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Ravana's ten heads symbolize these six Shastras and four Vedas which made him a great scholar.

Ravana the demon king Lanka is referred to as Dashanan meaning ten-headed ("das" means ten and "anan" means head). When one describes Ravana they characterize him to be larger than life, with 20 hands, and 10 heads, in which he retained great oceans of knowledge, he was blessed with amazing supernatural powers that enabled him to vanish, throw rain and fire or launch thousands of arrows during the war. There are numerous legends and theories behind why Ravana had ten heads and what did they depict.

1. Knower of ten scriptures

According to the legends, Ravana is believed to be a prodigy with comprehensive knowledge of the ten sacred Hindu texts and scriptures. He was well-versed in the Six Shashtras/Darshanas- Sankhyashastra (Mathematics), Yog Shastra (Yoga and Meditation), Nyayashastra (Law and Administration), Vaisheshik Shastra (Physics, Astronomy, and Mechanics), Purvamimansa (Philosophy, Justification), and Uttar Mimansa Shastra. He also retained complete knowledge of the four Vedas- Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda. Thus, Ravana's ten heads symbolize these six Shastras and four Vedas which made him a great scholar and the most intelligent person of his time. He knew these Ten Scripts- Kanthastha (verbatim) and hence he was named 'Dashkanthi' (the one with ten throats which later became 'Dashanan'.

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2. Sacrifice to Lord Shiva

Ravana sitting beneath Shiva and Parvarti (statue) Ravana was a formidable devotee of Lord ShivaWikimedia Commons

It comes as common knowledge that Ravana was a formidable devotee of Lord Shiva. Although we know that Ravana had ten heads it is believed he was not born with it. He performed an intense penance (or Tapasya) to impress Lord Shiva that lasted for several years. During his Tapasya, Ravana chopped off his head 10 times as a sacrifice to appease Lord Shiva and each time he decapitated his head off a new head arose, thus enabling him to continue his penance. At last, Shiva was pleased with perseverance and austerity, appeared after his 10th decapitation and offered him a boon. Shiva granted him absolute invulnerability from and supremacy over gods, heavenly spirits, other rakshas, serpents, and wild beasts. Adding to these boons Lord Shiva granted him his 10 severed heads and knowledge of divine weapons and magic.

3. Sacrifice to Brahma

In some versions of legends it is believed that Ravana was a devotee of Lord Brahma and him and his two brothers, Kumbhkaran and Vibhishan did Yagya to impress Brahma. To gain God's attention Ravana performed intense penance and during his penance, he sacrificed his nine heads as offerings to the Lord and as he was about to sacrifice his Tenth head Lord Brahma appeared in front of him and granted him a boon and returned his severed heads.

4. Jainism Vimalasuri's Version

Vimalasuri claims that the Ramayana of Valmiki is filled with illogical and false stories. It claims that Ravan did not have ten heads, but it appeared so because his mother gave him a necklace of nine pearls when he was young. The pearls reflected Ravana's face ninefold as an optical illusion, leading to him being called Dasamukha (One with ten faces)

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Ravana's ten-headed statue The ten heads as symbols of the ten qualities of a human beingWikimedia Commons

The Ten heads of Ravana represented a mammoth pool of his knowledge and experience as a ruler, king, scholar, and Brahman.

Some legend interprets the ten heads as symbols of the ten qualities of a human being; they are- kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), madha (arrogance), matsarya (jealousy), manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), chitta (consciousness) and ahamkara (ego). Meanwhile from another similar perspective describes, the ten heads as the symbolism of the ten negative forms of love- ahamkar (ego), moha (attachment), krodha (anger), ghrina (hatred), paschataap (regret), irshya (jealousy), lobha (greed), kama (lust), jaddata (insensitivity) and bhaya (fear).

The great King Mahabali advised Ravana to let go of these aspects to rise above the human boundaries. To which Ravana held differend ideology, he believed he was a complete human because of these human facets. he accepted these emotions as a part and parcel of being a human.Thus, his ten heads then become a symbol of his humanity, his intellect, and his knowledge, while his 20 hands were a symbol of his power.

Keywords: Ravana, Tapasya, Jainism, Scholar, Human qualities



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