The holiday season has begun for many. The ritual of story telling can be engaging, entertaining, and a very effective learning tool in every culture and religion. The stories may have a clear and practical message for a peaceful mind. Mental turmoil is clearly not just a contemporary affliction!
The mythical tale of the popular Indian festival of Dussehra also known as Vijaya Dashmi, like other major world holy days, is seen as a metaphor of mental reflection and clarification of our own minds. Swami Satyananda wrote in Yoga Magazine, October 2008:
“In the present day, the demons that we need to deal with are ignorance, corruption and terrorism that are rampant in the entire world. They are the Ravanas of today. Therefore, the destruction of Ravana should not be seen as a mere symbol. Ravana or Mahisasura should not be simply relegated to Puranic tales or history; their annihilation should be real for us. That is the significance of this festival. It denotes that you will remove ignorance and lack of awareness from your mind. That is when you will be truly able to say that Ravana or Mahisasura has died.”
The aim is to get rid of attitudes, thinking, behaviors that become obstructions to a peaceful, harmonious, and joyful life. These are universal concepts and the stories help bring them to life.
There are many stories of Dussehra. All Indians know the story of Rama and Ravana. For our readers who do not know the story, we give a very brief summary. Rama was the king of Ayodhya who had been sent into exile (accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Lakshman). Ravana was the king of Lanka who abducts Sita. Rama is the symbol of light and harmony, or sattwa. Ravana is darkness and disharmony, or tamas. They battle at Lanka when Rama goes to rescue Sita. Ravana has ten heads and is finally vanquished. The day of conquest is celebrated as Dussehra (destruction of ten heads–dass/ten, hara/ cut or destroy).
Here is a part of the explanation from Dasara–An Exposition from Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba:
Symbolism Of Ravana
“Ravana is depicted as the king of Raakshasas [demons]. He is said to have ten heads. He was not born with ten heads. Who is this Ravana and what are his ten heads? Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Moha (delusion), Lobha (greed), Mada (pride), Maatsyasya (envy), Manas (mind), Buddhi (intellect), Chitta (will) and Ahamkara (the ego) -all these ten constitute the ten heads. Ravana is of all the ten qualities. Each one can decide for himself whether he is a Ravana or Rama according to his qualities.” Sai Baba, SS. SS. 11/91. p. 285
Symbolism Of Rama
“Rama is the destroyer of the bad qualities. When engaged in this act of destruction of bad qualities, He manifests his Rajo-guna [action, motion, energy]. But his Rajasic quality is associated with his Satvic [light, purity, harmony, clearing, sentience] quality. Even in cutting off Ravana’s ten heads, Rama showed his love. This was the only way that Ravana could be redeemed.” Sai Baba, SS, 11/91. p. 285
The redemption suggested in yoga is abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment) as explained by Swami Satyananda in Satsang at Rikhiapeeth, Yoga Magazine, October 2008 issue:
“Vairagya…. is the ability to disconnect the present from the past. Past events disturb one’s present life. All that you ever see or hear accumulates in your mind. Your grandfather may have died five years ago, but you still think of him. The connection of the past with the present needs to be determined by every individual for himself. We are not able to do this, and therefore our minds remain disturbed.”