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Shiva Purana 21 - Ravana's relief

Once Ravana became King of the Rakshasas of Lanka, he performed tapasya to honor Brahma.  Dissatisfied with even his extraordinary efforts, having endured constantly day and night, even through the excrement of his own filth, now at the point of despair and madness, he dug a pit on the southern slopes of Himavan, and kindled five fires, giving up his Brahma tapasya, and installing a Siva Linga before him.  Ravana then began to cut off his heads (he had ten of them) and one by one sacrificed them in the fire.

At the moment he would have killed himself by cutting off his last head, Shiva Sankara was so disturbed by this that he woke from his meditation and appeared before Ravana.  Like a doctor, Shiva aided body and mind: he gently restored the severed heads, and thinking Ravana insane, and that he might similarly relieve Ravana's mental injury, lovingly asked what Ravana could possibly hope for by such self-harm?

Ravana admitted he might be insane, but said, "I love you.  I wanted to see you.  I want to take this Linga to Lanka, that I may always be as near to you as I am now, that you may always hear me and my people should we require relief.  I am now King of the Rakshasas, I want your unequalled strength to protect my people and myself against the Devas, Asuras, Nagas, animals... [he listed every type of being, but forgot to include humans, since he did not fear them - Shiva didn't correct the mistake, as it was clear that Ravana had more to fear from himself than from humans, or anyone else for that matter].  I fear that my people will never be safe without this."

Shiva shook his head in disbelief: he couldn't understand why Ravana thought this would accomplish these goals, and yet - here Shiva was, before him, ready to give him what he wanted.  Shiva had been tricked.  Shiva was a annoyed at having been tricked, and disturbed, and would teach Ravana a lesson.  "Well, you are now as strong as you imagine me to be, Ravana.  You may take this Linga, Rakshasa," said Shiva, smiling.  "But remember - it will remain wherever you set it down first.  Don't hand it to anyone along the way to hold for you, and do not set it down until you get to Lanka.  Only you can carry it, and only this once."

Shiva went away again and Ravana was so happy.  Having bathed and refreshed himself a little, he began.  He found he was able to lift the Shiva Linga with no effort at all!  He began the long journey back to Lanka.  But on the way, that Rakshasa, that master of tapasya, who endured the excrement of his own filth and even cut off his own heads, now felt the need to defecate and decided to relieve himself of this discomfort: the Devas, jealous of Shiva's great gifts, had feared Ravana would use it to attack them, and asked Vishnu for help.  Vishnu suggested Varuna to fill Ravana's bowels and bladder with fluid.

At this very moment when he was filled with fluid, Ravana met a cowboy - the cowboy happened to be Vishnu in disguise.  The cowboy made some remarks about how Ravana seemed discomforted, and needed relief - then kindly offered to hold the linga while he relieved himself.  So persuasive was the cowboy that Ravana hastily agreed, handing the cowboy the lingam and rushing into the privacy of the bushes.  Well, Vishnu had intended to give the lingam to the Devas, but as strong as he was, he could hold the heavy linga only a moment or two.  And Ravana was gone more than a half-hour!  The cowboy had to put down the linga, and it became immovable from that spot: this jyotirlinga vaidyanatha remains today in that spot (it is named after how Shiva was Ravana's doctor, vaidya, in healing Ravana's decapitation).

Try as Ravana could to move it, he could not.  In his extraordinary efforts, Ravana even dented it - but it is still there today, and will always remain there.

Well, Ravana could do nothing to move the stone.  So he swore to visit it every day if he could, seeking the relief of Shiva.  Many pilgrims still visit the stone today, like Ravana would.  Perhaps in visiting it you will gain the same relief as Ravana did?  Whether in his daily devotions, or nearby that spot in the bushes.  Or afterward, in his failure.

Luckily, Ravana still had the immense strength given to him by Shiva, and came home happy to Lanka, satisfied he could protect his people.  When his people saw how strong he was, they celebrated him.  They knew they would be safe!

But when the Devas heard of this strength, they grew anxious: even without the lingam, Ravana was now so dangerous.  Would the Rakshasas now challenge them in war, as the Asuras had so frequently done?  It seemed likely - especially once Ravana discovered they had pre-emptively attacked him with fluid.  They decided to take another pre-emptive strike.  It was at this time that Narada traveled among the Devas, and heard of Ravana's strength, and the fears of the Devas.  He assured the Devas not to worry.  It was clear to Narada, at least, that Ravana would not remain always protected by Shiva.

Narada was a friend to everyone, humans, animals, nagas, Devas, Asuras, and Rakshasas too.  And more than these, besides.  Every kind of being, and every individual being he was a friend to!  Narada loved to hear their stories.  And, this was one story he had to hear first hand!  So soon he departed from the Devas, and went to Lanka to visit Ravana.  There, he asked to hear the story of what happened.  Ravana, of course, was eager to oblige: as much as Narada liked to hear stories, Ravana liked to tell this one.  When Ravana came to the part of the story where he was given limitless strength, Narada asked him what he intended to do with it?

Ravana thought a moment, and said "to thank Shiva, I will celebrate our perpetual safety by conquering every world!"  Ravana had learned that the Devas had caused him to drop the linga, and considered he might not be safe while the Devas - or anyone else - remained unconquered.

Narada smiled, apparently the Devas were partially correct in being afraid.  But Narada, friend to every being, would not permit Ravana to harm anyone else - let alone everyone else!  So Narada conceived of a trick.

"Of course you will," Narada said, knowingly.  "And you have Shiva to thank for this strength.  But you know, he is so absorbed in his meditation, he might not notice how much you love him, how grateful you are, your victories for his sake, or even if you need him to help you.  Besides, you dropped the linga, and in trying to pick it up again dented it - this probably insulted him.  Perhaps, you should refresh his memory of your love, and perform another tapasya?  Might you not with your great strength lift up Kailasa (on which Shiva sits) and gently set it down again, shouting his praise, and thanking him properly?  You should wake Shiva from his meditation again and get his attention!  Then you can be sure he will keep his promise, forgives you for dropping the linga, and knows how much you love him!  Oh, he will be so pleased!"

Ravana, despite his devotion to and love of Shiva, did not actually understand Shiva enough to know this would greatly annoy Shiva.  Ravana did not know what would truly thank Shiva, how to express his love to Shiva, or gain the forgiveness of Shiva.  Thus, what Narada proposed seemed wise to Ravana.  So Ravana promptly did as Narada proposed.

When Ravana lifted up the mountain, every world shook.  Ravana shouted how much he loved Shiva, and how sorry he was, and the noise reverberated through all the worlds.  Shiva was indeed awakened from his meditation, and startled, grew angry.  In alarm, he turned to Gauri (Shivaa) and asked "what is this?  Who shakes my mountain and disturbs me?"

Gauri (Shivaa) was also awakened by this shouting and shaking, but instead of growing angry at the surprise, was giggling.  She smiled laughed at the whole thing.  Especially at Shiva's reaction.  "Don't be alarmed, Shiva - it is merely gratitude from your devotee, Ravana the Rakshasa.  Can't you hear his shouting?  He is showing you how strong he is, how much he loves you, how sorry he is, and how he relies on you for protection."

But Shiva had already lost his temper, and decided to give Ravana an answer: soon enough Ravana would understand how to properly express his devotion.  He would learn self-restraint, and how to properly protect his people: not by war, but by peace.  He also grew irritated with Vishnu, and all the Devas who interfered with Ravana's journey to Lanka, leading Ravana to even think that he needed to shake Kailash, or conquer every world.  And he was annoyed at Narada - since he liked stories so much, Shiva would give Narada more stories than even he would want to hear.  Shiva decided he would teach Ravana - and everyone else - a lesson.

But Ravana was shouting so loudly that he didn't even hear the conversation of Shiva and Gauri, did not notice how angry Shiva was, and never knew to ask forgiveness for disturbing him.  Nor could anyone else hear Shiva and Gauri over the ruckus, or notice Shiva's anger in the commotion of Ravana's shaking and shouting.  Ravana therefore went back to Lanka, happy, certain that in following Narada's advice he had reminded Shiva of his love.  And the Devas were happy, thinking that Narada had tricked Ravana into angering Shiva. He would destroy Ravana.

At the moment Ravana would have returned home, Shiva put his foot down and pinned Ravana under the mountain.  Ravana understood Shiva was angry, but really didn't understand why.  He sang Shiva's praises for years before Shiva finally let him go.  Gauri persuaded Shiva to forgive Ravana, and Shiva did feel bad for losing his temper, and the destruction of Ravana (Shiva exists without Time, and had already/would already destroyed Ravana).  So Shiva gave Ravana "the laughter of the moon," Gauri's laughter, a precious sword curved like the moon, or a laughing mouth.  Shiva also made him an instrument, a veena, to help him sound better (Ravana was not a melodious singer).  "Made him" is a pun, as the instrument was literally made out of Ravana.  It was at this time that Shiva gave Ravana his name:

Ravana's name means "screamer," or "loud roaring," referencing the unmelodious singing by which he earned Shiva's forgiveness.  It also connotes a sarcastic reference to one who is knowledgeable and aware - of the true, material nature of their environment and self ("yasam ravanam") - as Ravana still did not understand why Shiva was angry.

Ravana is renowned as the author and teacher of astrology, folk medicine, spirituality (as opposed to theology), phonics (opposed to linguistics), politics, and other pseudoscience, and is the epitome of excessive or over-education, someone too clever for their own good.  He is the "great brahman," and both knew and liked to sing all the Vedas.  Often with the accompaniment of his veena.

Ravana at first tried to welcome peace and friendship with all other beings, even trying to make peace between the Asuras and Devas, equally welcoming their priests to his court.  But war broke out eventually, despite Ravana's best efforts (perhaps because of them), and he conquered every world.  He was greatly angered at the Devas after his brother, Kuber, insulted him, calling him greedy, materialistic, and stupid (all of which, to be fair, were true allegations - especially considering how Ravana responded to them).

He was doomed to this life of ignorance and fighting, and eventual defeat by Vishnu, because a long time before, Ravana and his brother had been Vishnu's doorkeepers - but that is another story.  Some of Ravana's human descendants, and also human inheritors, live in Lanka today.