Different Interpretations: Ravana Lifting Mt Kailasa

One of the legends in Hindu mythology talks about the episode where King Ravana, in his arrogance, tries to lift Mt Kailash- the abode of Shiva. Even though Ravana makes a fair effort Shiva pushes the mountain back down with his foot and Ravana is apparently trapped for a good while under it.

I had frankly never heard of this tale until I started reading up for my trip to Cambodia and about this magnificent temple called Banteay Srei which has an exquisite depiction of this scene.

Ravana Lifting Mt Kailash- Banteay Srei
Ravana Lifting Mt Kailash- Banteay Srei

The panel above has Ravana with his ten heads and twenty arms lifting Mt Kailash and looking up to see what kind of effect he is having on the residents of the mountain. Almost everybody (including the sages) seem startled except for Shiva who is composed and confident.

I then later came across the same incident depicted in two other temples in Hoysala style- Belur & Haleibidu

Ravana lifting Mt Kailash in Belur
Ravana lifting Mt Kailash in Belur
Ravana Lifting Mt Kailash in Haleibidu
Ravana Lifting Mt Kailash in Haleibidu

In both the Belur and Haleibidu versions of the incident Ravana has been given a large amount of space. He is shown as this massive demonic figure that is lifting the mountain and all its occupants. In Banteay Srei however (and this may have been dictated by the limited space available) Ravana is not quite so large and is almost human-like in his curiosity and exertion.

Whereas Belur and Haleibidu temples were built in the early 12th Century, Banteay Srei was built in the 10th Century. There was a difference of nearly two centuries and a massive ocean and many miles of land between the two places and yet they were connected by a common thread of folklore and divinity.

What do you think? Do you see any recurrent motifs/ legends in ancient architecture that you like? Leave a comment!


14 Comments Add yours

  1. matthias1982 says:

    very good post!!! I have been to the Banteay Srei and admired the carvings – but I did not know anything of the mythology behind them! Later on I visited India many times and of course I heard about Ravana taking Sita away from Rama and being finally conquered with the help of Hanuman! But again I never heard that Ravana tried to lift Mt. Kailash! I believe Hindu mythology offers a field of study for much much more than a life time…

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Thanks Matthias. First of all, yes Banteay Srei is just amazing and it’s one of my favourite places in the Angkor region. Second you are absolutely right about the vast number of tales and sub-tales that abound in Hindu mythology. Like you I had never heard of this tale until I visited Cambodia. Did you spend a lot of time in the Angkor region?

      1. matthias1982 says:

        I was there in 2008 for only 3 days… after that I went to Phnom Penh concentrating on the more recent and tragic side of Cambodian history…

      2. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

        I haven’t been to Phnom Penh- would like to go there the next time- that and Preah Vihar

  2. Lav says:

    Very fascinating! You see the artists style, the time and the society’s attitude all in the way these are depicted!

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Exactly and also their limitations- things they built depended on what materials they could get together

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      thank you Santosh!

  3. latasun says:

    Sukanya, this is also one of the tales I had heard recently. Lovely sculptures. When Ravana lifted the Kailash mountain, Shiva held it down with his big toe and Ravana’s hand gets trapped beneath the mountain. He cries due to the pain. The sages tell him to request Shiva to help him. He then starts to sing praises of Shiva. Shiva is pleased by this and releases Ravana from his agony. Due to his cries, he gets his name Ravana given by Shiva.

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Thank you for sharing the details- I remember my mother mentioning the toe but I did not know some of the other details.

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Thank you Devasena!

  4. Nirmala says:

    Interesting how legends crossed boundaries in the past!

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      We talk about globalisation as if it is a new thing but it was all there in the past already and past societies were far more open to change than we are today.

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