Today is the hindu festival Dussehra, also called Vijayadashami. Dussehra literally means the defeat (hara) of the ten (Dus)- headed king Raavan by Rama. This festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil. It is at the culmination of the nine day fasting period, called navratris. On the tenth day, huge effigies of Raavan are set afire amidst much celebration.
This post deals mainly with my fascination with the elaborate effigies.
The effigy- making work is given on contract to various small businessmen who specialize in such work during the festival season. This year i visited one such area in Delhi. The effigies being prepared were mostly between 30 to 50 feet in height. The work is totally manual from start to finish, and takes about 4-5 days to complete.
First the framework for the heads as well as the bodies are made out of flexible cane which is bent into the desired shape, and then painstakingly glued at the edges and left to dry in the sun for a day. Then this is covered with wastepaper and old newspapers. The glue used is typically cheap wheat and arrowroot flour mixed with water in old tin canisters, which is then heated over a makeshift chulha (stove) made of bricks stacked one over other. This mix is let to cool and later used to stick the paper over the frames.
After the initial mould is ready, it is covered with glitzy colored paper. The body is usually covered in black or gold, symbolizing evil and opulence respectively, and embellished with silver and gold colored paper/ plastic or thermocol.
Raavan was a well read and mighty scholar and was a devotee of Shiva. These facts are acknowledged by the people who make the effigies. The heads of the effigies are decorated with the Om symbol, and with the various shiva symbols like the third eye, a serpent or a drum. The eyes and moustaches are also given minute attention. What strikes is the detailing and the familiarity of the common person with the epic Ramayana (the story of Rama).
The ten heads of Raavan are symbolized by the stuff that one has to symbolically ‘burn’ in order to attain peace and a higher state of awareness. They symbolize our own faults and frailities.
The ten heads are symbolic of :
Alluring and Sensuous fluorescent- pinks and reds….
…and Sinful purples
2. Krodha (Anger)
The eyes are intricately painted to highlight the fury of the demon king
The heads are strung with small colored lights that add to the fearsome expression
An angry red face, blood stained canines,a huge branched moustache and flaring nostrils
Each head is painted in its own unique manner
3. Moha (Delusion)
The love and attachment that we have for our family and friends and for our material possessions, keep us entangled in our own selfishness.
The villain with hearts in his eyes.
Moha is the glue that binds us to this world, materially and emotionally.
Preparing the glue for the effigies
Moha traps us and keeps us running in circles.
Elaborately curved moustache
4. Lobha (Greed)
The greed for more and more of everything, for desires that can never be satisfied and are therefore endless.
All the colours in the palette, and still hungrily looking for more
Decorating the body lavishly with gold colored thermocol decorations
The endless line of body-frames under the metro station
5. Mada (Pride)
In small doses, it defines our worth, but excessive pride may lead to vanity and narcissism.
The villain, as defined by his hairy upper lip
Pride in our intellect and in our material possessions detaches us from the truth.
A row of heads along the footpath
Pride casts long shadows and fools us of our worth.
The heads are lined up along the main road and cast long eerie shadows at night, under the yellow street lights
6. Maatsarya (Envy)
A desire for a thing that is not ours. Raavan abducted Rama’s wife Sita which led to the war and eventually his death.
The row of heads stare at the traffic and the metro-line passing above.
Maatsarya leads to discontent and resentment, akin to comparing and keeping- up- with the- Joneses.
Rows of completed heads placed under the metro-station, grin at each other
Envy traps us in its cage and doesn’t allow us to reach our full potential.
Rows of heads placed on the road-divider look towards another such row across the other side of the road.
7. Manas (Mind)
Manas is what we are on the inside, our thoughts, and the chatter that goes on within us.
Manas reflects our experiences and our memories.
A bunch of completed heads and unfinished body-frames under the street light
We are constantly trying to piece together and shape our future actions (and thoughts) based on the feedback from the manas.
Workers busy making frames
8. Buddhi (Intellect)
The intellect is the knowledge we gain through our endeavour and hard work. Raavan was a learned man and a devotee of Shiva.
Each head is painted with the Shiva- symbols and with Om, an acknowledgement of Raavans intellect
Shiva symbols of the drum and the coiled serpent painted on the foreheads
Intellect, unfortunately also leads to pride and blinds us to our faults.
Half- complete rows of the demon kings crowns.
Excessive pride in our own buddhi, makes us a snobbish seeker of knowledge.
Logs stacked at the road-side. These are used for making the body frames stable enough to hold the heads.
9. Chitta (Will)
Chitta is the subconscious mind, it is the machinery that works at another level.
The work goes on though the night. Here, they are decorating a crown.
The subconscious works as a background tape, while we go on with our daily work. Controlling the chitta requires concentration and comes with what we call ‘being in the zone’.
A middle- aged man paints the minute details on the head. This picture was taken at about 2300 hrs.
One who is able to control the chitta, achieves balance.
A family of four balanced on a motorcycle, zips past the row of heads on the road- divider
10. Ahamkara (Ego)
Ahamkara is the I, Me and Myself. It is derived from the word “Aham” which means the Self.
The golden head and humongous moustache almost scream for attention
The ego separates us from others.
A solitary head glares at the cars parked in front of it, and at the half- finished body frames at night.
Ahamkara also ends up making us lonely and aloof.
Dusshera therefore is a symbolic recognition and a subsequent acknowledgment of human fraility.
This year let us take this this first step towards recognizing our faults, getting rid of them will be a much longer road and another story.