Lanka the Kingdom of King Ravana is made famous by the Hindu epic of Ramayana. It is well known as ‘Swarna Lanka’ meaning golden Lanka as the citadel of Lanka was constructed of Gold. The golden fortress of Lanka is said to have been situated on a plateau between three mountains called Trikuta mountains, as mentioned in the Ramayana and its capital was called Lankapuri.
Ravana was the son of a great Sage called Vishrava (said to be the grandson of Lord Brahma) and Kaikeshi, a demon (daitya) princess whose father was Sumali/ Sumalaya, the demon King. Therefore Ravana is said to be half Brahmana and half daitya/demon by birth, i.e. Brahmarakshasa.
Ravana was renowned as a great scholar having thorough knowledge of the four Vedas, the six Shastras etc. Among the many talents and skills that Ravana had, it is said that he played the musical instrument, Veena, like a maestro and had the reputation of being an able King. Ravana was also called Dashānana because of his ten heads, which represented the deep and wide knowledge that he had. Another thing which King Ravana had been known for was his devotion to Lord Shiva, rather he is said to be an exemplary devotee of Lord Shiva. The Shiv Tandav Strotram which is a eulogy or hymn in praise of Lord Shiva’s powers and His beauty, was a spontaneous creation of Ravana.
The Shiva Tandav Strotram is an eloquent Sanskrit Stuti about Shiva’s Tandava dance and the Supreme Lord’s Divine beauty which is well known. It has 1008 verses in Sanskrit and the lyrics are commendable. The Shiv Tandav Strotram was recited with such intensity and perfection by Ravana that everything about it, including the rhythm impressed and pleased Lord Shiva so much that He bestowed boons on Ravana. One of the boons was the indestructible “Chandrahas” sword. The vibrations of the Shiv Tandav Strotram is said to be so powerful that if anyone chants it, it will bring beneficial blessings from Bholenath.
However, Ravana’s drawback was probably His greed. Among other things he wanted to conquer the Devas.
The Ramayana narrates the popular story of Ravana who kidnapped Sitajee, wife of Lord Rama and took Her to His kingdom in Lanka, how Lord Hanuman (Lord Shiva’s Rudra Avatar) went to Lanka and found Sita and burnt Lanka and ultimately Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana and Sitaji’s home coming.
There is an interesting story about why the golden Lanka or Swarna Lanka was given to Ravana by Lord Shiva, based on Hindu Mythology. Yes! very few know that Lanka originally belonged to Lord Shiva.
The legend has a couple of versions.
The first version of the legend says that once Lord Shiva’s consort Goddess Parvati humbly requested the Lord to construct a home for their family in Mount Kailasha, which is Lord Shiva’s abode. On hearing this Lord Shiva was hesitant as He is an ascetic, material things mean nothing to Him, He never wanted to be a householder and neither is He attached to anything. But being Devi Parvati’s loving husband, He agreed to go ahead with the idea in order to please His consort.
The legend has it that Ravana, the ardent devotee of Lord Shiva requested the Lord to give him the opportunity of service to make a golden palace called Lanka for Him and His Divine family. The Lord gave him permission to go ahead.
Kubera/Kuber is the God of wealth and the chief accountant of Lord Indra’s Kingdom in Heaven. Kuber was also Ravana’s half- brother. Ravana approached Kuber to donate gold for construction of Lord Shiva’s home, which was readily given to him. Ravana then appointed Lord Vishwakarma, the God of Architecture in the Divine world, to construct the palace for Lord Shiva. The palace was finally constructed. It was a marvellous piece of work in gold with unparalleled craftsmanship.
As per Hindu traditions a “Griha Pravesh” ritual is done by worshipping Gods/Goddesses before starting to live in the house. Lord Shiva invited Ravana, the ace scholar and ‘pandit’, to perform the Griha Pravesh ritual for Him and Devi Parvati’s palace. Ravana carried out the Lord’s wish. Post the ritual when Lord Shiva asked Ravana what would be his ‘dakshina’ or remuneration, Ravana surprized everyone by asking for the golden palace itself. Lord Shiva gave Ravana the golden Lanka as a remuneration for the Griha Pravesh puja performed by Ravana. Now, whether it was Lord Shiva’s design that things happen the way it did or not is debatable.
The legend also mentions that Nandi (the Bull), Lord Shiva’s mount, was so upset with Ravana that He cursed Ravana saying that the golden palace will be obliterated by a Monkey. In the story of Ramayana, Lord Hanuman did burn the golden palace of Lanka.
The other legend says that Lord Shiva after agreeing to Goddess Parvati’s request to build a home for their family, handed over the responsibility to Lord Vishwakarma to construct the palace. After the extraordinary palace was made, the ritualistic ‘Griha Pravesh’ puja was to be performed for which Lord Shiva chose the master scholar and His devotee Ravana to perform the puja. Once that was done, Ravana asked for the golden palace of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati as his remuneration for doing the puja. Lord Shiva gave the newly constructed golden palace to Ravana.