Dussehra: Hindus end Navaratri, celebrate the victory of righteousness

Lit up palace

The Palace of Mysore, in southern India, lit up for Dussehra and Navaratri. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30: The nine-day Navaratri festival ends and celebrations commence today for Dussehra, also known as Vijayadashami. Legend has it that a war raged between Lord Rama and demon king Ravana for 10 days, and that on the 10th day, Lord Rama killed Ravana. It’s believed that Lord Rama killed Ravana and also reclaimed his wife, Sita, from the clutches of the demon. Today, the victory of goodness over evil—of virtue over wickedness—is commemorated.

Did you know? Dussehra is also known as Vijayadashami, the celebration of yet another victory involving goodness over evil: Goddess Durga’s defeat of the demon Mahisasura. According to this legend, Mother Goddess Shakti incarnated in the form of Goddess Durga. As the festival of Navaratri—which honors Goddess Durga—comes to a close, devotees venerate her victory over Mahisasura.

In many parts of India, towering effigies of Ravana and his brothers are filled with firecrackers and exploded. Citizens cheer at the blast and dance, sing and feast. The burning effigies are also seen as a cleansing ritual, as they encourage onlookers to burn inner evil and follow the path of righteousness. In India, gratitude is expressed for the end of a scorching summer season and the approach of cooler days.

As part of the autumn harvest season, Dussehra is a time when many Hindus ask the Mother Goddess to renew the soil. Some devotees submerge statues of Goddess Durga into the water for further symbolic cleansing of water for the soil.

DUSSEHRA: ACROSS INDIA TODAY

Vijayadashami has become known as a type of Labor Day in India, and for the occasion, buses and factories are gaily decorated. In northern India, effigies are burned and a chariot holding devotees costumed as Lord Rama and Sita rolls down the streets. In southern India, homes are decorated with lamps and flowers.

EXTRAS

Which Dussehra festivals are the most noteworthy? NDTV reports on six exceptional Dussehra celebrations across India.

Interested in explaining Dussehra to children? Get the scoop on how to explain the significance of this holiday at IndiaParenting.com.

Ram Navami: Hindus celebrate righteous reign of ancient king Sri Rama

Lord Rama with wife Sita

Lord Rama and his wife, Sita. Photo in public domain via YouTube

FRIDAY, APRIL 15: The story of Lord Rama has been read, recited, acted out in passion plays and reviewed by Hindus worldwide, during a period known as Ramayana Week—all leading up to today’s climactic festival, Ram Navami. (Spellings vary; Ramanavami and Ramnavami are also common spellings.) Celebrated as the birth of Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, Ram Navami recalls the righteous, peaceful and presperous reign of the ancient kingdom under Sri Rama. The epic Ramayana, read during Ramayana Week, tells the exciting and thrilling adventures of Rama and the widespread anticipation of the long-awaited heir of King Dasharath of Ayodhya. Many Hindus believe that listening to the story of Rama cleanses the soul.

Did you know? According to studies, some consider the birth of Rama to have been in January of 4114 BCE.

Legend has it that Rama was born at noon: Rama’s dynasty has been linked with the sun, and at noon, the sun is at its brightest. At home, Hindus set pictures of Lord Rama, his wife (Sita), Hanuman and Lakshman in places of importance; puja is performed with joy. It is common to fast from onions, wheat products and several other foods on Ramanavami, and community meals free of these foods share the gaiety of the festival. In temples, fruits and flowers, Vedic chants and mantras are offered to Sri Rama. In South India, the wedding of Rama and Sita is ceremonially recognized, while in parts of North India, chariot processions attract thousands of visitors.

Did you know? Gandhi said that Ramrajya, the peaceful reign of Lord Rama, would be the ideal state of India following independence.

AN ALTERNATE BIRTHDAY: SWAMINARAYAN JAYANTI

Elaborately decorated figure statue with red background

Swaminarayan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While the majority of India is celebrating Sri Rama, many Hindus also recall the birthday of the founder of the Swaminarayan tradition within Hinduism. In stark contrast to the millennia-old commemorations of most Hindu deities, this jayanti marks the birth of an 18th-century figure who lived into the 19th century. Lord Swaminarayan was born in North India and traveled across the country as a social and moral reformer. Today, his devotees sing, fast and offer food at temples, with a late culmination at 10:10 p.m.—the documented time of his birth.

NEWS: RAM EVENT AIMS FOR WORLD RECORD

In India, the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) has planned an awareness drive for HIV/AIDS to mark the centenary of a Ram Navami shobhyatra (procession). Organizers hope to inspire a record number of youths in taking an oath to prevent HIV/AIDS and spreading awareness—in a number that will break the current record for most participants in an event taking an oath for a social cause. (Read more here.) As one organizer explained in the Times of India, “Lord Hanuman is famous as a bachelor while Lord Ram as monogamist. HIV/AIDS will be eradicated if people follow the two Lords before and after marriage.”

Ramayana Week: Epic plays begin as India prepares for Lord Rama’s birthday

Woman statue blue man Lord Rama

A woman with a figure of Lord Rama. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, APRIL 8: Hindus worldwide anticipate the birthday of Lord Rama with Ramayana Week, a period that begins today and recalls the details of Lord Rama’s heroic adventures. Through April 15 (Ramanavami, or Lord Rama’s birthday), Hindus regale the hugely popular tales of Lord Rama through non-stop recitals. The Sanskrit epic that holds these stories—the Ramayana—is studied throughout the week, as Hindus note the significance of the Ramayana and its influence on Indian life and culture. For the most observant Hindus, Ramayana Week is a time of fasting and reflection; for others, fasting is reserved just for Ramanavami.

Lord Rama’s epic was written by Valmiki, one of the first Sanskrit poets. Legend has it that Valmiki was once a robber or hunter who, upon meeting a hermit, was transformed into a virtuous being. His passionate ability to portray the life events of Lord Rama was unmatched, and he met with divine sages to learn what he should write.

The Ramayana is no longer a single text: the epic tale has branched into many versions and renditions over the centuries. The Sanskrit original is said to hold approximately 24,000 verses, and it is as complex as it is long. Yet its dramatic scope rivals the ancient Greek and Roman classics, including a climactic scene in which Rama leads an army of monkeys into battle with an army of demons.

Interested in the Ramayana? We recommend the prose text by famed Indian writer R.K. Narayan. A colleague of Graham Greene, Narayan achieved cross-over success in the West in the middle of the 20th century. In the 1970s, he published his now-classic prose version of the epic. Currently, his version is published by Penguin, titled: The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic.

NEWS: $50 M FILM TO TELL STORY OF RAMAYANA

The story of the Ramayana has been retold through TV series, cartoons and movies countless times, but three young filmmakers are now aiming to bring that story to a new Western audience, as they adapt the epic to English and aim their story at global viewers. (Read more in The Hindu.) News sources report that the movie will be narrated and adapted for both 3D and Imax, using current Hollywood technology for special effects and costing approximately $50 million to produce—nearly twice the amount of most Indian movies. Despite the high budget, the filmmakers cite their biggest challenge as meeting the expectations of both Indian audiences and those abroad.

Ramayana Week: Hindus begin preparations for Ramanavami, read epic story

Depiction of battle scene with fighting humans and monkeys

A depiction of a battle scene within the Ramayana, during which the monkey army of Rama fights the demon king of Lanka. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, MARCH 21: With the birthday of Lord Rama on the horizon, millions of Hindus begin Ramayana Week to prepare for the occasion. During these auspicious days, devotees read the timeless epic, witness narrations of the exciting events in Rama’s life and fast for the deity. Though some fast only on the birthday of Lord Rama, many fast during the entirety of Ramayana Week. (Read more from Hindu blog.) During Ramayana Week, countless temples hold a non-stop recital of the epic Ramayana.

The story of Lord Rama is recorded in an ancient epic written by Valmiki, one of the first Sanskrit poets. Most historical references date the Ramayana to sometime between the 4th and 2nd centuries BCE, though scholars debate the date. Through the centuries, the Ramayana has taken on many versions—for which Wikipedia devoted an entire article—and the complex story incorporates thrilling battle scenes and climactic events. Through the year, the international initiative Read Ramayana brings the epic tales to the electronic devices of thousands across the globe. (Check out its Facebook page here.)

This year, the birthday of Lord Rama—Ramanavami—will fall on March 28.

Hanuman Jayanti: Hindus worship divine courage, fearlessness

Tall orange building, a temple, three stories with a deck at the top, in dirt street of India

The Karmanghat Hanuman Temple in Hyderabad, India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, APRIL 15: In many regions of India, this is the annual celebration of the birth of a “monkey-god”—Hanuman Jayanti. Ever a steadfast and ardent devotee of Lord Rama, Hanuman often is honored along with Lord Rama; devotees of Hanuman hope to obtain his strength and energy. The Ramayana and other texts detail his crediting all superhuman powers to Lord Rama, labeling himself only as a servant of the deity.

It is believed that Hanuman can assume any form. Yet, most notably, Hanuman is known for his humility. (Learn more at Taj Online.) On his jayanti, Hindus across India flock to Hanuman temples, recite Hanuman Chalisa (song of Hanuman) and apply a reddish-orange tilaka to their foreheads, signifying the color of the monkey-god.

Festivities for Hanuman Jayanti begin early, with pujas, trips to the temple and special prayers. Prayers and hymns continue throughout the day, as devotees look to Lord Hanuman to avert evil, bring courage and deliver willpower. (Wikipedia has details.) Many Hindus fast and read the Hunuman Chalisa on his jayanti, before joining in Prasad—an offering of food distributed among devotees. (Read about this, and the many other holidays occurring in India this week, from Times of India.)

Did you know? Hanuman avatar is considered the 11th Rudra avatar of Lord Siva.

Sri Hanuman enjoys great popularity in India, and the monkey-god also is well known in Hindu communities worldwide. In Trinidad and Tobago, Hanuman statues reach 15-, 25- and even 85-foot. Newsday reports that devotees will sing Hanuman Chalisa 108 times, uninterrupted, for the ideal yogi and beloved deity.

RAM NAVAMI: Hindus rejoice in the reign of peace and prosperity

Pilgrims gather around a Hindu priest inside circle

A Hindu Ram Navami festivity in Mumbai. Photo in public domain

SATURDAY, APRIL 20: Nine days of reading and performing the epic Ramayana—to so-called Ramayana Week—has culminated in India today, for the widely celebrated festival of Ram Nami. In reverence of the peaceful emperor and admired hero, Lord Rama, many Hindus attend dramatic reenactments of events from his life today. While undertaking a daylong fast, devotees chant Vedic mantras at temples, offer fruits and flowers and rejoice for Lord Rama’s life. For millions, Ram Navami ends with a feast shared by family and friends, followed by spectacular fireworks displays.

Did you know? Mahatma Gandhi used the term Ramrajya, the reign of Rama, to describe how India should be after independence. Hindus believe that listening to the story of Rama cleanses the soul; that chanting his name eases the pains of life. It’s common to chant the name of Rama to rock babies to sleep.

Hindu crowds sit and stand inside temple

Photo in public domain

Festivities begin at sunrise with ritual baths and prayers, but the most celebrated events of Ram Navami begin after noon, his alleged time of birth. Inside elaborately decorated temples, special prayers are recited for the unique reign of Lord Rama, which was filled with peace and prosperity. In North India, towering effigies of a ten-headed Ravana, Rama’s nemesis, are paraded through the streets, followed by shouting crowds that rejoice when Rama “makes an appearance” and pierces Ravana with an arrow, setting alight the fireworks inside the effigy. (Wikipedia has details.)  In some regions, a Ram Navami procession called Ratha Yatra sends decorated chariots through the streets, with costumed actors aboard to represent Rama, his brother Lakshmana, his queen Sita and his devotee, Hanuman. Hindus in South India perform the ceremonial wedding of Rama and his consort, Sita.

A PEACEFUL RAM NAVAMI

District leaders have taken measures to plan a peaceful Ram Navami this year, with some events having started as early as Thursday. (The Times of India reported.) Leaders decreed that only religious songs be played and that “communal harmony should be maintained at any cost.”