Sage Bharadwaja, the son of Brihaspati, was one of the Seven Sages who was protected by Lord Vishnu when he incarnated as a fish during the Matsya Avatar.
The story of Dasamukha, however starts with the Sage Bharadwaja's daughter – Illavida. She was very beautiful and extremely intelligent.
With his daughter's permission, Sage Bharadwaja got his daughter Ilavida married to Sage Vishravas. Vishravas was the son of Sage Pulatsya. He was a learned scholar and was extremely powerful because of his penance.
The son born to Sage Vishravas and Illavida was Kubera. Kubera was extremely wealthy and became the treasurer of the Devas. In the island of Lanka, Kubera built a beautiful kingdom and ruled it.
At around this time there lived a Daitya King Sumali. He ruled the underworld with his wife Queen Tadaka Sumali and Tadaka had a beautiful daughter called Kaikesi.
Sumali was very unhappy. Time and again the Devas had been victorious against them. He had to do something to stop them....He spoke with his wife. 'Tadaka, we have to do something about this! The Devas keep winning against us! Physically we are as strong as them and we even have as good weapons as they do....'
Tadaka looked at her husband and answered, 'We lack the power of penance that the Devas have...I think if we get that power, we would be able to defeat them...'
Sumali looked at his wife, 'What are you saying? That I send my people to perform penance now? Do you know how long it will take to get the attention of the Gods and get a boon from them....By the time we get any boon it would be too late. No, I want something to be done about it now!' Sumali said firmly.
Tadaka smiled. 'Sumali! You have a daughter, who is of marriageable age.'
Sumali suddenly smiled as he understood what his wife was trying to tell him. He called Kaikesi to his room. ‘Kaikesi, As your mother has now pointed out, you are now a grown woman and are responsible for your own decisions. I think it is time you choose a good and powerful man as your husband! I wish that you would marry the most powerful man in the world…’
Kaikesi looked surprised at her father, ‘Father! You know so many kings, don’t you know anyone who is powerful?’
‘Kings!’ Sumali said contemptuously, ‘The so-called kings are not even as powerful as me…No!’ Sumali shook his head angrily, ‘You need someone else…Someone who is worthy of you…’
Kaikesi thought for sometime, ‘Father do you wish me to marry a sage, one who is powerful by his penance?’
Sumali nodded his head slowly, ‘I wish you to find a powerful sage and marry him…’
Kaikesi agreed to her father's request and immediately set about finding a powerful rishi....
She went all over the earth to search for a powerful sage. It was during the travels that Kaikesi met Sage Vishravas. The minute Kaikesi saw Vishravas, she knew….she knew that he was the man she was going to marry….The power of his penance was shining through him…Without paying attention to anything else, Kaikesi walked forward and bowed to the sage.
‘Great Rishi!’She said bowing to the sage. Vishravas looked at Kaikesi surprised as she continued talking. ‘The minute I saw you, I knew…I am sure that you are the perfect man for me, I wish...I wish...to talk to you sir!’
Vishravas held up his hands, ‘We will talk about his tomorrow…Today, it is not…’
But Kaikesi was impatient. ‘Sir! I will talk to my father! I will ask him to talk to you about our marriage. Please sir, say yes! Sir please!’ She said with pleading eyes.
Vishravas looked sternly at Kaikesi and said, ‘We will talk about this tomorrow! Go home NOW!’
Kaikesi realizing that Vishravas was angry now, left the place. She however talked to her father that very day and told him of her decision.
Sumali came and talked to Vishravas the next day. ‘Great sage! My daughter, Kaikesi saw you yesterday...’
Vishravas looked at Sumali annoyed, ‘So she was your daughter…I have been wanting to talk to you…Does your daughter not know any patience?’ Sumali was surprised as Vishravas continued, ‘The time she met me was an inauspicious time! I tried telling her again and again… But she just did not listen! What...’
Sumali bowed to the sage and said feeling a little unhappy at his daughter's impatience ‘Please forgive her! She is young!’
Vishravas looked at Sumali angrily, ‘Even if I were to marry your daughter, the children born out of the marriage, would always be inclined towards evil…All because she...she could not be patient for some time....’ Vishravas looked at Sumali, ‘Is that...Is that what you want?’
Sumali bowed to the sage, ‘Sir! I will take personal interest in my grandchildren! I will look after them and make sure they do not stray away from the path of righteousness…Please sir! My daughter loves you! Don’t say no to her!’
Finally after a lot of convincing, Vishravas agreed to marry Kaikesi. Born out of this marriage were three sons Dasamukha, Vibhishana and Kumbhakarna and a beautiful daughter called Meenakshi [Meenakshi in Sanskrit means the one with fish like eyes].
Vishravas noted that Dasamukha, the eldest son was phenomenally strong, extraordinarily intelligent and had an instant grasp for everything. The reason Vishravas's eldest son was called as ‘Dasamukha’ was because he had the strength and intelligence of ten people.
But Vishravas also noticed something else. Dasamukha had a fatal flaw – he was arrogant. Dasamukha also rarely showed any restraint. Whatever he wanted, he got it by hook or crook. Dasamukha was disrespectful to others and got into trouble often for taking things which belonged to others.
In order to help his son focus his energy on the better things, Vishravas taught his son the Vedhas and the other Scriptures. Vishravas also taught Dasamukha the ways of the warrior. Dasamukha was an exceptionally good warrior and learnt the art of warfare quickly. Vishravas even taught his son to play the veena. In time Dasamukha became an excellent veena player.
Unknown to Vishravas, however Dasamukha also had another visitor. His grandfather Sumali. Sumali noticed that his grandson Dasamukha was an exceptional warrior and was a natural leader. He decided to develop that skill and taught Dasamukha the ways of the Daityas…
He would speak to his grandson, ‘Dasamukha! You are now a strong and intelligent man! I do not think you are destined to be just a warrior! You are destined to be a great man! I wish you to be a king!’ Dasamukha liked it when he heard that. Sumali told him, ‘You have a step brother – Kubera! I have heard that Kubera rules over the Kingdom of Lanka. It is one of the most beautiful place in the world! I have heard that Kubera has so much money that he is the treasurer to the Devas themselves. Imagine how….’
Fueled by the desires that his grandfather had sowed, Dasamukha dreamt to be the ruler...But Dasamukha did not dream to be the ruler of only the Kingdom of Lanka. He wanted to rule over the entire world, heavens and the underworld....Dasamukha knew that he was now not prepared to launch his attack. He would have to wait and prepare himself. He would have to prepare himself the hard way...Win the favour of the Gods....
Dasamukha with his brothers set about to perform penance. He performed a very severe penance for many, many years.
Finally Lord Brahma appeared before him, ‘Son! Anything you want, I will give you! You have performed the most difficult penance, I have ever seen!’
Dasamukha was thrilled. He bowed to Lord Brahma, ‘Lord, Please make me immortal!’
Brahma sadly shook his head. ‘You have performed a penance strong enough for that…But I cannot give you that boon son! It is against the laws of nature!’
Dasamukha realized that Lord Brahma could not make him immortal but his penance was strong…Dasamukha smiled. ‘Then Lord, grant me another boon!’ He said without any hesitation. Lord Brahma nodded as Dasamukha continued, ‘I wish to have amrita stored in my body…The amrita of the Devas!... So that every time someone kills me, I will use it and come back to life’
Lord Brahma knew that Dasamukha’s penance warranted that he should be given the nectar. He agreed. After this Dasamukha had amrita stored in his stomach….
However Lord Brahma was not yet done, ‘Your penance was very powerful! You can ask for anything else too!’
Dasamukha looked at Lord Brahma with a sly smile, ‘Then in that case, my Lord, I wish to be more powerful than any Deva, Yaksha, Gana….’ Dasamukha gave a long list. However he particularly missed out adding humans to that list. He did not think any man or woman could stand up to him and live to tell the tale….
Lord Brahma granted him the boon and disappeared from there.
After obtaining the boon, Dasamukha now returned to his grandfather Sumali. Sumali saw Dasamukha's power and immediately gave up the command of his vast Daitya armies to his grandson. Dasamukha wanted to rule all the heavens and the earth, but he knew that perfect place to start – Lanka. Kubera was the treasurer of the Devas, that automatically meant that if Lanka was his, he would have unlimited amount of money. That would be of great help to mount his attack on the heavens and the rest of the earth.
With the Daitya army Dasamukha attacked Lanka. Kubera did not even have a chance. Powered by his boon, Dasamukha had become almost invincible. Besides he was a brilliant war strategist. He had Kubera bound and dragged before him in a matter of a few days.
As Dasamukha was about to decide on what to do with Kubera, he saw his father Sage Vishravas appear before him. Dasamukha looked at his father, who looked livid with rage, 'What is this? Why are you attacking your own brother? He is also a son of mine...'
Dasamukha looked at his father straight in the eye. 'I want Lanka. I deserve to be a king and I don't want just any kingdom...I want the best that there is....I want Lanka...'
Vishravas saw that his son was becoming totally addicted to the power he wielded. He knew that no matter how much he talked to his son, he was beyond reason. He went to Kubera, 'Son! Dasamukha cannot be defeated by you! You cannot stand up to him! Give up Lanka to him...' Kubera looked at his father in despair. Kubera loved the city of Lanka. He had had the kingdom built with love and care. Vishwakarma, the architect of the Devas had built the kingdom for him as per his specifications.
Vishravas looked at Kubera and said lovingly, 'I know you love Lanka...But son, I love you more...If you do not give up the kingdom to...' Vishravas looked angrily at Dasamukha, 'He will kill you...Please...'
Finally Dasamukha spared Kubera's life and Kubera gave up the kingdom of Lanka to his brother. Kubera left Lanka and went on to built another city in the Himalayas...However that kingdom never reached the glory of Lanka.
Furious with the behaviour of Dasamukha, Vishravas disowned all the children of Kaikesi and also left for the Himalayas to perform penance there...
Dasamukha was however thrilled on getting Lanka. The riches in the city were untold and the architecture was marvelous. It was while touring the palace, Dasamukha saw the famed 'Pushpaka Vimana'. He knew that Kubera had the flying chariot but he had never seen it.
Dasamukha was however an excellent King. He ruled Lanka very well and the Kingdom of Lanka flourished under him. It is said that poverty and hunger was unknown in Lanka at the time of Dasamukha's rule and that even the poorest families had vessels made of gold....
Dasamukha also had another virtue. He was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. His devotion was such that after his penance, once Lord Shiva appeared before him and even gave Dasamukha his 'Atma Lingam' [An idol which could protect an entire kingdom from any calamity and give the kingdom riches and prosperity.]
Dasamukha loved the pushpaka vimana and often drove on it to far off places. Once on one such trip, Dasamukha was traveling towards the Himalayas. There Dasamukha was surprised. There was one particular mountain, which the vimana just would not fly above...No matter what Dasamukha did, the vimana refused to budge. Dasamukha set the vimana down and got out. As he got out, he saw a very funny sight...A man with a bull face was coming and walking towards him....Dasamukha saw the man and burst out laughing, 'Oh my God! You look like a monkey! Ha...You are so funny!' Dasamukha laughed till he had tears in his eyes.
The bull looked at him angrily, 'You think monkeys are funny are you! I curse you, you arrogant man! I curse you that you would be brought down by monkeys!'
Dasamukha stopped laughing. A curse was not exactly something which bothered him. He was after all the most powerful person on earth. What could one curse from a man who looked so funny exactly do to him? 'What mountain is this? I cannot drive my craft here...'
The bull looked contemptuously at Dasamukha, 'I am Nandi, the vehicle of Lord Shiva! And this...' Nandi said pointing at the mountain behind him, 'This is Kailash, my master's mountain...No craft can fly above it, because nothing is bigger or more powerful than him...'
Dasamukha looked contemptuously at Nandi and at the mountain behind him, 'Powerful! I will show you exactly how powerful I am...and exactly what your Lord can do to me....'
Dasamukha was actually one of the biggest devotees of Lord Shiva. He worshiped Lord Shiva daily and faithfully...However his arrogance had blinded him at the moment. Dasamukha got near the mountain and lifted it...or atleast tried lifting it....He heaved and grunted and the mountain shuddered and slowly moved up.....
Inside the mountain, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi were sitting and talking, when they felt the mountain shudder.
For a second Parvathi wondered what was going on and then looked pointedly at Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva looked at Parvathi and smiled. Lord Shiva did nothing more than press his toe a little more firmly on the ground. The mountain fell back on the ground....
For a second there was silence and then there was a scream....a loud agonizing scream...a scream so loud that the world itself shook and shuddered.....
Outside the mountain, Dasamukha had lifted the mountain a few inches and gotten under it. It was at this moment that Lord Shiva pressed the mountain down, with Dasamukha under it.
The weight of the mountain fell on his back...Dasamukha felt like his back was on fire and was sweating from the weight of the mountain. For a few seconds Dasamukha could not think anything. He saw Nandi standing and looking at him contemptuously.
It was at that time that Dasamukha realized how silly he had acted. He had tried to lift the mountain Kailash...The mountain of the God he worshiped with his whole heart – Lord Shiva. He realized that Lord Shiva did not intend to kill him...He just wanted to teach him a lesson.
Dasamukha knew that Lord Shiva was the Lord of Dance and that he loved music and dance. Slowly... painfully using the hair of his arms, he formed strings and played music like he would play on the veena.
He sang songs in praise of Lord Shiva. He continued this day in and day out.....
After what seemed like an eternity, finally Dasamukha felt the weight of the mountain out of his shoulders. He gasped and ran out of the mountain. He felt free and happy.
After he had started breathing normally, he went up the mountain. He saw Lord Shiva, 'My Lord! I am sorry! I am so sorry! I behaved foolishly. I would never have behaved like this...I am our devotee...I acted out of arrogance...sheer arrogance...I am sorry! Please my Lord!'
Lord Shiva smiled, 'You have paid for your arrogance! I felt that you had been punished enough for your arrogance that is why I let you out!' Lord Shiva looked at Dasamukha and said gently, 'Son! If it were not for your arrogance, you...you...would be...' Lord Shiva sadly shook his head, 'Try not to let your arrogance blind you, my son! And please restrain yourself....If you do not, it will lead to your downfall...' Dasamukha did not realize that wisdom behind the words. He just nodded his head without understanding.
Lord Shiva continued, 'When you screamed Dasamukha, the world shook....you actually made the world scream....That is why henceforth I will name you Ravana – the one who made the world scream!' Ravana bowed his head and left from Kailash.
True to the boon given by Lord Brahma, Ravana defeated Indra and the other Devas. Ravana ruled the heavens and earth....All the Devas were his servants and he treated them contemptuously. But no one was willing to stand up to Ravana. They was absolutely no way of defeating him...
Also true to Shiva's words, Ravana was destroyed by his arrogance and was killed by a human – Lord Rama, the avatar of Lord Vishnu. And true to Nandi's curse, monkey's helped Lord Rama defeat Ravana.
-From the Ramayana