Vijaya Dashami is a festival celebrated by two sects in particular in India: the Vaishnava and the Shakta. For nine days in the month of October, the festival of Navaratri is celebrated which culminates in Vijaya Dashami. The Vaishnavas hold it as Ramas victory over Ravana and the Shaktas hold it as Devis victory over Mahisasura. Rama and Ravana are historical figures; however, with the passage of time history does not remain history, it turns into mythology and that in turn becomes the reality.
Mythology presents Rama and Ravana as representatives of satya and asatya, truth and falsehood symbols of divine and demonic forces. 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.
God can be perceived in the form of Rama as well as Devi. The form of Devi is very ancient. Thousands of years ago when civilization was in its nascent stage and man had just learnt to think, he saw God in the form of Mother. He saw God in the form of a woman and not a man. Whoever the creator might be, the first time that he was worshipped, it was in the form of a woman because the society was matriarchal. However, it is irrelevant whether God is male or female; what is relevant is that the energy of God awakens in the form of wisdom, light, knowledge, power, prosperity and well-being.
Vijaya Dashami is also called Dussehra since Ravana had ten heads. Das means ten and hara means cutting off. We too have ten heads: we participate in the world with the help of the five jnanendriyas (sensory organs) and five karmendriyas (motor organs). And just like Ravanas ten heads, they have to be triumphed over. This does not mean that you cut off your nose and ears, or blindfold yourself like Gandhari. Nothing can be achieved by curtailing the senses unless desire is removed from your mind.
Desire is thirst, and this thirst does not reduce with age, it increases. As the hair turns white, desires turn black. Desire never ages. Its centre is manipura chakra; desire lies hidden within you. And till it remains there, you will not be able to kill Ravana, achieve victory over the senses. Whether the desire is for bhoga, worldly enjoyment, or yoga, spiritual union, it is like handcuffs on you whether the handcuffs are made of iron or gold it does not matter. Desire exists in each individual from times immemorial. Kabir speaks of desire that has persisted for lifetimes. Who knows what unfulfilled wish you carry from your last birth! The poor in India dream of cars and dish televisions. If their desires are not fulfilled, they will carry them into their next lives. Desire is born of unfulfilled desire. It is the pitcher of nectar that Ravana carries. We are all Ravanas, not Rama.
Now what can one do about this desire? Each time Rama tried to cut Ravanas ten heads off, they would reappear. Finally he asked Vibhishana for a solution. Vibhishana said, Unless the source of nectar is dried out, Ravana will not die. Therefore Rama used agnyastra, the fire weapon. The nature of fire is to burn, and desire is like water. If you go on boiling water, it will turn into steam and eventually evaporate. The Bhagavad Gita (6.35) states:
Asamshayam mahaabaaho mano durnigraham chalam;
Abhyaasena tu kaunteya vairaagyena cha grihyate.
Undoubtedly, O mighty-armed Arjuna, the mind is difficult to control and restless; but by practice and by dispassion it may be restrained.
Sri Krishna suggests that with abhyasa and vairagya, practice and non-attachment, the mind may be controlled. These are the two methods, the agnyastra, by which Ravana may be killed, the pond of nectar may be dried out. In the Yoga Sutras also it has been said: Abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodhah.
Vairagya is the fire weapon, it is the ability to disconnect the present from the past. Past events disturb ones 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.
In todays age, Rama and Ravana, and Devi and Mahisasura should have a significance for us in our current life. We should be able to relate them with the society that surrounds us and the conditions in the world. This is how we should look at the festival of Vijaya Dashami. And we must remember to perform worship at our homes. This is the way to change the course of destiny.
—23 October, 2004