1. Ravana Is Born
Vishrava was a brahmin who loved knowledge and the gods, but his wife, Kaikasi, was a rakshasi, a shape-shifting creature who loved gold and blood.
Their first child, a son, was dreadful to behold, having ten heads and ten pairs of arms. Vishrava gave his son the name Dashagriva, which means Ten-Necks. Later he would be called Ravana, He-Who-Roars.
The sky rained blood at Dashagriva’s birth. Jackals howled, and other vicious beasts ran in ill-omened circles around the rakshasi mother and her child.
Vishrava and Kaikasi later had three more children: two boys, Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana, and a girl, Shurpanakha.
2. Ravana Petitions Brahma
Seeking to become invincible, Dashagriva petitioned the god Brahma. He fasted and prayed for ten thousand years, chopping off one head every thousand years and casting it into the fire.
Dashagriva was about to cut off his last head when the deva appeared. “Ask any boon!” Brahma said.
“Protect me from devas and danavas, from nagas, from gandharvas, from…” Dashagriva’s list went on and on, but he didn’t include humans, as he considered them to be weaklings.
Brahma granted Dashagriva’s petition, giving him a pot of immortal nectar which he hid in his navel.
Brahma also restored Dashagriva’s lost heads.
3. Ravana’s Brothers Petition Brahma
Dashagriva’s brothers Vibhishana and Kumbhakarna also prayed to the gods for boons.
Vibhishana was an unusual rakshasa: he revered dharma, righteousness. Vibhishana thus prayed that he always uphold dharma, and Brahma granted his prayer.
Kumbhakarna, however, was a monstrous giant, and the devas feared him. At their request, Saraswati, devi of wisdom, confused Kumbhakarna’s tongue when he asked for his boon: instead of Nir-deva-tvam (death-to-devas), Kumbhakarna asked for Nidrava-tvam (sleepiness).
As a result, Kumbhakarna was awake only one day each year. If anyone dared disturb his sleep before the year had passed, Kumbhakarna was fated to die that same day.
4. Ravana Confronts Shiva
Dashagriva was riding near Mount Kailasha when an invisible force stopped his chariot.
Before him he saw Nandi, Shiva’s bull. “Turn back, Dashagriva!” Nandi shouted. “This is Shiva’s home.”
“No one can stop me!” replied Dashagriva. To demonstrate his power, Dashagriva extended his twenty giant arms and lifted up the mountain.
Shiva saw this and laughed, and then he pressed down on the mountain with his big toe, trapping Dashagriva underneath.
Dashagriva screamed, and the mighty roar impressed Shiva.
“What a fine voice!” Shiva declared. “I will free you from the mountain, and henceforth you will be called Ravana, He-Who-Roars.”
5. Ravana Sings for Shiva
Ravana became a devoted follower of Shiva. To honor the god he decided to make a musical instrument: a veena. Ravana cut off one of his heads and one of his arms and made them into a veena, and to string the veena he used his own guts.
Ravana then sang for Shiva as he played the veena made of his own body.
Impressed, Shiva appeared before Ravana. “Behold the indestructible Moon-sword, Chandrahasa,” said Shiva, as he waved a sword that was crescent-shaped, like the moon. “I give it to you.”
Ravana bowed in reverence, accepting the sword from Shiva.
6. Shiva Rewards Ravana
Shiva offered Ravana another reward. “Tell me what you want,” Shiva said.
“I want her!” said Ravana, pointing to the beautiful woman standing beside Shiva. She was the devi Parvati, Shiva’s wife, but Ravana did not know that. He only knew that she was beautiful and that he wanted her.
Shiva had to grant his wish, but Parvati found a way out. She grabbed a frog and went to see Brahma. “Make this frog [manduka] into a double of me,” she said.
Brahma did so, and that was the woman Ravana took to Lanka.
This was Mandodari, Ravana’s chief wife.
7. Meghanada Becomes Indrajit
Ravana and Mandodari’s first-born son roared like thunder, so they named him Meghanada, “Cloud-Roar.”
Meghanada became a warrior, and in his father’s war against the gods he used a spell of darkness to make himself invisible. That is how he ambushed Indra, King of the Devas, and captured him.
“Free Indra, and I’ll grant you a boon,” Brahma told Meghanada.
“Make me immortal!” Meghanada replied.
“I cannot do that,” Brahma replied.
“Then give me invincible weapons. I will win my own immortality in battle!”
Brahma agreed, and Meghanada set Indra free. Brahma then gave Meghanada his new name: Indrajit, Conqueror-of-Indra.
8. Shurpanakha Argues with Mandodari
Ravana’s wife Mandodari was a vegetarian; his sister Shurpanakha, however, was a carnivore.
One day Shurpanakha commanded Mandodari to serve meat for dinner, and Mandodari refused.
Shurpanakha was furious at Mandodari, and at Ravana too. She shouted to her husband Vidyutjiva, “Swallow Ravana! Swallow him NOW!”
Vidyutjiva obeyed. He extended his tongue, wrapped it around his brother-in-law, and swallowed him.
“Help me, Shurpanakha!” shouted Ravana from inside Vidyutjiva’s stomach. “Your son will be my heir! I’ll find you a new husband!”
So Shurpanakha carved open her husband to rescue Ravana. Vidyutjiva died, and Shurpanakha forever blamed Ravana for his death.
9. Vaishravana Becomes Kubera
Ravana’s father, Vishrava, was a brahmin; his father was Pulastya, mind-born son of Brahma.
Vishrava had another wife, and with her, another son: Vaishravana.
Vaishravana practiced austerities for a thousand years, living on water, then air, then nothing.
Brahma offered him a boon.
“Make me a guardian of the world!” Vaishravana said.
Brahma nodded. “Indra guards the east, Varuna the west, Yama the south; you will guard the north. You will be Kubera, lord of yakshas, protector of wealth!”
Kubera lived in Lanka, the golden city. The rakshasas had lived there long ago, but the devas had driven them away.
10. Ravana Occupies Lanka
Ravana’s maternal grandfather, Sumali, always hoped Ravana would reclaim the golden city of Lanka. “Take the city from Kubera!” Sumali urged. “Let it be a rakshasa city again as it was long ago.”
Ravana’s general, Prahasta, agreed. “The devas were wrong to drive the rakshasas from Lanka, and we are right to take it back.”
Ravana sent Prahasta to Lanka as his emissary. “Give us back the city,” Prahasta said to Kubera, “or we will fight you.”
To Prahasta’s surprise, Kubera yielded the city. “I will go to the Himalayas,” he said. “Tell my brother that golden Lanka is his.”
11. Ravana Battles Yama
Next, Ravana vowed to conquer Yama, God of Death, so he rode his chariot south towards the Land of the Dead.
Yama’s soldiers attacked Ravana, but Ravana destroyed them all.
Yama himself then rode forth to face Ravana, and Ravana’s soldiers fled in terror.
Alone on the battlefield, Ravana and Yama fought fiercely for seven days and nights. Then, as Yama was about to strike Ravana with the Death-Hammer, Brahma appeared.
“Halt!” Brahma shouted. “I gave Ravana my blessing; no deva can kill him, not even the God of Death.”
So Yama vanished, and Ravana declared himself Conqueror of Death.
12. The Devas Hide from Ravana
A king named Marutta was conducting a sacrifice. There were many priests in attendance, along with the devas Indra, Yama, Kubera, and Varuna.
Ravana showed up, and the terrified gods disguised themselves as animals: Indra became a peacock, Yama a crow, Kubera a lizard, and Varuna a swan.
Ravana then challenged Marutta to a fight, but the priests advised the king to surrender.
“I have won!” shouted Ravana. He then ate all the priests, drank their blood, and flew away.
Glad for their escape, the devas bestowed blessings on the animals whose disguises had helped them to escape Ravana’s notice.
13. Kubera Rebukes Ravana
Kubera was appalled by Ravana’s repeated attacks on the priests, on the devas, and on his own yakshas, so he sent a message to him, brother to brother. “Your deeds dishonor our father,” Kubera’s messenger told Ravana. “You need to stop your bad behavior.”
Enraged, Ravana shouted, “I will kill Kubera for this! And I will kill all the other guardians of the world as well. Nobody speaks to Ravana this way!”
Then Ravana seized Kubera’s messenger and sliced off his head.
“Come, rakshasas!” Ravana shouted, and he led his army in an attack on Kubera’s home in the Himalayas.
14. Ravana Attacks Kubera
Kubera rallied his yaksha soldiers to defend their mountain home from Ravana’s attack. Kubera and the yakshas fought bravely, but they were no match for the rakshasas. Soon the battlefield was littered with yaksha corpses lying in rivers of blood that streamed bright red in the snow.
The surviving yakshas all fled, and Kubera alone confronted Ravana on the battlefield.
“Someday someone will send you to hell,” Kubera said, “and then you will understand the consequences of your actions.”
The half-brothers fought until Kubera fell, wounded but not dead.
Ravana then stole Kubera’s flying chariot and returned, triumphant, to Lanka.
15. Ravana Rapes Rambha
One night Ravana found the apsara Rambha wandering in the woods.
She was very beautiful, and Ravana burned with lust. He grabbed her and whispered, “How lucky for you we have met!”
“Stop it!” she shouted, fighting back. “You are my elder relative, my uncle-in-law! My husband Nalakubara is the son of Kubera. He’s your nephew. Let me go!”
But Ravana knew no shame, and he brutally raped Rambha that night.
When Rambha told Nalakubara what Ravana had done, he cursed his uncle. “If Ravana ever touches another woman against her will, his head will split into a thousand pieces.”
16. Ravana Encounters Vedavati
As Ravana wandered the woods, he saw a beautiful woman practicing austerities at a fire-altar, clothed in a deer-skin, her hair twisted in jatas.
“Lovely lady,” he said, “you should be wearing silks and jewels, not this ascetic garb. Be my wife!”
“I am Vedavati,” she replied, “and I am dedicated to the god Vishnu; I will marry no other.”
Ravana grabbed her hair, but Vedavati magically cut herself free.
“With my dying words I curse you, Ravana!” she said, throwing herself into the flames. “I will be born again for your destruction.”
Vedavati would later be reborn as Sita.
17. Ravana Fights Kartavirya
Ravana was sacrificing to Shiva on a riverbank, singing and dancing in Shiva’s honor.
Meanwhile, Kartavirya, Thousand-Armed King of the Haihayas, was relaxing in the river with his wives. As Kartavirya splashed, the waters rose and the flood carried away Ravana’s offerings.
Enraged, Ravana fought with Kartavirya in a ferocious battle. Finally, Kartavirya knocked Ravana to the ground, and the devas watching from heaven rejoiced.
Ravana’s grandfather Pulastya pleaded with Kartavirya to let Ravana go. Out of respect for the great rishi, who was a mind-born son of Brahma, Kartavirya agreed.
Ravana was strong, but there is always someone stronger.
18. Ravana Fights Vali
Ravana went looking for Vali, the monkey-king, wanting to fight him. He found Vali on the ocean’s shore, engaged in worship.
Ravana planned to sneak up on Vali from behind, but Vali grabbed him and shouted, “Got you!” He then tucked Ravana under his arm and soared up into the sky.
Down below, the rakshasas saw their king struggling to get free. They chased Vali but could not catch him.
After flying around the world, Vali landed and let Ravana go.
“I want to be your friend, great monkey!” said Ravana.
Vali laughed and agreed; thus Vali became Ravana’s ally.
19. Ravana Battles Rama’s Ancestor
Ravana defeated the kings of the earth, one after another.
He then marched on Ayodhya, where Anaranya was king.
King Anaranya led his army into battle, but Ravana incinerated them in a blast of fire, leaving only Anaranya alive.
Anaranya fought on, firing hundreds of arrows at Ravana, but Ravana’s armor repelled them all.
Ravana then struck Anaranya on the head, knocking him to the ground.
As he lay dying, Anaranya cursed the rakshasa king. “An avenger will arise from Ayodhya!”
Thus Anaranya’s son Khatvanga had a son, Dilipa. His son was Raghu whose son Aja had a son: Dasharatha.