Dussehra is considered to be the celebration of good over evil. We have been hearing and watching various adaptations of Ramayana over the years. These legends have had quite a few interpretations, but which one is to be believed? We reached out to Anuja Chandramouli to uncover the modern interpretations of the mythology surrounding this day. She is a bestselling author and new-age Indian classicist widely regarded as one of the finest writers in mythology, historical fiction, and fantasy. She takes a wide interest in classical storytelling and is also a trained Bharatanatyam dancer.

Anuja Chandramouli dussehra author mythology bharatnatyam

Anuja has authored highly acclaimed novels like Arjuna: Saga of a Pandava Warrior-Prince, Kamadeva: The God of Desire, Shakti: The Divine Feminine, Yama’s Lieutenant and its sequel, Yama’s Lieutenant and the Stone Witch. Her articles, short stories, and book reviews appear in various publications like The New Indian Express, The Hindu, Scroll.in, and Femina. Her latest book Abhimanyu: Son of Arjuna has been shortlisted for the Atta Galatta – Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize. An accomplished TEDx speaker and storyteller, her “Mahabharata and Ramayana with Anuja” storytelling series is now available on YouTube, Spotify, TuneIn Alexa, and Apple Podcasts.

Also Read: Unlock the Mysteries of the Divine Feminine with Koral Das Gupta This Durga Ashtami

On this pious occasion of Dussehra, the Social Nation team got the opportunity to speak with Anuja who enlightened us on the various aspects of the legend of Ramayana and their relevance in the current world. Read on to know more:

How does the mythology of Dussehra, particularly the triumph of good over evil, resonate with the experiences & perspectives of women in today’s world?

“Personally, I have no wish to perpetuate the predominant and dangerously simplistic narrative about the inevitable triumph of good over evil. Nuance is the first casualty when we stick to such a black-and-white scenario be it in real life or the realm of stories. We need to remember that.

Regarding the mythology of Dussehra be it the defeat of ten–headed Ravana by Rama or Durga’s slaying of the Buffalo demon – Mahishasura, the takeaway is that neither of the so–called villains was denied redemption. Ravana is believed to have been one of the gatekeepers of Vishnu (Jaya and Vijaya) who were cursed by the four Kumaras after they were denied entry, to spend three lifetimes away from Vishnu. The gatekeepers made the choice to wade through blood over those three lifetimes as antagonists of the avatars of Vishnu and contributed to his glory by embracing death at his hand. Jaya and Vijaya took birth as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, Ravana and Kumbhakarna, and Shishupala and Dantavakra. We are essentially supposed to be celebrating the fact that Ravana’s death brought him closer to the Supreme Consciousness.

Similarly, Mahisha was also a complicated character. He was born in blood after Indra’s power–hungry machinations led to the death of his parents and sought vengeance. But ultimately, every step he took even though it was a gut-wrenchingly violent path he walked, led him to the feet of Durga and when she pierced the veil of Maya that had entrapped him in a vicious cycle of birth and rebirth, he achieved moksha and surrendered to her grace.

Likewise, in today’s world, we will do well not to pander to the foolhardy Madonna/Whore narrative because a woman has countless faces exactly like the Divine Feminine, and we ought to celebrate a woman’s right to be the best version of herself, in whatever manner she finds suitable. In addition, it won’t hurt to set aside the Good vs. Evil preoccupation in favour of being more tolerant and compassionate to fellow human beings, even if their views or notions of right and wrong don’t align with our own.”

Can you explore the representation of female characters in Dussehra mythology and how their actions contribute to the overarching narrative of victory & justice?

“In India, we have always celebrated Shakti, the Mother Goddess and Divine Feminine. The nine days of Navaratri leading up to Dussehra are dedicated to the ritualistic celebration of Devi, with each day focusing on a characteristic aspect of the Goddess. The first three days of the festival are dedicated to Durga/Kali, the fierce, avenging deities so that we may be imbued with strength and power to fight injustice and withstand suffering.

The next three days are dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, seeking her blessings to endow us with wealth and a zest for life. It must be remembered that wealth here does not refer to material gains alone but a propensity for experiencing and savouring the bounty of beauty, truth, and goodness this world and life offers so that the soul may be nourished.

The final three days are a celebration of Saraswati, the bestower of wisdom and the patron Goddess of art and learning. It is to remind us that though we may be lost to the rigours of the rat race we must never give up the quest for wisdom or stop trying to transcend our limitations and striving to be better.

The tenth day – Dussehra, signifies our potential to unite the many faces of the Goddess within us with their contradictory qualities which pull us in different directions, so that conflicting impulses are mastered and a state of harmony and spiritual oneness with the divine is achieved. This is the true state of victory and justice.”

What is the significance of worshipping your vehicles/equipment, etc. on Dussehra?

“It is simply about respect and reverence. By including the implements of trade, art, craft, learning etc. in worship, we are acknowledging that we are grateful for their role in our chosen vocation or profession. With this respectful, reverential attitude we strengthen our involvement with the devices that are of immense value to us, so that we may become better at what we have chosen to do and ensure maximum yield from the things we use. Intent is key here. Honesty and humility tend to serve one better than greed and selfishness.”

What should readers take from the various stories of Sita’s sacrifices in today’s world?

“Sita was a gentle soul who found satisfaction in the simple things that make life worth living. This ability of hers was one of her many admirable qualities. She was also possessed of an indomitable spirit and infinite strength which saw her fight her battles in captivity with grace and resilience. She was a fighter who rather than glory in suffering or sacrifice sought to seek out satisfaction no matter what her abysmal circumstances dictated. Which is why her inner light continued to shine and light up the world whether she was in exile, captivity, or even when she was cast out from her Kingdom.

Much is made of the power of feminist rage. But anger (Rowthiram) should not be confused with strength (Veera). Raving and ranting across social media may feel empowering but it seldom brings about true change. Sometimes, the situation demands that we fight for a righteous cause, but it is best if we do it from a place of calm, tranquillity, and quiet conviction. The way Sita did. Which is why her voice rings out across the ages, her glory undimmed.”

Many stories say that Ravana was a misunderstood & misinterpreted anti-hero, do you think that’s true and why?

“As I mentioned earlier, there was always more to Ravana than his misrepresentation in pop culture as a one-note villain. He was a scholar par excellence, devotee of Shiva, patron of the arts and learning, generous friend, a good and benevolent King to his people and so much more. His abduction of another man’s wife for the ostensible purpose of avenging his sister, Surpanakha (whose nose and breasts were chopped off by Lakshmana) was a fatal mistake. It goes to show that he was a great hero with many wonderful qualities but his extreme hubris, enormous appetites, and unwillingness to admit to a misdeed and make amends for it contributed to his downfall.

Here, we must remember again that Ravana was originally the gatekeeper of Vishnu, and viewed in the larger scheme of things it was his choice to serve as an antagonist to aid an avatar of Vishnu, chosen to be the champion of Bhoomi Devi to lighten her load. Seen from this perspective, we must concede that the heights of Ravana’s hate and folly came from the depths of love. And for that alone, he deserves our admiration and respect.”

Wasn’t this discussion extremely insightful and eye-opening? We surely learned a lot today about these stories behind Dussehra. There’s so much more to it than what we’ve heard since childhood. What are your takeaways from these stories? Do tell us in the comments. Happy Dussehra to all! 🙂