“The mighty Rama, who possessed extraordinary strength, consecrating in accordance with the mantras prescribed in the Vedas, taking that great arrow – which was capable of removing the fears of the entire world and the Ikshvaku dynasty, capable of taking away the glory of His enemies, and conducive to His own happiness – fixed it on His bow.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, Sec 108.13-14)
Screams of joy, panic, happiness, fear, chaos, and despair are heard at different times depending on the circumstances. These sounds are indications of particular events, the results of extreme outcomes, both good and bad. There was one set of screams in particular which was so pure and indicative of the highest gain that it resounded throughout the three worlds. These screams were in response to the greatest triumph, a victory which didn’t always seem possible. This victory came after great effort, and thus the resulting joy was of the topmost variety. This triumph brought so much elation that it has since been celebrated annually as the occasion of Dussehra.
Dussehra, which is also known as Rama Vijayotsava and Rama Vijay Dashami, celebrates the victory of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, over Ravana, the ten-headed demon king of Lanka. Many thousands of years ago, when celestials and the strongest of demons roamed the earth, there was a great disturbance caused by Ravana. He was born a Rakshasa due to a curse imprecated on his mother by the sage Vishrava. Ravana was born with a ghoulish figure possessing ten heads. Yet it was not until he was coaxed into performing great austerities to please Lord Brahma, the grandsire and first created living entity, that he was endowed with tremendous fighting abilities. Brahma can grant any boon to any person, up to the point of immortality. Ravana asked that he be immune in battle from any celestial figure. The boon being granted, the demon immediately embarked on his world destruction tour.
The influence of the demon became so strong that the demigods eventually petitioned Lord Vishnu, the supremely opulent form of the original Godhead, to alleviate the situation. Vishnu, who is neutral in the affairs of the living entities who reside in the material world, decided to show His favoritism towards the demigods since they had asked Him very nicely. The demigods weren’t asking for any personal benedictions. They simply wanted a return to their peaceful condition so that they could continue their devotional efforts. Ravana was especially keen on attacking and killing the innocent priestly class on earth. The material world can be thought of as a giant playing field where the players are ignorant of the temporary and destructible nature of the field. Since the players are enamored by the pursuit of that which is not God, or maya, they continue to play the game without stop. Since the end-goal of such play is temporary, illusive, and not related to Him, the Supreme Lord plays no direct role. Though He is certainly responsible for creating the field and empowering the governing agent known as maya, the Supreme Lord still has no interest in the temporary gains and setbacks of the players involved.
Lord Vishnu does make an exception for those intelligent living entities who have had enough of playing the game. During the Treta Yuga, these humble individuals, the sages and brahmanas, decided to use the playing surface to favor their development of Krishna consciousness, a mindset which is natural to the soul and conducive to the highest gain. The material world is full of temporary gains such as money, sex life, and good food, in addition to negative side effects such as birth, death, old age, and disease. The sages look for the highest gain: the eternal association of the Supreme Spirit, Lord Shri Krishna. Vishnu and Krishna are the same person, for all that differs is Their appearance. When the devotional efforts of those seeking the highest gain are interrupted, the Supreme Lord most certainly takes an interest.
Deciding to help the demigods deal with Ravana, the Lord descended to earth as a kshatriya prince named Rama. Lord Brahma’s boons to Ravana never mentioned human beings as being part of the exempt list. Therefore Lord Vishnu cleverly found a loophole to the great powers possessed by Ravana. One may ask why the Lord would need to find roundabout ways to kill Ravana when, as God Himself, He easily could destroy anyone. The answer is that Lord Brahma is one of the most respected living entities. The demigods are elevated personalities possessing extraordinary powers which are to be used for the common good. Lord Brahma is given charge of creation; all living entities can trace their lineage to him. Lord Brahma’s reward for carrying out Vishnu’s orders is that he can grant any boon to any person, up to the point of liberation. Only Lord Vishnu, whose many names include Mukunda, can grant mukti, or liberation.
In order for Vishnu’s empowerment of Brahma to mean something, the boons given out by Brahma cannot be checked in any way. Vishnu will never give someone a particular power and then take it back later on if He sees that it is not used properly. In Ravana’s case, it appeared that Brahma’s powers were being used improperly. Instead of interfering with Brahma’s business, the Lord decided to work around the issue and appear on the scene Himself to kill Ravana. This would serve the purposes of pleasing the demigods, keeping Brahma’s name in good standing, and providing activities for devotees to hear about and relish for generations to come.
Lord Rama assumed the most innocent of guises. He always donned a pleasing smile, and He was kind to everyone He encountered. He was a warrior after all, but this didn’t take away from His compassionate nature. On many occasions in His youth, He protected the saints from the attacks of the Rakshasa demons. In order to take on Ravana in battle, Rama needed an excuse. As a pious prince, the Lord would never attack anyone without just cause. The excuse He needed came in the form of the kidnapping of Sita Devi, Rama’s wife. Taken back to the island kingdom of Lanka, Sita found herself in a precarious situation, left to wonder whether her husband would ever come to rescue her. Eventually Rama made His way to Lanka with His army of monkeys headed by Sugriva and Hanuman. Lakshmana, Rama’s faithful younger brother, also accompanied the party. This unconventional alliance was forged in the forest of Kishkindha, the place where Rama and Lakshmana initially made their way to after Sita’s abduction.
A great war ensued between Ravana’s forces and the monkeys of Rama’s army. Finally, after days of fighting and many casualties, Rama and Ravana met face to face on the battlefield. This was set to be a tremendous fight, for no one had ever defeated either party. Many of the monkeys and Rakshasas stopped their fighting simply to watch the beautiful battle. The celestials and the sages were on hand to offer their kind words and prayers for Shri Rama. After seven consecutive nights of fighting, it appeared that there was no end in sight. Rama kept firing His arrows - the same arrows which had previously defeated great fighters such as Khara, Dushana, and Vali - but they weren’t making a dent on Ravana. The demon, for his part, threw everything he had at Rama, and yet the Lord, who appeared as an ordinary human, simply kept smiling and shooting His serpent-like arrows.
It should be noted that the exact sequence of events varies depending on the particular kalpa. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the world is created and destroyed in repeating cycles. In each creation, the Lord appears on earth through His various incarnations and performs similar activities. Though the names of the incarnations remain the same, the exact sequence of activities can change depending on time and circumstance. Therefore the fight between Ravana and Rama concludes somewhat differently in each kalpa. In the original Ramayana authored by Maharishi Valmiki, the fight ends in the following way: After seeing that Ravana wasn’t being killed by the arrows shot from His bow, Rama became a little stupefied. Ravana had ten heads, and though Rama was able to sever them from his body by use of His arrows, new heads would grow immediately. At this time, Matali, the charioteer of Shri Rama, stepped in to offer some sound words of advice. He asked Rama the rhetorical question of why He had decided to play with Ravana in this way and not destroy Him outright. Matali said that the time for Ravana’s destruction had come, meaning it was time for Rama to release His most powerful weapon.
This weapon was an arrow conferred upon Rama by Agastya Rishi. There are particular sages who are very famous in the Vedic tradition, and Agastya is one of them. Krishna is known as brahmanya-devaya, meaning He is the deva, or god, of choice for the brahmanas, the priestly class of men. This speaks to the truth that there are different forms of Godhead, some of which aren’t as powerful as others. The demigods are also considered expansions of the Lord, but they are not direct expansions. Different classes of men can take to worshipping different forms of the Divine, but the brahmanas prefer worship of Krishna, Vishnu, or one of their non-different expansions. Agastya Rishi is especially fond of Lord Rama, as is Rama of him.
This arrow given by Agastya Rishi was actually created by Lord Brahma. The grandsire had originally given it to Lord Indra, the chief of the demigods in the heavenly planets. Therefore this arrow was particularly powerful and destructive. Lord Rama set it to His bow, softly chanted mantras invoking its power, and set it free. Mantras are the mechanism of deliverance for followers of the Vedic tradition. A mantra is simply a sound vibration which delivers the mind. Not all mantras are the same, and Lord Rama certainly doesn’t need a sound vibration to kill anyone. Yet once again, to show His great respect for His great devotee Brahma, the Lord invoked the mantra so as to empower the arrow. Once released, this arrow appeared like no other. It is described as being like an all-powerful sun, thunderbolt, and flaming serpent all wrapped into one. When this arrow pierced Ravana’s chest, the demon was immediately killed. The arrow returning to Rama’s quiver, the celestials, sages, and monkey-host let out a tremendous roar.
This roar was an exultation signaling victory. We sometimes see similar displays of emotion when an athlete wins a game or match, or when a person becomes freed from a terrifying condition. The screams let out by the monkeys were the most beautiful because they were indicative of their tremendous love for Rama. They weren’t just happy that Ravana was killed. They were elated that the sweet, kind, and benevolent Lord had emerged victorious and would thus soon be reunited with His wife. Lakshmana, Sugriva, and Vibhishana, the commanding generals for Rama’s side, welcomed the Lord, the victor of the greatest battle of all-time.
After the defeat of Ravana, all the Rakshasas fighting for his side immediately fled. Where there is victory of the Lord, there can be no evil element. The power of the demons pales in comparison to the power of the devotees. The good guys, the adherents to the wishes of the Supreme Lord, need to be encouraged and given hope every now and then. With Rama’s victory, the monkeys felt like they were invincible. Their terrible screams reminded the enemy that there was no chance of victory.
In the dark age of Kali that we currently live in, the non-devotees seem to have a great influence on the workings of society. By remembering Rama’s victory over Ravana and the screams of the monkeys fighting for the Lord’s side, we can be bucked up in our battle against the unwanted forces of this world. Just as the victorious screams of the monkeys signaled the fleeing of the Rakshasas from the battlefield, the constant chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, will mark the retreat of all unwanted spirits and elements from our lives. Giving succor and strength to the warrior-like devotees of the Lord, this mantra proves to be the fuel of the engine of devotion. Darkness can never survive where there is light. The demons can never survive where the presence of God is strong. The presence of the Lord is strongest where His names are constantly heard and glorified. On Dussehra day, we remember the benevolent Lord Rama, the beautiful arrow shot from His bow that killed Ravana, and the wonderful screams of joy shouted by the devotees on the battlefield.