While most people in India see Ravana as the great villain in the epic Ramayana, few know him as a great scholar and ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. He was also known as Dasanaan or the person with ten heads. His ten heads symbolised him possessing a thorough knowledge of the four Vedas and the six Upanishads, which made him extremely scholarly. He could also play the veena, a traditional stringed instrument, beautifully.
Here’s a story on how Ravana came to be the owner of Swarna-Lanka, his fabled capital. According to our mythology, once Parvati, Lord Shiva's consort, got tired of the ascetic’s life and living in the cold Himalayas. So, she requested Shiva to build a home for them, where the couple would live a proper life. Now, Lord Shiva was an ascetic, completely detached from worldly possessions. Living the life of a householder was a complete alien concept for him. But, being a loving husband, he agreed to Parvati’s request.
Subsequently, Shiva appointed Ravana as the project manager and directed him to build a golden palace, known as Swarna-Lanka. Ravana then approached his half-brother Kubera, the wealthiest man of those times, for the gold to construct the palace. After Kubera donated the yellow metal, Ravana hired the architect-cum-civil engineer Vishwakarma to construct the golden palace for Lord Shiva. After a while, Vishwakarma completed the construction of an exquisite and unrivalled golden palace.
Lord Shiva decided to organise a ‘Griha Pravesh Puja’, as per tradition. In India, among the Hindu community, it is still customary to present offerings to Gods before moving into a new home. Ravana was asked to perform the role of a priest since he was the most erudite scholar around.
When it came to settling his ‘dakshina’ or remuneration, Ravana startled everyone by asking for the golden palace as his fees. Perhaps, it was Shiva’s will that was at work (he never really wanted to live in a palace) or may be, Ravana turned greedy at the sight of the fabulous palace. So, Lord Shiva gave away Swarna-Lanka to Ravana and returned to Mount Kailash, his abode in the Himalayas. Shiva’s ardent follower, Nandi, was incensed by Ravana’s attitude and cursed him that his beloved palace would be destroyed by a mere monkey.
A few years later, Hanuman, the monkey god, reached Swarna-Lanka in the quest for goddess Sita. Ravana – by then inebriated by power and wealth – insulted Hanuman and ordered that his tail be put on fire. Hanuman escaped and promptly incinerated Ravana’s golden palace into ashes. This is how Ravana lost his golden palace.