as kind of an asshole, more concerned with his public appearance than his wife’s well-being. Good thing we never see that from our leaders nowadays! :P Anyway, though, this post is supposed to focus on Ravana, so let’s take a look at him.
While the demonic ruler has the power to change shape, his typical form has ten heads and twenty arms. He conquered Lanka (quite possibly the same place as Sri Lanka, although since it appears that “Lanka” simply means “island” in Sanskrit, it’s not entirely clear), and successfully ruled over it, bringing great prosperity to both himself and his subjects.
Indeed, he’s not portrayed so much as a ruthless tyrant, but more of an intelligent and devoted man with some fatal flaws. He was an avid scholar, and a master of the Vedas and Upanishads. His devotion to the great god Brahma resulted in that deity granting him a boon, and his request was that he be unable to be killed by gods or other demons. He didn’t even bother asking to be invulnerable to mortals, as he figured they posed no threat to him. This was why the god Vishnu decided to incarnate as the human Rama, although Rama’s human motivation for pursuing Ravana was, of course, that the demon had kidnapped his wife Sita. The story has it that Ravana had his sister Surpanakha’s wife killed, and Surpanakha then tried to court Rama and his brother Lakshmana, only to be rebuffed by both. Surpankha attacked Sita, but Lakshmana cut her nose off. In order to get revenge against both her brother and Rama’s family, she goaded Ravana into taking Sita for himself.
Sita never consented to Ravana’s advances, and Ravana himself was prevented from raping her due to a curse placed on him by another woman he had tried to violate, which had it that all of his heads would fall off if he tried that kind of thing again.
When Rama and Ravana finally faced off, the avatar of Vishnu tried cutting off the demon’s heads, but they grew right back again. Rama finally killed the Lankan ruler by shooting an arrow made by Brahma through his heart.
Apparently Ravana isn’t as universally reviled as you might think. According to his Wikipedia pages, there are some temples devoted to him. Also, some people apparently interpret him to be a more heroic character than Rama, and one take apparently has it that he WANTED to be killed by Rama in order to devote himself to Vishnu. Regardless of how you want to see him, he’s an interesting character.