Indian Festival – Dussehra
Dussehra (Vijaya Dashami, Dasara, or Dashain) is a Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil. It is a gazetted holiday in India, which is marked on the 10th day of the bright half (Shukla Paksha) of the month of Ashvin (Ashwayuja), according to the Hindu calendar.
Vijayadashami also known as Dasara, Dashahara, Dussehra, Dashain (in Nepal), Navratri or Durgotsav is one of the most important Hindu festivals celebrated in various forms, across Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
The name Dussehra is derived from Sanskrit Dasha-hara literally means The sun will not rise (Dasha(sun) and Hara(defeat)) referring to Lord Rama’s victory over the ten-headed demon king Ravana. The day also marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the demons Mahishasur. The name Dussehra is also derived from Sanskrit Dasha + Ahaha = Dasharahaha = Dasharaha. Ahaha means day. Example Aharnisha is derived from Ahaha+nisha. Goddess fought with evils for 9 nights and 10 days. The name Vijayadashami is also derived from the Sanskrit words “Vijaya-dashami” literally meaning the victory on the dashami (Dashmi being the tenth lunar day of the Hindu calendar month). Diwali the festival of lights is celebrated twenty days after Dasara.
What do people do in Dussehra?
Many people of the Hindu faith observe Dussehra through special prayer meetings and food offerings to the gods at home or in temples throughout India. They also hold outdoor fairs (melas) and large parades with effigies of Ravana (a mythical king of ancient Sri Lanka). The effigies are burnt on bonfires in the evening. Dussehra is the culmination of the Navaratri festival.
There are many local celebrations in some areas in India that can last for up to 10 days. Local events include:
- Performances of the Ramlila (a short version of the epic Ramayana) in Northern India.
- A large festival and procession including the goddess Chamundeshwari on a throne mounted on elephants in the town of Mysore in the state of Karnataka.
- The blessing of household and work-related tools, such as books, computers, cooking pans and vehicles in the state of Karnataka.
- The preparation of special foods, including luchi (deep fried flat bread) and alur dom (deep fried spiced potato snacks), in Bengal.
Many Hindus also believe that it is lucky to start a new venture, project or journey on Dussehra. They may also exchange gifts of leaves from the Shami tree (Prosopis spicigera) as a symbol of the story of the Pandavas brothers’ exile in the Mahabharata stories.
Public life in Dussehra
Government offices, post offices and banks are closed in India on Dussehra. Stores and other businesses and organizations may be closed or have reduced opening hours. Those wishing to use public transport on the day may need to contact the local transport authorities to check on timetables.
Background of Dussehra
Dussehra celebrates the Hindu god Rama’s victory over the demon king Ravana and the triumph of good over evil. The epic Ramayana tells the mythical story of the Lord Rama who wins the lovely Sita for his wife, only to have her carried off by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka.
Ravana plays an important role in the Ramayana. Ravana had a sister known as Shoorpanakha. She fell in love with the brothers Rama and Lakshamana and wanted to marry one of them. Lakshamana refused to marry her and Rama could not as he was already married to Sita.
Shoorpanakha threatened to kill Sita, so that she could marry Rama. This angered Lakshamana who cut off Shoorpanakha’s nose and ears. Ravana then kidnapped Sita to avenge his sister’s injuries. Rama and Lakshamana later fought a battle to rescue Sita. The monkey god Hanuman and a huge army of monkeys helped them.
The Mahabharata is another series of Hindu myths that play a role in the Dussehra festival. The Pandavas were five brothers who fought evil forces with a set of distinctive weapons. They abandoned their weapons and went into exile for one year. They hid their weapons in a Shami tree and found them at the same place when they returned from exile. They then worshipped the tree before going to a battle, which they won. This epic is also commemorated during Dussehra.
Symbols of Dussehra
Symbols seen throughout the Dussehra/Vijaya Dashami celebrations include:
- Bonfires and fireworks
- Paper and wood effigies of Ravana.
- Red spots (tika) painted on people’s foreheads.