for ISKCON News on Oct. 22, 2010
ISKCON temples and organizations all over the world celebrated the ultimate victory of good over evil this October 16th to 17th, with unique festivities centered around Lord Ramachandra’s defeating the evil king Ravana and rescuing his wife Sita Devi.
At the UK’s Bhaktivedanta Manor near London, the event—known as Dusshera, or Rama Vijayotsava—is especially loved, as the presiding deities along with Radha-Gokulananda are Rama, an avatar of Lord Krishna as the ideal king, along with his wife Sita, his brother Lakshmana, and his supernaturally powerful monkey friend Hanuman.
About 3,000 people, mostly from Northwest London and nearby Hertfordshire, attended this year’s Dusshera celebrations on October 17th, from 5pm to 8pm.
They gathered in front of a stage set up outside on the Manor’s large rural property, as local youth group the Pandava Sena presented a spectacular dramatic recreation of the epic battle fought in a long ago age between the armies of Rama and Ravana, as described in the sacred text the Ramayana.
At the conclusion of the fight, the actor playing Rama fired a fiery arrow into a 36-foot tall, ten-headed effigy of Ravana, which was packed with fireworks. The crowd cheered as the demon burst into leaping tongues of flame.
“This story is a classic account of good over evil, qualities found in all human beings,” explains Bhaktivedanta Manor communications secretary Radha Mohan Dasa. “The heart of the story, however, is the message that those who exploit and abuse the property of the Lord will meet their downfall sooner or later.”
He adds, “It is also written that when angry Ravana displayed ten heads, these ten heads represented the ten evil facets of his character. Devotees pray to Lord Rama that they do not take on these qualities, which include lust, anger, greed and envy—qualities which affect all conditioned souls.”
Meanwhile, in India, students and teachers of the Bhaktivedanta Swami Mission School at the ISKCON complex, in Juhu, Mumbai re-enacted the same pastime with an eco-friendly Ravana.
School children brought unused but clean cloth from their homes to assemble their Ravana effigy, and did not set off any fire crackers in keeping with their eco-friendly theme.
“While the effigy burnt in the school courtyard, students and teachers cheered and chanted the Hare Krishna mantra,” says Parijata Dasi of ISKCON Communications Mumbai. “Several temple devotees and visitors also gathered to watch the 8-foot Ravana gradually reduce to ashes.”
Afterwards, students from Nursey to Class 10 heard the story of Lord Rama and his victory over Ravana. The festivities concluded with a special feast for all.
In Washington D.C. in the United States of America, devotees at the Potomac temple—where Dusshera is the second biggest festival after Janmastami—launched a celebration which rivaled that of Bhaktivedanta Manor.
2,500 people attended the October 16th event, which saw the national touring Festival of India erect a stage and tents including gift stores, book tables, a japa booth, and children’s activities on the twelve-acre property.
Popular kirtan group Gaura Vani and As Kindred Spirits performed in the temple from 4:30pm, followed by a children’s bhajan group, a traditional Bharat-Natyam dance by Vrindarani Dasi, and a fire dance by new community member Bhakti Nancy.
Veteran ISKCON actor Pani Bhushana Dasa then took to the stage with a mega-cast to perform a one-hour drama depicting Lord Rama’s adventures.
“Pani—who plays Hanuman and also acts as narrator—has put this theatrical favorite on for over ten years at our D.C. temple,” says ISKCON Communications Director Anuttama Dasa. “About twenty children from the congregation play the parts of monkeys and demons. And it’s really a community treasure—lots of our young adults grew up playing monkeys, and still appear in the play every year but have now moved on to play Sita or Rama.”
Of course, what would Dusshera be without a burning Ravana—and the Potomac temple has its own huge effigy too, made of wood and sporting ten heads. As devotees celebrate Rama’s victory and warm their hands at the fire, they enjoy a delicious feast, concluding one of ISKCON Washington D.C.’s best-loved festivals.
“It’s very well-attended, drawing a lot of people who may not come to the temple for other events,” Anuttama says. “They appreciate it because it teaches their children about the pastimes of Sita and Rama.
“And it’s such a happy and fun celebration—who doesn’t want to see Sita and Rama reunited, and the horrible king Ravana destroyed?”