“Bestowing joy on the leaders of the Vanaras and leading to the destruction of the Rakshasas, decorated with various kinds of beautiful and charming plumes of Garuda.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 108.12)
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that while there are two categories of items held in the four hands of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the eyes of the devotee each item is equally auspicious. On the occasion of Dussehra, we celebrate the victory of Vishnu’s avatara of Shri Rama over the wicked Rakshasa named Ravana, where a single arrow carries the same kind of multi-sided auspiciousness.
The four items that Vishnu holds are the conch, the flower, the disc, and the club. The club and the disc are weapons. A weapon is not bad by itself. There are aggressors in this world. We are known to come across villains in the journey through life. Not everyone respects private property and personal space. Not everyone is content to live peacefully. Not everyone is able to keep their envy in check.
Sometimes the aggressors cross boundaries. They fail to respect borders. They intrude upon others, breaking and entering into homes. They take what does not belong to them. They intimidate through force or even the mere threat of it.
Vishnu employs the disc and the club to deal with the miscreants. The lowest among men, the ones who are so committed to adharma that they cannot be convinced otherwise. No amount of logic, reasoning, or revealing of future consequences can dissuade them from the path of destruction.
The lotus flower and the conch are items of peace. They are integral aspects to a formal worship routine, which can be carried out by any person. The Vedic tradition persists through something known as parampara. There is no requirement for an official establishment, an institution which changes the rules and assigns authority figures by vote.
One person carries the knowledge forward, to another person. Anyone can worship Vishnu in their home. They can blow the conch at the appropriate times. They can offer a little water, some fruit, or a beautiful flower. They can present everything before a picture of the beautifully adorned husband of the goddess of fortune.
The disc and the club actually have the same nature as the flower and the conch because of the ultimate effect. There is auspiciousness in vanquishing the miscreants. There is a purpose to Vishnu’s intervention. He does so to protect the sadhu class. He is always the well-wisher of the saints.
विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम्
सम्भवामि युगे युगे
vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām
sambhavāmi yuge yuge
“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)
The victory of Rama over Ravana is one such instance of that protection visible to the world. Rama is supposedly a human, a mortal like the rest of them. Ravana is a ten-headed ogre who supposedly has protection from all angles. He covered everything in his requests to Lord Brahma, the creator. Surely, some ordinary man would have no way of defeating Ravana. Why bother worrying about them?
Rama was no ordinary man. He was Vishnu, and the weapon of choice was an arrow. A series of verses in the Ramayana describe the wonderful attributes of that arrow. That arrow also carries the same two-sided effect as Rama’s very presence.
That arrow gives pleasure to the Vanaras, who are the forest-dwellers from Kishkindha. They are helping Rama in the fight to overcome evil. The leading Vanaras take the most pleasure from that arrow because it greatly assists their military efforts.
That same arrow leads to the destruction of the Rakshasas, who are supposedly protected by Ravana. That arrow is beautifully adorned. It has plumes of an eagle, which can also be taken as a reference to Garuda, who is the devoted eagle-carrier of Lord Vishnu.
Protection on one side and destruction on another. Swift in travel just like Garuda. Everything about the arrow is auspicious, including celebrating its most famous travel. Released from the bow of Shri Rama, it restored dharma to the world at a time when the villains were steadily ascending in power.
At the time steadily ascending,
None equipped defending.
Dharma vanishing from sight,
Due to Rakshasas of might.
Until Vishnu finally came,
Human of Rama the name.
On Dussehra arrow’s flight,
Ending Ravana’s fight.