Dussehra is a major Hindu festival that is celebrated across India with much pomp and show. This jubilant festival commemorates the victory of good over evil and is celebrated every year on the tenth day of the month of Ashvin, according to the Hindu calendar. It usually falls in the month of September or October, as per the western calendar. The festivities of Dussehra continue for around nine days, in the form of Navratri revelry, dedicated to Goddess Durga in her warrior form. The festivities culminate on the tenth day with Dussehra celebrations. Right after twenty days from Dussehra, the festival of lights, Diwali, is celebrated throughout India. The infectious enthusiasm and atmosphere of joy enthralls one and all in the festive spirit of this grand Indian festival.
Like most Indian festivals, Dussehra is also not just about fairs, carnivals, dance, music, food and family get-togethers, though all these are definitely a significant part of it, but there is a much deeper underlying meaning of this festival. It, indeed, teaches the eternal truth that no matter what the odds, good shall always overcome evil. The day of Dussehra is also known as Vijayadashmi, as it is believed that it was on this day that Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, vanquished the powerful demon king of Lanka, King Ravana. As per Hindu mythology and epic Ramayana, during the fourteen year long exile faced by Lord Rama, his brother Laxman and wife Sita, King Ravana abducted Sita. It was on the day of Vijayadashmi that with the assistance of his devout follower Hanuman, Lord Rama killed Ravana.
The nine day festivities that precede the Dussehra festival, known as Navaratri, are celebrated to honor Goddess Durga, who is believed to have fought a powerful demon, named Mahishasura, for these nine days and finally defeated him on the tenth day of Dussehra. This benevolent act of the Goddess provided respite to the entire mankind from the atrocities of Mahishasura, who, in the form of a buffalo, had grown very powerful and none of other gods could defeat him. Goddess Durga is believed to be born from the amalgamation of energies of all the Hindu deities; thus, she was able to defeat the demon on the tenth day of Ashvin shukla paksha. Therefore, Dussehra is also known as Navratri or Durgotsav. The day signifies the power that resides within every woman, delicate yet indomitable, and teaches everyone to love and respect women.
The celebrations of Dussehra are quite unique from any other Indian festival and many dynamic as well as charming regional features that change from one place of celebration to another across India make it even more interesting. In most parts of northern India, many humongous effigies of the demon King Ravana, his brother Kumbhakaran and son Meghanath are prepared. On the day of Dussehra, these vibrant statues are burnt in an expansive space amidst huge crowd of spectators. By performing this ritual, people remind themselves to abandon bad habits within themselves. Nine days before the effigies are burnt, the epic tale of Ramayana is performed by various professional and amateur theater groups throughout India. These play enactments of the epic are known as Ram Lila and are a great attraction for kids as well as grown ups alike and inspire people to walk on the path of righteousness.
Dussehra celebrations of Kullu, in Himachal Pradesh, see an organization of a wonderful 10-day fair wherein all deities from distant mountain temples are brought to the plains of Kullu, accompanied by huge processions, to pay homage to God Raghunathji. The vibrant and colorful gathering attracts many foreign and local tourists to this Dussehra celebration. The Dussehra festivities at the Mysore Palace in Karnataka are also absolutely worth mentioning. The entire palace is decked with thousands of strings of electric bulbs and a majestic procession, accompanied by beautifully decorated elephants, hundreds of percussionists, and dancers, is taken out through the city on Dussehra. This is definitely a spectacle to watch.
In southern India, especially in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, households set up elaborate arrangements of dolls, known as Bommai Kolu. These are placed on artificially constructed steps and festooned by lamps and flowers. Traditional gifts of coconuts, clothes and sweets are exchanged among the womenfolk and magnificent rangolis are drawn to adorn the gateways of houses. This arrangement is made on the first day of Navratri and on Vijaya Dashami, marking the auspicious day as children begin their training in classical music and dance. Any repertoire on Dussehra celebrations can never be complete without mentioning the fascinating Garba dance, which is performed during Navratri festivities in Gujarat in the evenings. Soulful devotional songs, accompanied by rhythmic claps, which are part of this dance, make the entire atmosphere quite enchanting.