This story is not in Ramcharitmanas or in Valmiki Ramayana, but it was probably added in some later versions of Ramayana. This story is, however, very famous.
After airing fatal arrow on the battlefield of Lanka, Lord Rama told his brother Lakshmana: “Go to Ravana quickly before he dies and request him to share whatever knowledge he can. A brute he may be, but he is also a great scholar!”
The obedient Lakshmana rushed across the battlefield to Ravana’s side and whispered in his ears, “Demon-king, do not let your knowledge die with you. Share it with us and wash away your sins.” Ravana responded by simply turning away. An angry Lakshmana went back to Rama, “He is as arrogant as he always was, too proud to share anything.” Rama comforted his brother and asked him softly, “Where did you stand while asking Ravana for knowledge?” Lakshmana replied: “Next to his head so that I hear what he had to say clearly.”
Rama smiled, placed his bow on the ground and walked to the deathbed of Ravana. Lakshmana watched in astonishment as his divine brother knelt at Ravana’s feet. With palms joined, with extreme humility, Rama said, “Lord of Lanka, you abducted my wife, a terrible crime for which I have been forced to punish you. Now, you are no more my enemy. I bow to you and request you to share your wisdom with me. Please do that for if you die without doing so, all your wisdom will be lost forever to the world.”
To Lakshmana’s surprise, Ravana opened his eyes and raised his arms to salute Rama and said:
If only I had more time as your teacher than as your enemy. Standing at my feet as a student should, unlike your rude younger brother, you are a worthy recipient of my knowledge. I have very little time so I cannot share much but let me tell you one important lesson I have learnt in my life. Things that are bad for you seduce you easily; you run towards them impatiently. But things that are actually good for you, fail to attract you; you shun them creatively, finding powerful excuses to justify your procrastination. This is the wisdom of my life, Rama, my last words, I give it to you.
Ravana then taught Lakshmana that a king who is eager to win glory must suppress greed as soon as it lifts its head, and welcome the smallest chance to do good to others, without the slightest procrastination. Greed arises from attachment to the senses and catering to them. Put them in their proper place; they are windows for knowledge, not channels of contamination. Then he tells him about Politics and Ethics which mainly said:
- do not be enemy of your charioteer, your gatekeeper, your cook and your brother, they can harm you anytime,
- do not think you are always a winner, even if you are winning always,
- always trust the minister, who criticizes you,
- never think your enemy is small or powerless, like I thought for Hanuman,
- never disclose your secrets, like I allowed Vibhisana to join Rama with all our secrets,
- never think you can outsmart the stars, they will bring you what you are destined to,
- either love or hate God but both should be immense and strong.
With these words, Ravana died.
Ravana belonged to an august lineage, having been born as the grandson of Brahma, the creator of the universe, and the son of the sage Vishrava and younger brother of Kubera, the deity of wealth. Ravana was a scholar and connoisseur of arts. Ravana possessed a thorough knowledge of Ayurveda and political science. His ten heads represent that his knowledge of the six Shastras and the four Vedas.
Rama once addressed Ravana as a “Maha Brahman”. An insatiable, all-consuming ego turned out to be Ravana’s Achilles’ heel that negated all his otherwise divine qualities. Rama was very impressed with Ravana’s knowledge and wisdom which is why after defeating him; he praised Ravana and deputed his brother Lakshmana to seek knowledge from the dying Ravana.
As we burn his effigies today on the occasion of Dussehra, we must try to kill our ego and let Ravana’s golden teachings guide us in our life.