Vijayadashami (Sanskrit: विजयदशमी) also known as Dussehra (Sanskrit: दशहरा) or Ayudhapuja (Sanskrit: आयुधपूजा), is an important Hindu festival celebrated in a variety of ways in Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and parts of Pakistan.”Dussehra” is derived from Sanskrit; Dasha-hara is a form of Dashanan ravan (“Ravana’s defeat”).
The day marks the victory of Durga over the demon Mahishasura. The goddess fought with evil for ten days and nine nights. “Vijayadashami” is derived from the Sanskrit vijaya-dashami (victory on the dashami: the tenth day of the Hindu month). Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated twenty days after Vijayadashami.
A major Hindu festival, Dusshera falls on the tenth day of Sukhla Paksh, of the month of Ashvin, following the nine days of Navratri celebrations. It is symbolic of the triumph of good over evil. There are several legends behind the festival. Though they may be different in context, the soul for all of them remains the same – victory og good over evil.
Victory of Lord Rama over Ravana
It is believed that Dusshera marks the victory of Lord Rama and the end of the ten-headed Ravana. As per the legend, before taking on Ravana, Lord Rama invoked the blessings of Goddess Durga so as to kill the evil and malicious King of Lanka, Ravana. He prayed and fasted for nine days (coinciding with Navratri celebrations). On the tenth day, Goddess Durga pleased with his devotion gave him the secret knowledge of how to kill Ravana. With the knowledge, he defeated Ravana and rescued his abducted wife, Devi Sita. Dusshera celebrations in North India relate with this legend and burn effigies of Ravana, Meghnath and Kumbhakaran.
Victory of Goddess Durga over Mahisasura
As per yet another legend, Dusshera is celebrated to mark the defeat of Mahisasura and the victory of Goddess Durga. The story says that asuras or demigods had become powerful and tried to defeat devas and capture heaven. Goddess Durga came to the rescue. She took up the form of Shakti to kill Mahishasura. Riding on a lion, she fought Mahishasura for nine days and nights. On the tenth day, she killed Mahishasura. In East India, life-size clay idols of Goddess Durga depicting her slaying the demon Mahishasura are set up, coinciding with the Navratri and Dusshera festival.
Goddess Durga’s Homecoming
There is another tale behind Dusshera celebrations. It is the day when Goddess Durga returns to Shiva, after nine days of reunion with her parents that coincides with the Navratri celebrations. Sati, who was the daughter of Daksha and Prasuti, worshipped Shiva as her prospective husband. Pleased with her worship, Shiva married her, much against the wishes of her parents. When Sati’s father organized a yajna, he invited everyone except Shiva. Displeased with this, Sati killed herself. Shivji, agonised by her death started the ‘Tandav dance’, causing destruction of the Earth. Lord Narayan came to the rescue and cut Sati’s body into several pieces, thus pacifying Shiva. In her next incarnation, Sati took birth as Parvati, or Shaila-Putri, the first form of Durga. It was on her rebirth that Lord Narayana asked Shiva to forgive King Daksha and allow Durga to visit her parents each year during Navratri.
Dussehra Celebrations in India
Dusshera is celebrated with much excitement and fervour across the country. People revel in the festive tide by wearing new clothes, put on tilak or kumkum on forehead, exchange gifts, prepare delicacies, watch Ramlila plays and later in the evening burn huge effigies of Ravana. However, every state in India has its own story behind the festivity and its own unique idea of celebrating it. Here’s a sneak peek into some states. In north India, the sprouted barley seeds that were sown during Navratri are plucked. Sisters tuck the plucked leaves on the caps or behind the ears of their brothers to wish them well for the coming year. The Khetri or sprouted leaves are deemed to bring in good luck and prosperity. Plays based on Ramayana are staged on huge grounds as crowd gather to watch them. In the evening, huge effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkaran and Meghnath are burnt thus marking the end of evil and the spreading of prosperity. In eastern states of the country, such as in Bengal, Orissa and Assam, Dusshera or Durga Bisarjan marks the day when Goddess Durga returns to Shiva after her nine-days stay at her parent’s house. The life-sized clay models of Goddess Durga and her children are worshipped by devotees for nine days. On the tenth day, the representations of Goddess Durga are carried to a nearby water body wherein they are immersed and Goddess Durga is bid farewell until next year. Before the bisarjan, women offer dahi-pakhal (cooked rice soaked in water with curd), pitha (baked cakes), mitha (sweets) and fried fish to the goddess. Also an interesting part of the festivity is sindoor khela, during which married women apply sindoor on the feet of Durga and later smear each other. The ritual is believed to bring longevity for their spouse and prosperity for their home. In the states of west India like, idols of Goddess Durga worshipped during the nine days are immersed in water on Dusshera. Apta or Bidi trees are worshipped and leaves of the tree are exchanged, which is symbolic of wishing one another wealth, happiness and prosperity for the coming year. In Maharashtra, observers ritually cross the border of their community in a ceremony known as Simollanghan on Vijayadashami. They wish everyone good health, wealth and happiness irrespective of caste, creed and religion. In South India, Dusshera celebrations are held with immense grandeur, splendour and magnificence. In Mysore, it is a state festival or Nadahabba. A colourful procession is taken out on the streets. The day starts with the offering of pooja to Nandhiwaj. Later on, a portrait of Goddess Chamundeshwari is carried on an embellished and decorated elephant. Folk artists, police bands, singers, dancers perform in the procession. Later on, a spectacular display of fireworks is organised for burning of Ravana effigies. In the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Vijayadashmi holds special significance. The day is considered auspicious for starting education or any form of art, such as dance and music. Saraswati Puja is conducted on the day, when the formal commencement of education of small kids takes place. It is called ‘Vidya aarambham’ (the beginning of Vidya, meaning education).
Dussehra Celebrations Abroad
Interestingly, Dusshera is among the few Hindu festivals celebrated not just in India, but in other countries as well including Nepal, Bangladesh and others. Dusshera celebrations in Bangladesh are identical to those in Bengal. In Nepal, Vijayadashami is also known as Dashain. On this day, elders apply tilak on the forehead of the younger ones in the family. Jamara which is sown on the festival’s first day and grows up to 10 centimetres becoming greenish-yellow is prayed to. It is symbolic of victory. Dusshera is a time in Nepal when people visit their relatives and friends.