There is an old Sanskrit saying that a solitary blemish ruins the brightest garment, and one slip in character cannot be compensated by whatever remains of it. Here is a story from the great Hindu mythology, Ramayana, which proves the point beautifully. There is more to Ravana, the demon king, than his role as Rama''s adversary. Little is recalled of what he was like before his encounter with the epic hero which brought him lasting notoriety.
Interesting sidelights are available in the counter-tellings of Rama''s tale. In some versions Ravana is a tragic anti-hero. In the Jaina account he is an illustrious figure come to grief because of his illicit passion for another''s wife. This infatuation is given a Freudian turn in some other renditions which claim that, unknown to him, Rama''s consort, Sita, whom he had abducted, was Ravana''s own daughter, abandoned at birth. In yet others, the thrust is clearly political where Ravana represents indigenous nationalism resisting an external invasion from the North.
But all agree that Ravana was not an out and out demon. The sage Vishrava, Brahma''s grandson was Ravana''s father, and Kaikesi, the princess and daughter of the demon chief Sumali, was his mother. Vishrava''s son from another marriage, Kuber, was rewarded with the divine status as the custodian of godly wealth and was also given the golden city of Sri Lanka whose demon builders were driven out by the gods.
Upset and seeking for revenge, the demon chief asked his daughter Kaikesi to approach Vishrava and request him to bless her with a son who would defeat Kuber. This she did, and four children were duly born from her union with the sage: Ravana, his two brothers, Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana, and a sister Shoorpanakha (the one with sharp fingernails). Shoorpa is sharp, and nakha means nails in Sanskrit. Ravana was born with ten heads which, besides being accounted for his demon genes, signifies also absolute pride, greed, and never-ending want. The enormity of his ego was such as to require ten heads to accommodate it. In keeping with his paternity, he was also profoundly learned and well-versed in the Scriptures. Urged by his mother''s father, he ejected his half-brother, Kuber, from Lanka.
As a ruler Ravana was wise and just and he had achieved eminence as a musician, painter and poet, composing the hymn Shiva Tandava Stotra (the divine Law of the dance of Destruction) which is considered a classic to this day. Both the fourth and fifth quatrains of his hymn conclude with lists of Shiva''s epithets as destroyer, even the destroyer of death itself. Alliteration and onomatopoeia create rolling waves of resounding beauty in this example of Hindu devotional poetry.
It is said that when he tired of rampaging across the earth, Ravana returned to Lord Shiva to request moksha, release from the bondage of endless rebirth. Shiva replied that he had granted Ravana the boon of indestructibility, and that Ravana must instead seek moksha from Lord Vishnu. In this version of Ravana''s story, his battle with Rama can be interpreted as a pretext to attain death, and through death, liberation. Ravana''s poignant cry in the final quatrain of poetry - "When will I be happy?" is echoed by modern man in his quest for earthly fulfillment and ultimate liberation from its bondage.