Dussehra or Dasara is one of the biggest Hindu festivals, Dussehra marks the culmination of Navratri, devotional nine nights of Goddess Durga, with the celebration of her victory over buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura on the tenth day. It was on this day that Lord Rama killed ten-headed Ravana in Lanka, and that is the reason why effigies of Ravana, his brother Kumbhkaran and son Meghnad are burned on this occasion. The festival marks the victory of good over evil. But while Vijaya Dashmi marks the end of Dussehra or Dasara festivities across the country, Kullu gets into festive mood on the tenth day and the celebrations last for a week. Here’s a lowdown on Dussehra celebrations across the country.
Kolkata, West Bengal: Not just the City of Joy but the entire state wears a festive look a month before the pujo. The shiuli flowers or coral jasmine that bloom at night and wither away at dawn carpet the roads and make for a pretty sight as they herald the arrival of autumn and also of Devi Durga. The fragrance of these flowers fills evening sky, and the festive fervour is palpable in the air as the city gets ready to welcome the deity. The shops and malls see heavy footfall with people out in hordes to do their pujo shopping for the four-day long frenzy that leaves the roads and streets chock-a-block, bustling with activity and vehicles jostling for space. On the other hand, construction of pandals gets underway in full swing across the nook and corner of the city, and its buildings, both new and old, big and small, wear a bejewelled look. But away from the din, ensconced in the Kumartoli stay the men who work day and night to make beautiful idols of Goddess Durga for the pujo. It is believed that the deity visits the earth for only four days but seven days before the Pujas, starts the Mahalaya that marks the end of Pitrupaksha and the beginning of Devipaksha.It is on Mahalaya that the potters draw the eyes onto the idols in an auspicious ritual called Chokkhu Daan. The Durga Puja celebrations start off with Mahishasuramardini – a two-hour broadcast – on AIR in the voice of the late Birendra Krishna Bhadra and the late Pankaj Kumar Mullick as they recite hymns from the scriptures from the Devi Mahatmyam (Chandi Path); it is a ritual of sorts for Bengalis to tune into this broadcast. The potters start giving finishing touches to the idols as the pandals get ready to bring them on Shasthi or the sixth day of the festival. The idol of Goddess Durga on a lion slaying the demon Mahishaura, flanked by idols of Saraswati and Karthika on the left and Lakshmi and Ganesha on the right is placed in the beautifully decorated and lit pandals, most of which follow a theme and compete for different titles. Devotees throng the pandals in the morning to offer pushpanjali to the deities, and in the evening, aarti is performed to the accompaniment of drums, bells and chants. A major attraction is the dhaak and dhunuchi-naach. At the juncture of Asthami or the eighth day and Nabami or the ninth day, Sandhi puja is performed; it lasts from the last 24 minutes of Ashtami till the first 24 minutes of Nabami. The Goddess is worshipped in her Chamunda form as she killed two demons – Chando and Mundo – who attacked her while she was engaged in a fierce battle with Mahishasura. On Dashami or the tenth day, married women gather at the pandals, wearing traditional red and white sarees, and smear sindoor (vermillion) on each other’s faces as a part of Sindoor Khela, symbolising a happy and long married life. Following this, the idols are then taken out in a procession and immersed in the river amidst loud cheers and fireworks.
Mysore, Karnataka: One of the biggest Dasara celebrations in the state and entire South India takes place in Mysore that originates from the word “Mahishasurana Ooru”, meaning the town of Mahishasura in Kannada; the name was first changed to Mahisur or Mysuru, and later anglicized as Mysore. An incarnation of Durga, Goddess Chamundeshwari who battled the buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura, for nine nights and killed him on the tenth day. The 10-day long Mysore Dasara is a celebration in honour of the Goddess and covers the duration of the epic battle and honours the nine forms of the goddess as well as the victory of good over evil. It was started off by the royal family of Mysore, the Wodeyars in the 15th century, but today the entire city comes together to join them in the festivities, making it the state festival or Nadahabba. This year marks the 407th year of the celebrations. The Mysore Palace is decorated with lights during the festivities, and the entire city wears a festive look with flowers and diyas dotting its buildings. The nine days of Navarathri have celebrations starting only after the sixth day which is devoted to honour goddess Saraswathi, the eighth day is dedicated to Goddess Durga and the ninth day is for Goddess Lakshmi. The festival culminates in a grand spectacle on the tenth day with a grand procession that begins from the illuminated Mysore Palace attracting thousands of devotees and tourists alike, from India and abroad. On Vijayadashami, the royal family performs the Nandi Dhwaja puja or the worship of Nandi, Lord Shiva’s vehicle, following which the Jumbo Savaari or grand elephant procession starts from the Mysore Palace and ends at Bannimantap. One of the beautifully decked royal elephants carries the idol of Chamundeshwari in a golden howdah in a colourful procession led by six elephants across the city. An elephant-led chariot, royal horse, cow and elephant, camels, horsemen, musical bands, folk dancers also form a part of the procession. The programme culminates in the ‘Panjina Kavayatthu’ or a torch light parade that takes place in the evening followed by a massive firework display and jubilation on the streets. Another major attraction is the Dasara exhibition that is held in the grounds opposite the Mysore Palace. It starts during Dasara and goes on until December.
Ahmedabad, Gujarat: During Navratri or the nine nights, the entire state of Gujarat turns into a nine-night dance festival, as people of all ages and gender gather in open spaces at night to sway to the rhythmic beats of Dandiya and spin and swirl doing the Garba only to celebrate Shakti or feminine divinity. At night, people worship one of the nine forms of Goddess. The nine nights are divided into three sections – the first one is for Goddess Durga, who destroyed the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura, and who also destroys human impurities, the second is for Goddess Lakshmi, who symbolises prosperity and the third is for Goddess Saraswati, who represents wisdom and art. Navratri also coincides with the end of rainy season and these nine days are a celebration of fertility and monsoon harvest, represented by a mound of fresh soil in which grains are sown for the puja. The festival, however, is synonymous with the colourful and vibrant Garba and Dandiya dances that are usually performed in a circle around a small shrine of Goddess Shakti erected by each community on the first day of Ashwin, the Hindu month, that also marks the beginning of the festival. The small shrine in the centre includes a garbo, an earthenware pot, in which a betel nut, coconut, and silver coin are placed. There are many places tucked away in the nook and corner of the city that host these events. While Garba is performed in circular movements with hands and feet, Dandiya is played with colourful dandiya sticks. Young and old, men and women dressed in traditional Gujarati attire dance through the night to folk music, live orchestra and some Bollywood numbers too.State-level Garba and Dandiya competitions are also organised and a winner stands a chance to win attractive prizes. The tenth day, Dashera is celebrated by doing a puja for one’s vehicle, and it is also the day to buy new vehicles.
Kullu, Himachal Pradesh: The burning of effigies of Ravana and others and immersion of idols on Vijaya Dashmi marks the end of Dussehra celebrations across the country, but the festivities start that day in Kullu and last for seven days. The history of the festival in Kullu dates back to the 17th century when local King Jagat Singh, who ruled Kullu from 1637 to 1672, installed an idol of Lord Raghunath on his throne as a mark of penance for his wrongdoings. After this, Lord Raghunath was declared as the ruling deity of the Kullu Valley. For the uninitiated, Kullu Valley is known as the Valley of the Living Gods in the North India. The arrival of palanquin of Goddess Hidimba from Manali kick starts the festivities in Kullu. On the first day of the festival, the statue of Lord Raghunathji is placed on a beautifully designed rath (chariot), which is pulled by the locals with the help of ropes from its original place Dhalpur Maidan to another spot where it stays for the next six days. The festivities also sees more than hundred local deities mounted on colourful palanquins congregating in Kullu to pay their obeisance to Lord Raghunathji, the presiding deity, and the procession of deities makes for a spectacular sight. On the sixth day, the assembly of Gods takes place, which is called ‘Mohalla’. The village gods and goddesses dressed in colourful attires along with their followers and band of musicians attending the assembly makes for a visual treat. On the last day, the chariot is pulled to the banks of river Beas where a pile of thorn bushes is set on fire to symbolise the burning of Lanka, and the idol of Raghunathji returns to the temple on the same chariot, marking the end of the festivities. Kullu also plays host to the international folk dance festival that sees enthusiastic participation of folk dance troops from across the globe.
Delhi: The city plays host to Ramleela, a theatrical presentation of the Ramayana, organised by Ramleela Committees across the nook and corner during the Navratras. The Ramleela Committees leave no stone unturned to oust each other in attracting crowds. While some invite famous film and television stars to essay the roles of Ramayana’s characters, others boast of high-tech set-up with a revolving stage, LED screens, state of the art light and sound systems, and even mind-boggling stunts. Dussehra also marks the end of nine days of fasting, and on the tenth day, colourful effigies of the demon king, Ravana, his kin Meghnath and Kumbhakarana are set on fire amidst fireworks and loud cheers of crowds.
Tamil Nadu: People celebrate Golu, where dolls of gods and goddesses are used to represent everyday scenes. On Dasara, one doll from the setup is symbolically put to sleep and then the Golu is dismantled after offering prayers. It is done because when Durga needed power, all the other gods combined their powers and transferred it into her so that she could fight the demon. The celebrations in Mutharamman Temple in Kulasekharapattinam, a coastal town, see devotees come dressed in an avatar of their choice. They could be dressed as kings or beggars, monkeys or demons, but the more popular are different forms of the Devi, and they have to beg for alms to sustain themselves. It is believed that this exercise will help them overcome their ego.
Kerala: The ninth day of Navratri is celebrated as Saraswati Puja or Ayudh Puja for which the books and tools are placed for worship on the eighth day. The tenth day or Vijaya Dasami is considered auspicious for initiating children into learning. It’s called Vidyarambham as the child is made to sit in the lap of the oldest member in the house, the temple priest, or a learned scholar, who holds the child’s index finger and writes a letter on rice spread on a plate.
Odisha: The state also has a lavish celebration of Durga Puja with installation of the idols of the Goddess Durga, and other deities at pandals. The Goddess is worshipped on all the nine days, and people keep a fast on the Ashtami (or eighth day) and on the last day, married women prepare manda pitha (steamed sweet) for the deity. These delicacies are offered to the goddess, and then her idol is carried out in a procession for immersion (bisarjan jatra) in the local river or pond. Ravana Podi or burning of effigies of Ravana and others take place in the evening.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana: Across the twin states, during navaratri people worship Goddess Durga’s nine avatars. The married women perform Lalita Sahasranaama Paarayana and Kumkumaarchana pooja to pray for their husband’s well-being and a happy married life. In some regions, young girls celebrate Dasara by showcasing their collection of dolls in a particular order; the showcasing of dolls is known as Bommala Koluvu. People also worship their vehicles and heavy machinery by decorating them with vermillion, flowers, plantain trees and mango leaves during Ayudh pooja that happens on the ninth day. Sreevari Brahmotsavaalu at the Tirumala Temple in Andhra Pradesh is a major celebration during Navratra. It starts on the second day and ends on the Vijaya Dashami with the chakra snaanam.