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Vijayadashami / Dussehra / Dasara : A major Hindu festival celebrated at the end of Navaratri

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Vijayadashami also known as Dussehra, Dasara is a major Hindu festival celebrated at the end of Navaratri every year.

It is observed on the tenth day in the Hindu calendar month of Ashvin, the seventh month of the Hindu Luni-Solar Calendar.

This typically falls in the Gregorian months of September and October.

Vijayadashami is observed for different reasons and celebrated differently in various parts of the Indian subcontinent.

In the southern, eastern, northeastern, and some northern states of India, Vijayadashami marks the end of Durga Puja, remembering goddess Durga‘s victory over the buffalo demon Mahishasura to restore and protect Dharma

In the northern, central and western states, the festival is synonymously called Dussehra (also spelled Dasara, Dashahara). In these regions, it marks the end of Ramlila and remembers god Rama‘s victory over the Ravan.

On the very same occasion, Arjuna alone decimated more than 1,000,000 soldiers and defeated all Kuru warriors including BhishmaDronaAshwatthamaKarna and Kripa, a significant example of victory of good (Dharma) over evil (Adharma).

Alternatively, it marks a reverence for one of the aspects of goddess Devi, such as Durga or Saraswati.

Vijayadashami celebrations include processions to a river or ocean front that involve carrying clay statues of Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartikeya, accompanied by music and chants, after which the images are immersed in the water for dissolution and farewell.

Elsewhere, on Dasara, towering effigies of Ravan, symbolising evil, are burnt with fireworks, marking evil’s destruction.

The festival also starts the preparations for Diwali, the important festival of lights, which is celebrated twenty days after Vijayadashami.

Etymology

Vijayadashami a composite of two words Vijaya and Dashami, which respectively mean victory and tenth, connoting the festival on the tenth day celebrating the victory of good over evil. 

The same Hindu festival-related term, however, takes different forms in different regions of India and Nepal, as well as among Hindu minorities found elsewhere.

Ramayana

Ravana kidnaps Sita and takes her to his kingdom in Lanka (present day Sri Lanka). Rama asks Ravana to release her, but Ravana refuses; the situation escalates and leads to war.

After performing severe penance for ten thousand years, Ravana receives a boon from the creator-god Brahma; he could henceforth not be killed by gods, demons, or spirits.

He is portrayed as a powerful demon king who disturbs the penances of rishis. Lord Vishnu incarnates as the human Rama to defeat and kill him, thus circumventing the boon given by Lord Brahma.

A deadly and fierce battle takes place between Rama and Ravana in which Rama kills Ravana and ends his evil rule. Ravana has ten heads; the killing of one who has ten heads is called Dusshera.

Finally, Dharma was established on the Earth because of Rama’s victory over Ravana. The festival commemorates the victory of Good over Evil.

Mahabharata

In the Mahabharata, the Pandavas are known to have spent their thirteenth year of exile in disguise in the kingdom of Virata. Before going to Virata, they are known to have hung their celestial weapons in a Shami tree for safekeeping for a year, Bhima kills Kichaka.

Hearing about the death of Kichaka, Duryodhana surmises that the Pandavas were hiding in Matsya. A host of Kaurava warriors attacks Virata, presumably to steal their cattle, but in reality, desiring to pierce the Pandavas’ veil of anonymity.

Full of bravado, Virata’s son Uttara attempts to take on the army by himself while the rest of the Matsya army has been lured away to fight Susharma and the Trigartas.

As suggested by Draupadi, Uttar takes Brihannala with him, as his charioteer. When he sees the Kaurava army, Uttara loses his nerve and attempts to flee.

Then Arjuna reveals his identity and those of his brothers’. Arjuna takes Uttar to the tree where the Pandavas hid their weapons. 

Arjuna picks up his Gandiva after worshipping the tree, as the Shami tree safeguarded the Pandavas’ weapons for that complete year.

Arjuna reties the thread of Gandiva, simply drags and releases it – which produces a terrible twang.

At the same point of time, Kaurava warriors were eagerly waiting to spot Pandavas. Dispute talks took place between Karna and Drona.

Karna told Duryodhana that he would easily defeat Arjuna and does not feel threatened by Drona’s words since Drona was intentionally praising Arjuna, as Arjuna was the favourite student of Drona. 

Ashwathama supports his father by praising Arjuna. Then Arjuna arrives to the battlefield.

Eager to defend the land that had given him refuge, Arjuna engaged the legion of Kaurava warriors. The battle starts between Arjuna and the entire Kuru army.

All the warriors including Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Kripa and Ashwathama together attacked Arjuna to kill him, but Arjuna defeated all of them multiple times simultaneously. 

During the battle, Arjuna also killed Sangramjita, the foster brother of Karna, and instead of taking revenge for his brother, Karna fled in order to save his life from Arjuna.

Karna tried to fly away from Arjuna but he could not since Arjuna invoked Sammohanaastra which made the entire army fall asleep.

This is the war in which Arjuna proved that he was the best warrior in the world at his times.

In this way, Arjuna alone defeated the entire Kuru army consisting of 1,000,000s of soldiers; Duryodhana, Dushyasana, Shakuni and Maharathis : Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Kripa and Ashwatthama.

One of the names of Arjuna is Vijaya – ever victorious. This incident took place on the same day in which Lord Rama killed Ravana. As it was Arjuna’s day, the day also became popular as Vijaya Dashami.

Regional Variations

Northern India

Dasara is observed with the burning of Ravana effigies.

In most of northern and western India, Dasha-Hara (literally, “ten days”) is celebrated in honour of Rama.

Thousands of drama-dance-music plays based on the Ramayan and  Ramcharitmanas (Ramlila) are performed at outdoor fairs across the land and in temporarily built staging grounds featuring effigies of the demons Ravan, Kumbhakarna and Meghanada.

The effigies are burnt on bonfires in the evening of Vijayadashami-Dussehra. 

While Dussehra is observed on the same day across India, the festivities leading to it vary.

In many places, the ‘Rama Lila’ or the brief version of the story of Rama, Sita and Lakshaman, is enacted over the 9 days before it, but in some cities, such as Varanasi, the entire story is freely acted out by performance-artists before the public every evening for a month.

The performance arts tradition during the Dussehra festival was inscribed by UNESCO as one of the ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’. 

The festivities, states UNESCO, include songs, narration, recital and dialogue based on the Hindu text Ramacharitmanas by Tulsidas.

It is celebrated across northern India for Dussehra, but particularly in historically important Hindu cities of AyodhyaVaranasiVrindavanAlmoraSatna and Madhubani

The festival and dramatic enactment of the virtues versus vices filled story is organised by communities in hundreds of small villages and towns, attracting a mix of audiences from different social, gender and economic backgrounds.

In many parts of India, the audience and villagers join in and participate spontaneously, helping the artists, others helping with stage setup, make-up, effigies, and lights. 

These arts come to a close on the night of Dussehra, when the victory of Rama is celebrated by burning the effigies of evil Ravan and his colleagues.

Himachal Pradesh :

Kullu Dussehra is celebrated in the Kullu valley of Himachal Pradesh and is regionally notable for its large fair and parade witnessed by an estimated half a million people.

The festival is a symbol of victory of good over evil by Raghu Nath, and is celebrated like elsewhere in the Indian subcontinent with a procession. 

The special feature of the Kullu Dussehra procession is the arrival of floats containing deities from different parts of the nearby regions and their journey to Kullu.

Southern India

Mysore Dasara procession and celebrations in Karnataka are a major tourist attraction.

Vijayadasami is celebrated in a variety of ways in South India. Celebrations range from worshipping Durga, lighting up temples and major forts such as at Mysore, to displaying colourful figurines, known as a Golu.

The festival played a historical role in the 14th-century Vijayanagara Empire, where it was called Mahanavami. The Italian traveller Niccolò de’ Conti described the festival’s intensity and importance as a grandeur religious and martial event with royal support.

The event revered Durga as the warrior Goddess (some texts refer to her as Chamundeshwari). The celebrations hosted athletic competitions, singing and dancing, fireworks, a pageantry military parade and charitable giving to the public.

The city of Mysore has traditionally been a major center of Dasara-Vijayadashami celebrations.

Another significant and notable tradition of several South Indian regions has been the dedication of this festival to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, learning, music and arts.

Saraswathi is worshipped, along with instruments of one’s trade during this festival. In South India, people maintain, clean and worship their instruments, tools of work and implements of their livelihood during this festival, remembering Goddess Saraswati and Durga.

Kids aged 3–4 who are new to school are admitted to school on Vijayadasami Day.

Western India

In Gujarat, both the goddess Durga and lord Rama are revered for their victory over evil. Fasting and prayers at temples are common. A regional dance called Dandiya Raas, that deploys colourfully decorated sticks, and Garba, that is, dancing in traditional dress, is a part is a part of the festivities through the night.

The Gondi people instead celebrate Ravan by carrying an image of him riding an elephant and singing praises to him, as they consider Ravan as their ancestor and one of their gods. Colorful floor patterns to mark Vijayadashami.

In Goa, this festival is locally known as Dasro in Konkani, marks Goddess Durga’s victory over the demon Mahishasura, concludes the festivities.

Insignia known as Taranga play an important role in the festivities, which are sacred umbrellas that symbolise the village deities. At many temples a dance of the Tarangas is held.

Oracles are associated with Dasara in Goa. On this day, a ritual called  Seemollanghan of the deities is held. For this people follow a token ritual of crossing the border of their village.

The icons of deities are carried in a grand procession. The tradition traces its roots to ancient times when kings would cross the border of their kingdom to wage war with the neighbouring kingdom.

After Seemollanghan, there is a tradition wherein people exchange Aaptyachi pana. These leave symbolise gold and the ritual is a symbolic representation of exchange of gold.

The festival has been historically important in Maharashtra. Shivaji, who challenged the Mughal Empire in the 17th-century and created a Hindu kingdom in western and central India, would deploy his soldiers to assist farmers in cropping lands and providing adequate irrigation to guarantee food supplies.

Post monsoons, on Vijayadashami, these soldiers would leave their villages and reassemble to serve in the military, re-arm and obtain their deployment orders, then proceed to the frontiers for active duty. 

In North Maharashtra this festival is known as Dasara, and on this day people wear new clothes, and touch feet of elderly people and deities of the village temple. 

The deities installed on the first day of Navratri are immersed in water. Observers visit each other and exchange sweets.

Durga image is immersed into river on Vijayadashami in eastern regions of the Indian subcontinent.

In Mewar region of Rajasthan and Gujarat both Durga and Rama have been celebrated on Vijayadashami, and it has been a major festival for Rajput warriors.

Eastern India

In West Bengal Vijaya Dasami is observed as Bijoya Dashomi, immediately after the day of Dashomi (the tenth day of Nabaratri). It is marked by processions in which clay statues are taken to a river or ocean for a solemn goodbye to Durga.

Many mark their faces with vermilion (Sindoor) or wear red clothing. It is an emotional day for some devotees, especially the Bengalis, and even for many atheists as the congregation sings goodbye songs. 

When the procession reaches the water, the clay statues of Durga and her four children are immersed; the clay dissolves and they are believed to return to Mount Kailasha with Shiva, and to the cosmos in general.

People distribute sweets and gifts, and visit friends and family members. Some communities such as those near Varanasi mark the eleventh day, called Ekadashi, by visiting a Durga temple.


Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage

By Mala Chandrashekhar

Though academically trained in modern Western Sciences, Blogger Mala Chandrashekhar is a crazy maniac of India's ageless, timeless ethnic arts, crafts & textiles. The rich & glorious cultural & spiritual heritage of India is a subject extremely dear to her heart, and the whole of this Blog has been dedicated to spreading the immortal glories of ancient India worldwide, to every nook & corner of the globe, through these simple Blog-posts. Any constructive criticisms & suggestions in this regard for improvement of the Blog 'MOST WELCOME'. Also, High-Quality Guest Blog-posts 'MOST WELCOME". LinkedIn Profile : https://in.linkedin.com/in/mala-chandrashekhar-04095917a

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