This excellent rendition of the story of Diwali as a universal allegory of life and human nature is one that can be enjoyed meaningfully by everyone.
This blog post is an excerpt, used here with permission, from the article “Navaratri” by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati in the October 2004 issue of Yoga Magazine, published by the Bihar School of Yoga.
The story of Rama is a very simple one. He was born to a king who was old and had three wives. The king’s name was Dasharatha. Das means ‘ten’, rath means ‘chariot’, so Dasharatha means the chariot pulled by ten horses. Our bodies are that chariot and the ten horses are the ten senses. Within the body there are certain inherent desires. The spiritual traditions have classified human desires into three groups: (i) lokeshana, the need for recognition, (ii) viteshana, the need for security, social, financial, etc., and (iii) uptreshana, the desire for progeny. So recognition, security and progeny are the three classifications of desires. Some people have one, some have two, some have all three, but there is something all the time.
The birth of Rama
In the body of King Dasharatha, the chariot pulled by ten horses, the desire for offspring was predominant. So Dasharatha went to a yogi, asking for the fulfillment of his desire, and the yogi performed a yajna, which created the right ambience. As the outcome of the yajna, Rama was born to Dasharatha’s first wife, Kaushalya, who represents the sattwic [purity] nature. Bharata was born to the second wife, Kaikeyi, who represents the tamasic [darkness] nature, and Lakshman a and Shatrughna, the twins, were born to the third wife, Sumitra, who represents the rajasic [energy, activity] nature.
The body of the ten senses also has three wives – sattwa, rajas and tamas. When we are under the sway of a particular wife or husband, our responses become like that – sattwic, rajasic or tamasic. Rama was born from sattwa, Bharata from tamas, and Lakshmana and Shatrughna from rajas. This is how the birth of Rama took place. The pure consciousness will only come down in sattwa.
In the course of time Rama married Sita. Rama represents the pure Self and Sita represents the individual self. The marriage represents the union of the individual with the cosmic, with pure consciousness.
The exile of Rama
King Dasharatha came under the sway of Kaikeyi, the tamasic wife, who wanted to send Rama into exile. Only tamas would want to send the pure consciousness away, because in the presence of pure consciousness tamas cannot exist. So Rama was sent into exile. The pure consciousness is sent away from the body under the sway of tamas. When God leaves the body, who also leaves along with God? When the loved one leaves the room, the lover will also leave the room. So both Sita and Rama leave. Although the exile only applied to Rama, Sita decided she would not stay behind because she couldn’t live without Rama. So for a good thirteen years Rama and Sita had a great time in the forest. The beloved and the lover, the pure Self and the individual self, were together consorting happily with each other.
Now the king had to die, because the individual spirit had left, and tamas had overpowered the king. With the departure of that inherent God, the pure consciousness, and the individual consciousness, the body of the ten senses dies.
The separation of Rama and Sita
Meanwhile Rama and Sita were enjoying each other’s company in the forest, admiring each other and being happy with each other. Now, if these two are together, if the individual sell, the confined, finite self, is with the cosmic Self, how can there be creation? The finite self has to be brought back down to our level, into the body of the ten senses again. In order to achieve this the ten-headed monster named Dashanam appeared on the scene. Dashanam means ten heads. The head represents the ego of the senses. The ten heads are the five karmendriyas, the organs of action, and the five jnanendriyas, the organs of cognition. Each one has its own ego, so it is identified as the ten heads. It is these indriyas or senses which now have to capture that individual self away from God.
What was the object of attraction sent to lure Sita away? A golden deer. The pure consciousness knows very well that, as God, it has created everything in the world except a golden deer. Rama knew that it was an illusion, that it was foul play. But Rama, the pure consciousness, also has to play a role which is known as lila. He indulges in this lila in order to manage the ego of the senses and also to uplift the positive qualities and create a balance. So he agrees to get the golden deer for Sita, the individual consciousness.
As Rama went after the golden deer, the ten-headed monster, Ravana, came and captured Sita and took her to his city of Lanka. Lanka was a city of gold, which again represents ego. Sita was placed in a garden known as Ashokavatika, the place where sadness can never enter. Where is the place of sadness in our body? The heart. The heart is considered to be the seat of the individual soul.
In order to discover Sita again, Rama engaged two very important personalities. One was Hanuman, who represents devotion. In order to bring the individual consciousness back to the pure Self, devotion is required. Bhakti is the last transformation in human life in order to experience the divine – bhakti in its purest form. This is why Hanuman was the one who discovered Sita.
In order to rescue Sita, Rama went to Lanka, which indicates that the pure consciousness has come down to the level of the human experience. It is said that if God is at all hungry, he is only yearning and experiencing hunger for your sentiments. God is attained through devotion, though love, through the qualities of the heart. Therefore, the qualities of the heart have always been emphasized – be kind, be compassionate, be loving, be gentle.
A fight then took place between the ten-headed monster Ravana, the ego of the senses, and Rama, the pure consciousness. Although Rama chopped off the heads and the arms of this monster many times, they all grew back. Then another personality, Vibhishana, the brother of Ravana, entered the scene. Where Ravana represents the rashness of the ego, Vibhishan represents viveka, the discriminative ability of the intellect. It is this viveka, right wisdom, who tells Rama, the pure consciousness, that if he wants to kill that monster, it is no good just playing with the ten heads and arms as they will grow again. Instead he has to go to the source of their life.
What is the source of life? Manipura chakra. A baby is connected to the mother’s body by the umbilical cord. Manipura chakra is also the seal of prana shakti, the life force, which is also a very important centre in kriya yoga and kundalini yoga [specific yoga practices taught at the Bihar School of Yoga]. Prana is the source of all manifest creation. So Vibhishana tells Rama to dry up the source so that nothing will grow again. In the war, Rama shot an arrow into the navel of the monster Ravana and shot ten arrows into Ravana’s ten heads. The life force that is responsible for giving birth to each ego was destroyed, and the existing ego was destroyed. So Rama was able to reclaim Sita.
According to the myth, the birth of Rama, the cosmic consciousness, takes place on Ramanavami, the ninth day of Chaitra Navaratri (March/April). On Vijaya Dashami, the last day of Ashwin Navaratri (September/October), Rama is victorious over Ravana, and he is able to reclaim and become one with the individual self. These two events are an indication of what we can aspire for.