Ravana was a multi faced personality. The formidable king of Lanka almost came close to becoming an unquestioned ruler of the three worlds. The great epic Ramayana is as much about the defeat of Ravana as much as it is also about the life of Sri Rama, King of Ayodhya. So, had Ravana learnt the lesson of controlling his ambitions, it would not have been necessary for Lord Vishnu to incarnate upon earth as Sri Rama.
Ravana was a direct descendant of Lord Brahma and Brahmin by birth. He was blessed with the very best of parents. His father was the great Sage Vishravas who was the son of Maharishi Pulastya Prajapathi (one of the mind born Saptarishis) and the grandson of none other than Lord Brahma himself. Maharishi Agasthya Muni was the brother of Sage Vishravas. Sage Vishravas had married Devavarni the daughter of rishi Bharadwaja and Princess Kaikasi the daughter of Sumali. While Kubera was the son of Devavarni, Ravana was the son of Princess Kaikesi. His mother Princess Kaikesi was the daughter of King Sumali of the Daithyas or Asuras. The Daithyas were descends of Diti, the second wife of Sage Kashyapa, thus were brothers to the Devas who were descended from Aditi, Kashyapa’s first wife.
Princess Kaikesi was a very ambitious lady and that the Sage Vishravas recognized her true ambitions when she asked him to marry her. Sage Vishravas also warned Princess Kaikesi that , their offspring may turn out to be bad. But, this information did not deter Princess Kaikesi who was soon blessed several children.The eldest of Princess Kaikesi’s children was Ravana. At birth Ravana was given the name of Dashanana or Dasagriva, since he was said to have the mental strength of ten people. He was an exemplary scholer and mastered all the Vedas and Sastras under his father. He was a great Veena player. He was a Samavedin. He was an ardent devotee of Lord Siva and known for his Siva Tandava. Due to this only he was named Ravana by none else than by the Lord Siva himself. He had two younger brothers namely Vibhishana and Kumbakarna. In addition, Kaikesi gave birth to a daughter by the name Soorpanakha.
However different sources cite Ravana having more siblings than the ones named. For instance, Ravana is said to have had a brother named Mahiravana who was a powerful magician and became the ruler of the netherworld. In addition, there is also mention of Khara and Dushana in the Ramayana. But, all sources agree that Ravana also had a half brother older than him, Kubera, the lord of wealth, the first son of Vishravas. Ravana always had a contentious relationship with his half brother.
As a child Ravana was very diligent and intelligent, an ideal scholar in all respects. However, his father also noted that Ravana tended to be arrogant and aggressive, taking after his maternal side. Ravana was very well educated and he was recognized as a learned and proficient individual even by his enemies. He mastered the Vedas, Shastras and the ways of the Kshatriyas. His mastery in the use of every weapon was well known and he was a great sorcerer. His father Sage Vishravas must have realized that Ravana was meant to rule a kingdom. However, he also noted that Ravana tended to be arrogant and aggressive, taking after his maternal side.
Ravana performed several yagnas as a Brahmin including the one for no other than Lord Shiva and Parvati themselves. The puranas tell us about the magnitude of Ravana’s learning and skill. He was unmatched in his knowledge of the nitishastra. Indeed, after his defeat towards the end of the Ramayana, Rama orders his brother Lakshmana to learn the art of nitishastra from the dying Ravana. In addition, he was a renowned Veena player, his personal emblem being the Veena. Already a great musician and scholar, Ravana added leadership qualities to his list of virtues. He was the undisputed leader amongst his siblings and even after growing up, his brothers and sister except Vibheshana would primarily defer to his judgment despite having differences of opinion.
Ravana had several wives but foremost among them was Queen Mandodari daughter of Maya.She was known for her beauty, grace and chastity. She was one of the pancha kanyas according to Hindu mythology and merely reminding her name is said to wash away all the sins. Princess Mandodari was the daughter of Maya the divine architect and Hema a celestial dancer. Maya was a descendant of Diti and hence was an asura . Thus Maya was known as Mayasura and also as Maya Ditya.
After nearly completing his domination of the worlds, Ravana returned to Lanka to rule over his dominions. As a citadel designed by none other than Vishwakarma,the architect of the Gods, Lanka was matchless. Its walls were strong and well defended. A guardian spirit watched over the main gate ensuring that enemies never entered the city. The legends talk about the wealth of Lanka during the rule of Ravana. It was said that hungar was virtually not known and even the poor ate out of vessels of gold and silver. Ravana himself was credited to have been a very able and benevolent administrator. He was ably aided in this by his brother Vibheshana who continued to follow the path of Dharma above all things. Vibheshana was with Ravana and helped to moderate all his orders until he got banished from the kingdom for speaking against the abduction of Sita, wife of Rama.
Ravana’s life was a classic example of brilliance gone wrong. He had gained the very best instruction and was truly great in his abilities and achievements, a fact that was appreciated by his favorite God Shiva. However,unfortunately he never learnt the virtue of humility. His arrogance and conceit proved to be his nemesis. Instead of following the path of Dharma, he chose to flout it time and again. Instead of gaining fame for his countless good qualities, Ravana became known for his improper behavior towards humans and women in particular. His atrocities kept growing in number and eventually became so terrible, that it took an incarnation of Lord Vishnu to subdue him.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely and the mighty Ravana moved from one blunder to another, angering many a mortal and God in the bargain. A true devotee of Lord Shiva , Ravana is said to have composed the "Shiva Tandava Stotra" while trying to gain boons from Shiva. Shiva who was busy at the moment dancing the tandava with his consort Parvati knew of his devotee’s intentions but chose to ignore them. Ravana decided to lift the Kailasa Mountain, the abode of Lord Shiva and take it with him to Lanka. Lord Shiva, in turn enraged by Ravana’s presumptions trod heavily back with his toe, nearly crushing Ravana in the process. It is at this time that Ravana realized his mistake and begged the Lord to end the misery, even sacrificing his numerous heads to the God. A calm Shiva appeared before Ravana and presented him with the Atma Lingam after formally naming him Ravanasura. Ravana continued on his way back to Lanka taking the Atma Lingam with him only to lose it on the way. The spot is now said to be Rameshwaram today.In the end, as he lay dying on the battlefield, holding on to the very last breath and giving Lakshmana instruction on Nitishastra and proper administration, Ravana is said to have commented dryly, “Never assume that you have all the time in the world and take nothing for granted. Never procrastinate. I conquered the
Heavens and imprisoned Yama, the lord of Death to my bedstead and Shani, the ninth planet under my throne. I told myself that I will always have time to finish them later. What good did this procrastination do? They prevailed anyway.”
There is an interesting anectode about one class of Brahmins known as "Saryuparin Brahmins" in North India. When Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after his victory in Lanka, he wanted to perform "Aswamedha Yagna". For this purpose he invited the local Brahmins to perform the yagna. But they refused the offer since Rama did the sin of Brahma-hatya by killing Ravana, the son of a Brahmin. However some Brahmin families acceped the request of Lord Rama and performed the Yagna. For which they got Lands and wealth at the other side of River Sarayu. Thus the descendants of these families are called "Sarayupari Brahmins" even today. These Brahmins are also called "Kanyakubja Brahmins". Their families spread over many places in UP and Madhya Pradesh.One of the famous persons belonging to the "Kanyakubja Brahmins" sect is Sri Atal Behari Vajapayeeji.