Vijayadashami (Dussehra) – The Saga

Vijayadashami (Dussehra) is celebrated every year in India, right after the end of Navratri festival. It is marked as the symbol of victory. The victory of good over evil. The victory of Ram over Ravana.

As the story goes, Ravana was the king of Lanka, who kidnapped Sita, wife of Ram, who was the Prince of Ayodhya. Ram and Sita were in exile for 13 years, along with Laxman. The king of Ayodhya, Dashrath had 3 wives, one of them Kaikeyee got worried about her son, Bharat’s future as king of Ayodhya, as Ram was the eldest of all. On Kaikeyee’s wish, Ram was forced to go to exile. That’s how Sita and Laxman followed him.

Ravana on revengeful request from his sister, Surpanaka, kidnaps Sita and takes her to his kingdom – Lanka. Thus starts the beginning of the War of Ramanaya. Ram with the help of Hanuman and other monkey army goes on a fight against the army of Ravana. There are lot of episodes in the story, however the end marks by Ram killing Ravana, after the suggestion from Vibhisan (Ravan’s brother).

The end of Ravan, consider to be an evil person by his act of kidnapping a woman and going against the norms of the society had to meet a fateful end.

To symbolize the end Ravan, every year in India, Vijayadashami is celebrated. ( The Victory on the 10th day, following the lunar calendar)

The celebration starts by creating the idol of Ravana with the waste products and left overs of the year. The idol is kept for public display in the center of the streets or play grounds. At night, the idol is burnt with crackers bursting, symbolizing that people will end evil thoughts in them and start a fresh life.

The beauty of India lies in the celebration of Festivals. Every year, I find new things about the celebrations and everytime I get mesmerized in the depth and diversity of Indian history. This year I get closer to my community and know the people around whom I grew up.

This post is a part of series inDiscovering the Cultural Significance of various rituals and festivals in India.


Hanuman Jayanti 2016

Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated on Chaitra Poonam (full-moon day) as per the Lunar Calendar, which falls on April 22, in 2016. Hanuman was born on this day to Anjana and Kesari. Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Hanuman.

Hanuman was a follower of Lord Rama and is worshipped for his strength, chastity and devotion. Hanuman is said to be able to assume any form at will and grow or reduce in size. There are many stories related to Hanuman in the story of Ramayana. In his childhood, he is said to have consumed the Sun. Hanuman was the first to fly across the strait from Rameswaram to Lanka. He was primarily responsible for the fire in Lanka and caused a devastation there. He is considered to be an avatar of Shiva and Rama to be an avatar of Vishnu, likewise.

From early morning, devotees flock Hanuman temples to worship him. They apply tilak of sindoor to their foreheads from Hanuman’s idol as Hanuman himself is of that color. Devotees observe Hanuman Jayanti during different time of the year according to their regional beliefs and the type of calendar being followed.

Hanuman holding a Gada (mace) in his hand. Picture credit Google.

I have not celebrated it ever and never seen anyone in my close network to have celebrated it so profoundly. However, in the recent development of my understanding with mythology and Indian ancient history, I have come to a different understanding about the stories in Epics and the celebration related to the characters in the Epic. They teach us virtues and values. They teach us of the events in life.

I learn the value of friendship from the stories of Hanuman. I learn that it is very important to have physical fitness in life. Also there is always immense amount of energy, strength and power within all of us, we just need to discover that or be motivated about it. Sometimes, when the situation demands everything within us comes out profoundly. The chastity maintained by Hanuman, teaches me of the discipline and self-control in life. It teaches of the selflessness and helping attitude towards life.

I believe the celebrations were a motto to spread this knowledge with the common people, during the times when there was no literature, no media and no means of press. We need to understand that we may not celebrate them now, but we should not forget the lessons imbibed in our mythological stories.

The story of Hanuman, consuming the Sun, is mentioned in Hanuman Chalisa ( 40 hymns/verses about Hanuman). This particular verse contains the information about the distance of Sun from the Earth. Isn’t that amazing ?

Devanagari  जुग सहस्र जोजन पर भानू। लील्यो ताहि मधुर फल जानू॥ १८ ॥

Read as juga sahasra jojana para bhānū। līlyo tāhi madhura phala jānū॥ 18 ॥

The Surya, sun situated {1 Yug = 12,000 years, 1 Sahastra = 1000, 1 Yojan = 8 Miles, (Yug x Sahastra x Yojan) = 12,000×1,000×8 miles = 96,000,000 miles (1 mile = 1.6 km) 96,000,000 miles = 96,000,000×1.6 km = 153,600,000 km} 153,600,000 km from the earth, was swallowed by you after you assumed him to be a sweet fruit.

This post is a part of series in Discovering the Cultural Significance of various rituals and festivals in India.


Paryushan – A Festival of Forgiveness (Jainism India)

Paryushan is one of the most important festivals for Jains. Normally Shwetambar Jains refer it as Paryushan, while Digambar Jains refer it as Daslakshana. It lasts 8 days for shwetambars and 10 days for digambaras. It is a festival where the entire community strives towards self-purification through fasting and sacrifice. At the heart of the philosophy behind Paryushan are ten universal virtues that is believed to help us purify and rectify our minds.

The ten universal virtues are:

  • Forbearance, exercising self-control
  • Gentleness, being kind to the nature
  • Uprightness, being honest with oneself
  • Purity, having clean thoughts and actions
  • Truth, being truthful
  • Restraint, exercising control over desires
  • Austerity, consuming only according to necessity
  • Renunciation, learning to sacrifice
  • Lack of possession, donating excesses to needy
  • Chastity, sexual restraint.

Paryushan means, literally, “abiding” or “coming together”. It is more of following strict Jainism for 8 days. Most people observe fast during these days. They survive on boiled water, which is consumed only between sunrise and sunset for 8 days. Those who are not on fast try not to eat anything else than cereal and pulses (no vegetables, no fruits), as cereals and pulses are considered to have least number of organism whom you can harm. These 8 days are celebrated with great enthusiasm.

We also perform Pratikraman on these days.Though few people do it on a daily basis. Pratikraman means turning back. It is a form of meditation where one reflects on his spiritual journey and renews his faith.

For both Shwetambars and Digambars, it takes the form of periodic meditation. Jains are considered to perform atleats one annual Pratikraman on the last day of Paryushan. This day is called Samvatsari.

On this day we request each other for forgiveness for all offenses committed during the last year. Forgiveness is asked by telling “Micchami Dukkadam” or “Uttam Kshama” to each other.

It means “If I have caused you offence in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought word or deed, then I seek your forgiveness“. This is my favorite part.

This post is a part of series in Discovering the Cultural Significance of various rituals and festivals in India.