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Did Ravana really have ten heads? Or is it a mythical concept?

If he really had ten heads, who gave him this and what is the story behind it?

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    Physically he doesnt have 10 heads. Ravan was able to communicate with 10 other people at a time.
    – Kedarnath
    Jul 23 '14 at 7:10
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    Also about the heads, its more of a symbolic meaning rather than real heads, which represents his knowledge of six shastras and four vedas
    – Mr. Alien
    Jul 23 '14 at 7:15
  • It is symbolic.
    – Wikash_
    Nov 2 '21 at 21:18
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Yes, Ravana literally had ten heads. This excerpt from the Uttara Kanda of the Ramayana describes Ravana's birth:

[T]he girl [Kaikeshi]... after a length of time brought forth a very terrible and hideous offspring having the form of a Rakshasa, — having ten necks, furnished with large teeth, and resembling a heap of collyrium, with coppery lips, twenty arms, huge faces, and flaming hair. On his having been born, jackals with flaming mouths and other ferocious beasts began to gyrate on the left. And that god showered down blood; and the clouds uttered forth harsh sounds. And the Sun was deprived of his splendour; and meteors began to dart to the earth. And the earth shook; and the wind swept away violently. And that lord of streams — the ocean, which was calm before, became agitated. And his sire resembling his grand-father named him, (saying), "As this one hath been born with ten necks, he shall be called Ten-necked."

Now as described in another excerpt from the Uttara Kanda, Ravana cut off nine of his heads in the course of his Tapasya (deep metitation), but then Brahma restored them:

And the Ten-necked one passed ten thousand years without fare. On a thousand years being complete, he offered his own head as a sacrifice to Fire. In this way he passed away nine thousand years ; and nine of his heads entered into Fire. And as in the tenth year he intended to strike off his tenth head, [Brahma] the Great-father presented himself at that place.... [Brahma said] "Hear! I having been gratified, will confer on thee a fresh boon. O Rakshasa, O sinless one, those heads of thine which have been offered as sacrifices and which have sunk into the fire, shall again be thine.

Ravana's heads also play a role in the final battle between Rama and Ravana, because as Rama kept cutting Ravana's heads off they kept magically regrowing, as described in the Yuddha Kanda of the Ramayana:

Thereupon, the great-armed Rama who augmented the fame of the kings born in Raghu dynasty, stretching with anger, the serpent-like arrow with his bow, chopped off the glorious head of Ravana, which was graced with blazing ear-rings. Then, all the three worlds saw that head, fallen on the ground. Another head, exactly similar to that head, cropped up on the shoulders of Ravana. That second head was again chopped off by Rama, possessing a swift hand and who was swift in his act. The second head of Ravana was cut off by arrows in that battle. Soon after that head was chopped off, it again rose into view. Rama chopped off that head too with his arrows looking like thunderbolts. In the same manner, a hundred of Ravana's heads of equal splendour were chopped off by Rama. Yet, no certainty about Ravana's death could be seen.

It was only when Rama hit Ravana's chest with a Brahmastra that Ravana finally died.

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Rāvaṇa is depicted and described as having ten heads and two ears in total. His ten heads represents that his knowledge of the six shastras and the four Vedas. Lord Shiva also gave him the name "Dashaanan" (Dasa = ten, mukha/anan = face), after he offered his ten heads to Lord Shiva.

Source: Wikipedia

The ten heads also represented passion, pride, anger, greed, infatuation, lust, hatred, jealousy, selfishness and ego when he offered them to Lord Shiva.

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Yes he did.

https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/m03273.htm

And to every one of them he gave princely sons according to their desire. Two sons--those foremost of Rakshasas named Kumvakarna and the Ten-headed Ravana,--both unequalled on earth in prowess, were born to Pushpotkata.

And at the close of a thousand years, the invincible Ten-headed One, cutting off his own heads, offered them as offering to the sacred fire.

'Thus addressed, the Ten-headed (Ravana) was highly gratified, for on account of his perverted understanding, the man-eating one slightened human beings.

'Having obtained this boon, the Ten-headed Rakshasa defeated Kuvera in battle and obtained from him the sovereignty.

On the other hand, the powerful and man-eating Rakshasas and Pisachas, having assembled together, invested the Ten-headed Ravana with their sovereignty.

The bolded parts in Mahabharat repeatedly called Ravana as the one with ten heads from Mahabharata.

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