The evil Mahishaasur wreaked a reign of terror in the three worlds. He subdued the great kings and mighty gods and became the sole emperor of the three worlds. His tyranny however was short-lived. The kings, unable to bear the brunt of his evil rule, went to Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva and beseeched them to redeem them from the evil clutch of Mahishaasur. The three gods were annoyed at the wicked dominance of Mahishaasur. Out of their annoyance, it has been said, Shakti (a goddess) materialized. The gods equipped her with their powerful weapons to vanquish Mahishaasur. For nine days Shakti and Mahishaasur were locked in a terrible combat. On the tenth day Mahishaasur fell and the triumph of good over evil re-established peace and happiness in the world. Shakti was worshipped and lavished with honors and we now know and celebrate that triumphant day as Vijayaadashmi. The nine day Navaratri festival commemorate the nine day victorious struggle of Shakti over Mahishaasur.
The deep significance of the battle between Shakti and Mahishaasur has come to be understood today with context to the raging battle within us between the good and evil forces of pride, lust, jealousy, etc. Like the defeated kings our mind, intellect and senses have submitted to the overpowering forces of our animal nature. To regain our sovereignty, total refuge in God rewards us with a tremendous soul-strength (atma-shakti) to dethrone the evil forces altogether.
Vijayaadashmi, popularly known as Dashera, is also remembered as the day when Lord Rama killed Ravana.
Ever since then many of our kings of the past had commenced battles on this day with strong hopes of victory over the enemies.
Today this day is remembered and celebrated in many parts of the country. In the north, huge effigies of Ravana are burnt. Displays in controlling and exercising horses are a highlight in some parts of the country. On this day, scholars take the opportunity of worshiping the goddess Sharda and Sarasvati and students consider this day auspicious for commencing their academic career. Vijayaadashmi is indeed a day of celebrations. The worship of Shami - a tree, is also carried out on this day. A story that has led to this custom says that King Raghu (the dynasty in which Lord Rama was born) after completing a great 'yagna' was giving presents and donations to his guests. Kautsa, a disciple of sage Vartantu, was one of several guests who had come to the king with the intention of receiving a large donation. When Kautsa saw the king respecting his guests by applying sandle paste contained in a cheap earthenware vessel, he was disappointed. He felt he couldn't reveal his intentions to King Raghu, for the earthenware vessel the king was using reflected upon his poverty. And so Kautsa decided not to approach the King. The King noticed Kautsa leaving empty handed. Immediately he called Kautsa and asked him why he was leaving empty handed.
"Dear King", replied Kautsa "on seeing you, a mighty king, using a trifle earthenware container, I felt I could not disclose my wish to you. Please do not be disappointed on me for having turned away. I offer my sincerest regards and congratulations to you for verily there is none as charitable as you."
Kautsa then asked the king's permission to leave but King Raghu did not want him to go away empty handed. He had pledged to fulfil the wishes of all his guests. He told Kautsa to stay and reveal the purpose of his coming. After repeatedly asking him Kautsa eventually related his story to King Raghu.
"I am a disciple of the noble sage Vartantu," he began. "My preceptor has generously imparted to me the knowledge on fourteen different subjects. After completing my studies I asked sage Vartantu as to what I could give him in 'Guru dakshina' (donation). My guru replied, 'I have been satisfied in the excellent way you have received my knowledge. I take this satisfaction you have given me as your 'Guru Dakshina'.
"But I was not satisfied with my Guru's words. So I asked him again. To my surprise he became annoyed and demanded, 'Go, bring me fourteen million gold mohurs'." And it was with this wish that I came to you, but seeing that you had none I was about to go elsewhere when you called me."
"I shall fulfil your wish in a few days. Till then you shall be my honored guest," replied King Raghu. Now having promised Kautsa, the king made plans to vanquish Kubera (god of wealth). When Kubera heard about the king's intention he immediately rained gold mohurs in the night on a Shami tree. This wise act of Kubera pacified the king and averted a terrible war. The king then called Kautsa and gave him fourteen million gold mohurs.
Since King Raghu found the gold beneath the Shami tree on Dashera, 'Shami' trees have been invariably worshipped on this day.
A popular belief amongst the Hindus is that Lakshmiji (consort of Lord Vishnu) comes late at night on Sharda Punam seeking to lavish wealth upon those who are awake. Wherever she goes she asks, "Who is awake?"
Hence Sharad Purnima is also known as Kojagari Purnima.
Laxmiji, as our spiritual commentators have said, is generous to those who are awakened from within, who have the knowledge and experience of atma (soul). Our Upanishads speak in the same spirit, "Arise and Awake."
One who rises from the slumber of ignorance and attachment to material objects is indeed genuinely awakened.
The Sharad season is a season of breathless beauty and fragrance. On the night of Sharad Punam, the starry sky, forests perfumed with the smell of herbs and flowers and the cool air, are washed by the comforting light of a full moon. People celebrate this night with a dish of milk and flattened rice grains. Sharad Punam is also remembered as a day on which Lord Krishna danced with the milkmaids of Gokul. It was on this most romantic of all nights
that Krishna decided to bless the milkmaids with the heights of divine joy. The Lord played his flute and arrested the hearts of the milkmaids. When the flute player called, the milkmaids rushed to him. They would run leaving their husbands and children unattended, they would hurriedly go to him regardless of shameful words people would utter about them and they would blindly run to him oblivious of their tender bodies. The call of the flute made them forget everything. Their profound love for Lord Krishna dissolved all bonds of attachment of village, tribe, husband, home and thoughts of shame. It was love that drove their souls to him on that night of the full moon. The Lord multiplied himself and became a partner to every milkmaid. The joyous and exalted stick dance commenced. It was a delightful occasion where the souls ecstatically danced with the Lord. As the night advanced the milkmaids transcended all earthly feelings and became immersed in the Lord's divine love.
This blissful partnership with the Lord is possible for us if we become 'atmaroop' (state of self-realisation) like the milkmaids. It is in this exalted state that one becomes eligible to the supreme devotion to God.
And Sharad Punam is of paramount importance to the devotees of our Faith because it marks the birthday of Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami - the eternal abode of Lord Swaminarayan. Every year this festival is celebrated at Gondal in the presence of H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj. This festival honors
Gunatitanand Swami for his infinite qualities of Dharma, Jnan, Vairagya and Bhakti and as the most choicest disciple of Lord Swaminarayan. He is verily known as Mul Akshar in the Faith and is the doorway to eternal redemption. To experience supreme bliss one has to identify oneself with Akshar (Gunatitanand Swami) to worship Lord Swaminarayan.