The Vibrancy of Navratri
The Indian sub-continent is famous for its festivals and the splendid rituals and zeal with which the celebrations are carried out. Although the rituals differ from place to place and the incidents attached to them also vary, their essence and the message they elaborate remain more or less the same.
Navratri: Celebrating the Divine Feminine
This is the month marking the start of festivities with the 9-day-long festival of Navratri, meaning 9 nights, in which 9 forms of Goddess are worshipped. Fasting, worshipping, gathering during the night, where people remain awake and sing kirtans to appease the Goddess, dancing on garba tunes, inviting young girls to households and treating them as avatars of the Goddess and feeding them, are common sights.
Closure with Dussehra
The closure of these 9 days and nights of devotion is marked with the festival of Dussehra or Vijaya-dashami, a major Hindu festival celebrated at the end of Navratri every year. It is observed for different reasons and celebrated differently in various parts of the Indian subcontinent.
Symbolism of Dussehra
In some parts of the country, it celebrates the victory of good over evil, symbolized in Indian mythology by the slaying of the mighty demon king Ravana by Rama, and by the killing of the buffalo monster Mahishasura by Goddess Durga. Every year, effigies of Ravana, Meghnada, and Kumbhkarana are burnt with fireworks on Dussehra, which falls on the 10th day of the month Ashwin in the Hindu lunar calendar.
Spiritual Significance: The Essence of Dussehra
The festival’s name is derived from the words dasha (ten) and hara (take away). If we look around, we find that man has succumbed to evils such as lust, anger, greed, attachment, ego, laziness, fear, carelessness, hatred, and jealousy. All of these 10 vices are causing conflicts in relationships and violence in the world.
Rama: The Personification of Virtue
Rama is the personification of virtue, the MarayadaPurush, who will never abandon his sanctity, no matter the situation. Rama denotes a benefactor or the liberator, known to be the master or consort of Sita who was born from an earthen pot.
Sita: Symbol of Liberation
Sita symbolizes the soul which resides in the body of 5 elements, the primary of which is Earth. When the soul realizes itself, it is awakened and enlightened and subsequently liberated from fear, sorrow, worldly attachments, and other negative emotions rooted out of body consciousness, which is symbolic of taking away of 10 vices or Dussehra.
Ravana: The Personalization of Evil
On the other hand, Ravana, who is burnt on this day, is the personalization of evil. He is shown to be a learned scholar who gave in to lust, anger, greed, ego, etc. Ravana means one who makes everyone cry. He is shown as a 10-headed demon who was the mightiest of all the kings and rulers and was equally knowledgeable and a great devotee.
The Struggle Within: Slaying Ravana
If we try to overcome these vices one by one superficially, it is not possible to do so as very soon our resolution of giving away of any of these vices is broken due to the soul being grossly trapped in body consciousness.
Victory of Virtues: Symbolism of Effigy Burning
When the soul crosses its limit of soul consciousness or Lakshman rekha, it gets carried away or abducted by the vices, the Ravana. It is then that it enters the clutches of vices and seeks re-union with the liberator.
Meghnad and Kumbhkarana: Symbolism
Along with the slaying of Ravana, Meghnad and Kumbhkarana are also burnt. Meghnad means ‘megh’ (cloud) + ‘nad’ (noise). Thunder of clouds represents ego, as the clouds that cause rain need not create noise to prove their presence. And Kumbhkaranameans ‘kumbh’ (big-sized pot) + ‘karana’ (ear).
Vijaya-dashmi: Victory of Virtues Over Vices
Vijaya-dashmi marks the victory of virtues over vices. It spiritually denotes the victory and re-establishment of the rule of the good, truth, and righteousness over evil.
Symbolic Meaning: Welcoming Deities
It also symbolizes the welcoming of Saraswati – the Goddess of Knowledge; Lakshmi – the Goddess of Wealth; Ganesha – the Lord of Intellect, Wisdom, Enlightenment, Prosperity, and Success; Kubera – the keeper of treasures of unlimited wealth.
The Ongoing Struggle: A Call to Action
We celebrate Dussehra every year, but are we really becoming free of vices or are the celebrations just another form of an annual ritual?
Looking Inward: A Spiritual Effort Required
Simply burning wood and straw effigies is not going to bring us victory over evil. That can be achieved only by spiritual effort.
The Inner Battle: Ramayana as a Parable
The story of the Ramayana is a parable of how God, personified by Rama, and humans represented by the army of monkeys, together can rid the world of negative tendencies under the leadership of the Supreme.
Identity Beyond the Physical: A Spiritual Awakening
When we forget that we are spiritual beings, or souls, we begin to define ourselves in terms of our body and the labels that come with it – of race, religion, nationality, gender, caste, color, creed, race, profession, and many more.
Spiritual Awareness: Key to Liberation
We need to remove veils of ignorance from the intellect, by becoming aware of our true identity as souls innately possessing divine qualities of peace, love, and cooperation.
Rajyoga Meditation: A Path to Self-Mastery
With the collective practice of spiritual knowledge and meditation, not only our negative proclivities but even the polluted elements of nature can be purified. Rajyoga connects us to divinity and empowers the soul to resist negative influences, sorrows, and sufferings.
Ultimate Self-Mastery: A Call for Action
Such self-mastery is not only the prerogative of saints and sages but can be easily attained by any householder with a little self-awareness and effort.
Conclusion: Meaningful Celebrations and Resolutions
To make our celebration of Vijaya-dashmi meaningful, we must resolve on this occasion to take at least one step towards conquering our weaknesses, so that each year we move closer to attaining victory over them. This is the only way we can sublimate the negative propensities of Ravana living in our minds.