Ravana and Brahma

Illustration: ACK Design Team

Ravana’s lineage can be traced back to the mighty Lord Brahma. His grandfather was Sage Pulastya, one of the ten mind-born sons of Brahma. This made Ravana the great-grandson of Brahma. 

There is actually a very interesting story behind the birth of Ravana and his brothers. The demon King Sumali once spotted Kubera, the son of Sage Vishrava, in his golden flying chariot. He wanted his daughter Kaikesi to have mighty children like Kubera, and so, he instructed her to obtain sons through Vishrava. Obeying her father’s command, she approached Sage Vishrava when he was offering prayers. Though Visharva obliged to her request, he warned her that all her sons, except the youngest one, would turn out to be evil and wicked because she had approached him at the wrong hour. Kaikesi ignored this remark and gave birth to Ravana, Kumbakarna, Surpanaka, and Vibhishana. Thus, Ravana came to be half-asura and half-brahmin. 

Kaikesi was extremely proud of her arrogant sons. Motivated by greed, she asked Ravana to take over the kingdom of Lanka, which was being ruled by her step-son Kubera. Ravana and his brothers performed penance at Gokarna for several years to please Brahma. Ravana went so far as to sacrifice each of his heads in the holy fire to please the creator. Right before he was about to chop off his tenth head, Brahma appeared to grant him a boon. Ravana asked for the boon of immortality. Brahma said that was not possible as all that is born has to perish. So Ravana tweaked his wish.

“O mighty Brahma, may I never obtain death at the hands of Devas, Asuras, Yakshas, Gandharvas, Rakshasas, and Nagas.” 

Because of his pride, Ravana did not mention humans as he didn’t consider them to be a threat. Brahma restored his heads and gave him the boon. After achieving near invincibility, Ravana marched towards Lanka and defeated Kubera. Paying heed to his father’s advice, Kubera vacated his city and headed to Kailasa. Days passed and Kubera felt terrible at hearing about Ravana’s misbehaviour towards his people and sent overtures advising him to stop being cruel. Ravana was furious at Kubera’s impertinence and waged war on Kailasa, defeating Kubera once more. He also took away Kubera’s golden chariot, the fabled pushpaka vimana which had the power to travel at the speed of thought and would also obey its rider’s commands.

9 Lesser-Known Facts About Ravana

By Srinidhi Murthy 

Ravana, the ten-headed demon king of Lanka, was one of the central characters of the Ramayana. While many are aware of his end at the hands of Rama, some of his major life events are still unknown to many.

Ravana was not his original name 

He was originally named Dasagriva, meaning the one with ten heads.

He was named Ravana after a chance encounter with Shiva 

While travelling in his pushpaka vimana, a celestial chariot that would always obey its rider, Dasagriva came across Mount Kailasha where Lord Shiva lived with his wife. The pushpaka vimana, however, couldn’t fly past the mighty mountain, and so, the arrogant Dasagriva went on to lift the mountain by himself. As the mountain began to tremble at Dasagriva’s might, Shiva pressed the mountain down with his toe, crushing Dasagriva’s hands. Dasagriva let out a loud scream in agony, earning him the name ‘Ravana’, meaning ‘one who roars or screams’.

Script: A. Saraswati | Illustration: Ram Waeerkar
He was one of Shiva’s greatest devotees

Humbled by Shiva, Ravana became one of his greatest devotees, composing hymns in praise of the Destroyer, under the Kailasha mountain. Pleased by his devotion, Lord Shiva presented him with an invincible sword called the Chandrahasa. 

He had been defeated by two others before Rama 

Apart from the mighty Rama, Ravana was also defeated by two other kings. One was the monkey king, Vali, and the other was Kartaveerya Arjuna, the king of Mahishmati also known as the one with a thousand arms. Both incidents taught Ravana to be more humble. 

He was a master of martial arts 

Ravana was a master in all forms of the Angampora martial art and was the most feared Angam warrior of all time.

He was the great-grandson of Brahma. 

Ravana’s grandfather was Sage Pulastya, who was one of the ten mind-born sons of Brahma. Thus, in a way, Ravana was the great-grandson of Brahma himself.

Ravana had initially decided against abducting Sita 

According to Valmiki’s Ramayana, Ravana was told about Rama by the rakshasa named Akampana He was the lone survivor of a battle in which Rama killed Ravana’s 14,000 rakshasas in 48 minutes, including his cousins, Khara and Dushana. To avenge his loss, Ravana approached his rakshasa friend, Maricha, with the plan of abducting Sita to weaken Rama, but Maricha disagreed. Ravana took his friend’s advice and listened to reason. However, when his sister Surpanaka approached him with her broken nose, Ravana decided to go with his former plan ignoring the pleas of Maricha.

He threatened to kill Sita

Ravana gave a one-year ultimatum to Sita advising her to change her mind and accept him as her suitor. He also threatened to kill her if she refused him at the end of the year.

Script: Harini Gopalswami Srinivasan | Illustration: Arijit Dutta Chowdhury
He gifted a jewelled amulet to his charioteer 

In the final battle between Rama and Ravana, Ravana’s charioteer noticed that his king was exhausted due to the ongoing duel. In a bid to give his master some reprieve, he drove the chariot away from the battlefield. Ravana was furious at the charioteer for making him look like a coward, running away from the battle. The charioteer calmly stated that he just wanted Ravana to recuperate before getting back into the action fully energised, assuring his loyalty to the lord of Lanka. Touched by the words of his charioteer, Ravana presented him with a jewelled amulet and ordered to be taken back to the battlefield.

Read many interesting stories of Ravana from our vast digital library now available on the ACK Comics app and Kindle. 

Who is Garuda?

Garuda is a divine being whose features are a mix of eagle and human. He finds his mention in various Puranas and the epics. Here are some of the interesting facts about this celestial being.

Illustration: Arijit Dutta Chowdhury

The Genderfluid Deity

Illustration: Samhita Sonti

According to the Shrimad Bhagavata Purana, Ila, the goddess of speech, is the mother and the father of the Chandravanshis or the Lunar Dynasty, one of the principal houses of the Kshatriya caste. So how does one be mother AND father? This was because Ila was able to transition between genders, a trait that she was bestowed with because of her father’s desire for a son.

The sun god Surya was married to Sanjana, with whom he had a son called Vaivasvata Manu, the progenitor of all mankind. However, it wasn’t an easy road for Vaivasvata, who was also known as Satyavrata. He was married to Shraddha, and for years, they remained childless. In a bid to make sure his lineage continued, he prayed to the twin Gods Mitra and Varuna, performing a yajna for a child with the help of the sage Vashishtha. Pleased by his devotion, the gods blessed him with a baby girl named Ila. However, Vaivasvata wanted a son who could be his successor. He bowed to his guru Vashishtha and requested him to change his daughter’s gender. Vashishtha obliged, using his divine powers to alter the girl, Ila, into the boy, Sudyumna.

Sudyumna grew up to be a just and righteous king. One day while hunting, Sudyumna followed a deer, accidentally entering the Sukumara forest, the sacred grove of Shiva and Parvati.  As per the Linga Purana, it also called the Sharavana forest or the forest of reeds. In order to maintain their privacy, Shiva had enchanted the grove, transforming any man trespassing into a woman. Thus, Sudyumna, his men and his horses were all transformed. Now a woman, Sudyumna took up his birth name, Ila. She sought out her father’s guru, sage Vashishtha, to reverse the transformation, who, in turn, approached Shiva himself. While the lord of Kailasha couldn’t reverse the effect, he did alter it. 

“Ila shall be able to alter her gender every month. Her memories from life as one gender shall be erased when she switches to live as the opposite gender.”

In her search for sage Vashisththa, Ila had been roaming from one forest to another, when she met Budha, the son of the moon god Chandra. The two fell in love and got married. However, because of Shiva’s conditions, Ila completely forgot this identity and her marriage when she reverted to being Sudyumna. But, because of his celestial origins, Budha was able to divine Ila’s fate. Budha accepted Ila as his wife and Sudyumna as his disciple. Budha and Ila were blessed with a son, Pururava.   

Later, Sudyumna returned to his kingdom with Pururava. He remarried and was blessed with three more sons, Utkal, Gaya and Vimal. Every alternate month, he retreated to his private quarters, where he lived his secret life as Ila. Over time, however, his absence started interfering with his duties, and he eventually proclaimed Pururava as the rightful heir and retired to the woods. 

While the legend narrates the existence of different genders in one physical body at different times, many trace this as one of the early mentions of androgyny in Indian literature. Some versions of the text also state that Budha had turned all of Ila’s attendants into kimpurushas or hermaphrodites, reaffirming the fact. Ila had nine other siblings including Ikshvaku who later came to be the founding father of the Suryavanshis or the Solar Dynasty. However, the descendants of Pururava, who was also the grandson of the moon, came to be called Chandravanshis. It is thus that Ila came to be the father and mother of the Chandravanshis.

The Many Legends Behind Dussehra 

By Sandeep Mishra 

It’s called Dasha-Hara in the north, Vijayadashami in the south, and Durgotsava in the east. Whatever the name, one has to agree that the festival of Dussehra is one that unifies the nation celebrating the victory of good over evil. 

The festival is the culmination of the nine-day long Navaratri celebrations. Observed on the tenth day in the month of Ashvin or Kartik (September-October), the most popular legend associated with it is the triumph of Vishnu’s Rama avatar over the demon king of Lanka, Ravana, who abducted Rama’s wife, Sita. However, this is not the only story in Indian mythology that is tied to Dussehra. 

Rama VS Ravana
Illustration: Arijit Dutta Chowdhury

Most of the northern states of India see this festival as the day when Rama killed the ten-headed king of Lanka, Ravana. According to the Ramayana, Ravana kidnapped Rama’s wife, Sita. After several years of penance, Ravana had received a boon from Lord Brahma which made him indestructible. Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, circumvented the boon and managed to kill the demon king in a fierce battle on this day. The word ‘Dussehra’ is made up of two Hindi words, ‘dus’ meaning ten and ‘hara’ meaning annihilated. Therefore, when combined, ‘Dussehra’ stands for the day when the ten evil faces of Ravana were destroyed by Lord Rama.

Durga VS Mahishasura 
Illustration: C.M. Vitankar

In many other states of India, the festival is dedicated to the victory of goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura. According to the Puranas, Mahishasura performed severe penance to be immortal. However, when Lord Brahma told him that wasn’t possible, the arrogant demon altered his request, instead, wishing that if he were to be killed, it had to be by a woman. The deeply prejudiced Mahishasura was extremely confident that no woman was strong enough to slay him. Soon, with his newfound strength, he started wreaking havoc in the three worlds, terrifying even the gods themselves. That’s when goddess Durga came to their rescue. She challenged the demon and fought with him in a nine-day long battle, ultimately slaying the powerful asura on the tenth day. This is why Navaratri celebrations are nine days long, with each day dedicated to one of the nine avatars of Durga, culminating with Durga Puja celebrations on the tenth day. 

Arjuna and Saraswati

According to the Mahabharata, Dussehra also marks the day when Arjuna single-handedly put the huge Kaurava army to sleep by invoking the Sammohan Astra. Arjuna was also called Vijaya – the one who is ever victorious. Thus, the day became popular as “Vijaya Dashami”.

In other parts of the country, Dussehra is celebrated as the festival of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. People worship the goddess along with their instruments of trade. 

Illustration: ACK Design Team

Since the festival marks the triumph of good over evil, Dussehra is considered an auspicious day to begin a new venture or start a new investment. Another trend is the immersion of idols, commonly practised across the nation.

In various parts of northern India, to mark the end of evil, huge colourful effigies of the demon king Ravana, his son Meghanada, and his brother Kumbhakarna are set on fire with the help of a flaming arrow. The legend of the Ramayana is brought to life as well through theatrical enactments of the epic called Ram Leela. Further north, in the Kullu valley of Himachal Pradesh, one can also witness large fairs and parades as a part of the celebrations. 

Illustration: ACK Design Team

In the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal, fasting and prayers at temples are commonly observed. Dances and folk songs are an integral part of the celebrations, with devotees performing regional dances such as the dandiya raas, garba and dhunachi during the nine nights of the festival. 

Down South, temples and major forts are illuminated, and one can find interesting displays of colourful dolls and figurines called golu or bommai kolu.

The Many Forms of Durga

According to the Puranas, Goddess Durga was born from the powers of the supreme trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, to defeat the powerful buffalo demon, Mahishasura. Because she is a consolidation of their collective energy, she is also known as Shakti and is greater than any of them. Perceived as Devi and the Goddess Parvati, Goddess Durga is the creator and the protector of the universe and the destroyer of evil, the perfect confluence of the Hindu trinity. She is usually depicted as having eight to ten arms, with just as many weapons gifted to her by various gods to destroy Mahishasura. Her mount is usually a lion or a tiger.

Goddess Durga has many forms, nine manifestations to be exact, together called Navadurga. They are worshipped during the nine days of Navratri in the order below, with different prayers dedicated to each Navadurga during the festival.

Illustration: Ramesh C.

Siddhidatri is the Adi Shakti avatar of Durga. She existed as pure energy and had no physical form. Lord Rudra worshipped her for  creating the universe and she appeared from the left half of Shiva. That is why she and Shiva represent the duality of the universe in the form of masculine and feminine energies. They unite to form Ardhanarishwara. Devi Siddhidatri sits on a lotus and rides a lion.

Illustration: Sanjhiya Mayekar

When Siddhidhatri took a physical form, she created the universe from her smile. ‘Ku’ means ‘a little’, ‘Ushma’ means ‘warmth’, and ‘Anda’ indicates the ‘cosmic egg’. Goddess Kushmanda had started living in the center of the sun, helping him radiate energy. She has eight hands and rides a tiger.

Illustration: Ramesh C.

Born to Prajapati Daksha, this mother goddess is the form of Goddess Parvati called Sati. She was determined to marry Lord Shiva. In order to fulfil her aim, she performed severe penance. Pleased by her faith and devotion, Lord Brahma stated that her unmarried form will be worshipped as Brahmacharini, the ascetic woman. Eventually, she did get married to Lord Shiva, but during a subsequent ceremony, her father insulted Shiva. Furious, she immolated herself with a wish to have a father who would respect her divine husband and her in her next birth. Brahmacharini is depicted having two hands and walking bare feet.

Illustration: Ramesh C.

Sati was reborn to Lord Himavan, the mountain king, as Goddess Parvati in her next birth. She was also called Shailaputri, meaning ‘daughter of the mountain’. She later married Lord Shiva. Her vehicle is a bull.

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazra

When Goddess Parvati went to fight the demons, Shumbha and Nishumbha, she transformed into the dark and fierce Kaushiki, leaving part of herself on Mount Kailasha to protect it. This part of herself, known as Mahagauri, is fair complexioned and very pure and clean. She provides knowledge and is the goddess of all achievements.

Illustration: Sanjhiya Mayekar

After getting married to Shiva, Goddess Parvati adorned a bell on her forehead in the shape of a half-moon, signifying the origin of this Navadurga’s name. Her mount is the tigress and she has ten hands.

Illustration: Sanjhiya Mayekar

Goddess Parvati is the loving and kind mother of Skanda or Kartikeya, the god of war and brother to Lord Ganesha. The maternal nature of Goddess Parvati is worshipped in this form. The ferocious lion serves as her mount.

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazra

Goddess Durga manifested in this form to destroy the demon Mahishasura. The warrior form of Goddess Durga, Katyayini is fierce and armed with numerous weapons. Her vengeance led to the ultimate destruction of the powerful demon.

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazra

The most violent form of Goddess Durga is Kaalratri who manifested to slay the two demons, Chanda and Munda. She sprang from the third eye of Parvati and wreaked havoc until she killed the two asuras and their army. Kaalratri means the night of death. In this form, Goddess Durga rides a donkey and carries a deadly iron hook and a sword in her hands.

Read the stories of the powerful Hindu goddesses in our title ‘Shakti’, available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.

The Tree That Krishna Made

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazra

Krishna’s love for butter is known to all. While his mother, Yashodha, always tried to fill him up with his favourite food, little Krishna never missed a chance to steal more butter. On most of his ‘heists’, he would escape stealthily, but there were some days where he’d get caught red-handed.

On one such day, when little Krishna was spotted running away from the kitchen, Yashodha stopped him and asked what he was hiding behind his back. Showing her a leaf, Krishna exclaimed, “Nothing!” Mischievous Krishna had quickly stuffed the butter into a leaf and rolled it up to hide it better. It is believed that the leaves of this tree since then, have always folded themselves up into a cup-like shape! The tree is called Ficus Krishnii or the ‘Vakhan Katori’ tree.

Where Do The Gods Dwell?

Illustration: Sanjhiya Mayekar

In the Puranas, there are different descriptions of where the gods live. According to the Devi Bhagavata, the mighty creator Brahma lives in Manovati on the mountain Mahameru surrounded by nine towns belonging to different gods which are as follows.

  • Indra, the god of heaven, lives in Amaravati.
  • Feared by many, the god of death, Yama, resides in Samyamani.
  • Krishnanjana is the home town of the goddess of deathly hidden realms and sorrows, Nirrti.
  • Shiva, the destroyer, dwells in Yasovati.
  • Sraddhavati belongs to Varuna, the ruler of the sky.
  • Agni, the god of fire, inhabits in Rajivati.
  • The god of the wind, Vayu, abides in the town of Gandhavati.
  • Mahodaya is the town of Kubera, the god of wealth.

Mokshada Ekadashi

Illustration: Sanjhiya Mayekar

When the Kauravas and Pandavas stood opposite each other on the battlefield at Kurukshetra, Arjuna hesitated. He could not bring himself to lift his bow, the Gandiva, against his own cousins and uncles. It was to clear this doubt in Arjuna’s heart that Krishna the delivered the message of the Bhagavad Gita. Through the Gita, Krishna showed Arjuna how taking the right action was more important than anything else. He taught Arjuna the importance of dharma over karma.

People believe that Mokshada Ekadashi marks the day that Krishna narrated the Bhagavad Gita. People pray to Krishna on this day. They believe that with true devotion, they can free their ancestors’ souls from Yamalok and help them attain moksha.

Karttikeya’s Spear

Illustration: Sanjhiya MayekarThe god of war Karttikeya, also known as Murugan in Southern India, wields a celestial spear as a weapon, one that was given to him by his mother, Parvati, so that he could defeat the demon Surapadman. The day on which the spear or vel was gifted to him is celebrated as Thaipusam by Tamilians all over the world. The word Thaipusam is a combination of ‘Thai’, which indicates the month the festival falls in, and ‘Pusam’, the Tamil word for the Pushya star which is at its highest point during the festival.

On this day, devotees carry large pots of milk on their back as an offering to the warrior god, after preparing for months in advance. It is regarded as a form of penance and Murugan is invoked to destroy all negative traits in oneself.