Ravan is one of the main characters in the Indian epic Ramayana. He kidnaps lord Ram’s wife Sita after being besotted by her beauty. He later gets defeated by Ram who was helped by his brother Lakshman, ardent devotee Hanuman and the vaanar sena [army of animals].

But Ramayana also had another negative character in the form of Mahiravan. He is described either as a brother or ally or relative of Ravan. Also known as Ahiravan, he enters the epic before the war between Ram and Ravan.

Mahiravan was the king of Paatal Lok, which is a nether-world. Hence, he ruled and lived in the underground. Before facing Ram in the great war of Lanka, Ravan asks Mahiravan to help him defeat Ram. Ravan considers this option after he keeps losing his men, including his sons, in the war.

Ravan reaches a stage where he becomes well-aware that he is all set to lose the war. A part of him also acknowledges that he is on the wrong side. But his arrogance and ego were too big for him to accept defeat.

Eager to obey Ravan, Mahiravan realizes that Hanuman has created a fortress through his tail in order to protect Ram and Lakshman. So Mahiravan takes the form of Ram’s associate Vibhishan (Ravan’s brother) and gets entry inside the fortress. Through his evil power, he puts off Ram, Lakshman and their associates to sleep, including the actual Vibhishan.

Mahiravan succeeds in taking Ram and Lakshman in the nether-world. He keeps them captive and is all set to offer them as sacrifice to the goddess of Mahamaya, whom he ardently worships.  

Vibhishan gets back to his senses and realizes what transpired. He asks Hanuman to do something and rescue Ram and Lakshman. When Hanuman reaches the nether-world, Mahiravan lights five lamps. He can be defeated only if one can extinguish all five lamps at once.

This is where Hanuman takes his famous Panchamukhi (five-headed) form and shuts out all five lamps at once. He not only defeats Mahiravan but also succeeds in rescuing Ram and Lakshman. Hence, Ravan’s key tactic to defeat Ram was reduced to ashes.

The story of Mahiravan was deeply explored by author Shubha Vilas in his last book in his six part Ramayana series.

This story has found takers in cinema too. Filmmaker Chitrapu Narayana Rao’s Telugu movie Mahiravana was based on the antics of the demon way back in 1940. The film saw Vemuri Gaggayya essay the titular role. More recently in 2018, Ezhil Vendan’s Hindi animated movie Hanuman vs Mahiravana was also based on the same battle.

Om Raut’s upcoming ambitious retelling of the Ramayana titled Adipurush sees Prabhas and Saif Ali Khan in the roles of Ram and Ravan respectively. It will be interesting to see if the movie will have the sub-plot about Mahiravan and, if yes, which actor would play the role.

Interestingly, in the tradition of Thailand, where Ramayana is famous, Mahiravan is known as Maiyarap.