Dussehra: The Festival of Vijayadashami

Dussehra is one of the most deep-rooted festivals in India. It is the culmination of the Navaratri festival that falls on the tenth day of this period. Maharashtra celebrates the Simollanghan Festival, by crossing the boundaries of the village. At nightfall, the villagers go beyond the boundaries of the village.

The leaves of the tree get gifted to neighbors, a symbol of the spoils of victory. In earlier times, kings used Dasara to cross the borders of their empire and war against kingdoms. This border crossing was Simollanghan. Dasara also marked the beginning of the war season.

Dussehra is an equal on this side of the Inti Raymi world of the ancient Inca empire. The celebrations of the Inti Raymi last nine days. For the Inca, this time coincided with the beginning of the New Year. People danced and offered animal sacrifices to ensure the fertility of the earth. People prayed to prevent the imminent winter and ensure a timely return of the sun.

In Bastar, sacrifices get offered to Danteshwari. They dispute the Aryan claim of making it a deity of their own pantheon.

In the days before Dussehra, the myths of the Ramlila, from Ramayana takes place in North India. The actors dress in traditional costumes. They depict the ancient stories of Rama, Sita, Ravana, Hanuman, Lakshman, Sugriva, Meghnath.

The festival celebrates the victory of Rama over Ravana. People create colossal effigies of Ravana, Meghnad, and Kumbhakarna with flammable explosives. The festival ends when those are burnt by the arrow shot by someone representing Rama.

In Varanasi, the Dussehra ends with the great Ramlila of Ramnagar. For 31 days they stage the exploits of Rama on stages scattered around the city. Ramlila is a tradition that did not succumb to the charm of electric lights or loudspeakers. It is not a show, but an act of faith and a time of social inclusion. Every district participates, forgetting differences of faith.

No wonder then that the same Dussehra reaffirms victory in different parts of India. Among the most spectacular and curious, are of course in Mysore, Kota, Udaipur, and Kullu. In Kota, the festival turns into a great fair, where you can find crafts and vivid colors of Rajasthan. Also in Rajasthan, in Udaipur lies the lake where takes place the Ashwa Poojan.

The festival is for horses because there is no king without a horse and Rajasthan is the land of maharajas. In the chivalric code of the proud warriors, the animal has always had a prominent place. It is both a means of transport and a symbol of nobility. In Udaipur, you can admire splendid examples of Marwari breed horses. They are capable of walking on any type of surface. They recover from exhaustion by rolling around in the sand of the desert.

In Kullu, in Himachal Pradesh, the climax of the Dussehra festival is the procession on the final day. All the idols of the gods go out in procession on thrones carried on the shoulders.

In Mysore in Karnataka, the festival is also associated with Mahishasura and Durga. Durga is the principal local deity known here by Chamundeswari. Her temple is on the Chamundi hills. People make a big procession in honor of the goddess Chamundeshwari on a throne. She goes on elephant back in the city of Mysore during the ten days dedicated to the Dasara Festival. It culminates with the parade on the day of Vijayadashami.

Referred to as Naada Habba, the festival of Dasara here has a mix of religious and secular elements. Over time it has earned a character of a carnival parade with floats and performances.

The tradition of Dasara was born with the Vijayanagara Empire (1336-1565 AD). It was later inherited by the local feudal lords, the Wodeyar, who maintain it till today. After the fall of Tipu Sultan, Wodeyar introduced public hearings during the celebrations.

This special durbar, was for notable British and European guests of fame. Over time Mysore Dasara celebrations became the social event of the season. The 26 frescoes that adorn the Kalyana Mantapa in the Mysore Palace show the splendor of the time.

A few weeks later it is the turn of Diwali.