Story-day is for cultural exploration, puraanas and parables and finding out about leading lights in spiritual philosophy.
Today is known as वीजै दषामि/Vijay Dashaami and also as द्शहेर /Dasshera. As Vijay Dashami, it is the tenth day in the festival of Navratri. A contradiction? No, the nine nights are all about celebrating the feminine principal. This "victory on day ten" is not only a bringing together of all things from the last week but in celebration of harvest, which is widely taking place in India at this time. Yes, a harvest festival! Victory of reaping the benefits of labour and faith. Conquering all the strife which may have taken place during the planting and tending of the crops. It is also the most auspicious day to start anew; new plantings, new business, new studies. A particular पूजा/puja (service) which is held is that of Saraswati puja for all those who are in a educational status - so all schools and universities and other such institutions will honour the Goddess of Knowledge. (It should be added here that there are auspicious times throughout the whole week of Navratri and this puja may take place earlier in the week also.)
On this day of Vijaya, Goddess Durga, riding her lion वाहण/vaahana (vehicle) fought and defeated the demon Mahishasura, he who thought himself indestructible and greater even than the mighty Lord Shiva. The legend is readily available for reading elsewhere. The important aspect from Vedantic point of view is that this represents the battle over the ego. Also do not underestimate the power of the female!
As Dasshera - "removing the ten" - the celebration is something more of a North Indian event and is in honour of the victory of Sri Rama over the King of Lanka, Raavana. The depiction of Raavana with ten heads is the tradition and his figure is burned in the night after a day of leela; chanting of the story of Ramaayana. It is not, of course, that the king in fact had some physical deformity, but rather he was said to have ability in many fields and could wear the 'hat' of farmer, soldier, artist, politician, and so on. With this came much ego. He forgot his place and thought he could own everything, including Rama's beloved wife, Sita. Conquering Raavana, then, is also about conquering our vices and our ego.
This day can not go by without also acknowledging "Bapu". Mohandas Gandhi has had much written (and mis-written) about his life and like so many who become famous has perhaps been lost somewhat to the interpretations of historians and biographers. Even researching for this post four different versions of his demise were found, just as an example. What cannot be denied is that in that person did greatness reside. What we need to remember is that for all that greatness, he was a human being doing what he could with what he had and in this manner he can be an object of admiration.
There has been a trend of 'cutting the tall poppy' when it comes to assessing great figures of history and there are many who would point fingers and cry fowl for the failings to be found. This serves little purpose other than to tell us much about the dirt-diggers.
Being a human of any quality is struggle enough in ordinary life. Now place yourself in the shoes of one such as the Mahatma who, whichever way you turn it, left an impression which can never be wiped from the face of history; no matter how much it gets rewritten. One of the surprising things which came to light whilst studying several writings on Gandhi was the following (cut and pasted from Wiki with thanks);
In 1908, Tolstoy wrote A Letter to a Hindoo outlining his belief in non-violence as a means for India to gain independence from British colonial rule. In 1909, a copy of the letter fell into the hands of Mohandas Gandhi who was working as a lawyer in South Africa at the time and in the beginnings of becoming an activist. Tolstoy's letter was significant for Gandhi who wrote to the famous writer seeking proof that he was the real author, leading to further correspondence between them. Reading Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You also convinced Gandhi to avoid violence and espouse nonviolent resistance, a debt Gandhi acknowledged in his autobiography, calling Tolstoy "the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced". The correspondence between Tolstoy and Gandhi would only last a year, from October 1909 until Tolstoy's death in November 1910, but led Gandhi to give the name, the Tolstoy Colony, to his second ashram in South Africa. Besides non-violent resistance, the two men shared a common belief in the merits of vegetarianism, the subject of several of Tolstoy's essays.
It is known that Gandhi was also influence by Thoreau's 'Civil Disobedience', but this additional fact was fascinating. Tolstoy (whose birthday recently passed also) was clearly aware of the principles of Vedanta and undoubtedly this would have contributed greatly to his later religious stance.
A busy few days it has been then… prepare yourselves, there's more on the horizon!