Dussehra, also known as Vijayadashami, is one of the most important Hindu festivals celebrated in various forms across the world. This festival has a deep spiritual significance, as it marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasur. On this day, people also burn an effigy of Ravana, who, according to Hindu mythology, was the demon king of Lanka.
The myth goes that Ravana had abducted Sita Mata, the consort of Lord Rama. Supported by an army of monkeys, Lord Rama defeated Ravana and rescued Sita Mata. The slaying of Ravana by Lord Rama is hence celebrated as Dussehra.
Dussehra stands for dus (10) + hara (conquer). Ravana is shown as a demon with 10 heads. Hence, Dussehra symbolises the conquest of 10 vices, of which five are in men and five in women. The vices in both are lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego. Just as Lord Vishnu symbolises the combined form of perfect man and woman, Ravana represents the combined vices in men and women.
As the name suggests, Vijayadashmi or Dussehra is celebrated on the tenth day of the month of Ashwin according to the Hindu lunisolar calendar, which corresponds to September or October of the Gregorian calendar. The first nine days are celebrated as Maha Navratri or Sharada Navratri and culminates on the tenth day as Dussehra.
The word Vijayadashmi means the tenth [dashmi) day of victory (vijaya) of Rama over Ravana. It is symbolic of the victory of virtue over vices by men and women who follow the path of self-purification and attain spiritual perfection. Ravana represents all that is evil, and Rama symbolises everything that is good.
Normally, people burn the effigy of a living person whose actions they dislike. There would be no need to show protest or to burn the effigy of someone who is dead. The fact that people burn larger and larger effigies of Ravana every year points to the subtle truth that Ravana is still alive, and evil continues to grow in the present Kaliyuga.
(The writer is a spiritual educator and popular columnist for publications across India, Nepal and the UK)