April 22, 2023


One of the very well-known Hindu epics is Ramayana about the most notable Bhagwan Ram, an incarnation of Vishnu God. Most Hindus have grown up with Ram Leela, about two-week long staged and well narrated life story of Bhagwan Ram, in the rural and urban Bharat (that is India). The author himself grew up with the fascinating Ram Leela year after year in his own village. It is believed that Bhagwan Ram was ordained to take birth to get rid of the evil powers of demons on earth headed by a very learned but an “evil” king Ravan of Sri Lanka.
Jatayu: What we know from Ram Leela about Jatayu, a mythological giant vulture like bird, is that he was the first one to link Ram with Ravan. According to the legendary Ramayana, Ram’s wife Sita was mischievously abducted by Ravan during Ram’s 14-year exile. While searching for Sita in the jungles of southern Bharat, Ram came across wounded Jatayu who is believed to fight Ravan with his large wings in an effort to free Sita from his shackles. In the process, Jatayu was badly wounded and had his last breath in Ram’s lap. Just before his death, Jatayu told Ram about his friendship with King Dashrath ( Ram’s father). Subsequently, Ram performed Jatayu’s last rites treating him like his own father.
The untold story about the unassuming friendship between Jatayu and Dashrath was staged by the local talent during Diwali celebration by the community group Agarwal Samaj of Minnesota (ASMN). One can characterize it as a pre-Ram Leela event which is less well known.
This year, Hindus worldwide will celebrate Diwali (the festival of lights) on November 11/12, believed to be the largest religious festival for Hindus. Diwali festival, among many beliefs, is a commemoration of the Hindu God Ram returning to his native Ayodhya after the glorious victory over the demon king Ravan. It is worth mentioning that a magnificent Ram Mandir in Ayodhya is near completion with ‘Pran Pratishtha’ (consecration) to take place on January 22, 2024 with participation of Bharat’s Prime Minister Modi.
The Untold Story (staged on November 5): The friendship between Jatayu and Dashrath begins long before the birth of Ram, the eldest son of Dashrath. The staged episodes by its choreographer/director, Abhay Mishra, are as follows (never heard/seen by the author and perhaps by the audience in the hall):
1. One fine day, Sage Vasistha (revered as Guru) appears in the court of King Dashrath and warns him of the impending severe drought in Ayodhya based on the planetary configuration. He went on to forecast that Shani (god of planet Saturn) is about to enter Rohini Nakshtra (a constellation within Taurus) leading to extreme drought conditions for 12 years causing havoc for the entire earth.
2. The worried Dashrath seeks Vashishth’s guidance on what he can do to ensure that the people of Ayodhya can be spared of this calamity. The Guru informs Dashrath that there is truly no way to change the planetary configuration and associated ill effects except directly approaching Shani god and seeking his blessings.
3. Dashrath, a good king and determined to protect his people, embarks on a long and arduous journey in his chariot to meet Shani in outer space. Not knowing why Dashrath was heading toward him and perhaps fearing an attack, Shani destroyed Dashrath’s chariot. Thus, Dashrath started falling back toward earth.
4. The mythical Jatayu watched Dashrath in distress and approached him to help. Both introduced each other and Jatayu offered his large wings for Dashrath to ride to Shani’s place. Shani asked Dashrath who he was and why did he come? Dashrath unhesitatingly but humbly asked Shani not to enter Rohini Nakshtra and spare Ayodhya and the earth from the drought. Shani was pleased that King Dashrath came personally on behalf of his people and granted his wishes. Dashrath offered his gratitude to Shani and returned home with Jatayu.
5. Dashrath expressed immense gratitude to Jatayu for saving his life and taking him to meet Shani. Consequently, Dashrath offered Jatayu to ask for anything he would like. Jatayu asked for Dashrath’s son. Dashrath told Jatayu that he has no children but promised to offer his future son.
6. Jatayu visited Ayodhya when Dashrath’s son Ram was born. Dashrath, a man of his words and promises, handed Ram to Jatayu. This gesture pleased Jatayu that Dashrath kept his promise. He blessed Ram (as a child) and asked Dashrath to raise him with the best education, mentoring, and upbringing to be a successor to the throne of Ayodhya. Jatayu visited Ayodhya periodically and thus his friendship with Dashrath grew stronger over time.
Ram Exiled: Years later, Kaikeyi, one of Dashrath’s three wives, asked the king to fulfill a promise he had made to her. Kaikeyi wanted her son to succeed Dashrath instead of the eldest son Ram. King Dashrath, known for never relenting on his promises (similar to giving away Ram to Jatayu), fulfilled Kaikeyi’s wishes and conceded Ram to be exiled for fourteen long years. The heartbroken and grief-stricken Dasharath died soon after Ram’s departure for exile.
Ravan kidnapping Sita: Fast forwarding many years, as Ram (with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman) wanders the jungles to complete his exile, Ravan enters in the epic story of Ramayana. Subsequently, Ravan, dressed as a saint, knocks on the door of Sita (when she is alone) asking for alms. As a Hindu tradition, no saintly person should be denied alms. Accordingly, Sita stepped out of her hut and Ravan kidnapped Sita and forcefully took her to his kingdom Sri Lanka. Sita was continuously crying and sobbing, which is when Jatayu tried to rescue her and was wounded.
Ram meeting Jatayu: As stated above, Bhagwan Ram (and Lakshman), in search of Sita, meet the wounded Jatayu, a familiar part of traditional Ram Leela. Jatayu tells Ram about his friendship with Dashrath (the untold story) and takes his last breath in Lord Ram’s lap. It can be argued that Jatayu, as a mythical bird, had the divine foresight that Bhagwan Ram himself will bless him in later years.
Community Diwali Celebrations: The iconic Diwali’s religious and cultural significance are similar, perhaps more, to the Christmas day in Christianity and Eid in Islam. Like most Hindu festivals, Diwali at individual homes starts with cleaning, decorating, and lighting every nook and corner. In the evening, the traditional Puja (religious offering to Goddess Lakshmi) is followed by special food, fireworks, and exchange of gifts/desserts.
In the ASMN’s community Diwali celebration, there was a cultural bonanza including Jatayu’s untold story, dances, and a fancy dress show by people of all ages, lots of laughter, exchange of gifts, camaraderie, and well-groomed men, women, and children in their best spirits. In keeping with modern times, hundreds of photos were clicked and shared on social media, a much bigger trend than even the cultural and religious aspects of Diwali.
Diwali festival is of immense cultural significance that in the Twin Cities alone as many as 6-8 religious and community organizations celebrate it in the months of October and November. The following photos provide a glimpse of ASMN community Diwali celebration with appropriate captions which are typical of any Diwali function.
About Vijendra Agarwal
Born in a village (Kota, Saharanpur, U.P), he left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee. He and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward better education and health of children, especially empowerment of girls. Vidya Gyan is a calling to give back to rural communities and keeping connected to his roots which gave him so much more. His passion for reading and writing includes the interface of policy, politics, and people, and social/cultural topics promoting community engagement. Formerly, a researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he has widely travelled and came to the US in 1978. He was a faculty and academic administrator in several different universities in PA, TX, NJ, MN, WI, and NY, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during the Clinton administration. You can read more about the author here.

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