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.
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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.
Although there are many mantras dedicated to Lord Shiva, the following are the two most powerful and famous mantras.
Om Namah Shivaya!
This particular mantra has five syllables and thus it is also known as a ‘panchakshara mantra‘ (mantra with 5 akshar). This is one of the reasons that the number five is always considered sacred for Lord Shiva. The number five represents the five elements that, in all their varied forms are thought to constitute all of creation – air, water, earth, fire and space. The number 5 is accorded to Lord Shiva because he is believed to be perfect and complete. This mantra signifies absolute completeness and is consequently considered a very auspicious mantra by Shiva’s followers.
Maha Mritynjaya Mantra
The Maha Mrityunjaya mantra is the most powerful mantra of Lord Shiva and according to experts, it is also considered to be the supreme mantra of Lord Shiva. The mantra is recited to praise Lord Shiva while devotees ask him to free them from disease, ignorance, and attachment to all forms of bondage. Devotees also ask for liberation, enlightenment and moksha when they recite this mantra. If the mantra is recited with true devotion and dedication, it blesses the followers with peace and prosperity.
The mantra is –
Sugandhim Pushti Vardhanam
Mrytyor Muksheeya Mamritat”
The mantra is also recited for protection, health and a disease free life.
Some key benefits of the mantra are –
Once there was a rishi couple, Mrikandu and his wife Marudvati, who were ardent followers of Lord Shiva.They had every thing they wanted except for the love of a child. Desperate to procure a son, they began praying to Lord Shiva. Shiva was very pleased with their devotion and appeared before them and offered them a choice. Would they want a son who would be an idiotbut live for hundred years or a son who will be extremely intelligent and would live only for sixteen years? Rishi Mrikandu said that he would like to have an intelligent son. Lord Shiva blessed the couple and granted them the boon. Soon the couple was blessed with a son who was named Markandeya. Markandeya grew into a handsome and intelligent lad. He mastered the Vedas very quickly. But as he grew older, he noticed his parents getting sadder with each passing day. On asking them what was it that was making them so sad, he learnt that his death was fast approaching.
Not willing to die any time soon, Markandeya decided to perform a tapas. He retired into a deep forest, built a Shiva ling and started praying devotedly to Lord Shiva. He went into deep meditation and recited the MahaMrityunjay Mantra.
The destined day of Markandeya’s death came. Yama, the god of death came to take his praana(life). He threw his ‘Yamapasam’, a death noose used by Yama to snatch the soul out of the body, around Markandeya’sneck.
But Markandeya was not afraid and he immediately clung to the Shiva linga and cried out for Shiva. The Shiva linga burst open and Lord Shiva came out of it. Shiva was furious at Yama and declared that Markandeya was his beloved devotee and will live forever. Eventually Markandeya grew up and became a great rishi. He is the creator of the MarkandeyaPurana and he gave the world the ‘MahaMrityunjay Mantra’.
The word ‘Mrityu’ means death and ‘Jaya’ means victory. Mrityunjaymeans victory over death. It doesn’t refer to physical death rather it signifies the resurrection of the soul after a spiritual death. It is a call to Shiva so that he can lead the devotee towards eternal bliss. Thus by merging into Shiva one can attain eternal happiness, the true happiness. Another name of Shiva is Tryambakam the-three-eyed-one. The third eye located between Shiva’s eyebrows, signifies the power of his penance and meditation. While chanting this mantra and praying to Shiva the devotee attains spiritual knowledge which facilitates the opening of the third eye.
The end result is that the devotee is led towards spiritual liberation or moksha and can become free from the cycle of life and death.