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Tag: Vijayadashami

Shami Tree and Vijayadashami

Today is Vijayadasami, the tenth day following the ‘Nine Nights’ or ‘Navaratri’. This was the day when Goddess Mahishasura Mardhini gained victory over the evil Asura clan, and also Rama’s victory over Ravana. The day is also considered auspicious to start new ventures and for learning.

On this day, in most parts of our country ‘Ayudha Pooja’ is done for tools of work and war, and musical instruments. They are cleaned and decorated with flowers, sandal and ‘kumkum’, and are worshipped. The Shami tree and Goddess Durga are worshipped as well, and the leaves of this tree exchanged among people.

Today’s story relates to this practice of worshipping the tools of work and the worship of the Shami tree on Vijayadashami day.

 In the Mahabharatha, as a result of the Game of Dice played between the cousins Pandavas and Kauravas, the losing side – the Pandavas – were punished to a twelve year exile in the forests, followed by one year of ‘Agyaata Vaasam’ which means living in disguise incognito. A further condition was that if any one of them were to be recognized in public during this one year, they would have to go in exile again for a period of thirteen years.

The Pandavas had to agree to this condition and they, along with Draupadi were roaming in the forests from place to place like nomads for most part of their exile. Some of their hardship was eased when they acquired the ‘Akshaya Patra’ from Lord Surya, which gave them abundant food.

Arjuna spent most of these twelve years acquiring divine weapons like the Paasupata in preparation for the Great War. But he already possessed the great bow ‘Gandeeva’, acquired from Lord Agni. It is said that even the twang of the Gandeeva when the arrows were shot was deadly. The other brothers also had weapons in which they specialized in. Yudhishtira, in addition to his bow ‘Mahendra’, was well versed in fighting with his spear. Bhima’s favourite weapon was his lethal mace and both Nakula and Sahadeva were practiced archers. Their weapons were so well known that even if the Pandavas were in disguise, they could be recognized by the weapons they held.

Now, this was a problem. According to the condition of the Game of Dice, in the thirteenth year of the Pandavas’ exile, if they were recognized, they would have to go back in exile for twelve years. So they had to plan to keep the weapons safely in some place for a year after which they could retrieve them.

Duryodhana had his spies working overtime to find out the plans of the Pandavas and was hell-bent on finding them out when they were in disguise, so that he could send them back for another round of exile into the forest.

The Pandavas had decided that they would enter the Kingdom of Matsyadesha ruled by Virata in different disguises and seek employment with the king there, but the weapons were a problem. They prayed to Lord Krishna, their friend and guide, and there he was.

“What is your worry, dear Yudhishtira?” said the Lord.

“We have decided where to go incognito, but we don’t know what to do with the weapons, dear Krishna” replied Yudhishtira.

Krishna thought for a while and advised him suitably. The Pandavas thanked him and proceeded. On their way to the kingdom of Virata, there was a forest and a burial ground which looked very eerie. There was a Shami tree near the burial ground which had thick foliage. The Shami tree is known as ‘Vanni maram’ in Tamil, ‘Banni’ in Kannada, ‘Jammi’ in Telugu and Shami in other parts of India. This tree is a very versatile tree which has many medicinal properties and serves as fuel (firewood), and the leaves, as nutritious food for livestock. Perhaps because it has so much energy, it is called ‘Vanni’. ‘Vahni’ in Sanskrit means fire.

 The Pandavas took all their weapons and bundled them up in a cloth. Arjuna then took the bundle to the top of the tree and tied it securely to the sturdy branches, which had thick foliage. The parcel resembled a corpse and looked dreadful. Being near a thick forest, there were snakes slithering up and down the tree which made it look all the more fearsome.

Yudhishtira then prayed to Goddess Durga to bless them with success during the ‘Agyaata Vaasam’ and to keep their armaments safe. He sang verses in praise of the Goddess, which has come to be known as ‘Yudhishtira Krutha Durga Stuthi’. It starts with the verse ‘Yashodha Garba Sambhootam, Narayana Vara Priyaam, Nanda Gopa Kule Jaatham, Mangalya Kula Vardhaneem’.

So ardent was his prayer, that the Goddess Durga appeared before him and answered him. She assured him that victory would be theirs and that they would not be recognized while in the kingdom of Virata. Having blessed the Pandavas thus, the Devi disappeared.

The Pandavas then disguised themselves. Yudhishtira disguised himself as Kanka, an expert in administration and in the game of dice and joined the King Virata’s court. Bhima disguised himself as Ballava and joined the king’s royal kitchen as a chef. Arjuna used a curse he had earlier begotten (but could use at his will), and transformed himself into Brihannala, the eunuch and went to teach music and dance to the ladies in the palace. Nakula, disguised as Granthika, joined as a caretaker of horses in the King’s stables. Sahadeva disguised himself as Tantipala and joined as a caretaker of the cows in the palace, and Draupadi, disguised as Sairandhri, took up a job as maid to queen Sudeshna, King Virata’s wife.

The Pandavas lived up to the disguise successfully through the year, although towards the end, Duryodhana suspected that they might be living in Virata’s kingdom since Virata’s brother in law Keechaka, was killed mysteriously. Duryodhana knew that it would take the might of a person like Bheema to kill Keechaka. The prosperity of the Virata kingdom had also increased in recent times due to the effort of Sahadeva, who was tending to cows in the palace.

 In those days the quality and quantity of the livestock, especially the cows, used to determine the prosperity of a kingdom. This was because cattle was the backbone of the economy. Agriculture was the main occupation and cow dung, cow urine and buttermilk were natural pesticides and fertilizers. Bulls were the only animals used for ploughing the land and cows were the source of milk, curd, butter and ghee apart from giving natural manure. So, whenever a kingdom was attacked, the first objective would be to drive away the cattle to the aggressor’s kingdom.

The period of ‘Agyaat Vaasam’ was coming to an end and there were only two to three weeks left for the exile to come to an end. Duryodhana was desperate to expose the disguise of the Pandavas. So after careful planning, Susharman – a king who had been constantly attacked by Keechaka – was roped in by Duryodhana to attack Virata, considering that Keechaka was dead and gone. Susharman, went with his army and started driving away herds of cattle from Virata’s kingdom to his, and this was reported to Virata. Virata immediately went to war and also took Kanka (Yudhishtra) and Ballava (Bhima) with him. Susharman attacked Virata very fiercely and almost captured him, but on the advice of Yudhishtra, Bhima (Ballava) came to the forefront and captured Susharman alive instead.

While this was going on, Duryodhana came to know that Virata was not in his palace, and went personally to attack the palace. Virata’s son Uttarakumar was there, but he had never faced war in his life and was frightened. Brihannala (Arjuna) was furious and told Uttara Kumar that he would come as his charioteer to fight Duryodhana.

Arjuna then rushed to the Shami tree and to his great relief, the parcel of weapons was intact on the branch. He paid his obeisance to the tree which had borne the weapons for a year, and retrieved his weapons, taking them back to the palace. This was the day of Dashami, after Navaratri. Uttarakumar mounted the chariot with Arjuna as his charioteer, and went out to fight with Duryodhana, but the fighting was mostly by Arjuna! When he took out the Gandeeva, Duryodhana recognized Arjuna and was momentarily ecstatic, but to his dismay, he found that the thirteen years were over one day before. He retreated hastily and the war was thus won.

 The Pandavas felt that the Shami tree had bestowed energy on the weapons and thereby they were victorious. It is said that Arjuna took a vow to worship the Shami tree every year on this day. Therefore the Shami tree is worshipped on this day and so also, all tools of work and weaponry.

There is also a belief that since ‘Vijaya’ (Arjuna was also known as Vijaya) retrieved his weapons on this Dashami day and attained ‘Vijaya’ (Victory), the day is known as Vijaya Dashami.

In some states of our country, people gift Shami leaves to each other on this day, as they believe the leaves are worth their value in gold and will bring prosperity. This practice is prevalent in Maharashtra and Karnataka, in particular.

The kings of Mysore used to take their Royal Sword in a grand procession on this day to the Shami tree which they call ‘Banni’ tree and pray to the Shami tree and the Goddess Chamundeswari (Durga). This practice is continued even now and the Dussehra procession culminates in the Banni Mantapa.

Even as I am writing this, I am witnessing the Mysuru Dusshera procession on TV!

Vijayadashami – Victory of Good over Evil!

Today is Vijayadashami or Dussehra as it is called in the North of India and I am going to narrate the story of Vijayadashami.

Long long ago there lived a fearful asura or demon called Mahishasura. He had the head of a buffalo but could assume any form at will. He was the son of another asura by name Rambha. Mahishasura was, as all demons were, wanting to conquer everyone in all the worlds and rule all the worlds. So, he opted to do tapasya or meditation towards Brahma so that he could obtain the boon of immortality from him. Mahishasura did severe penance for a number of years giving up food and water and sleep and at last, Lord Brahma appeared before him. Mahishasura was overjoyed. There were only few moments between him and immortality, or so he thought.

“I am pleased by your penance” said Lord Brahma, “What boon do you seek?”

An overjoyed Mahishasura said “Immortality, my lord, freedom from death”, and looked at Brahma expectantly.
Brahma shook his head and said, “The rule of the universe is that any one born in this world has to die one day and therefore I cannot grant that boon to you. Ask for something else”

A disappointed Mahishasura thought for a moment and said, “Well, then, I should not meet my death in the hands of any man or animal or deva and any other being except a woman”

Women, he thought were the weakest of the weak and he felt ashamed to even think that he could be defeated by a woman.

“So be it” said Lord Brahma in his usual style and vanished.

Now Mahishasura was all powerful. No one in all the worlds had the power to vanquish him. True to the saying ‘Power corrupts, Absolute power corrupts absolutely’, he started his atrocities against one and all. His already little sense of morality completely vanished and he took joy in torturing innocent people, annihilating masses and committing crimes every moment without a sense of guilt.

This went on and on and on and no one dared to take him on as they were all well aware of the boon given by Lord Brahma and knew that none of them including the gods could kill him. His eyes were now set on conquering Amaravati, the kingdom of the Devas. Taking his forces along, he went to Amaravati and challenged the Devas to war. The Devas in turn fled to Vishnu at Vaikuntha and pleaded with him to fight for them. Vishnu reluctantly agreed knowing fully well that he would not be able to succeed due to the immunity granted by Lord Brahma’s boon.

As expected, the war was in favour of Mahishasura and not even the Sudarshan Chakra, the most powerful weapon of Lord Vishnu was effective against the demon. In fact the otherwise invincible Lord Vishnu was knocked down by Mahisha’s bull and the Lord could take it no more and he quietly vanished to his abode. Not being able to spot Vishnu in the battlefield, lord Shiva and Lord Brahma also felt jittery and left the place quietly. Mahishasura drove away the other Devas as one would shoo away a fly, and occupied Indra’s throne. Indra and his clan fled to the mountains and forests on earth and were living in exile. But how long could they do that? They had to go back to their place and so with a heavy heart went to the Trinity (Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) once again.

“Help us O Lords!” they pleaded. “We are living like nomads in the forests while Mahishasura is enjoying in our palace” they lamented.

The Trinity had also had enough of complaints about the atrocities of Mahishasura and they decided to act. From the bodies of Lord Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma rose dazzling lights of the hues of red, yellow and white. So dazzling the light was that the Trinity themselves had to shield their eyes to gaze upon the light. The light converged in the ashrama of Rishi Katyayan and all the other devas like Yama, Agni, Kubera and Indra sent their energy to merge in this light. Out of this light came the most beautiful woman this universe had ever seen. She was the manifestation of all the positive energy of all the celestial beings. Her beauty was unparalleled and she had eighteen arms. She had power, wealth and knowledge. She possessed the qualities of Tamas, Rajas and Satva. She appeared fearful and but had benevolence in her eyes, at the same time. Born with all the best qualities of all the celestial beings, she was Durga. She was also hailed as Katyayani as she appeared in the ashram of Rishi Katyayan.

All the celestial beings descended in the ashram and paid obeisance to her. They sung her praises and requested her to accomplish what was impossible for them to do – to slay the demon Mahishasura. Each of them gave their best weapon to her. Lord Shiva gave her his Trident (Trishul), Vishnu gave his discus (Sudharshan Chakra), Indra gave his thunderbolt (Vajrayudha), Agni gave his flaming dart, Yama gave his iron rod, Vayu gave her a mighty bow and Surya gave her a quiver and arrows. Himavan, the ruler of Himalayas gave her the most ferocious lion on which she mounted and was looking majestic. She was wearing a red saree and bedecked with jewels and diamonds. Durga listened to their prayers and as a compassionate mother would ferociously protect her children, she, with the good wishes of all present, proceeded towards the abode of Mahishasura.

On reaching Amaravati, she let out a deafening roar which even a hundred lions could not produce and the noise reverberated in the palace where Mahisha was holding his darbar (court). Rattled for a moment, Mahisha was puzzled and a wee bit frightened. Who was this who dared to come to his abode and roar like thunder? He sent his assistant to see what the matter was. The assistant came back and told him about the beauty of the Goddess and why she had come there. Though enraged to know her purpose, Mahishasura was very curious to see this epitome of beauty who had come to his doorstep.

On seeing the Goddess, he was so enchanted by her beauty that he wished to marry her. He expressed his thought to her. “Oh beautiful one!” he addressed her, “I am the greatest one on earth and I have never in my life begged anyone for any favour, but today I am compelled to beg you to marry me for I can never take my eyes off your beautiful form. Marry me, O doe eyed one!”

Durga was seething with anger “Hey Mahisha!” she said, “I think you have forgotten that I am the woman who has come to slay you. I am the woman who you thought could not overpower you. I am Durga, the manifestation of Shakti. You dare not talk to me like that. Give back the kingdom to the devas or else face my wrath in the battlefield”. She was looking frightful.

Mahishasura was irritated at her arrogance but was still in no mood to believe that a woman could defeat him. He went back to his palace in a huff and sent back his assistants to capture her and kill her army. The assistants were all ferocious warriors too. They were Madhu and Kaitabha, Dhoomralochana, Chanda and Munda, Shumba and Nishumba and Rakthabheeja. But to his utter surprise, none came back alive, not even Rakthabheeja, whose each drop of blood when it touched the ground would create another demon, hence the name Rakthabheeja (raktha- blood, Bheeja- seed). Durga had created her own all woman army and with the help of Kali, the fearful one, who sprang from Durga’s forehead annihilated Rakthabheeja for Kali drank up each drop of blood of Rakthabheeja before it touched the ground.

Mahishasura was shaken. He could soon see his end was coming near. He decided it was time, he went to war. Taking the form of a huge buffalo, he rushed wildly at the lion of Goddess Durga, The lion dodged him and an enraged Mahisha took the form of a mad elephant and rushed at Durga. Durga, with all her might, caught him by the trunk and tried to dash him to the ground when he suddenly changed himself into a lion and charged at Durga’s lion. But the mount of the Goddess was as sturdy as the one who gifted it to the Goddess and there was a fierce fight between the two lions, their paws slapping each other with ear-splitting roars. Now suddenly Mahisha changed himself into a buffalo and charged at the Goddess, when the lion swiftly tried to pin him down. He assumed the form of a demon once again and Durga, in a flash, pierced him with the trident and with a thunderous roar Mahishasura fell, never to get up again.

The Gods and all the beings in all the worlds rejoiced at this, for they were relieved of the atrocities of Mahisha.

It is said that Devi Durga fought for nine days and nights to vanquish Mahishasura and these nine nights and days are celebrated as Navaratri. In these nine days, all the women are considered as the representatives of the Goddess and are honoured specially. On the tenth day on which Durga vanquished Mahishasura, it is celebrated as Vijayadashami (Dasami -The tenth day of Vijaya – victory). There are other stories associated with Vijayadashami such as Rama vanquishing Ravana and Arjuna starting for battle after the exile, but in both the cases, both Rama and Arjuna propitiated Goddess Durga for their victory in their wars and emerged victorious with Her blessings.
Let us also pray to Durga Maa for Health, Wealth and Prosperity in our lives.

Jai Mata Di!!

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