“‘Listen’, said Vibhishana, ‘O omniscient sovereign of all creation animate and inanimate, protector of the suppliant, delight of the gods and sages! In the depth of Ravana’s navel there lies a pool of nectar, by virtue of which, my Lord, his life is preserved.’” (Vibhishana speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamansa)
Dussehra is the anniversary celebration of Lord Rama’s victory over the demon Ravana. God personally comes to earth from time to time in order to deliver the pious and punish the miscreants.
As Rama, the Lord incarnated as a pious prince, the son of the king of Ayodhya. Exiled to the forest at the order of His father, Rama suffered an even greater calamity with the kidnapping of his wife Sita by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Along with His army of Vanaras, headed by Hanuman, the Lord and His brother Lakshmana marched to Ravana’s city of Lanka to rescue Sita. After days of fighting, Ravana was finally defeated and killed by Rama’s arrows. This auspicious occasion, marking the triumph and victory of God, has been celebrated ever since.
Due to the effects of the Kali Yuga, many people have abstracted the significance of Dussehra. It is celebrated almost as a secular holiday, with people taking it to be a victory of good over evil. Ravana was undoubtedly bad, and Rama certainly was good, but the Lord’s victory signifies something even greater. God is generally neutral towards all living entities as He declares in the Bhagavad-gita:
“No one is envied by Me, neither am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all; yet whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me; and I am a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita 9.29)
He makes an exception for His devotees. If someone harms them or gets in the way of their service to God, the Lord sends one of His bona representatives to alleviate the situation. In special circumstances, the Lord personally comes Himself to fix things.
“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Bg. 4.8)
This was the case many thousands of years ago when the Rakshasa demon Ravana was busy amassing power and harassing the great sages of the world. Below is an excerpt from the Ramacharitamanasa, detailing the events of the final battle between Rama and Ravana. The fighting was going on for a while, with Ravana being steadily barraged by Rama’s arrows. Yet somehow Ravana still remained alive, with his arms continuously growing back even after being repeatedly cut off:
“Meanwhile, Ravana awoke from his swoon at midnight and began to rage and fume against his charioteer. ‘Fool, to have brought me away from the battlefield! Curses, curses on you, you vile dullard!’ The charioteer clasped Ravana’s feet and endeavored to soothe his anger. At daybreak Ravana mounted his car and sallied forth again.
When they heard of Ravana’s approach, the monkey ranks were wildly agitated. Rooting up mountains and trees wherever they could find them, the mighty warriors rushed to the fray, gnashing their teeth. The fierce monkeys and formidable bears rushed on with mountains in their hands, which they hurled forth with the utmost fury.
The demons, who were unable to resist the onslaught, took to their heels. Having thus humbled the enemy ranks into the dust, the valiant monkeys then closed around Ravana, and buffeting him on every side and tearing his body with their claws, utterly discomfited him.
When he saw the overwhelming might of the monkeys, Ravana took thought and becoming invisible in the twinkling of an eye shed abroad a magic illusion. As he let loose his illusive power, terrible beings came into view: goblins, ghosts and ghouls with bows and arrows in their hands; witches, grasping swords in one hand and human skulls in the other, from which they drank draughts of fresh blood, danced and sang their many songs. They uttered horrible cries of ‘Seize and kill!’ which re-echoed all around. With their mouths wide open, they rushed on to devour the monkeys, who then took to flight.
But wherever they turned in their flight, they saw a blazing fire. When the monkeys and the bears were thus at a loss, Ravana began pouring on them a shower of sand. Having thus broken the spirit of the monkeys on all sides, Ravana of the ten heads roared again, and all the stalwarts, including Lakshmana and Sugriva, lost consciousness. The warriors, most valiant in arms, wrung their hands, crying ‘Alas, O Rama! O Raghunatha, alas!’ Having thus crushed the might of all, Ravana wrought another illusion.
He made appear a host of Hanumans, who rushed forward with rocks in their hands and girt Rama with their encircling thousands. With uplifted tails and gnashing teeth they shouted, ‘Kill him! Seize him! Don’t let him go!’ Their tails looking beautiful massed on every side, and the Lord of Kosala stood in their midst.
In the midst of those tails the beauteous, dark-hued body of the King of Kosala shone forth as resplendent as a lofty tamala tree girt with a magnificent ring of multitudinous rainbows. When they looked on the Lord, the gods experienced mingled feelings of joy and sorrow and raised the cries of ‘Victory! Victory! Victory!’ Then Raghubira’s wrath swelled, and with a single shaft he instantly dispelled the delusion.
The delusion having vanished, the monkeys and the bears in exultant joy returned to the fray with trees and rocks in their hands. Rama shot forth a volley of arrows, which once more cut off Ravana’s arms and heads to the ground. If hundreds of Sheshas and Sharadas, Vedas and bards were to hymn through countless eons the story of Rama’s battle with Ravana, yet would they never come to the end of it.
The dull-witted Tulsidas has told something of the wonders of their exploits, much as a fly mounts up into heaven in accordance with the capacity it possesses. Though his heads and arms were struck off again and again, the valiant lord of Lanka did not die. It was simply a pastime for the Lord, but gods, adepts and sages were distracted at the sight of his suffering. No sooner were the heads severed than a fresh crop sprang up anew like covetousness, which increases with every gain. For all his toll the enemy would not die. Then Rama looked towards Vibhishana.
O Uma (This story is being told by Lord Shiva to his wife Parvati, who is also known as Uma), the Lord whose will causes the death of Death himself, tested the devotion of his servant. ‘Listen’, said Vibhishana, ‘O omniscient sovereign of all creation animate and inanimate, protector of the suppliant, delight of the gods and sages! In the depth of Ravana’s navel there lies a pool of nectar, by virtue of which, my Lord, his life is preserved.’ On hearing such words uttered by Vibhishana, the gracious Raghunatha was pleased and grasped his fierce arrows.
Many evil omens then began to manifest themselves. Numbers of donkeys, jackals and dogs set up a howling; birds screamed and portended universal calamity, and comets were seen in every quarter of the sky. Fierce flames broke out in all the ten quarters, and though there was no new moon, a solar eclipse occurred. Mandodari’s (Ravana’s wife) heart beat wildly and idols shed tears from their eyes. Idols wept, thunderbolts fell from heaven, furious winds blew, the earth reeled, clouds dropped blood and hair and dust; who could recount all the inauspicious omens? At the sight of these countless portents, the gods in heaven cried in dismay and shouted, ‘Victory! Victory!’ Sensing that the gods were overcome by fear, the gracious Raghunatha set an arrow to his bow.
Drawing the bow-string to his ear, Raghunatha shot forth thirty-one shafts, which sped forth like the serpents of doom. One arrow sucked up the depths of the navel, while the rest wrathfully smote his ten heads and twenty arms and carried them away with them. The headless, armless trunk still danced upon the plains. The earth sank down as the trunk rushed wildly on, til the Lord struck it with his arrows and split it in two. Even as he lay gasping his life away, he thundered aloud with a fierce yell, ‘Where is Rama that I may challenge him and slay him in combat?’
The earth shook as the Ten-headed tumbled; the ocean, the rivers, the elephants of the quarters, and the mountains stood agitated. Stretching out the two halves of his body, Ravana dropped to the ground, crushing beneath them a host of bears and monkeys.
After laying the arms and heads before Mandodari, the darts returned to Rama, lord of the universe, and all found their way back into the quiver. The gods saw it and beat their celestial drums.
The spirit entered the Lord’s mouth; Shiva and Brahma rejoiced to see the sight. The whole universe resounded with cries of triumph: ‘Victory to Raghubira, mighty of arm!’ Throngs of gods and sages showered down blossoms, crying, ‘Victory to the All-merciful! Victory, victory to Mukunda!’” (Ramacharitamanasa, as translated by R.C. Prasad)