“Then a shower of flowers fell from the sky, covering Rama’s chariot, something difficult to accomplish and fascinating to see.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 108.28)
nipapātāntarikṣācca puṣpavṛṣṭistadā bhuvi |
kirantī raghavarathaṃ duravāpā manoharā ||
Ravana’s many men couldn’t do it. Though they were expert in black magic and thus capable of appearing on the scene one second and then disappearing the next, in this endeavor they were dismal failures. Ravana’s gigantic brother, who slept for the majority of the year, couldn’t do it, either. He had a tremendous mass, so much so that his accumulated food in the belly allowed him to hibernate for a long time. And then Ravana himself proved a failure. Despite his ten heads, twenty arms, famous fighting prowess, and boons granted from celestials, he was not able to accomplish this one task that was done very easily by the celestials. Though Ravana and his men used many arrows that were hard and swift, it was a shower of flowers that managed to finally cover Rama’s chariot. We celebrate that feat on the occasion of Dussehra.
In Sanskrit the material energy is known as maya. Its literal meaning is “that which is not,” though it is often paired with other words to give a more specific relation to an energy. In discussions pertaining to truth and reality, maya takes the side opposing God. Not exactly a devil, maya is that which is not directly God. Maya still comes from God, so she works at His behest. She acts through illusion, tricking others into thinking they are progressing along the proper path, when they actually aren’t.
Maya is very difficult to overcome. She pervades a land ruled over by the feminine expansion of God known as Durga, whose very name means “a fort that is difficult to cross over.” Without God’s help, maya cannot be overcome. Think of wanting that toy when you were younger. You wanted it very much. You cried and cried in the store so that your parents would buy it for you. Maybe you were a good kid so this didn’t happen to you, but surely the same was seen in another child.
The child can’t get the toy because the parents won’t buy it for them. This is a limiting factor. It is a barrier. The parents’ consent is absent, so the child is stymied in their desire. Another option is to take the toy from the store. Again, there is a barrier, this time in the form of the store managers, who keep an eye out for shoplifters. Even if the child successfully takes one toy that they want, they can’t continue the pattern of behavior forever. They can’t steal everything in life and get away with it.
Maya is so powerful that there is no conquering over her without sanction from a higher authority. That sanction only comes when the nature of the individual’s desire changes. When one no longer hankers after supremacy in the areas of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation, they have a chance of living within maya peacefully. In that surrendered state, if they then desire to glorify the controller of maya, the origin of matter and spirit, the situation completely reverses. Instead of the individual being stymied in their efforts, it is the Supreme Lord Himself who can do nothing to stop the success of the determined individual.
The occasion celebrated on Dussehra is a wonderful example of this. Ravana was the fiendish king of Lanka during a specific time period within the Treta Yuga, the second age of creation. He wanted world supremacy. He was close to having it. He got a wonderful kingdom of Lanka, full of real riches. Not just a bank balance that showed he had a lot of a paper currency stashed away somewhere, Ravana had possession of physical commodities such as gold and jewels. Wealth attracts women, and Ravana had a lot of them as well. He had so many beautiful princesses as wives. He had so much enjoyment on a regular basis, and the world feared him, not daring to take him on in battle.
Maya’s spell is illusion, so when one thinks they have overcome her, they sink even further. In this sense it is more auspicious to be a constant failure with respect to material desires. If you get too much success, you might start to think that you are God and that you can conquer everything, including death. In the Bible there is the proverb about how difficult it is for the rich person to reach the kingdom of God. The obvious meaning is that the wealthy person thinks they have succeeded in life without God’s help, and so they will have no desire to advance to the higher destination in the next life. Lord Krishna gives the more complete definition of the same concept in a verse in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, where He mentions how the wealth of misers causes them misery in the present life and brings them to hell after death.
“Generally, the wealth of misers never allows them any happiness. In this life it causes their self-torment, and when they die it sends them to hell.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.23.15)
Despite so much success, Ravana wanted more. He finally crossed the line when he stole a beautiful princess in secret while she was living in the wilderness with her husband and His younger brother. He had to steal her because she refused his advances. He also did the mission incognito because he was warned that the woman’s husband would destroy him in battle.
Though he carried out the act successfully, he would not get away with it. Ravana would eventually meet death at the hands of the beautiful princess’ husband, who was named Rama. From the Vedas we learn that Rama is God, an incarnation of the original Personality of Godhead. He is the controller of maya. Maya belongs to Him, so He is never under her influence. His physically manifest body is never composed of maya, either.
The controller of maya easily defeated the man most controlled by her in a fierce firefight, featuring swiftly-coursing arrows released from majestic bows. Each man fought from a chariot. Ravana’s goal was to cover Rama’s chariot. He did not succeed in this, but interestingly after Ravana’s defeat, the celestials from above were able to without a problem. They didn’t use arrows. Instead, they dropped a shower of flowers, and it completely covered Rama’s chariot.
Flowers are considered part of the material energy. If we want to cover our house with flowers, it might be a little difficult. We may succeed once, but only after great effort. At some point in trying to replicate the success we will meet with failure. When the same desire is applied to glorifying the Supreme Lord, there is never failure. Not even He can stop the success of the devotees, for it is in His nature to help the surrendered souls. He cannot act otherwise. If He did, He wouldn’t be God.
On the occasion of Dussehra we celebrate the defeat of Ravana at the hands of Rama, who was thus able to regain His beautiful wife Sita. We also celebrate the defeat of Rama’s chariot, which was covered by the flowers of devotion dropped by the celestials, who were ecstatic over His victory. That enchanting vision proves that there is only one way to overcome maya, and it is through pure and unmotivated love for the controller of maya.
Despite black magic, here and there to hover,
With arrows Rama’s chariot fiends not to cover,
Celestials did amazing feat with flowers,
From the sky came covering shower.
Maya’s illusion difficult to overcome,
Through God’s sanction only victory to come.
In devotion even Supreme Lord to conquer,
Ready on His devotees any gift to confer.