I clearly remember my first memory of Dussehra. My sister and I reached the park just in time to see the sky light up with fire, sparklers and a burst of colours. I then spotted three gigantic effigies of evil rakshasas and I swear I hadn’t seen anything that tall or magnificent ever before. My elder sister told me that the ones on either side were Kumbhakarana and Meghnath and the one in the middle was Ravana, the 10-headed king of Lanka.
As per the Hindu calendar, the Indian festival of Dussehra or Vijayadashami is celebrated on the tenth day of Shukla paksha (lunar phase) in the month of Ashwin or Ashwayuja (the seventh month) which is usually September or October. It is the culmination of Navaratri celebrations which represent three fundamental qualities or Gunas of human nature i.e. Tamas, Rajas and Sattva. The first three days of Navaratri are of Tamas where the Goddess takes an aggressive form (Maa Durga and Maa Kali); the next three days are of Rajas where she takes a gentle yet spiritually fulfilling form (Maa Lakshmi) and the last three days are dedicated to Sattva where the Goddess encourages knowledge and enlightenment (Maa Saraswati).
The tenth or final day is celebrated as Dussehra or Vijayadashmi in India. The day represents the fact that when a sadhak dedicatedly treads on the path of spirituality or dharma under the guidance of his guru, he possesses all the right gunas and becomes a harbinger of peace and harmony. In life, there would always be the victory of good over evil and the triumph of virtue over immortality. This happens when our negative emotions such as ego, selfishness, anger, greed, attachment, etc which barbarously terrorise our minds, get destroyed and replaced with goodness and humanity. It also reminds us that when we find ourselves amidst anything terrible or evil, God always sends somebody to protect us.
The festival of Dussehra or Vijayadashmi represents two stories which are quite significantly interesting and unique in their own interpretations. Let us begin with the most popular one which tells the tale of one of the oldest and most important epics, Ramayana.
According to the legend, when Rama was banished from the kingdom for 14 years along with his wife, Sita and brother, Laxmana, they came across Ravana’s sister, Shurpnakha who wanted to marry one of them. However, on realising that none of the brothers wanted to do so, she couldn’t take the rejection well and threatened to kill Sita. This angered Laxmana which led him to cut off Shurpanakha’s nose and ears. Later, when Ravana, an evil king of Lanka was informed about his sister’s plight, he was determined to seek revenge and kidnapped Sita.
A fierce battle took place between Rama and Ravana for several days. Although Rama was assisted by his brother Laxmana and troops of monkeys including Hanuman, it wasn’t so easy to beat Ravana. Hence, Rama decided to pray for nine days to nine different aspects of Goddess Durga and on the tenth day, accumulated enough strength to kill the demon king, Ravana once and for all.
It is believed that thousands of years ago, there was a tyrant named Mahishasura who was half-human and half-buffalo. In order to please Lord Brahma, he meditated for thousands of years and as a reward, was blessed with the boon of immortality - the most powerful of them all. Armed with this irreversible boon and drunk on power, it didn’t take much time for Mahishasura to go absolutely berserk and create chaos. Not only did he destroy all the lands on earth with darkness and widespread massacres but even chased the Gods out of heaven.
Hence, it was time for the Lords to come up with a plan. They conferred for a moment and then held each other’s hands. Soon, they started to radiate a blinding light - one so bright that even the sun paled in its comparison. And out of this beautiful light emerged the ten-armed Goddess Durga who was an embodiment of Adi Shakti. Since she was a woman, nothing could stop her from killing Mahishasura - not even his boon. Armed with 10 dazzling and sharp weapons gifted to her by all the Gods in the universe, she battled the demon for 9 days and on the tenth day, managed to chop off his head with one of her swords. Since then, this victory is celebrated in the form of Durga Puja in Bengal and marks the festival of Dussehra in India.
Dussehra or Vijayadashami is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm all across the country and yet, in unique ways in different parts of India. Curious to know the most spectacular ones? Read on to find out where you can plan to celebrate your next Dussehra.
Huge effigies of Ravana, Meghnath and Kumbhakarana are burnt in almost every neighbourhood of this city amidst a large number of crowds cheering enthusiastically. It’s further followed by a spectacular display of fireworks which light up the sky in beautiful colours. However, the best way to celebrate Dussehra with friends/family is by watching a Ram Lila! This is a theatrical performance/musical representation of the epic, Ramayana. The biggest and most popular Ram Lila in Delhi is held in Pragati Maidan every year.
According to local folklore, the city itself was named after the victorious slaying of Mahishasura by Goddess Chamundeshwari (another name for Goddess Durga). Hence, it celebrates the festival of Dussehra or Dasara (as it is known locally) with much pomp and show. A Dasara parade begins from the beautiful Mysore Palace which is adorned with almost 1,00,000 lights, making it a sight to behold! This parade involves a majestic, royal Savaari or an elephant procession which moves towards the Dasara parade ground where a number of athletic competitions and cultural performances take place. Another highlight of this city’s celebration includes their Dasara exhibitions which have been taking place every year since 1880 and is a fun amalgamation of joy rides, yummy treats, shopping stalls and much more.
Dussehra is celebrated in an extremely unique way in the city of Kullu. Over 200 local deities and demigods are invited from neighbouring villages to participate in Lord Raghunath’s Rath Yatra in Dhalpur Maidan amidst folk music with narsingha trumpets and traditional dance. Interestingly, unlike other states across India, Kullu does not end the celebration by burning effigies of Ravana but instead, piles of wood, dry leaves, grass and twigs are set ablaze at the Beas River, thereby symbolising the burning of Ravana’s Lanka.
The city of Kolkata comes alive during its Durga Puja celebrations and represents the culture of Bengal in the most beautiful way. From the neverending array of pandals (each has its own unique theme and a story to tell) and the fervent beats of Dhak and Dhunchi dance performances, Durga Puja in Kolkata is an experience in itself. You can indulge in delectable Bengali treats and celebrate the most important festival in the city. In the end, an idol of Maa Durga is immersed in the Ganga River followed by a stunning display of fireworks.
The Dussehra festivities in Gujarat take place in the most energetic, vibrant and colourful ways with their Navratri Mahotsav. As the most awaited festival for Gujaratis, it is celebrated for nine days consecutively with much gaiety and fervour. Brimming with unstoppable enthusiasm, the whole state is found bustling with all-night-long dandiya parties where people of all ages participate. Their celebration ends with a grand aarti that’s performed in honour of Goddess Lakshmi.
Introduced by the 13th century Bastar King, this 75-day festival is an amalgamation of nature, spirituality and devotion towards Devi Danteshwari (the deity of Bastar). It involves several age-old, tribal customs such as Paat Jatra wherein everybody worships the wooden logs from sal trees and work dedicatedly towards the construction of a chariot (their holy symbol). There is also Deri Gahdai in which several tribal villagers reach Jagdalpur whilst carrying large wooden logs to create a mandap at the Sirasar Bhavan. Another custom is the Kachan Gadi pooja which is fully dedicated to worshipping Goddess Kachchi. Another one is muria durbar which involves a conference of all the tribal chieftains and ends with ohadi, a bidaai ceremony marking the farewell of Devi Danteshwari which takes place in the morning at the spectacularly lit Bastar Palace Danteshwari Temple. This also makes Bastar Dussehra the world’s ‘longest festival’!
The festival of Dussehra is celebrated with great enthusiasm and creativity in the form of Bommai Kolu in Chennai. Representing the magnificent tale of Goddess Durga and her battle with the demon king Mahishasura, the streets of this city are dolled up with the prettiest of kolus, i.e. a simple tier-wise arrangement of hundreds of idols (or figures/dolls) of gods and goddesses on wooden steps. These beautiful series of tableau also display other episodes from our epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Over the years, this creative display of art and innovation has transformed into an all-encompassing, annual exhibition which represents the tradition of Bommai Kolu in a grand way. Similar versions of this festival are celebrated in southern states such as Karnataka (as Bombe Habba) and Andhra Pradesh (as Bommala Koluvu).
Varanasi has been famous for its Ram Lila performances held in the Ramnagar Fort since the early 1800s. In fact, it not only continues to remain one of the most enthusiastic and exciting extravaganzas of Dussehra for people across the country but for tourists who visit from other countries as well. The entire area around the fort gets transformed into a picturesque stage in such a way that it looks similar to the locations of Ayodhya, Lanka, etc where the epic saga took place. These actors then move from one location to another while performing the extraordinary tale and take their audiences with them whilst gathering more and more on their way.
Since you’re now aware of all the unique ways in which people in India celebrate the auspicious festival of Dussehra or Vijayadashmi, here are some fun ways to spread the spirit of goodness and positivity in your homes.
There’s no festival in India that's celebrated without decking up your place. But before you decorate it, make sure that you clean it yourself as it’s believed that a tidy home spreads more positive energy and invites all the Gods and Goddesses directly into your house. Once that’s done, get creative by making a beautiful rangoli (preferably the one with Goddess Durga or maybe other characters from our epics) using organic colours or ingredients like rice flour, turmeric, etc. This is believed to attract and invite the Goddess of wealth and prosperity.
Instead of using LED lights in and around your home, opt for diyas or earthen clay lamps to light up your space. You can either place these at the entrance of your home, in the prayer room or each nook and cranny to indicate the presence of goodness (light) by erasing the absence of evil (darkness). Did you know that the oil in a diya also represents our sins? Hence, when we light a diya, we essentially burn away all the bad aspects of ourselves.
Did you know that some households in southern states of India like Chennai, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh celebrate Dussehra by creating their own clay idols of Gods and Goddesses? So, this year, bring home some clay along with a few sculpting tools and paints and unleash your inner artist. Ask all your family members to join in on the fun and together, decorate your prayer room with your own clay idols. You can also set up a family tableau to represent certain episodes or scenes from the epics on Dussehra.
What’s better than getting to know the festival of Dussehra a little better than you already know? Play a movie or a series of episodes (preferably, the classics) which tell the tale of Ramayana. It'll be an interesting watch and some quality time spent with your loved ones.
Ever wondered what the food of Gods was like? Since the festival of Dussehra always takes us back to the tale of Rama and Sita from the Ramayana, why not cook something that you ‘think’ could be their favourite dish - perhaps, a specialty from Ayodhya? So, instead of eating/cooking something that you do every day, feed your curiosity (and that of your family members) by giving everyone a chance to research or think of one ‘royal’ dish that should be cooked this day and why. Whoever’s story and food suggestion/s seem interesting can be added to your family feast.
So, how are you planning to celebrate Dussehra this year?
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