Ravana has his temples, too

There is a Ravana temple at Kanpur which is opened only once a year during Dasehra for worshipping the demon king, says Vinaya Kumar

A statue of Ravana in Madurai’s Meenakshi temple.
A statue of Ravana in Madurai’s Meenakshi temple

There will be more attention on Ravana this year during Dasehra as some of his adherents in Tamil Nadu have proposed a Ravan Rila to praise him. But all authors of various Ramayanas, from India, Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, concede that Ravana was in all ways comparable to the hero Rama. In handsomeness, strength, valour, knowledge and piety, Ravana matched Rama. In fact after killing Ravana, Rama had to perform a detailed puja to Lord Shiva to annul the resulting sin out of killing a Shivabhakt.

The question naturally arises as to whether Ravana is also worshipped by his adherents in temples as in the case of Rama. The answer is yes. In fact even otherwise, heroic exploits of Ravana are chronicled in many of the most important Shiva temples, including the famous Ellora caves, where one of the most important sculptures is that of Ravana trying to raise the mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, with his bare hands. In temples as far apart as Deogarh in Madhya Pradesh and Tirukoneshwar in Tamil Nadu, you have images of Ravana worshipping Shiva in the main sanctorum.

But Ravana has his own shrines. As Rama temples across India would shortly resonate with the chantings of Ram Lila during Dasehra, a hamlet in Madhya Pradesh would echo with the reverberations of Ravana Baba Namah at a small temple built to worship Ravana. Ravangram, as it is called, is in Nateran tehsil, and is some 40 km from Vidisha district headquarters. Some 5,000 to 6,000 villagers here are Kanyakubja Brahmins, a sub-sect in Brahmins, Ravana’s own. The nearly 10-ft idol of Ravana Baba is in a lying position and has some 8-10 masks on the face. The villagers had pooled funds and got a temple constructed at the site. Daily worship is done by offering a bhog of kheer and puri.

Another place where Ravana is the main deity is a temple at Kanpur where Ravana devotees would be praying for Ravana’s welfare. They are a sect in Lucknow which regards Ravana as an intellectual and stress that his positive side must be highlighted. Some hundreds of years ago, the local ruler Maharaja Shiv Shankar built this Ravana temple at Kanpur. The temple is opened only once a year during Dasehra for worshipping Ravana, while the rest of the country worships Lord Rama and celebrates his victory.

To take in some history, you can visit the mysterious Ravana caves and the ancient Ravana rock in modern Sri Lanka once ruled by king. In the famous Ella valley, known for the magnificent Ella waterfalls, begins a small track that takes you to a monastery and a small cave temple. This is the Ravana temple. It was constructed under King Walagamba 1,000 years ago and the temple is beautifully adorned with elephants, dragons and people carved into the rock in colours of bright red, orange and blue.

In a recent development, people, claiming themselves to be descendents of the in-laws of Ravana, are building a temple dedicated to the demon king in Jodhpur in Rajasthan.

The town of Mandore, 320 km from Jodhpur, has had an association with Ravana. His wife Mandodari is said to be from Mandore, the ancient capital of Jodhpur state. It means Ravana is the son-in-law of Mandore in India. A marble statue as the central deity—-showing Ravana as a worshipper of Shiva—-is being made in Jaipur. "But we are still discussing whether the statue should have one head or 10 heads," said Kamlesh Dave, head of the Maulog Brahmins of Mandore, numbering about 700. The Dave family has also been performing Ravana’s shradh (annual death anniversary) for hundreds of years.

For now the family worships Ravana’s picture placed in the local Shiva temple. "We apply tika on his forehead every morning and read out Shiv mahima stotra, written by Ravana in praise of Shiva," said one of the priests. "We also worship Kharanana, the goddess worshipped by Ravana", he added. — MF