Read this comprehensive paragraph on Dussehra Festival!
The Durga Puja culminates in Vijaya Dashami/Dasara/Dussehra. This day denotes the victory of good over evil. For ten days preceding Viajaya Dashami, in Upper India, Ram-Lila or sports of Rama take place during Navaratri.
The tenth day called Vijaya Dashami is to commemorate the victory gained by Rama over Ravana, king of Ceylon.
All over North India, amateur troupes perform plays based on the epic story, of Rama. On the tenth day an elaborate procession is taken to Ram-Lila Grounds where immense effigies of the demon Ravana his brother ‘Kumbhakarna’ and son ‘Indrajeet’ explode to the cheers of thousands of spectators.
Another school of thought states that the day recalls the decision of the Pandava brothers, after their years of exile and disguise, to take up arms against a sea of Kauravas, which led to the memorable Kurukshetra Battle. The Mimosa tree comes for veneration on this day because it is stated in the Mahabharata that the Pandava brothers had been hiding in such a tree.
In South India, children are usually initiated into the world of reading and learning on this day by the family priest who is treated, along with the family, to a hearty meal. Books and papers are worshiped on Vijaya Dashmi day.
In Maharashtra, the hero Sivaji became the symbol of the festival Sivaji ki Jai! (Victory to Sivaji!) was a greeting on this day. In all cases, victory is what is celebrated on Vijaya Dashmi day. On Vijaya Dasami Day, it was a custom to behead with a single stroke a fattened and sanctified buffalo on the occasion.
It used to be a privilege to officiate in this solemn event. In 1909 because rival groups demanded this right in a section of Bombay, the sacrifice was omitted. A cholera epidemic the following summer was blamed on this omission. Hence on animal was offered to the god during the Holi festival that year.
Festival is considered an auspicious day for starting military expeditions. This festival used to be celebrated in right royal manner by Hindu Princes. Early in the morning the throne was worshipped with the attendant ceremonies. Then there was a procession of elephants, horses and chariots.
The elephants and horses, as they marched past the standard, turned to the king who occupied for the purpose of a prominent place and saluted him by appropriate gestures. At the end of the ‘march past’ ceremony, Brahmins were paid cash or presented with clothes and the morning Darbar was dissolved. In the afternoon at about three O’clock, the entire state army comprising of artillery, cavalry, infantry, etc. is ready in full dress to take part in the great procession.
The elephants, about a hundred in number, are arranged in front of the palace according to the ranks of the Sardars who are privileged to ride them and the palace officer and his assistants busy themselves calling out the names under which each of the animals has been registered and despatching them to the residences of the Sardars for whom they are intended. All arrive at the palace in good time, with their mounted orderlies and silver-sticks or Chopdars.
The whole army is arranged; some in front of the palace for the procession as orderlies and some on the ‘Dasara-maidan’ where the sacrifice is scheduled to take place. The route is duly lined with soldiers and guards.
When everything is ready, the standard-bearer’s elephant is brought forward to the front of the main gate of the palace. He carries, in addition to the standard, the Danka or war-drum. Silence prevails for a few minutes, all standing expectant at the near approach of the Maharaja.
As soon as the Maharaja’s elephant issues out of the chief gate, the war-drum is sounded by the command of the head of the army who salutes His Highness. On receiving this signal, the few selected Sardars who are privileged to take their elephants inside the gate to wait on the Maharaja, come out one after another, the rest, who had to wait outside the quadrangle, joining the profession in rank and file. For about a mile or two the pageant goes in full swing followed by spectators of all sorts. At the boundary of the city, the Agent to the Governor General, who had previously fixed his camp there, receives the Maharajah.
The Maharajah alights and sits on a carpet spread under a Shami tree (Prosopis Spicigera) where arrangements have already been made for the sacrifice. At the end of a Puja the Maharajah cuts with a sword a calabash fruit (Cucurbita Pepo), symbolic of the animal sacrifice which used to be a part of the ceremony in ancient days. After the sacrifice, the branches of the Shami tree are “looted” by the Sardars who “call the leaves gold for the time being”. This done, the Maharajah mounts his elephant and so do the Sardars.
A royal salute accosts His Highness and before he turns back a buffalo is sacrificed in memory of Durga’s victory over Mahisasur, the buffalo demon. On its return journey, the whole procession is greeted with bonfires and fire-works, intermixed with slogans of ‘Sriman Maharajah Vijaya Bhava’ (May success follow the King).
On arrival of the Maharajah at the palace, another Durbar is held and Khillats distributed according to rank. With the disappearance of the Princes in India, this traditional festival has lost much of its grandeur. Thus, in the south, Dussehra is celebrated with pomp and pageantry reminiscent of grandeur of medieval India.
In other part of South India, the festival is celebrated as Navratri. Dolls and trinkets are artistically arranged in tiers by young girls. Friends and relatives visit each other’s home to exchange greetings. In Kulu during Dussehra, the celebrations have a different flavour.
Against the backdrop of snow covered mountains, villagers dressed in their colourful best gather to take out procession of local deities while pipes and drums make music. Interestingly, in some parts of India, on Dusshera day, the children begin their education and the books are worshipped.