Dussehra The festival of Victory – History and Tradition
India is a hub of festivals and celebrations. Indian festivals have always been known for its rich history, ethnic culture, ancient background, and traditional rituals. Like any other festival, Dussehra too holds a unique story. Right from its historical context to modern-day significance and celebrations; there is more than just burning effigies of evil Gods and calling it a perfect climax of 10-day celebrations – Dussehra The festival of Victory.
The word Vijayadashmi also known as “Dussehra” has been derived from the Sanskrit word “Dash-hara”, meaning Ravana’s defeat. A turn of significant events, dating back to the ages of Gods and Goddesses, together commemorate Dussehra. Where one story emphasizes the victory of Lord Rama over the 10-headed demon Ravana, who had kidnapped Rama’s wife, Sita; another brings into the picture the triumph of Goddess Durga over Mahishasura. Dussehra is perhaps the only festival which highlights the two Hindu epics together: Ramayana and Mahabharata. Besides Rama’s win over Ravana, it also reflects on the exile of Pandavas, the five brothers of Mahabharata.
Dussehra also marks the homecoming of Durga as she comes to earth from heaven along with her husband, Lord Shiva and four children: Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh and Kartikeya, for five days. Another historic relevance is that of Kautsa’s gift of gold coins, in the form of rain, to his Guru, Rishi Varatantu. With such great history and legendary actions, Dussehra is amongst the most popular festivals in the country and is celebrated from North-to-South and East-to-West in different forms and ways.
Celebrations across India
Dussehra is celebrated, with vibrancy and glory across all parts of the country. In North, Ramlila rules the festival. Various scenes from Ramayana like Ram-Bharat Milap, Ravana’s death and the return of Rama with brother Lakshmana and wife Sita to Ajodhya, after completing 14 years of exile. Kulu valley of Himachal Pradesh is famous for its week-long ceremonies, enactments and grand processions of village deities. Coming down to Delhi and its neighboring states; people burn giant effigies of Ravana, Meghnath, and Kumbhkaran; Ravana’s brother who used to sleep for six months and stay awake for another six. Such celebrations happen in Ramlila mela, organized by different societies at large grounds.
In Southern states namely Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Dussehra is a 9-day celebration of three Goddesses. The first three days are devoted to Lakshmi (Goddess of prosperity and wealth), the next three days to Saraswati (Goddess of learning and arts) and the final three days worship Durga (Mother Goddess of Shakti). During this time, women and children make “Bommai Kolu”, artificial dolls and statues on well decorated and embellished steps. They further beautify the nearby place with colorful lamps and flowers. The final day, Vijayadashami, is considered to be crucial for students of academics and art.
In Eastern India especially West Bengal, Vijayadashami marks the end of Durga Puja. It is the last day when women feed the Goddess and her children with sweets and wave goodbye for another year. People dance to the tunes of Dhak and Dhol, holding Dhunuchi; married women enjoy vermilion ceremony where they spread vermilion on each other’s face and men embrace each other with good wishes, joys and hopes. Ma Durga along with her kids is immersed in the Ganges. In Orissa, it is known as Vijoya Dashami. The immersion ceremony is called Bisarjan Jatra signifying as Dussehra The festival of Victory.
Western states celebrate Dussehra on the tenth day of the Ashwin month, adhering to the Shaka Hindu Calendar. They immerse the idols, which are prepared at the beginning of Navratri, in memory of Rama’s victory over Ravana. Amidst fun and fiesta among friends, relatives and community; the Maharashtrians also worship the Aapta tree and exchange its leaves. On this occasion, they also recall the legendary tale of Shami tree, under which the Pandavas had kept their weapons during 12 years of outcast. Maharashtrians consider Dussehra as the best time to have new beginnings and enter into new ventures.
Significant Rituals & Traditions
Rituals are an important part of any Indian festival and so in Dussehra. Burning effigies of evil gods- 10-headed Ravana, Mahishasura, Kumbhkarna and his son Meghnath; spreading tikas on each other’s forehead and organizing Ramlila are prevalent across all parts of India. During Ramlila, artists disguise themselves as mythological characters and walk towards the Maidan or ground where stages are set for performance. People joins them, and altogether they burst crackers, light lamps and welcome signs of victory and good beginnings.
In Eastern states, men embrace each other and commemorate brotherhood; women spread vermilion on each other’s face, and people form groups and dance dhunuchi. Some other parts of the country witness the ritual of searching wagtail or khaujan. Residents engage in day-long activity of getting the khaujan, which is believed to bring good or bad luck, depending on where it’s found.
Gifting of Banni leaves is more common in Northern states like UP and people consider these leaves to be actual gold coins which were dispensed by Kautsa, according to age-old classic. Banni leaves are traditional gifts given to relatives and well-wishers.
Vidyarambam, or the beginning of learning, education and academics, is the backbone of South India’s Dussehra. People dedicate this day to the Goddess of Learning and they worship books, pen, musical instruments and other educational tools. Children take this day to enter into culture education, concerning music and dance.
Kolhapur Royal Dussehra
It’s the Dasara among the royals (Shahi Dasara). With the 1932 Maybach, it gives a majestic touch to the festivities and enhances the long legacy and tradition. Maybach, a four-seater vintage has been a part of Shahu Maharaja’s family and for the past 80 years, has been out on the streets, to observe Dussehra. The custom-made saffron-hued car graces the occasion, as it passes by city crowd, greeting everyone and spreading love and good wishes. The magnificent car has been a sign of traditional sophistication. The Royals clad in finest traditional wear and walk along with the car all throughout Kolhapur and reach the chowk called as Dasara Chowk. Members of the Kolhapur family perform all rituals and age-old practices and throw open to imperial celebrations. The antique four-wheeler is well decorated, much in advance and the majestic celebrations and observances, takes Dussehra to another level of devotion, commitment, and worship.
Mysore is one of the famous cities, where Dussehra is enjoyed, in full vibrancy and charm. With a history of more than four centuries, this is indeed the best place to get the real flavor of this festival. The city holds a legacy since the days of Kauravas and Pandavas and even now showcases true colors and realms associated with Dussehra. Cultural programs are conducted across large communities and grounds and people gather in thousands to live the Dussehra moments. Women take part in various competitions, like rangoli, dance, musical chairs, improvisation and other exciting activities. Apart from competitions, there are traditional dance programs, accompanied by regional music. With such enthusiastic revelries and gaiety; Mysore lives up to the Dussehra mood.
With this, Dussehra marks an end to a 10-day fun, fiesta and gala events. Whether it’s the Royals or commoners, people come together, enhance their spirit and throw open to the festive mood. Dussehra is undoubtedly the most fascinating festival where regional dances, traditions, culture and mythology get more prominence and dignity and touches the heart of Indians.
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