Significance of Dussehra

published on September 25, 2009


By V.N. Gopalakrishnan

Dussehra is one of the most popular, splendid and fascinating Hindu festivals of India. The10-day festival takes place in the month of Asvin.  The festival is celebrated from September 23-28. Dussehra is celebrated to commemorate the victory of Lord Rama, prince of Ayodhya and an incarnation of Vishnu over Ravana, the ruler of Lanka who had abducted Rama’s wife, Sita Devi and held her captive in his realm. The ten days represent the ten heads of Ravana, and each day is used by the Hindus to get rid of lust and jealousy.  The tenth day is known as Vijayadashami, the day of victory.

According to the Ramayana, Lord Rama performed Chandi Puja in order to invoke the blessings of the goddess Durga for killing of Ravana. Durgadevi is believed to have divulged the secret to Lord Rama on how he could slay Ravana.

Durga Puja is part of the Dussehra festival and is more popular in West Bengal. Goddess Durga is believed to have possessed great delusive powers and is regarded as the creator and destroyer of the universe. Paying homage to ‘Shakti’, the cosmic power is the purpose of the festival and hence its puja has a universal appeal.  The ten-armed Goddess Durga presents a radiantly beautiful form simultaneously benign and transmits profound spiritual teachings. The nine different forms of goddess Durga are worshipped over the nine days. They are: Durga Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skanda Mata, Katyayani, Kalratri, Maha Gauri and Siddhidatri.
 
Durgotsav in Mysore is to celebrate the destruction of the demon king Mahishasura in order to restore peace in the world.  Mysore is said to have derived its name from Mahishasura who once lived there and was vanquished in the battle by the goddess Chamundeshwari. On Vijaydashami day, the idol of Chamundeshwari is taken in a grand procession through the city of Mysore, from the historical Mysore Palace to the Banni Mantapa. Banni is the Kannada equivalent for the Sanskrit word Shami and Mantapa means Pavilion.  In Karnataka, Ayudh Puja on the ninth day of Dussehra is celebrated with the worship of implements used in daily life.

In Gujarat, the people celebrate another aspect of the worship of the goddess Durga. The most visible sign is the all-women dance called ‘Garbha’.  In North India, Dussehra is celebrated as ‘ Ramleela’, the dramatization of the Ramayana.  The burning of the effigies of Ravana, Meghanad and Kumbhakarna on the Vijayadashami day brings the festivities to a colourful close. In olden days, Kerala patronized Dussehra but now young children are initiated into the world of learning (Vidyarambh) on the auspicious Vijayadashami day.

Vijayadashami is known as ‘Dashain’ in Nepali and is celebrated in Nepal on the tenth day of Ashwayuja or Asvin month and is the grand culmination of the annual festival of Dussehra.
There is another little-known legend associated with Mahabharata. According to legends, the Pandavas underwent a period of exile for 14 years of dwelling in the forest followed by a year of exile in cognito. The Pandavas found it necessary to lay aside the divine and distinctive weapons that they possessed. They secreted them in a ‘Shami’ tree in the vicinity of their chosen residence. At the end of the year, they returned to the spot and found their weapons in tact. They worshipped both the Shami tree and the Goddess Durga, the presiding deity of strength and victory. Even today, people exchange Shami leaves and wish each other victory in their own ventures and efforts.

Madikeri Dasara in the South has a history of over 100 years and is celebrated in a different style. Dasara starts of with Kargas from four Mariamma temples and there will be a procession of 10 mantapas from 10 temples on the night of Vijayadashami. At night, effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghanad are set afire.

It is on the Durgashtami day, the warriors perform their puja by surrendering their weapons before the goddess Durga. The students surrender their books and the artists their tools or instruments before the deity. It is an effort to see divinity in the tools and objects one uses in daily life. Basically, it includes all tools that help to earn one’s livelihood.

The legend underlying the celebration of Dussehra, vary vastly by region. However, all festivities focus on the victory of the forces of good over evil. It is considered to be an auspicious to begin new things in life. It is believed that any new venture commencing during this time such is bound to succeed.

(The author is a social activist and Director, Indo-Gulf Consulting. He can be contacted on

[email protected]

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