Saturday, January 18, 2020

Week 4 Story: More Tiny Ramayana Stories

Here are some more tiny Ramayana stories, just 100 words each, focusing on Ravana's backstory as narrated in the Uttara Kanda of the Ramayana; this is a link to all my Uttara Kanda stories so far.

The Birth of Ravana

Sumali's daughter Kaikasi gave birth to a child, the son of her husband Vishrava, a brahmin. So, the child was both a brahmin, but also a rakshasa, like his mother. He was dreadful to behold, having ten heads and ten necks, and he had ten pairs of arms.
Indra rained blood at his birth, and meteors fell from the sky. Jackals howled, flames exploding from their mouths, and vicious beasts of all kinds raced in ill-omened circles around the mother and child.
Vishrava gave his son the name Dashagriva, Ten-Necked, but later he would be called Ravana, the One-Who-Roars.

Notes: The ominous signs reported here are very similar to the signs reported at the birth of the antagonist of the Mahabharata, Prince Duryodhana. See below for the story of how Ravana got his name.

Ravana and Brahma

Jealous of his half-brother Kubera's wealth, Ravana vowed to conquer him and take his riches. He fasted and prayed for ten thousand years, chopping off one head every thousand years and casting it into the sacrificial fire.
He was about to cut off his last head when his great-grandfather appeared, the god Brahma. "Ask any boon!" said Brahma.
"Protect me from devas, danavas, yakshas, and nagas." The list went on, but Ravana did not include men, for he considered them unimportant.
"So be it!" said Brahma, and he also restored Ravana's lost heads.

Notes. At first, Ravana asks for immortality, and Brahma explains to him that he cannot grant that boon, so Ravana then asks to be invincible, listing all the creatures from whom he wants protection. His failure to ask for protection from humans is what will allow Vishnu to be born as a human, Rama, who can defeat Ravana.

Why Kumbhakarna Sleeps

As Ravana sought boons from the gods, so did his brothers Vibhishana and Kumbhakarna.
Righteous Vibhishana asked to always uphold dharma, which pleased the gods.
But the gods feared the giant Kumbhakarna, so they asked Saraswati, goddess of wisdom, to confuse Kumbhakarna's tongue when he asked Brahma for his boon: instead of Nirdevatvam (death-to-gods), Kumbhakarna asked for Nidravatvam (complete-sleep).
As a result, Kumbhakarna slept for years at a time without waking, and in his dreams he wondered, "Why did I even speak those words? That was not what I meant to say at all."

Notes: In some versions, Kumbhakarna wanted to ask for Indra-asana (Indra's seat), but instead Saraswati made him ask for Nidra-asana. Nidra means "Sleep" and Nidra is the name of the Goddess of Sleep.

Ravana and Shiva

Ravana was riding through the mountains when an invisible force stopped his chariot. There stood Nandi, Shiva's bull. "Turn back, Ravana! This is Shiva's home."
"Shiva means nothing to me!" shouted Ravana. To show his power, Ravana reached out with his twenty giant arms and lifted up the mountain.
Shiva saw this and laughed, and then he pressed down with his big toe, trapping Ravana beneath the mountain.
Ravana screamed, and the mighty roar impressed Shiva.
"You have a fine voice," Shiva declared. "I will free you from the mountain, and in future you will be called Ravana, He-Who-Roars."

Notes. This story is called the Ravananugraha, and in some versions Ravana wins his release by singing a song in Shiva's honor. More about that at Wikipedia. The image shows Shiva and Parvati on top of the mountain, with Ravana below; he's made a veena using one of his own heads, and the strings are made from his own guts.

Ravana and Vedavati

As Ravana explored the mountain forests, he saw a beautiful woman practicing austerities at a fire-altar, clothed in a deer-skin, her hair in twisted jats.
"My lovely lady," he said, "you should be wearing silks and jewels, not this ascetic garb. Come live with me and be wife!"
"I am Vedavati," she replied, "and I am dedicated to 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 as she threw herself into the flames. "And I will be born again for your destruction!"

Notes. Vedavati tells Ravana the story of how all manner of creatures asked her father to marry her, but he refused them all, vowing that she would marry Vishnu. A daitya named Shambhu was so angry at this refusal that he killed her father, and her mother threw herself onto her father's funeral pyre, leaving Vedavati an orphan.

The Gods in Disguise

A king named Marutta was conducting a sacrifice. There were many priests in attendance, along with the gods 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 the priests, drank their blood, and flew away.
Glad for their escape, the gods bestowed blessings on the animals whose disguises they had worn: peacock, crow, lizard, and swan.

Notes. The original text goes into more detail about the special boons that the gods give to each of the animals whose disguises they wore.


The Birth of Ravana is from Uttara Kanda: Sarga 9.
Ravana and Brahma is from Uttara Kanda: Sarga 10, and so is Why Kumbhakarna Sleeps. 
Ravana and Shiva is from Uttara Kanda: Sarga 16.
Ravana and Vedavati is from Uttara Kanda: Sarga 17.
The Gods in Disguise is from Uttara Kanda: Sarga 18.

The links here are to the Uttara Kanda translated by M. N. Dutt, which is available online, although I am using Arshia Sattar's translation as my main source.

1 comment:

  1. First and foremost, the description and image of Vishrava at the beginning of this post is terrifying. The length of time that some of these characters can live is also confusing to me. I understand it depends on whether or not they're a human, god, rakshasha, brahmin, etc., but as to how those all work together, I'm lost. I could certainly read more about it on my own, but that may be something to include in the stories or an author's note as well. The story of the Gods in Disguise is also quite confusing to me. Most of this confusion likely comes from my lack of knowledge on these stories, but I'm not sure if the point was just how those animals got their blessings or if there's more to it. I'm also unsure of how the gods relate to Ravana, and why he's so much more powerful than them. This may be something else to include.


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