Ravana is one of the most polarizing characters in Indian Mythology, attributed with some of the best and worst qualities of humanity at the same time! But he wasn't always called Ravana. Apparently he was originally called Dasagriva or Dasamukha, after his supposed ten faces.
Having come into possession of the Pushpaka Vimana (flying contraption), he loved travelling around and exploring new places. Once he flew far to the north, towards the Himalayas when his flying machine came to an abrupt stop before Mount Kailash. The mighty king urged his metal bird forward but it refused to budge. Irritated by this impediment, he decided that the whole mountain had to go. Setting down at the base of the mountain, he started uprooting the colossal peak.
Unbeknownst to him, Mount Kailash was home to the family of Shiva and Parvati and just in that instant, Parvati, after having an argument with Shiva, started walking away from him furiously. Just then, the whole peak started to quake and in shock, Parvati ran back to Shiva's loving embrace. After calming her down, Shiva pressed down on the peak with his toe, causing the whole mountain to come crashing down on the angry king below. The trapped king roared and screamed violently and was thus named Ravana (loud roarer). Having realized that a greater being lived atop Mount Kailash, in a bid to atone for his mistake, Ravana created the Rudra Veena out of one of his own heads and veins and is said to have sung songs of devotion.
In the end, a pleased Shiva blessed him with the divine sword Chandrahasa (smile of the crescent moon) and sent him on his way home.
Ravana has always been a very visually interesting characters, with his ten heads, and I've always been wanting to illustrate a different take on his character, deconstructing his qualities and reconstructing it into a new form. There are lots of interpretations of Ravana's ten heads. Some say he never had ten actual heads and that it just represented his mastery of the 6 Shastras and 4 Vedas (books of knowledge). Some say he had conquered ten kingdoms and thus as their ruler had ten crowns. He is also said to be a master of music, astrology, medicine, warfare and political science.
For this rendering of Ravana, I was inspired by the Navarasa or the 9 states of human emotion that are central to Indian classical music, drama and literature. I was also able to find an alternate list which had an extra item, rounding off my list to ten. They are: Shanta (peace) Sringara (love) Hasya (joy) Bibhatsa (disgust) Vira (pride) Adbutha (surprise) Matsarya (jealousy) Raudra (anger) Bhayanaka (fear) Karunya (compassion or sadness) There was one more interesting rasa Bhakti (devotion) but I decided to exclude it since I was having a hard time figuring out how best to represent it.
My idea here was that instead of showing Ravana with ten heads, I would show him wearing a 9 faceted helmet representing all of the rasas, as well as putting him in a situation where he would end up expressing all of them. Having always been fascinated by the Greek titan Atlas (and having drawn Hanuman and Garuda in their own Atlas inspired poses), I decided to show Ravana in a similar pose, trying to carry the mountain peak on his back. Can you identify which face shows which emotion?
When it came to showing Shiva and Parvati, I decided to go away from the traditional approach of showing them as two entities and instead fused them into their combined form of Ardhanareeshwara, dancing atop Mount Kailasha, invoking imagery very similar to when the young Krishna dances atop the Kaliya snake.
Ravana being the great-grandson of Brahma, had immense gifts and powers bestowed upon him. The stories go as far as stating that he was only one of two individuals to have masters all 64 classical arts of the ancient world, even having command of the rising and setting of the sun (very poetic, yes). Having described just his characteristics and abilities without the context of the story of the Ramayana, it would seem as if he was the hero of the story (spoiler alert: he's the main villain). Some stories have explained that Ravana was actually a good ruler and that the people of Lanka were very rich and happy under his rule. Additional stories have tried to paint him in a more sympathetic light, that he grew up watching his mother crying all the time regarding the miserable state of their clan and that this spurred him on to a conquering spree, giving him a general hatred for all of the Gods who were unfair to his family. But there are equally interesting stories of other characters being put through worse miseries who come out on top in the end after having changed for the better.
So in the end, whose fault is it that Ravana is the villain of the tale? Is it just the choice of the author in creating a villain so gifted and accomplished so as to be an incredible challenge for the hero of the story to overcome? After all, we wouldn't care about Ravana if he was a puny weakling. Or is it to highlight the immense tragedy of his fall from grace, where we are asked to feel sad for the loss of someone so talented? Or has the author succeeded in creating a complex character who is a victim of circumstance and fate? Or is it just bad luck that Ravana was portrayed as the bad guy because he lost in the end? Or is Ravana evil because of the kind of decisions he makes? As Dumbledore famously quotes in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."