What Is Vijayadashami?
Dussehra, also known as Vijayadashami in eastern and northeastern India, is an important Hindu festival held at the end of Navratri. It celebrates the victory of good over evil. It is a gazetted holiday in India, which is marked on the 10th day of the bright half (Shukla Paksha) of the month of Ashvin (Ashwayuja), according to the Hindu calendar. This year Dussehra celebrations will take place on September 30.
In eastern and northeastern states of India people celebrate the goddess Durga’s victory over the buffalo demon. Durga, the warrior goddess, is usually depicted riding a tiger and wielding many weapons in her eight arms. In the northern, southern and western states people remember the god Rama’s victory over the demon Ravana, who had kidnapped his wife Sita.
Many people of the Hindu faith observe Dussehra through special prayer meetings and food offerings to the gods at home or in temples throughout India. They also hold outdoor fairs (melas) and large parades with effigies of Ravana (a mythical king of ancient Sri Lanka). The effigies are burnt on bonfires in the evening. Dussehra is the culmination of the Navaratri festival.
There are many local celebrations in some areas in India that can last for up to 10 days. Local events include:
Performances of the Ramlila (a short version of the epic Ramayana) in Northern India.
A large festival and procession including the goddess Chamundeshwari on a throne mounted on elephants in the town of Mysore in the state of Karnataka.
The blessing of household and work-related tools, such as books, computers, cooking pans and vehicles in the state of Karnataka.
The preparation of special foods, including luchi (deep fried flat bread) and alur dom (deep fried spiced potato snacks), in Bengal.
Many Hindus also believe that it is lucky to start a new venture, project or journey on Dussehra. They may also exchange gifts of leaves from the Shami tree (Prosopis spicigera) as a symbol of the story of the Pandavas brothers’ exile in the Mahabharata stories.
Government offices, post offices and banks are closed in India on Dussehra. Stores and other businesses and organizations may be closed or have reduced opening hours.
The epic Ramayana tells the story of the Lord Rama who wins the lovely Sita for his wife, only to have her carried off by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. Ravana plays an important role in the Ramayana. Ravana had a sister known as Shoorpanakha. She fell in love with the brothers Rama and Lakshamana and wanted to marry one of them. Lakshamana refused to marry her and Rama could not as he was already married to Sita.
Shoorpanakha threatened to kill Sita, so that she could marry Rama. This angered Lakshamana who cut off Shoorpanakha’s nose and ears. Ravana then kidnapped Sita to avenge his sister’s injuries. Rama and Lakshamana later fought a battle to rescue Sita. The monkey god Hanuman and a huge army of monkeys helped them.
The Mahabharata is another series of Hindu stories that play a role in the Dussehra festival. The Pandavas were five brothers who fought evil forces with a set of distinctive weapons. They abandoned their weapons and went into exile for one year. They hid their weapons in a Shami tree and found them at the same place when they returned from exile. They then worshipped the tree before going to a battle, which they won. This epic is also commemorated during Dussehra.
In India, most of the festivals give you a message of the victory of good over evil in one way or the other, but the most important festival that marks this victory is Dussehra, one of the major Hindu festivals. It is celebrated because Shri Ram killed the demon king Ravana after a 9 day battle with him and freed his wife, Sita, from Ravana’s captivity. On this very day, goddess Durga, killed the demon Mahishasur, and so, this day is also celebrated as Vijaydashami.
People pray and seek blessings from goddess Durga too, on this day. It is believed that Shri Ram prayed to the goddess Durga for strength and before granting him his wish, the goddess wanted to test his reverence, for that she removed one lotus flower out of the 108 lotuses he was praying with. When Shri Ram reached the end of his prayers and realized that one lotus flower was missing, He started to cut off his own eye (since his eyes represent lotus and another name for him is Kamalnayan) to offer to the goddess in order to complete his prayer. The goddess was pleased with his devotion and granted him victory over Ravana.
It is believed that only after this prayer to the goddess Durga, was Shri Ram able to kill the demon king Ravana on the 10th day and so this victory is celebrated all over India in the form of a festival. It symbolizes the triumph of good (Ram and Durga) over evil (Ravana and Mahishasur). Different parts of the country celebrate this festival in different ways. While Dussehra of kullu is very famous, Dussehra of states like West Bengal and Tripura is popular too.