Why is Ravana portrayed as ten-faced?
While the ten-headed, twenty-armed figure of Ravana as the supreme anti-hero, is
familiar to every Indian and scholars of Indian mythology, few really know why
he is portrayed in this manner. Traditonal Indian wisdom places importance on
the control of one’s emotions and projectsthe intellect alone, as being supreme.
The great King Mahabali, advises Ravana to shun the other nine base emotions of
anger; pride; jealousy; happiness; sadness; fear; selfishness; passion; and
ambition. Intellect alone is to be revered. Indian spiritual gurus have always
stressed the need to overcome the Self and have considered these emotions
detrimental to the elevation of the soul.
But, in his reponse to Mahabali, Ravana justifies and exults in the possession of
all these ten facets, as they make him a complete man. Mythology thus portrays
Ravana as Dasamukha, or the ten-faced one, while his twenty hands denote
prowess and power. Ravana sees himself as the epitome of a complete human being,
without any pretense to holiness or restricted by social and religious norms. He is
as good or as bad as any human being, and as nature intended man to be. Society
is unable to curb his other nine faces, as it does in the figure of Rama. So Rama
may be seen as God, but Ravana is the more complete man.
Our epics have used the ten heads of Ravana to symbolize a man without control over his passions
eager to embrace and taste life – all of it.