The Ravan Tandav Stotra is one of the most powerful mantras dedicated to Lord Shiva by any of his bhaktas or devotees. All through the majority of north Indian states Ravan is seen as a figure of unmitigated evil. During the festival of Dussehra effigies of Ravan and his siblings are burnt, marking the victory of Lord Rama (human avatar of Lord Vishnu) over evil. Considering that Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma constitute the Hindu Trinity, one wonders how can the devotee of one of them end up being a cursed enemy of another? To answer that question and to better understand the character of Shiva himself, one must take a closer look at the legends surrounding Ravan.
video source: https://www.youtube.com
Ravan was the demon king of Lanka. Prince Ram, who would go on to ascend the throne of Ayodhya, found himself challenged by Ravan. Ravan had abducted Rama’s wife Sita and held her as a diplomatic hostage compelling Rama to meet him in battle. Ravan descended from Sage Vishrava grandson of Brahma (the Creator)
himself and the demon princess Kaikesi. Kaikesi’s father Sumali was exiled from his kingdom in Lanka by Kuber, Sage Vishrava’s other son. It was Sumali’s plan to have Kaikesi married to Vishrava so that the bloodlines of the demons and brahmans would mingle to produce a child with demonic strength and brahmanic intelligence. True to his expectation, Ravan showed signs of exceptional brilliance as he grew up. He had an exceptional grasp over the vedas and excelled in martial skills. Under the tutelage of Vishrava and Sumali, both his demonic and divine powers grew stronger. Ravan managed to strike the critical balance required to make the most of both his inherent tendencies.
As years passed Ravan became stronger and more learned. He performed difficult tapasya (penance) and pleased Brahma, gaining from him boons of weapons and invincibility. Feeling invincible Ravan went up to Lord Shiva’s abode and tried to pluck out Mount Kailash from its roots. Lord Shiva was offended and placed his little toe on the ground and Ravan found himself unable to hold up Kailash. He was trapped under gigantic rocks and found it difficult to breathe. Realising his folly he prayed to Lord Shiva for forgiveness. It is this prayer song that is now known as the Ravan Tandav Stotra. Generous and kind as he is, Lord Shiva was so pleased with Ravan’s ingenious creativity reflected in the Stotra, composed under extreme duress, not only did he forgive Ravan, but having extricated him from under the rocks, also bestowed upon him the Chandrahaas Astra. Ravan in turn remained ever devoted to Lord Shiva throughout his life.
So earnest was Lord Shiva’s influence on Ravan that he learnt the values of not being trapped in the world of materiality. Many who worship Ravan in temples dedicated to him praise the fact that when his ultimate battle with Rama neared, he gave up his control over the 9 planets or Navagraha whom he had imprisoned to derive power from them. Ravan’s devotees also believe that he undoubtedly wanted to be recognised as the most powerful ruler of all creation, but he wanted to do this more to spread the name and honour of the demon races all around creation than for personal aggrandisement. As far as Ravan was concerned the ultimate fight between him and Rama was a fight of two races that of the Aryas and the Daityas. It is debateable if Rama and his cohorts would have managed to win against Ravan had it not been for the betrayal of Vibhishan, Ravan’s brother, who gave away Ravan’s strategic secrets to Rama’s army, enabling them to weaken Ravan at crucial junctures. The foremost betrayals included the stealthy murder of Meghnad, Ravan’s son, while he was in deep meditation and the destruction of Ravan’s “Abhijeet Chandi Yajna” atop Ratnagiri hill. Ostensibly these sabotages were conducted by Lakshman and his friends, despite the express disapproval of Rama.
The ultimate sign of Ravan’s renunciation in keeping with Shaivaite principles is said to be his decision to not counter Rama’s Brahmastra with one of his own. Ravan, it is believed, desisted because the clash of two Brahmastras had the potential to destroy all of creation. Victory at the cost of such destruction was not what he sought. Consequently, he welcomed the fired weapon with respect and upon being hit, thanked Lord Rama for granting him moksha from the the cycles of births and rebirths. Ravan recognised Lord Vishnu in Rama and realised he was simply playing his part in a larger cosmic game, ordered according to Vidhi’s Vidhan or the inscrutable divine will. All these facts are remembered by devotees of Shiva and Ravan when they chant the Ravan Tandav Stotra.
Loosely translated in English, the Ravan Tandav Stotra appears as follows:
That Śiva, Who having held a long-garland of the best-snake (cobra) at the neck which is purified by the flow of trickling water-drops in the forest-like twisted hair-locks, Who danced the fierce Tāṇḍava-dance to the music of a sounding-drum, — May that Śiva extend my bliss.
At every moment, may I find pleasure in Śiva, Whose head is situated in between the creeper-like unsteady waves of Nilimpanirjharī (Gańgā) which is swirling unsteadily in the vessel forged from twisted hair-locks, Who has crackling and blazing fire at the surface of forehead, and Who has a crescent-moon (young moon) at the forehead.
May my mind seeks happiness in Śiva, Whose mind has the shining universe and all the living-beings inside, Who is the charming sportive-friend of the daughter of the mountain-king of the Earth (i.e. Himālaya), Whose uninterrupted series of merciful-glances conceals immense-troubles, and Who has as much direction as His clothes?
May my mind embrace Śiva, by Whom — with the light from the jewels of the shining-hoods of creeper-like yellow-snakes — the face of Dikkanyās’ are smeared with Kadamba-juice like red Kuńkuma, Who looks dense due to the glittering skin-garment of an intoxicated tiger, and Who is the Lord of the ghosts.
For a long time, may Śhiva — Whose toes are grey due to the pollen dust from flowers at the head of Indra (Sahasralocana) and all other demi-gods, Whose matted hairlocks are tied by a garland of the king of snakes, and Who has the crown-jewel of the friend of cakora bird — produce prosperity.
May we acquire the possession of tress-locks of Śiva, Which absorbed the five-arrows (of Kāmadeva) in the sparks of the blazing fire stored in the rectangular-forehead, Which are bowed to by the leader of supernatural-beings, Who has an enticing-forehead with a beautiful streak of crescent-moon.
May I find pleasure in Trilochana, Who offered the five great-arrows (of Kāmadeva) to the blazing and chattering fire of the plate-like forehead, and Who is the sole-artist placing variegated artistic lines on the breasts of the daughter of Himālaya (Pārvatī).
May Śiva — Whose cord-tied neck is dark like a night with shining-moon obstructed by a group of harsh and new clouds, Who holds the River Gańgā, Whose cloth is made of tiger-skin, Who has a curved and crescent moon placed at the forehead, and Who bears the universe — expand [my] wealth.
I adore Śiva, Who supports the dark glow of blooming blue lotus series around the girdle of His neck, Who cuts-off Smara (Kāmadeva), Who cuts-off Pura, Who cuts-off the mundane existence, Who cuts-off the sacrifice (of Dakṣa), Who cuts-off the demon Gaja, Who cuts-off Andhaka, and Who cuts-off Yama (death).
I adore Śiva, Who only eats the sweet-flow of nectar from the beautiful flowers of Kadamba-trees which are the abode of all important auspicious qualities, Who destroys Smara (Kāmadeva), Who destroys Pura, Who destroys the mundane existence, Who destroys the sacrifice (of Dakṣa), Who destroys the demon Gaja, Who destroys Andhaka, and Who contains Yama (death).
May Śiva, Whose dreadful forehead has oblations of plentitude, turbulent and wandering hissing snakes—having first come out of a pillar of flames and then glowing eternally, Whose fierce tāṇḍava-dance is set in motion by the sound-series of the auspicious and best-drum (ḍamaru) — which is sounding with ‘dhimit-dhimit’ sounds, be victorious.
When will I adore Sadāśiva with an equal vision towards varied ways of the world, a snake or a pearl-garland, royal-gems or a lump of dirt, friend or enemy sides, a grass-eyed or a lotus-eyed person, and common men or the king.
Living in the hollow of a tree in the thickets of River Gańgā, always free from ill-thinking, bearing añjali on the forehead, free from lustful eyes, when will I become content while reciting the mantra ‘‘Śiva?’’
Reading, remembering, and reciting this eternal, having spoken thus, and the best among best eulogy indeed incessantly leads to purity. By the perception of Hara (Śiva) an immediate state of complete devotion is achieved; no other option is needed. Just the thought of Śiva (Śańkara) is enough for the people.
At the time of completing the prayer, s/he who reads this song by Daśavaktra (Rāvaṇa) — Śambhu shall grant him/her stable wealth including chariots, elephants and horses, and a beautiful visage.
The world of the Marvel Comics talks about powerful beings that have taken up the imagination of millions of teenagers and young adults the world over. Gods from the Norse and Greco-Roman folklore already exist in that world like Zeus, Thor, Loki, Odin etc. The addition of the Hindu god Shiva into the pantheon is an interesting exercise primarily because it would interest people unaware of Shiva, to know that the characters and powers of beings from the marvel world that has taken over their imagination for a few decades have also kept the entire Indian subcontinent in awe for over 3 millennia. Lord Shiva and the Power Cosmic are more closely related than one would imagine.
Thinking about Lord Shiva and the Power Cosmic simultaneously can actually manage to bridge two very different worlds of spiritual and creative ideas. Lord Shiva is also known as ‘Shambhu’ or ‘Swayambhu’. Literally translated into English, it means “He who was born by Himself”. He is the “Aadi” or the beginning and the “Anth” or the end of time and all of creation. Shiva is also the lord and master of the five elements, in all their forms that constitutes all life everywhere- air, water, fire, earth and space. He is like the siblings Infinity and Eternity rolled into one. As such the list of Lord Shiva’s powers is limitless and can be explored beyond the religious context to make interesting connections between religion and popular culture of the eastern and western philosophies.
The destructive and restorative powers of Mahadev are legendary. The most important question then that arises is, what does one do with such awesome power? Shiva the destroyer has features of Galactus- who devours worlds, the Watcher who tries to witness the major events of the universe, rarely intervening, except when absolutely necessary. When his third eye of power opens up, Shiva has little difference in intent than Thanos who tries to bring total chaos with his “Infinity Gauntlet”, only in the case of Lord Shiva even ‘Taandav Nritya’ or utter destruction is an art form- a dance of destruction, that comes from within the God and is not some device like the gauntlet, external to Him. These are extreme examples of the use of power cosmic by super human beings. When however simple human beings are gifted with such power their reactions are significant. The Fantastic Four are the best example of humans with the Power Cosmic. They try their best to preserve the moral order. Lord Shiva appearing in his many avatars, is known to bestow fabulous powers through boons on Gods, demons and humans alike.
There are fascinating tales that exist about the marvellous things such holders of power did, for personal gains as well as for the welfare of all and sundry. The Hulk even though he does not possess the Power Cosmic, represents unrelenting anger and resembles closely Lord Shiva in extreme anger. The mythology revolving around Shiva presents a treasure trove of lessons one may draw for oneself even without thinking of it as religious advice. It opens the possibility of complex debates at a material and philosophical level about power, and its relationship with mankind and its follies like rage, ambition, vanity and uncontrolled desire for absolute domination over others. In a globalised world the transmission of culture and values take place on multiple planes. The most powerful ways to connect with others around the world and with one’s own inner self is to find common grounds on which individuals can learn to improve their lives and enjoy themselves while pursuing objectives of life-long value. ‘The Shiva Experience’ acting more as a process allows a participant to dynamically access the teachings of Shiva without being taught; one makes the connections for oneself. The power Lord Shiva wields focuses on this sort of an inclusive, self regulatory gathering of experience and knowledge.
The Power Cosmic exists, albeit in a different name in each one of us, all one needs to do is tap into it with a sincere effort directed towards self realization. Shiva’s promise to His devotees of ‘Mahamrityunjaya stotram’ or assurance of eternal life is metaphorically fulfilled every time one attempts to pursue Him in earnest. He singes off the deathly shrouds of dejection and hopelessness- a common product of contemporary life the world over. Unleashing the power cosmic the Shaivite way is one of the most productive route to transcend banality and attain an ever refreshing spiritual vision rooted in the mores of our material realities.