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.

Sankasthi Chaturthi

Sankashti Chaturthi (संकष्टी चतुर्थी) also known as Sankata Hara Chaturthi, Sankath Chot is a day dedicated to Lord Ganesha. This day is observed in every Lunar month of Hindu calendar month on the fourth day of Krishna Paksha (dark lunar phase or the waning phase). If this Chaturthi falls on a Tuesday it is called Angaraki Sankashti Chaturthi.

On this day, the devotees observe strict fast. They break the fast at night after having darshan/auspicious sight of the moon preceded by prayers to Lord Ganesha. Observing this fast is believed to reduce your problems as Lord Ganesha symbolizes the removal of all obstacles and supreme lord of intelligence. Before moonlight the Ganapati Atharvasheersha is recited to invoke the blessings of Lord Ganesha. During each month, Lord Ganesha is worshiped with a different name and peeta (seat). Each ‘Vratha’ (strict fast) has a purpose and is explained to us by a story known as the ‘Vratha Katha’. This prayer offering has 13 Vratha Kathas, one for each month and the 13th story is for ‘adhika’ (The Hindu calendar has one extra month every 4 years). List of the 13 Kathas can be seen here.

Ganesh is widely worshipped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and traditionally invoked at the beginning of any new venture or at the start of travel. (Excerpts from Wiki and discussion with a Ganesha follower)

Ganesh is one of the very famous gods in India. Ganesh festival is celebrated very auspiciously and joyfully every year in the month of August. This celebration of Ganesh festival by placing idols of Ganesh in every street was encouraged by Lokmanya Tilak for social collaboration, unity and the feeling of integrity. But long before that the scholars in India knew that there must be a mechanism devised to help people live a life of harmony.

The idea of fasting every month on a particular day, following the lunar calendar, has a physiological reasoning to it. It helps to  reduce the toxic effects in the body and is the same reasoning for all the other fasting rituals. During the fasting, when they sing songs of the Lord and the stories are narrated every year, they create a spiritual and psychological impact on the person. Long back when there was no media, press or TV, stories were shared through hymns, sloks and rituals. The significance of stories and the moral pertaining to them must not be forgotten.

The faith restored in the Lord and the rituals followed religiously, builds in your discipline, confidence, strength of fulfilling and feeling of harmony.

This post is a part of series in Discovering 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.