Ravana was the unparalleled king of Lanka. He had the whole wealth of the world and the beings of the three worlds were at his beck and call. This, coupled with the unbridled grace of Lord Shiva, of whom Ravana was a great devotee, made him all the more arrogant.
On three occasions, however, Ravana was humbled, interestingly, by three different beings: God, man and animal.
The first episode we are going to see is how Ravana was humbled by Lord Shiva.
Ravana’s recent possession was the Pushpak Vimana- the aerial chariot, which he had snatched from his half-brother Kubera. The Vimana was so much more than a modern-day marvel such that it could fly according to the will of the pilot. Ravana was exploring the world with his new-found possession, going over hills and valleys, plains and fields, seas and rivers and to all the other realms of the universe.
One day, when he was flying towards Mount Kailash, which was the abode of Lord Shiva and wanted to fly over it, the Vimana suddenly stopped. Ravana tried with all his might, but the chariot did not budge. Ravana looked up at the mountain and an arrogant thought crossed his mind. “How can there be an obstacle to me, the great Ravana?”, thought he. “If my chariot cannot fly over this mountain, the mountain does not deserve to stand before me. I shall unearth this hurdle and throw it aside”. Saying thus, he went below the mountain and tried to lift it up with his massive arms. A tremor was suddenly felt by Parvati, who was on the mountain with her consort, Lord Shiva. The Earth shook and rocks fell from the sides of the mountain and Parvati almost fell down. She was startled at the sudden disturbance and looked up at Shiva with fear.
Lord Shiva knew it all. With a smile, he got up, went to the edge of the mountain and pressed it lightly with the big toe of his right foot. Ravana was almost crushed and gave a shriek. Lord Shiva, still smiling, did not remove his foot and told Parvati that it was Ravana who was behind the tremor. The great Ravana knew that it was his Lord, who was punishing him for his arrogance. Humbled, almost immediately, Ravana fervently prayed to Lord Shiva to appear before him and forgive him. However, it was of no avail. Then knowing Lord Shiva’s passion for music, Ravana started to sing a hymn on Lord Shiva. This is called the Shiva Tandava Stuti and starts like this:
Galeavalambya lambitam bhujangatungamalikam
Damad damad damaddama ninadavadamarvayam
Chakara chandatandavam tanotu nah shivah shivam
Ravana, being a scholar in Sanskrit, sang fourteen verses of this Stuti. (The Stuti has a beautiful rhythm to it and is a good exercise for the tongue!). Lord Shiva, who is always captivated by good music, was moved by Ravana’s devotion and appeared before him. Ravana prostrated to the Lord and begged for forgiveness. Shiva, pleased with his devotion, gifted him his sword called the Chandrahaasa.
Ravana thankfully took the sword, and repenting for his foolish act, went back home wiser.
This incident in carved in stone in many of our ancient temples. In some places it is shown that Ravana plucked one of his heads and his arms and made it into a ‘Veena’ and played the same to appease the Lord.