The festival of Dussehra is an important celebration in many parts of the country. It is celebrated with great fanfare in most parts of North India, Mysore and in the form of Durga Puja in West Bengal.
Dussehra is a very popular Hindu festival, which marks the defeat of Ravana by Lord Rama. Dussehra also symbolises the triumph of warrior Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon, Mahishasura.
The ‘Ramlila’ – an enactment of the life of Lord Rama, is held during the nine days preceding Dussehra. On the tenth day (Dussehra or Vijay Dasami), larger than life effigies of Ravana, his son and brother – Meghnadh and Kumbhakarna are set to fire.
The theatrical enactment of this dramatic encounter is held throughout the country in which every section of people participates enthusiastically.
In burning the effigies the people are asked to burn the evil within them, and thus follow the path of truth and goodness, bearing in mind the instance of Ravana, who despite all his might and majesty was destroyed for his evil ways.
Dussehra is also known as Vijaya Dasami, because of the victory of Ram over Ravana. On this day in Satya Yug, Ram (the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu), killed the great demon and king of Lanka, Ravana.
Puranas also opined that in this day warrior Goddess Durga defeated and killed the buffalo demon Mahishasura.
Worship of the Goddess is the oldest tradition, signifying the female deity’s supremacy over the male Gods who are unable to destroy the demon.
The worship of Durga Mata has also social implications. As Goddess of war, she is a particular favourite of the Kshatriyas, the warrior caste, once constituting the ruling elite and aristocracy. <br><br>
During this time people decorate the entrance of their houses with torans, and flower studded strings. The leaves of the Apta tree are collected and exchanged among friends and relatives as gold.
Dussehra Puja in India varies from place to place and is influenced by local myth and religious beliefs.
The festival is also celebrated with intense fervour and zest, in West Bengal. The vibrant festivities last for ten days, of which nine nights are spent in worship, ‘Navaratri’.
The tenth day is devoted to the worship of goddess Durga, who occupies a special position in the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses. She is ‘Shakti’, the cosmic energy that animates all beings. Beautiful idols of the Mother Goddess are worshipped in elaborate pandals for nine days, and on the ninth day, these are carried out in procession for immersion (visarjan) in a river or pond.
In Himachal Pradesh, a week long fair in the hill town of Kullu, is part of the Dussehra celebrations. From the little temples in the hills, deities are brought in procession to the ‘maidan’ in Kullu, to pay homage to the reigning deity, Raghunathji. The celebration actually begins nearly 10 days in advance as per tradition.
In Mysore, Karnataka the Mysore palace is illuminated for a whole month during Dussehra and caparisoned elephants lead a colourful procession through the gaily-decorated streets of the city. It is the most colourful celebration of Dussehra in world. The spectacular procession taken out on this day is really enjoyable.
In Tamil Nadu, the first three days are dedicated to the worship of Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth and prosperity, the next three days to Saraswati, Goddess of learning and arts and the last three days to Shakti (Durga).
In Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, families arrange dolls (Bommai Kolu) on artificially constructed steps and prepare an elaborate spread of lamps and flowers. Women traditionally exchange gifts of coconuts, clothes and sweets.
The whole set up is put on the very first day of Navaratri. Vijaya Dashamiy is an auspicious occasion for children to commence their education in classical dance and music, and to pay homage to their teachers.
In Punjab, Navaratri is taken as a period of fasting. In Gujarat, the evenings and nights are occasions for the fascinating Garba dance. The women dance around an earthen lamp while singing devotional songs accompanied by rhythmic clapping of hands.
In northern India, the festival wears the colourful garb of Ramlila wherein various incidents from Rama’s life are enacted. Ramlila draws large number of people every year. The entire night of Dussehra passes in an enthusiastic and enchanting fair like ambience and people enjoy every bit of it. After Dussehra, the excitement of the Diwali grips the whole of India.