“The mighty Rama, who possessed extraordinary strength, consecrating in accordance with the mantras prescribed in the Vedas, taking that great arrow – which was capable of removing the fears of the entire world and the Ikshvaku dynasty, capable of taking away the glory of His enemies, and conducive to His own happiness – fixed it on His bow.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 108.13-14)
The newborn continues to reach important milestones. While one day they are content playing on the floor mattress, jumping up and down and rolling over countless times, suddenly they realize that crawling can get them to wherever they want to go.
They venture out into unchartered territories, sometimes taking a quick peek back to see if the parents are watching. Maybe they know deep down that they shouldn’t be entering the kitchen. Those curtains in front of the patio door – perhaps they shouldn’t be pulled upon.
As they get older, the children see what the parents do on a daily basis. It is basic imitation. If a particular activity is sanctioned for the parents, why not also the child? Growing up in a house that follows traditions of the Vedas, one day the young one sees the parents celebrating something called Dussehra. They then pose several questions to the father, wanting further details. The visuals are enough to capture their interest, but there must be something behind the tradition.
1. What is it?
Also going by names such as Vijaya-dashami and Rama-vijayotsava, Dussehra is for commemorating the moment when Shri Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, defeated the ten-headed king of Lanka, Ravana, once and for all. Victory is always a certainty for the Supreme Lord, who is known as Ajita, or unconquerable. The details are simply a matter of time; they will manifest when appropriate.
Dussehra marks such a moment, when after days of intense battling the conflict finally came to an end. The ten-headed one crashed to the ground, both literally and symbolically. The reign was over, and now Lanka would be ruled by a pious leader, Ravana’s younger brother Vibhishana.
2. Why celebrate this particular victory of good over evil?
In the more secular analysis, the celebration is for the triumph of good over evil. Rama represents good and Ravana evil. Rama abided by principles of dharma, which is righteousness, religiosity, duty, etc. Ravana was committed to adharma, which essentially represents the opposite. Though he expected others to respect his own property, Ravana did not extend the same courtesy to others. This is the foundation of adharma – act only in your self-interest, in duplicity, and never consider the impact on others.
Good triumphs over evil all the time. What is known as justice arrives at the appropriate moment and in the proper magnitude. This was taught by Shri Rama Himself, when one time battling an aggressor sent by Ravana to cause trouble.
“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)
Therefore Dussehra must be about more. It is the pure good, shuddha-sattva, gaining victory against maya and everything she is able to do. Her greatest accomplishment is to fool an otherwise intelligence species, the human being, into thinking that material comforts and the fruits of personal accomplishments will last forever. Time is the great devouring force, and in Ravana’s case the Supreme Lord decided to show the world that He is time itself.
3. Why invoke a weapon that came from Brahma?
The culminating yuddha, or military conflict, described in the Ramayana is between two large armies. Rama’s side consists of monkeys and bears, and Ravana’s of black-magic enhanced Rakshasas, who are like man-eating ogres. There are terrific and capable fighters on both sides, and they each get to show their worth.
At the end it is Rama and Ravana fighting against each other. This conflict is difficult, but only because the Supreme Lord allows it to be. In the end He summons a weapon handed to Him by Agastya Rishi. This arrow is originally from Lord Brahma, the creator. Rama empowers the weapon by using a mantra, and once released it is the end for Ravana.
Rama does not require the use of such a weapon. Nor does He need mantras to empower anything. His actions in the manifest world illustrate key principles that mankind should follow. Using Brahma’s arrow pays respect to the creator, who is a spiritual master in his own right. The same Brahma was worshiped by Ravana to rise to power, and now the benefactor has shown that his benedictions paired with Divine strength are no match for material rewards used in the mindset of adharma.
4. Why worship the sun-god?
Rama received the weapon from Agastya, who had urged Rama to first worship the sun-god. The Supreme Lord in that incarnation appeared in the solar dynasty, a family of rulers who started with Vivasvan. The act thus paid honor to the people who previously appeared in the family.
Many spiritual traditions show a similar level of respect to the sun. Without the heat and light it provides man would not be able to survive on earth. An empowered being, everyone benefits from its presence – both good and bad alike.
5. Why so many celebrations for Shri Rama?
There is Rama Navami, which is like Rama’s birthday. There is Diwali, which celebrates the Supreme Lord’s return home to Ayodhya after the defeat of Ravana. There is Dussehra, also, and so the child is sure to wonder why there are several celebrations on the calendar for a single person.
God the person does not require our service. The celebrations in His honor are not necessary for His happiness and wellbeing. Every tradition passed on from authority is for our benefit, for purifying our consciousness. Rama is so kind that He allows for every day to be an utsava, a celebration in His honor. This is most easily accomplished through harinama-sankirtana, chanting the holy names of God together with others.
Father showing lamp of ghee,
Celebration small child to see.
Naturally to wonder the reason,
Why Dussehra in this season?
To good winning over evil more,
About Rama and His victory to ensure.
How sun-god and Brahma respecting,
To help us, worship never expecting.