Significance of Burning Effigies of Ravana & Contemporary Relevance
Dussehra or Vijayadashami is celebrated enthusiastically over the length and breadth of the country. It celebrates the triumph of good over the evil of two victories. One - victory that of Lord Rama over Ravana, and the other of Goddess Durga over Mahisasura. On the 10th day of the month of Ashvin, 'Ravana Dahan', a ritual of burning effigies of demon king Ravana, Meghnath and Kumbhakaran is carried out.
'Ravana Dahan' remembers the day when Lord Ram killed the demonic Ravana, as mentioned in the Hindu epic 'Ramayana'.
The Sanskrit Connection
The words Dussehra and Vijayadashami, both have Sanskrit roots. 'Vijay' means victory, while 'Dashami' refers to tenth, together translates to victory on the tenth day. "Dasha" means ten and "Hara" means "defeat", which translates to defeat of the sun. In Hindu mythology, it is said that the demon king Ravana had ten heads.
Following Navaratri, Dussehra witnesses various effigies of demon Ravana being burned and Ramlilas that dramatize parts of the Ramayana being staged.
Significance and Celebrations
Celebrations take place differently across the country. In West Bengal, it marks the end of the Durga Puja festivities with idols of the Goddess being immersed in water bodies. It is believed Goddess Durga fought demon Mahishasur for nine days and killed him on the tenth day. In North India, it tells the story of King Rama leaving his Kingdom to rescue his wife Sita, who was kidnapped by Sri Lanka’s demon king Ravana. Rama fought Ravana for all nine days and ten nights. And on the tenth day, he killed the demon and rescued Sita safely. Every year, statues of Ravan are burnt to prove that ‘Good empowers Evil’.
An important fact of Dussehra that is not known by many is the homecoming of Pandava brothers from their exile. After the final year of their exile was over, it was on the auspicious occasion of Vijaydashmi that the Pandavas regained their weapons. They worshipped both the weapons along with the Shami tree. It is from that very day that the Shami tree is regarded as a symbol of goodwill.
As per mythology, the 10 heads of Ravana symbolize his knowledge of the six Shastras and four Vedas. He was considered as one of the most intelligent men in mythology. Also, Ravana’s 10 head represented 10 human emotions anger, jealousy, ego, lust, greed, pride, attachment, selfishness, injustice and cruelty.
Dussehra marks the end of the gloomy monsoon season and start of the cooler winter. After Dussehra celebrations, farmers harvest the Kharif crop and sow the rabi crop.
If you’re thinking this grand victory is celebrated only in India, then you’re wrong. Dussehra and Vijayadashami are celebrated beyond the borders of India. Celebrations take place in Nepal, Bangladesh as well as Malaysia.
Unpopular Opinion - An India where Ravan is not a demon
A section of Indian society does not tire of singing paeans to India’s diverse and inclusive culture. Here’s a quick look at the Indian regions which pray for the peace of Ravan during Navratri, chant his prayers, sing his hymns and object to his insult and idolize him worth fighting for.
- The Bhim Army from Pune wants to ban the practice of burning Ravan sculptures. They claim that Ravan symbolizes a glorious culture and he was a king who believed in equality and justice. But the history was distorted and Ravan was presented as a villain for thousands of years. Ravan Dahan would hurt the sentiments of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
- The Gond Tribals of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra worship Dashanan - Ravana and his son Meghnada as Gods. The tribe believes that Ravana was never demonized in the Valmiki Ramayana and Sage Valmiki mentioned that Ravana didn’t do anything wrong or maligned Sita. It was in Tulsidas Ramayana that Ravana was tagged as a cruel king.
- In Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, people worship Ravana as a judicious and popular king who had a good flair in various arts and cultural pursuits. They respect his unparalleled knowledge and devotion to Lord Shiva. They even mourn his death.
- In Rajasthan’s Jodhpur, the Maudgil Bhramins conduct Shraadh and Pind Daan for Ravan, as they are his descendants.
- In Mathura, Saraswat Bhramins sing hymns in praise of Ravan and Lord Shiva. People there believe that the effigy burning ritual is an insult to a divine figure.
- Kanpur has its share of Ravana worshippers who revel in glorifying the demon-king on Dussehra. A 120-plus years old temple reverberates chants of “Ravan Baba Namah” to attract onlookers alike.
- During the harvest festival, Lankadipathi (The King of Lanka) is worshipped by people of Kolar District in Karnataka. In a procession, along with Lord Shiva’s idol, a ten-headed (Dashanan) and twenty-armed idol of Ravana is worshipped with immense faith and devotion.
- Ravana Dahan is not observed in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. It is said that Ravana pacified Lord Shiva with his devotion and austerity at Baijnath, Kangra. And Lord Shiva granted him his boon here. Thus, King Ravana is revered as a great devotee of Lord Shiva.
- Uttar Pradesh’s Bisrakh district is named after rishi Vishrava, the father of demon King Ravana. Bisrakh is the birthplace of Ravana and he is considered as maha-brahman here. Localities here people perform yagnas and peace prayers for Ravana’s departed soul during the Navratri festival.
Modern Day Relevance
Does Ravan Dahan have relevance today? While some may agree, others might just offer another perspective to the practice. While people celebrate Ravan-Dahan in merriment, some question the people carrying on the ritual. “Have we killed the Ravana’s within us and become the purest of the soul,” a common question asked by many.
In the present time, if we observe relatively, many don’t consider Ravana to be a bad man. He was known to be the most scholarly beings of his times, none could beat his knowledge, he had done such hard ‘Tapasya’ (meditation). Today, not even a good-man can even think to do the hard Tapasaya that Ravana performed during the ‘Treta-Yug’. In the ‘Ram-Rajya’ (Lord Ram’s rule), everything was ideal and peaceful, and hence Ravana was the only bad-man.
But times have changed today. There are many more tangible and non-tangible bad-men present in this world, giving rise to Great Kal-Yug.
If you want to fight and kill, then come forward to kill religious-discrimination, caste-discrimination, illiteracy, quota, corruption, poverty and all the other evils prevalent today.
So, before punishing Ravana for his deeds, it is time to fight against these tangible and non-tangible bad men. We have got a long path to conquer for success in this world, so this Dusshera will you kill the evil within?