Dussehra or Vijayadashmi is a popular Hindu festival of India celebrated in the Hindu calendar month of Ashvin. It also marks the end of Navratri festival. The festival signifies the victory of good over evil and is celebrated throughout India by many cultures with ritualistic variations. It also sets the stage for one of the Hindu’s most significant festival – Deepawali or Diwali, which is celebrated 20 days after Vijayadashmi.
Dussehra festival is celebrated with reverence to two of the most significant Hindu deities – Goddess Durga and Lord Rama. Some cultures venerate different incarnations of Goddess Durga like – Saraswati, Lakshmi etc, as per their faith and belief. Nevertheless, the festival is largely celebrated as symbolic to the victory of good over evil.
Vijayadashmi festival in 2019 will be celebrated on Tuesday, 8th October 2019. Rituals like Shami puja and Aparajita puja should be performed during the Aparahna time – 13:24 Hrs to 15:44 Hrs on 8th October 2019.
Meaning of Dussehra/Vijayadashmi
Some religious specialists believe that the word Dussehra is obtained by joining two Sanskrit words – “Dus” and “Ahara”. Former means 10th and the latter – day. Therefore “Dussehra” implies 10th day or the 10th day of victory. Another theory about the derivation of name “Dussehra” is that it is formed by combining “Dush” and “Har”; former meaning evil and the latter means to destroy or remove. Thus implying, Dussehra as a day which destroys evil.
“Vijayadashmi” is formed by combining two words – “Vijaya” and “Dashmi”. “Vijaya” means “victory” and “Dashmi” means “10th (tenth)”, hence implying, Dussehra as the 10th day of victory.
When is Vijayadashmi Celebrated
Vijayadashmi is celebrated in the month of Ashvin as per the Hindu Luni-Solar calendar. The calendar has 12 months, and Ashvin is the seventh month which corresponds to the Gregorian calendar months of September-October. Vijayadashmi is observed on the 10th Day of Ashvin month and marks the end of Navratri festival. The month also corresponds to the Sharad ritu or fall season.
There are three major mythological legends associated with the celebration of Dussehra festival. Despite the differences each one of them signifies the victory of good over evil. It is also believed that all of the legends narrated below, actually happened on the 10th day of Hindu Luni-solar month of Ashvin, which is celebrated as Dussehra.
1) Ravana’s Assasination by Lord Rama
The story in ancient Hindu epic Ramayana, narrates the life incidents of a Hindu Prince Rama. He was known for his righteousness, morale and principles. So much was his lack of apathy for materialistic possessions that he easily gave up his succession to the throne of Kingdom of Ayodhya, for his elder half brother Bharata and went in 14 years exile to Dandaka forest, accompanied by wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana. Bharata’s mother Kakayi had demanded Rama’s exile from his father, king Dahsrath, in order to make Bharata the successor of throne.
Dandaka forest was in Danda kingdom, a stronghold of Ravana. Ravana was an evil demon (Rakshasha) king whose kingdom was in Lanka, modern day Sri Lanka. The Dandaka forest abounded with beasts and Rakshasas.
The legends state that during exile, Sita was forcibly abducted by Ravana who cunningly disguised himself as an old beggar when Rama and Lakshmana were away from their hut. Thus, began the events leading to a historical war between Ravana and Lord Rama.
The war continued for 13 days ending with Ravana’s assassination by Lord Rama on Phalgun Krishna Amavasya on 15th November in 7292 B.C. The day coincides with the modern day Dussehra festival and marks the victory of good over evil.
2) Mahishasura’s Assasination by Goddess Durga
Another legend has it that Mahishasura, a buffalo demon who worshipped Lord Brahma for years was granted by him a boon for immortality. Mahishasura had wished for that he could never be killed by a man or an animal on the face of earth. Lord Brahma pleased by his penance thus granted him immortality, but there was a catch – a woman might be able to kill Mahishasura. However, Mahishasura was over confident enough to believe that a woman can have the strength to slay him.
Gaining immortality, Mahishasura headed to occupy all three worlds – heaven, earth and hell. He also waged a war against Indralok – Kingdom of Lord Indra. Dethroned, Lord Indra and other Gods seek intervention of Lord Vishnu to find a solution. Lord Vishnu was aware of the fact that Mahishasura could only be killed by a female and thus decided to create one.
Thus Goddess Durga was created by combined powers of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shiva). Durga is revered as Adi Shakti – the supreme power. The battle between Goddess Durga and Mahishasura lasted for 15 days, concluding with Mahishasura’s assassination by Durga on the last day.
Modern day Dussehra celebration corresponds with the return of Durga to the adobe of her husband Shiva, after slaying Mahishasura. The day implies victory of good over bad.
3) The Shami Tree and Pandava’s Victory
Another legend associated with the festival of Vijayadashmi is narrated in an ancient Hindu epic – Mahabharata. According to the story, losing to Kauravas in the game of Chausar (gambling), Pandavas had to go on a 12 years exile and had planned to spend the years in disguise. Not wanting for anyone to recognize them, the Pandavas hid their weapons under a Shami tree.
After a year of disguise, Pandavas returned to the Shami tree and regained their weapons. They worshipped Goddess Durga and went on war with Kauravas. The war concluded with Pandavas’ emerging victorious, signifying the victory of truth over evil or good over bad. The incident is believed to have happened on the day of Dussehra.
History of Vijayadashmi
There is no concrete evidence about the exact time when the custom of Dussehra festival was started; though, various religious epics and texts indicate towards its being celebrated since ages ago. The war between Rama and Ravana occurred 7292 B.C., hinting that the festival of Dussehra might have been in existence since then. Though, it’s reasonable to say that initially it might have been a regional celebration and later spread to other parts of Indian subcontinent.
Dussehra in West Bengal is celebrated as Durga Puja and is evidenced to have started sometimes in late 1500s. Though, it was a secluded event organized by few Zamindars. The tradition of modern day community Durga Puja was started in the early 1900s only. Likewise, the Kullu Dussehra celebration in the state of Himachal Pradesh dates back to 17th century.
Different parts of the Indian sub continent have different dates on which the Dussehra festivities are speculated to began, based on ancient epics, texts or documents; nevertheless, the significance of it has remained same everywhere i.e. triumph of good over evil.
Ancient and Modern Variations
During ancient days the festival lacked the modern day splendor and festivities. During its inception days the festival of Vijayadashmi was largely a festival observed by religious ascetics and Brahmins. Sundar kanda recitation and Yagnas were performed; a custom which is still carried on in houses and temples till today.
The Dussehra festivities got more popular and took the form of a large community fair, with the start of Ramleela. Today, almost every state of India displays festive fervor during Dussehra and people belonging to all age group and various communities enthrallingly take part in the festivities. The custom of burning the effigies of Ravana is also recently introduced in the 20th century and the custom was absent before.
Different cultures celebrate Vijayadashmi, following their own unique customs and rituals. In northern and western states of India, Dussehra celebrations mark the end of Navratri festival and Ramleela. Latter is an enactment of Lord Rama’s life incidents during the nine days of Navratri festival, concluding with Ravana’s symbolic assassination on Vijayadashmi.
Effigies of Ravana are erected in almost all the villages, towns and localities, particularly in northern and western India. A fair of sort emerges around the effigies; those are erected in advance for Dussehra celebrations. The festivities preceding Dussehra may vary from place to place. Some places Ramleela is enacted for nine days before Dussehra, while in some places it’s an enacted for a month.
Ramleela reaches its climax on Vijayadashmi, when the effigy of Ravana is burnt down by artist enacting Lord Rama. The effigies usually made up of wood, bamboo and paper is planted with crackers to increase the thrill. People belonging to different religions, cultures and caste come in huge numbers to witness the victory of truth over evil.
The day also concludes the nine day long Durga Puja (Navratri) festival and the idols of Goddess Durga are immersed in water on Vijayadashmi. The ritual of Durga Puja preceding Dussehra is followed throughout Northern India particularly in West Bengal. Large and beautiful marquees (pandals) could be seen everywhere with a statue of Goddess Durga installed on a platform inside. From the sixth day (sashthi) onwards the pandals are open for general public to venerate the Goddess till Vijayadashmi, when a huge procession is taken out to immerse the idol in a designated spot.
The festival of Vijayadashmi at Kullu in Himachal Pradesh has been accorded the status of International festival by the state government. The festival commences on the day of Dussehra and lasts for seven days. During the festivities Lord Raghunath (Lord Rama) and other deities are paraded; an event witnessed by nearly half a million devotees from around the world.
Dussehra is reverently and with variance celebrated in southern India. Temples are decorated and well illuminated by colorful bright lights. Processions are taken out, like in Mysore, presided by the successors of ruling dynasty. South Indians consider Vijayadashmi as the most auspicious day for making new purchases. Some also revere Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge and wisdom.
Significance of Vijayadashmi
Vijayadashmi or Dussehra marks the victory of good over evil. It signifies that however powerful the evil forces may be, it is truth and righteousness which emerges victorious. The day of Dussehra is considered very auspicious for making new investments or starting new businesses. In some of the South Indian cultures, which revere Goddess Saraswati on Dussehra, small kids are admitted to schools on the day. Dussehra also marks the end of monsoon season and the nine day long fast during Durga Puja prepares the body for a climatic and dietary changes.