Dussehra, a day to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, has been given great significance in the Hindu culture.
The festival is celebrated on the tenth day of the month of Ashvina, which represents the seventh month according to the traditional Hindu Luni-Solar calendar, at the commencement of a phenomenon named Shukla Paksha, or ‘bright fortnight’ and is culturally synonymous with people as the beginning of Diwali season in the country.
Dussehra comprises two Sanskrit words — Dasha, which means 10, and Hara, which translates to defeat. The title is fitting for the occasion as it denotes the day on which Lord Rama defeated the ten-headed demon king Ravana, who had captured and abducted his wife, Goddess Sita.
A popular Hindu mythological lore, so well-known, in fact, that even little children remember it by heart, of how Dussehra came to be, allows people to perceive it as a day to not only glorify and worship the defeat of Ravana but also rejoice in the prevalence of truth and good over all else.
Coincidentally, the day also arrives at the culmination of the nine-day long festival of Navratri which is celebrated amongst the Hindu population in their devotion to Goddess Durga and her nine incarnations, namely Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalratri, Mahagauri, and Siddhidatri.
Like the lore of Lord Rama —who was the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu — defeating the demon king Ravana, Navratri, too, is celebrated to commemorate the doom of buffalo demon Mahishasura, who was slain by the sword of Goddess Durga in a days-long battle to defend Trilok and protect the essence of Dharma from being corrupted. Both these events symbolize the defeat of evil and the victory of truth.
The festival exemplifies the definitive day of the Durga Puja festival as well, where people worship the incarnation of Durga under whose command the demons attacking Trilok perished.
Dussehra is also known as the occasion in mythological text Mahabharata on which Arjuna, one of the five Pandava Brothers, alone demolished an army of more than a million soldiers and all the Kuru warriors including Bhishma, Drona, Ashwatthama, Karna, and Kripa, exhibiting a significant illustration of the victory of Dharma over Adharma.
Dussehra is celebrated not only in India but in many different predominant Hindu regions such as Nepal and Myanmar, amongst others. It is also known by many names local to the region where it is celebrated. Vijayadashami, Dasara, Dashain, or Mohani are a few of the names given to this festival.
Vijayadashami is a composite of two words, Vijaya, which refers to victory, and Dashami, which translates to ‘tenth day’. Devotees observing Vijayadashami organise processions to sources of freshwater carrying idol figurines of Goddess Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati and Lord Ganesha and Kartikeya against a backdrop of boisterous music and devotional chanting of hymns.
The statues, made mostly out of mud and clay, are then submerged into water, symbolising the departure of Goddess Durga from the material world after restoring the balance of Dharma, to mark the end of the festival.
While in most regions of North India, Dussehra is celebrated in honour of Lord Rama. Carnivals and fairs are organised in open grounds in all cities and villages where one is bound to come across a musical retelling of the incidents of Ramayana and Ramlila.
This dramatized retelling of the events leading up to Dussehra based on Ramacharitramanas, a Hindu text by Tulsidas, begins days before in some of the historically meaningful regions in Hindu religion such as Varanasi, Ayodhya and Vrindavan.
Devotees often dress up as Hanuman — another sacred figurehead in Hindu Mythology and a devotee of Lord Rama. Towering straw effigies of Ravana, Meghanada and Kumbhakarana are also erected in plain view of all the carnival attendees. To commemorate the end of the day, the tall figures of the demons are lit on fire in the evening, signifying the dawn of truth and good.
At the end of Durga Puja, people celebrate this festival in the western regions of the country, such as West Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha. Bengalis sing folk songs, hold massive community pujas in elaborately decorated Pandals and immerse the idols of Goddess Durga in water bodies.
In South India, however, Dussehra is a quiet affair. The festival, mainly in Mysore, Karnataka is celebrated as the day when Chamundeshwari, another avatar of Goddess Durga, executed the demon Mahishasur. The city is illuminated in vibrant lights and temples are decorated exuberantly to perform pujas in honour of Chamunswshwari. Processions with elephants carrying massive clay statues of the Goddess are also a common sight during the festival.