Dussehra, derived from the Sanskrit word, ‘ Dasha’ [ten] and ‘Hara’ [defeat] also known as Dasara or Vijayadashmi is a Hindu festival that is celebrated to commemorate the victory of good over evil. Dussehra marks the end of the nine-day Navratri festival, and is celebrated on the tenth day in the months of September- October also called the Ashwin or Kartik months as per the Hindu calendar.
History of the Festival:
Let’s dive into a bit of the history of this festival. The festival is associated with different names in different regions, Durga Puja or Vijayadashmi in the east and north-east and Dussehra in the northern and western states. However, the main essence of the festival remains the same throughout, that is how ‘dharma’ [good] always prevails over ‘Adharama’ [evil].
Vijayadashmi marks the victory of goddess Durga against the demon Mahishasura whereas Dussehra celebrates the triumph of Lord Rama against the demon king, Ravana who had abducted Rama’s wife, Sita.
Celebrated differently across India:
Each state celebrates this festival in its unique ways with different customs and rituals.
In the northern states of India, Ramlila which is a dance drama is extensively performed at fairs. Huge figurines of the 10 headed Ravana are burnt signifying the end of the evil. The celebrations are accompanied by songs, narrations, and plays based on the text Ramcharitamanas by Tulsidas.
In the west, along with the worship of Lord Rama, Navratri is celebrated in remembrance of Goddess Durga. The nine days are marked by fasting, and the evenings are relished along with music and dance, what is often known as ‘Garba’/ ‘Dandiya’. The nine nights are held in honour of divine feminine. Each day, a different form or as we call it ‘Avatar’ of goddess Durga is worshipped. They are:
Day 1: Shailaputri
Day 2: Brahmacharini
Day 3: Chandraghanta
Day 4: Kushmanda
Day 5: Skandamata
Day 6: Katyayini
Day 7: Kalaratri
Day 8: Mahagauri
Day 9: Siddhidaatri
In the east, clay statues of goddess Durga are immersed into water bodies, bidding farewell to the goddess who is believed to have been reunited with Lord Shiva on Mount Kailasha whereas, in the South, Devi Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and learning is revered as people clean and worship their tools of daily livelihood.
Places to visit to delve into the essence of this festival:
If you want to delve into the true beauty and essence of this festival, the following are the places you must visit:
Mysore is very well-known for its extravagant Dussehra celebrations. People from across the globe visit to witness the grand procession carried out on the tenth day. The Mysore palace is covered with lights and it lits up like stars in the sky. Elephants are a major part of the procession. The gold canopy of Chamudneshwari’s idol is carried by them. Legend has it that Mysore got its name from Mahishasura who was killed by Chamundeswari, a form of Durga.
When it’s Dussehra, one cannot miss out on the Raamleela of Varanasi, which is the oldest in the world. The Chitrakoot ground of Varanasi is filled with people from all over marked by ‘ Ravana Dahana’ -the burning of his effigy. It signifies the destruction of all evils, which is represented by the ten heads of Ravana. Each of his heads stands for evils like lust, anger, attachment, greed, pride, selfishness jealousy, ego, lack of humanity, and injustice.
Durga puja is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Kolkata. The city exudes vibrant energy during this period. The festival is marked with cultural performances. Women get dressed in traditional sarees and mark their faces with Vermilion[sindoor].
In Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, Dussehra celebrations date back to the 17th century when it was home to kings and royalty. A huge procession is carried out wherein devotees carry idols of other gods on their heads to Lord Raghunath, the main god of Kullu. The celebrations last for seven days and then the devotees move towards the river Beas, where they set fire to woods which is symbolic of the burning of Lanka- Ravana’s home.
Dussehra also holds importance in agriculture as it marks the harvesting of Kharif Crops and sowing of Rabi crops.
This is a very varied festival, celebrated in different manners for different reasons however it stands for the ultimate message, the establishment of dharma by defeating adharama. It marks new beginnings as we get rid of the negativity and evil that resides inside us.