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.

What is my take from Indian Epics ?

India and Indian culture are often seen as being averse to change. This land is often viewed as a place where things happen because of fate and not due to human effort. But is this really true ? Do the Ramayana and the Mahabharata teach us that caste matters ? What do the epics say about ties of blood ? What lessons can we learn from the epics on the matter of social hierarchy ? The answer is CHOICE — The epics teach us that often, what matters is not the family you are born into, but the people you choose to make your family.

Here are some examples from the Ramayana that indicate blood relations are secondary to relationships of choice. Ram and Lakshman were not born to the same mother. Their mothers were Kaushalya and Sumitra respectively. In fact, Lakshman had a twin brother by the name of Shatrughna but he preferred the company of Ram, the eldest of the four sons of Dashrath. Lakshman’s devotion to Ram lasted a life time, with him choosing to follow Ram into exile and even into war. At no point in the Ramayana is Lakshman’s love for this elder brother in question because they are not related by blood.

And here is another interesting fact – Dashrath was not the biological father of any of his sons. Ram, Bharat, Shatrughan and Lakshman were born after the king gave his three wives kheer that came from a yajna conducted by Rishyaringa.

In the Mahabharata, none of the Pandavas — the five-brother team named after their father Pandu — were actually the sons of Pandu. Though Pandu acknowledged them as his sons and legitimate successors, all the five brothers had different biological fathers. Yudhisthira was the son of Yamraj, the god of death and truth. Bhima was the son of Vayu, the wind god. Arjuna’s biological father was Indra, the ruler of Amaravati. And these three were only the sons of Kunti – Pandu’s first wife. His second wife Madri gave birth to two sons – Nakul and Sahdev, both of whom had the Ashwin twins for fathers. Not only were the Pandavas not related to Pandu by blood, we might even say that the elder three were not related to the youngest two. What brought the 5 heroes of the Mahabharata together was the name of Pandu and the will of Kunti.

Also in the Mahabharata, Krishna and Balram were not related to each other by blood. Krishna was the biological son of Devaki while Balram was born to Rohini. Despite this, Krishna and Balram remained close for their entire lives.

In the Ramayana, Vibheeshan was the blood brother of Ravana and yet he parted ways with his family and his people to side with Ram and the vaanaras.

Let us move ahead and leave family ties behind. Let us talk about caste. Despite India being nearly seventy years into independence, we are still often told that caste matters. That the caste we are born into determines the shape your life will take. And yet, the epics are full of examples that say it is the individual’s action and not his birth that determines his destiny.

Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, was a Dasyu – a forest bandit – and not a Brahmin. But he is acknowledged as a poet and sage today because of his work – the Ramayana. It was not his birth, but his choices that elevated him.

The composer of the Mahabharata — Ved Vyasa — was also not of high birth. His father was a sage by the name of Parahar. But his mother was a fisherwoman by the name of Matsyagandha. Despite this, he is known as one of the most illustrious poets.

Hanuman, perhaps one of the most beloved gods of the Hindu pantheon, was part of a forest tribe and hence, had no caste. He was part of vanara society that lived in the forests, far from the urban culture where varna vyavastha was prevalent. This never affected his acceptability among Hindus. If anything, he holds a more exalted position than many higher deities.

Ravana, the villain of the Ramayana, was the son of Sage Vishrava, a Brahmin. Yet he is known to be a dastardly villian whose ill-deeds caused him to be eventually slain by Ram.

Karna, the son of Surya the Son god, lived his whole life as a soot-putra despite being of royal and divine lineage. He was born into a high caste — his father was a god and his mother Kunti was a princess — but this nothing to alleviate the suffering he had to undergo his whole life.

Ekalavya, the forest-dweller, despite being caste-less and untrained, became a great archer. So great was his skill that he managed to shame Arjun, who was a bona fide disciple of Drona, the greatest teacher of that age.

The epics therefore, are not about static social values and fate. They are also about individual will and effort. They are about being but they are also about becoming. People’s position in life is not wholly dependent upon what they are born as. It is also shaped by how they act and the choices they make.

I believe Bill Gates had to say something similar to this, which shows that our choices and efforts in life can help us shape our destiny.

“If you are born poor its not your mistake, But if you die poor its your mistake.”

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, was a man of similar virtues. He was born in South India to a Muslim family, he used to play musical instrument with great interest in carnatic music. He was a scientist and he rose to become the President of India. He was a man, I believe who gave an example of how your choices can make you great in life and they are not driven by where, in which caste or which family you are born in. May be he understood the true meaning of the Epics.

We have many examples from late history and near history, where people have made choices that shaped their life. Buddha was a prince, who chose to become a saint and his preaching changed the course of entire human history. Ashoka, was a fierceful king, who after the war made a choice to accept peace and he spread Buddhism to its peak. Mother Teresa, was a foreign lady in India, who choose to spread humanity. Abraham Lincoln, was a poor boy with lot of difficulties in life and his choices made him the President of America, so is the case with Barack Obama. History is full of examples, we just have to take a look and accept it.

So, as much as your family, your location and your culture can have a great impact on you, it is not the caste, the family preferences or anything that can be the only guide to your fate. Your choices and your decisions can shape your fate and life, in a different way. Your free will make you, who you can be. Make A Choice !

Unnatural Birth of Heros of Epics – India

I cannot be more than shocked to know that the Protagonists (Heros) from both the Epics of India, Ramayana and Mahabharata were born out of some boon or magical dish. There are lot of incidents in the Epic, pertaining to various characters who are born out of divine magic or gospels. But it came as a shock and surprise to me, when I found that from the Epics – Pandavas from Mahabharata and Dashrashta sons from Ramayana are not naturally conceived. Here is the story as it goes.

The Birth of Ayodhya Princes

Dasharatha has three queen-consorts, namely, Kaushalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. Dasharatha performed two yajnas with the help of Sage Rishyasringa on the advice of Vashistha. One was the Ashwamedha and other was the Putrakameshti. As the conclusion of the Yagna drew near Agni sprang out from the yagnakunda and handed Dasharatha a pot of kheer advising him to distribute it among his queens. Kaushalya ate half the kheer, Sumitra ate a quarter of it. Kaikeyi ate some and passed the pot back to Sumitra who consumed the kheer a second time. Thus the princes were conceived after the consumption of the kheer. Since Kaushalya had consumed the largest portion she gave birth to Rama. Kaikeyi gave birth to Bharata. Sumitra gave birth to Lakshmana and Shatrughna.

The Birth of Pandavas

Kunti was the biological daughter of the Shurasena, a Yadava chief. Once Sage Durvasa  who was known for his anger and fierceness, visited Kuntibhoja. He was extremely pleased by the services and comforts offered by Kunti, and offered her a boon to invoke any god to bear a child. Curious, Kunti invoked the mantra and accidentally bore Karna from Surya, the solar deity. Afraid of being an unwed mother, she placed the baby in a basket and set him afloat on a river. Pandu could not make love with his wives due to a curse by sage Kindama. When Pandu expressed to Kunti his despair at the prospect of dying childless, Kunti used the boons given to her by Sage Durvasa to bear three sons—Yudhishthira (by Yama), Bhima (by Vayu), and Arjuna (by Indra). Kunti didn’t want to bear any further child, so she shares the mantra with Madri. Madri gave birth to Nakula and Sahadeva by the Ashvins.

The Birth of Kauravas

After Gandhari was married to Dhritarashtra she wrapped a bandage over her eyes and vowed to share the darkness that her husband lived in. Once Sage Vyasa came to visit Gandhari in Hastinapur. She took great care of the comforts of the great saint and saw that he had a pleasant stay in Hastinapur. The saint was pleased with Gandhari and granted her a boon. Gandhari wished for one hundred sons who would be as powerful as her husband. Vyasa granted her the boon and in due course of time Gandhari found herself to be pregnant. But two years passed and still the baby was not born. After two years of pregnancy, Gandhari gave birth to a hard piece of lifeless flesh that was not a baby at all.

Gandhari was devastated as she had expected a hundred sons according to the blessing of Rishi Vyas. She was about to throw away the piece of flesh when Rishi Vyas appeared and told her that his blessings could not have been in vain and asked Gandhari to arrange for one hundred jars to be filled with Ghee (oil). He told Gandhari that he would cut the piece of flesh into hundred pieces and place them in the jars, which would then develop into the one hundred and one sons that she so desired. Gandhari told Vyas then that she also wanted to have a daughter. Vyas agreed and cut the piece of flesh into one hundred and one pieces and placed them each in the jars. After two more years of patient waiting the jars were ready to be opened, thus were born the Kauravas, well known are Duryodhana, Dushasana, Vikarna, Yuyutsu and Dussala.

My pondering : 

It is an established fact that Sages and Rishis of ancient India were very intelligent, skillful, alchemists and had a broader understanding of life, anatomy, psychology and humanity. So it was no surprise to see them doing things mentioned above which were termed as magics, boon, superpower or so on. What is surprising is in that both the Epics, the protagonists are not naturally born. I cannot stop thinking and wondering about this. What about you ? What do you feel about this ?