India is a harmoniously beautiful melting pot of tons and tons of varied cultures and customs. So, to the outsider, or on occasions to the insider, some of the festivities may tend to bleed into each other, one of them being Dussehra.
What is Dussehra?
Dussehra, also called by some as Pranay or Vijaydashami, is an auspicious occasion celebrated mostly by Hindus. The name “Dussehra” has come down from the Sanskrit words “dasha” and “hara”, which quite literally translate to “dashanan-ravan”, that is, the defeat of Ravana, the ten-headed great demon by the Lord Rama. Technically, it is a tenth day festival, that is, it is celebrated following the nine-day celebration of “Navratri”.
How did Dussehra originate?
Dussehra has its roots in the ancient Indian epic known as “Ramayana”. According to this epic, Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, was exiled by his father. His beloved younger brother, Laxman and his faithful wife Sita chose to follow him. While in exile, Surpankha, a demon herself and sister to the evil demon Ravana, visited them and let Ravana know of Sita’s beauty. Incited by immoral motives, Ravana abducted Sita and confined her to his kingdom, Lanka. However, Lord Rama, along with his brother Laxman, and their follower Hanuman, Sugriv and their army, fought a battle in which he not only rescued Sita, but also killed Ravana.
Before going into battle, Lord Rama had invoked the blessings of Goddess Durga, who had secretly told him of ways in which Ravana could be defeated. As their exile term came to an end, the people of Ayodhya put light diyas all over their houses to celebrate the return of Rama, Laxman and Sita, which in itself marks the auspicious occasion known as Diwali.
How is it connected to Durgotsav?
According to the Hindu mythology, all the gods and goddesses of Swarglok were constantly subjected to the tyranny of the demons or the “Asurs”. Under the leadership of one Asur, known as Mahishasur, the demons managed to defeat the gods and goddesses. Consequently, the Earth and all the loks succumbed into chaos and tyranny. Consequently, the gods and goddesses decided to combine all of their powers to defeat the great demon. Thus, emerged the Goddess of Shakti, Durga, with three eyes and ten hands, from the mouths of Shiv, Brahma and Vishnu. She was provided with a lion and the weapons of all the gods. Thus, she rode into a long battle, which waged in for nine days and nights. On the tenth day, the Goddess slayed the demon, and the rest, as they say, is history. Therefore, this day is also celebrated as Durgotsav.
Dussehra, initially, was celebrated on a large scale during the early 17th century by the Maharaja Wodayar as he descended the throne of Mysore. In fact, according to some legends, the demon Mahishasur came from the land of Mysore.
What is the symbolism behind Dussehra?
As is abundantly clear from the pervading pattern of the legends, myths and written epics that the festival has originated from, the occasion of Dussehra is all about the defeat of evil by good and the restoration of balance, peace and love in all of the worlds, be it the ones belonging to humans or even the gods. Dussehra is a festival celebrated by the burning of Ravana effigies, the lighting of candles and lamps, the putting on of ”tika” or “tilak” on the forehead of people, and just like any other religious festival, it serves to guide the spirit of humanity on the right track, for centuries to come.