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I started reading a book called “Some aspects of Ramayan and Mahabharata” by Bibek Debroy. (You can borrow it here https://archive.org/details/someaspectsofram0000debr/page/15/mode/1up)

First chapter of this book logically attempts to prove why Ravana couldn’t have been a rakshsha and possibility of him without ten heads and twenty hands.

Bibek provides verses from Valmiki Ramayan that shows inconsistencies in portraying Ravana sometimes as 2 handed / 1 head and sometime as 10 headed / 20 handed.

Considering that readers would justify these consistencies with Ravana ability of taking any form he wants (because of his rakshsha powers), Bibek further points out even if Ravana used to switch between these 2 forms, it doesn’t make sense that he would do so rapidly on same occasion. Example -

When Ravana came to abduct Sita, he assumed 20 handed 10 head form but when he tries to grasp Sita he uses 2 hand (Aranya kand , 49th Sarga, sloka 8-9) https://valmikiramayan.net/utf8/aranya/sarga49/aranya_49_frame.htm

संरक्त नयनः श्रीमान् तप्त कांचन भूषणः | क्रोधेन महता आविष्टो नील जीमूत सन्निभः || ३-४९-७ दश आस्यो विंशति भुजो बभूव क्षणदा चरः |

वामेन सीताम् पद्माक्षीम् मूर्धजेषु करेण सः | ऊर्वोः तु दक्षिणेन एव परिजग्राह पाणिना || ३-४९-१७

As you see switch between 2 form just doesn’t add up. Similarly when Fighting with Jatayu, Jatayu cuts Ravana’s 20 hands and immediately in next verse Ravana hits him with 2 hands.

Finally Bibek goes on to justify that 10 headed form could actually be mask that Ravana used to wear. He further states that multi form aspects of Rakshahs and gods (4 headed brahma) and personalities (like Sahastrabahu Arjun) were introduced in post Christian Era and influenced from Greek mythological creatures.

Personally to me this goes against all the beliefs and conception that I have in our mythology and somewhere hurt the sentiments because then what is the truth?

How does the other Hindu acharyas justify inconsistencies pointed out in Ramayan? Are there scriptural references to multi headed or multi handed gods in Vedas? (since Vedas are considered to be documented before Christian Era and if they have references to multi headed/handed gods then it should refute Bibek’s theory that Hindu multi headed gods were influenced from Greek mythology)

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Ravana's 10 heads is just metaphor - just like Purusha's "thousand heads" in the Purusha Sukta.

Om sahasra shirsha purushaha sahasrakshas sahasrapat"

1000 heads should imply 2000 eyes and 2000 feet - but the Purusha Sukta says "sahasra" for all - meaning that it is only a metaphor for infintude.

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    The Purusha Sukta isn't being metaphorical, it's using an Upalakshana or indication. It is saying that he has a thousand heads as a way to indicate that he has at least a thousand heads. But yes, what it ultimately means is that he has infinitely many heads, eyes, feet, etc. If Ravana's case was analogous he would have at least ten heads. Regardless Ravana has exactly ten heads, it's not a metaphor or Upalakshana. – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 18 at 2:09
  • Ravana is a person lust full desires which as 10 indriyas to be satisfied.. 5 gnan indriyas and 5 karameindriyas, cutting desire from these indiryas is cutting of ravanas head, ravana is us only humans.. – Prasanna R Feb 18 at 10:43
  • @KeshavSrinivasan That is what metaphorical means: "a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract." The description of 1000 heads is not literal. – Ikshvaku Feb 18 at 13:04
  • He does actually and literally have a thousand heads, it’s just that he doesn’t have only a thousand heads. – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 18 at 13:59
  • @KeshavSrinivasan Another interpretation for 1000 heads is that Purusha is omniscient (since head is used for knowing). – user17987 Feb 18 at 14:18
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I realized that my previous answer was incorrect as I had overlooked other verses. So I have deleted it. It does look that Ravana only had two hands but he was ten-faced.

From Valmiki Ramayan, Aranya Kanda Sarga 51

ततः क्रोद्धात् दशग्रीवः सीताम् उत्सृज्य वीर्यवान् |

मुष्टिभ्याम् चरणाभ्याम् च गृध्र राजम् अपोथयत् || ३-५१-४०

The valorous Decahedron Ravana then threw off Seetha, and out of fury he scuffled with the king of eagles with fisticuffs and kicks, by both his feet and fists. [3-51-40]

Here it is absolutely clear that Ravana was using two hands and two feet. The words मुष्टिभ्याम् and चरणाभ्याम् as per Sanskrit declension refer to two fists/hands and two legs.

The above does not make sense if in Sarga 49 he had 20 arms.

संरक्त नयनः श्रीमान् तप्त कांचन भूषणः |

क्रोधेन महता आविष्टो नील जीमूत सन्निभः || ३-४९-७

दश आस्यो विंशति भुजो बभूव क्षणदा चरः |

That celebrated Ravana whose eyes are bloodshot as he is ensorcelled by desperate fury transmuted his form into a tend-faced, twenty-armed night-walker wearing golden ornaments of purified gold and appearing as a black tempestuous cloud. [3-49-7, 8a]

Turns out other versions of Valmiki Ramayana has this verse mentioned somewhat differently

From Valmiki Ramayana commentarty by Bhusana

संरक्तनयनः श्रीमांस्तप्तकाञ्चनकुण्डलः ।

क्रोधेन महताविष्टो नीलजीमूतसन्निभः ।

दशास्यः कार्मुकी बाणी बभूव क्षणदाचरः ।। 3.49.7 ।।

Commentary

संरक्तेति सार्धश्लोक एकान्वयः । श्रीमान् विचित्रशक्तिसम्पन्नः । क्षणदाचरः संरक्तनयनत्वादिविशिष्टो बभूव ।। 3.49.7 ।।

दशास्यः means "ten faced one", so not necessarily transformed into a being having 10 heads at that time. But we cannot rule out him not having ten heads.

Also विंशतिभुजः is replaced with कार्मुकी बाणी ~ holding a bow and arrow. So no mention of twenty arms.

The commentator is saying Ravana transformed into a form that had red eyes, and such features of a demon

This is the book in IITK's website

[enter image description here4

And those who want to refer to CE, here is a screen shot from ORI Baroda enter image description here

They have removed the middle line completely and also mention that विंशतिभुजः is present in only two manuscripts.

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Hindu scriptures talk of spiritual truths through stories. One should not take every detail of these stories literally. Do the spiritual truths of Ramayana depend on whether Ravana had 10 heads or one head? Multiheaded Ravana or Multi handed Gods are metaphorical and should not be taken literally.

Brahma tells Narada "This brief account of the manifestation of the Lord is what is called the Bhagavata. The Supreme Being Himself gave the knowledge of it to me. I have also given to you a brief account of the Lord's glories and attributes. You elucidate it with the help of your imaginative power in a way that will generate devotion in the mind of men for Sri Hari who is the soul and support of all."

Srimad Bhagavata Purana II.8.51-52

The Supreme Lord is said to be fond of such figurative expositions of spiritual truth through stories. (For it is understandable even to common men while an abstract philosophical statement can be understood only by a very few.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana IV.28.65

In times past I learnt this wonderful allegory, which teaches the truth of the Atman indirectly in a story form.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana IV.29.85

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  • Wow thanks so much. I have heard Bhagvatam before but never realise that it mentions that it’s stories are to be taken as allegory. But then where do we draw the boundaries? How much of it is fact and how much story? Can you add more pls – Ketan Feb 18 at 14:28
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    when you say “multi head Ravana or gods are metamorphical” , do you mean they (Ravana or gods) are metamorphical OR their multi head/hands aspect is metamorphical? – Ketan Feb 18 at 15:43
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    We don't know the amount of facts in our epics. I talked with a doctor who has just come back from Sri Lanka. He told me that he went to Ashok Vana where Sita was kept by Ravana and the place seemed to him to be special. He came back with the view that Ramayana must be describing some true facts but exactly how much is an open question. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Feb 18 at 16:03
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    I don't know about Ravana but the deities are not metaphorical. The deities exist and have been seen by many people. What is metaphorical is the way that the deities are depicted. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Feb 18 at 16:05
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    Thank you @PradipGangopadhyay – Ketan Feb 18 at 16:05
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I could not find mention of multi-headed and multi-handed Gods in the Rig Veda. Bṛhaddevatā also did not mention about such issues.

  1. The 5 faces of Sadasiva were explained here (Taittariya Aranyaka).

  2. The Thousand heads (सहस्रशीर्षा) and thousand legs of Purusha, the BRAHMAN ABSOLUTE, were mentioned in RV X.90.

The 1000 heads of Purusha or Brahman can be a metaphor only, as we cannot limit the viewing capacity of the Almighty to 1000 directions only.


There is no evidence to prove that the multi form Rakshahs and gods (4 headed brahma) and personalities (like Sahastrabahu Arjun) were introduced in post Christian Era influenced from Greek mythological creatures.

This can be conjecture of the author.

Those depictions might have been influenced by 5 faces of Sadasiva also.

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  • 'There is no evidence to prove that the multi form ... were introduced in post Christian Era influenced from Greek mythological creatures.' - there is lot of evidence, check the book OP has cited. The coincidences (building a bridge across the ocean, shooting an arrow at the ocean, etc.) are too many to ignore. – sv. Feb 18 at 21:22
  • The OP didn't mention about bridge across the ocean, shooting an arrow at the ocean, etc.) in question part. Then how can I answer that part? Indian authors also creative enough to introduce many new creative ideas. Arrows and Iron were mentioned even in Rig Veda. Do you want to say even Rigveda was borrowed from Greek mythology? @sv. – Srimannarayana K V Feb 18 at 23:50

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