Navaratri, Dussehra and the Ramayana

Navaratri highlights the principles elucidated by the Ramayana. This is hinted at in the other name by which Vijaya Dashami is known in India, Dussehra. “Dussehra” is derived from “Dasha-hara”, which means “victory over the ten-faced one”. This ten-faced being (Dashamukha) is none other than Ravana, Lord Rama’s adversary. His ten heads symbolise the ten senses (five of perception and five of action). Ravana’s manifest extrovertedness stands in contrast to Dasharatha, Lord Rama’s father, whose name can be taken to mean “one who has controlled his ten senses.” That he is father to a Divine Incarnation suggests that only when one is able to subdue all ten senses can one realise the divinity within.


In similar allegorical fashion, Sita, Rama’s consort, represents the mind. As long as the mind remains wedded to the Self within, so long will bliss ensue. That is why Rama and Sita are depicted as enjoying a harmonious and satisfying relationship, both amidst palatial comforts and the privations of the forest. As soon as the mind withdraws from the Self and turns outwards to worldly objects, bliss ceases, and sorrow follows. In the Ramayana, Sita becomes distracted by a golden deer, actually an asura (demon) in disguise, and starts coveting it. Rama counsels her on its true nature, but Sita remains deaf to his words of wisdom, and insists that he captures it for her.

Rama orders Lakshmana to remain with Sita and protect her from danger, while He pursues the deer. As soon as Rama hunts it down, the magical deer treacherously calls out, in Rama’s voice, to Lakshmana and Sita for help. Hearing this, Sita is convinced that Rama’s life is in danger and tells Lakshmana to hurry to Rama’s rescue. Lakshmana, who represents tapas (austerity), recognises that the situation is a trap and tries to advise Sita accordingly. Sita arrogantly rebuffs his explanations and orders him to leave at once. Seeing no other way out, Lakshmana leaves in search of his brother. Before leaving, he draws a line on the ground and warns Sita not to cross the line. This line, the Lakshman rekha, marks the limits of morally permissible behaviour. Because Sita trespasses into forbidden territory, she has to suffer the consequences: she is taken captive by Ravana. Only after this ten-headed egoist gets destroyed, only after the ten senses are controlled, is Sita reunited with Rama.

The story of the Ramayana is relevant to us as well. If we wish to progress spiritually, we have to first make efforts to control the negative tendencies. Only then can we cultivate the positive ones. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna enumerates the signs of a Jnani (one who has realised the Self), not because an ordinary person can recognise such signs, but so that we may cultivate those qualities. Likewise, Amma says that we should read stories about Lord Rama so that we may become Rama Himself, that is, imbibe His noble qualities.

Ganesh Chaturthi Festival

One of the most anticipated and lively festivals in India, Sri Ganesha Chaturthi is dedicated to the beloved elephant-headed god, Ganesha. Worshipped throughout the world wherever large Indian populations are found, the fervent devotion and colorful celebrations which attend this festival reveal just how vital Ganesha is to the spiritual heartbeat of India.

Even though each Hindu deity represents only a few aspects of the one Lord, devotees in India naturally tend to hold dearest one form more than another, for instance maybe Shiva more than Krishna, or Rama more than Kali, etc. However, all easily love and worship Lord Ganesha. He is said to be the remover of obstacles and a bringer of good fortune. Add to this His plump belly and cheerful nature, and it’s no wonder that everyone adores Him! Therefore, before any worship is offered, or beginning any undertaking whatsoever, Ganesha is propitiated. This is why His image is found in all temples and on all altars. His blessings ensure smooth sailing!

As with all of the Hindu deities, the symbolism of Ganesha is multi-layered and profound. He represents Pranava, the seed syllable OM. Just as Ganesha comes first before the other gods, OM comes at the beginning of all other mantras. The symbol for OM even resembles an elephant head! OM represents the Nada, the original substratum of Creation, from which all else arises. That substratum is identical to our essential nature, the Self. Usually depicted riding a mouse (the ego), Ganesha represents the Self in its complete conquest over egoism. He is also depicted holding an ankusha (goad), which represents His Lordship over the entire world.

There is a symbolic story {read the story} that tells of how Ganesha came by His elephant head, and received the honour of being worshipped before all of the other gods.

Traditionally held to be Ganesha’s birthday, the Chaturthi day itself falls on the 4th day of the bright fortnight of Bhadrapada* (August-September). Then it is proceded over a week of pujas, bhajans and cultural programs. A clay idol of Ganesha is made and worshipped on all of the festival days with prayers and devotional songs. The festivities culminate with the Ganesha Visarjan, where the idol is carried in a procession to the sea, river, or other large body of water, to be ceremonially immersed. The symbolism of this immersion ceremony reveals that at the heart of worship of different deities there remains the profound understanding that all forms are temporary, having both their origin and final destination in the formless Absolute.

*Bhadrapada is a Hindu lunar month.

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The origins of the festival of Onam

In ancient times, there was an extremely powerful king by the name of Mahabali; he ruled the three worlds. He was a righteous and generous king. King Mahabali’s one major flaw, which marred his spiritual stature, was the arrogance he felt when giving in charity to his subjects. He was very proud of the fact that he could give people whatever they wanted. Lord Vishnu decided to bless King Mahabali and make him aware of his fault.

The king was holding a grand sacrifice. It was time to give dakshina (offerings) to the Brahmins. At that time the Lord descended in the form of an eight-year-old boy. As usual, the king took pride in offering to fulfil the boy’s wish – anything his heart desired would be his. The boy, very small and humble, yet with an air of self-assurance and divine dignity, stated that he simply wanted a place to sit and meditate, just the length covered by him in three strides.

The king was astounded; he told the boy that he could have an entire village, even a kingdom of his own, if he wanted. The boy resolutely stated that all he wanted was the land covered by him in three strides. After failing to convince the boy to ask for more, the king accepted the boy’s request. In that moment, the small boy grew to magnificent proportions, the size of which no one had ever seen.


In his first step, he covered the entire earth; with his second step, he covered the entire heaven and nether-world. Thus, he had nowhere to place his third step. He inquired of King Mahabali where he should place his third step. By this time, the king had recognised that the Lord Himself had taken the form of this wondrous child. He realised now his grave mistake of failing to remember that all of creation and beyond belong to the Lord alone.

With bowed head and folded hands, tears of devotion streaming from his eyes, he prayed that Lord place his third step on his head, fervently wanting to surrender his ego at the lotus feet of the Lord. Lord Vishnu, pleased with his surrender, bestowed on him the sovereignty of Sutala, which is said to be more splendorous then Indraloka. The Lord himself served as the doorkeeper at the palace of Mahabali – showing that when the the devotee surrenders fully to the Lord, the Lord gives him everything, even himself.

The Lord is the servant of the true devotee. The Lord granted the king one boon. The king, now in his turn to make a request, asked that once a year he be allowed to visit his dear subjects. The Lord granted this boon, and with this yearly visit we have the festival of Onam. All had prospered during Mahabali’s generous reign. His subjects and later their descendants wanted very much to honour him by showing that they are still living happily.


During the 10 days of Onam, all the residents of Kerala decorate their homes in a bouquet of springtime to welcome their beloved king. Children pick flowers, decorate their homes and prepare for the grand feast (sadya) that marks the last day of Onam.