“Ravana was killed by Lord Ramachandra and was destined for hellish life, but by Lord Ramachandra’s advice, Vibhishana, Ravana’s brother, performed all the duties prescribed in relation to the dead. Thus Lord Ramachandra was kind to Ravana even after Ravana’s death.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 9.10.29 Purport)
The ten-headed one had a rather lengthy rap sheet. As leader of a kingdom, he would host visitors every now and then. Operating in that capacity he one time indeed “shot the messenger,” devouring the flesh afterwards. He was a Rakshasa, which is a kind of man-eater. Ravana would send his men to kill innocent sages living in the forest, attacking right at the time of yajna [sacrifice]. To take over Lanka he scared away his non-threatening brother Kuvera.
He had a reign of terror. Ravana’s kingdom was filled with gold, beautiful women, wine, and animal flesh. It looked like things were going well. That is until he committed a crime for which he would surely get punished. Justice would be served with the ultimate force possible, and it would attach to everything from the past for which Ravana was responsible. The occasion of Dussehra commemorates the delivery of that justice.
It arrived via the aerial route. The implementation was through arrows released from a bow. The bow hung on the shoulder of the all-attractive, ever dedicated to dharma prince of Ayodhya. Since He was like a moon to give light to dissipate the darkness, He was known as Ramachandra. He was the protector of Koshala, which had a long history of pious rulers.
Ramachandra is a direct incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Essentially, Ramachandra is God Himself. Ravana was a special case, since ordinarily the fruits of karma, either good or bad, arrive at the appropriate time. It is something like waiting for the spring season to see flowers and plant life.
“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)
Kala, or time, destroys everything and everyone eventually. The complete clearing of the slate is known as death, though that applies only to the present body. There can still be residual effects that have to manifest at a later time. The individual within is imperishable. The soul is never born, nor does it ever die, but the individual that is the soul travels from body to body, life after life.
Ravana was killed after a long struggle. It looked like the leader of the Rakshasas was getting away with his greatest crime, that of stealing the princess of Videha, Sita Devi. She also happened to be Ramachandra’s wife. Ravana did not fight for her fairly. He did not win her in a struggle. Instead, he took her away in a cowardly manner, sneaking around and hiding his true form.
Ravana certainly deserved the punishment he later received, but there was no lasting enmity from the Supreme Lord’s side. This was evident in the direction given to Vibhishana immediately after Ravana’s death. Vibhishana was Ravana’s brother who happened to turn sides. Vibhishana went to Ramachandra’s camp after failing to set Ravana straight. The leader of Lanka would not listen to sound advice, even if it came from his well-wishing brother.
After Ramachandra won the battle against Ravana, He directed Vibhishana to perform the funeral rites. This would help Ravana in the afterlife, as he had a long list of sinful deeds. The idea is that a person’s next destination is not guaranteed. Family members perform the funeral rites to prevent ghostly life as the next destination for the departed.
“My husband Rama is famous throughout the world. He is pure, truthful, and very gentle. He is mighty-armed, has wide eyes, and is always busy working for the welfare of all living beings [sarva-bhuta-hite-ratah].” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.11)
None of this was necessary, since Ravana died directly at the hands of God. Liberation, release from the cycle of birth and death, was guaranteed. Still, Rama directed Vibhishana as such for setting the proper example. The Supreme Lord does not hold a grudge. He does not maintain enmity, even with the worst people in the world. That is one way to define good. It is benevolence extended to the entire population of creatures. Kind or mean, tall or small, rich or poor, Shri Ramachandra is eternally a well-wisher.
Over Lanka carrying hold strong,
Ravana with rap-sheet long.
Since so many sins committed,
Even stealing a wife himself permitted.
That last to break the trend,
Ramachandra fiery arrows to send.
Enmity gone with brother’s deeds shown,
Pious Vibhishana next to take the throne.