Dussehra — All You Need to Know

Dussehra is a major Hindu festival that is celebrated annually at the end of Navaratri, a nine-day festival that celebrates the honor of the divine feminine by worshipping the Goddess Durga.

Dussehra primarily honors the victory of Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura in most regions, while in others it honors the victory of Lord Rama over the demon Ravana.

Different regions of the country also celebrate this festival with different practices and rituals. In North Indian cities like Delhi, Lucknow, and Agra, the holiday involves many performances of the Ramlila story and the burning of large statues of Ravana.

In Kolkata, thousands of pandals, or temporary structures, are set up and decorated to worship Durga.

Why You Should Experience Dussehra in India

  • Watch a performance of the famous story of the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana in Delhi.
  • Go pandal hopping in Kolkata where you can see thousands of statues of Durga that have been set up to worship the goddess each with a unique theme or decorative style.
  • Watch towering effigies of Ravana being burned to commemorate the defeat of evil.
  • See the Mysore Palace when it is illuminated with almost 100,000 lights during the festivities.
  • Watch the torchlight parade at the Bannimantap grounds in Mysore where there are fireworks, a daredevil show with motorcycles, and a laser show.

Dussehra

Dussehra, also known as Vijaya Dashami or Dashain, is a major Hindu festival celebrated at the end of Navaratri, a nine-day holiday that honors the nine avatars of Goddess Durga. The festival falls on the 10th day of the month of Ashvin in the Hindu lunar calendar which means the holiday typically falls in September or October.

The name of this festival is derived from the Sanskrit words Dasha ("ten") and hara ("defeat"). This festival’s mythology commemorates the fact that a person’s wrongdoings will someday be known by everyone and that truth and righteousness will always win.

For some states like West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura, Dussehra marks the end of Durga Puja, a celebration of the Goddess Durga's victory over the buffalo demon Mahishasura. For other states like Kerala, Goa, and Maharashtra, this holiday is the end of Ramlila and a time to remember Rama's victory over the Ravana.

durga For some states, Dussehra marks the end of Durga Puja, a celebration of the Goddess Durga's victory

The celebrations of this festival include processions carrying large clay statues of Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, and Kartikeya to waterways where they are submerged accompanied by music and chants. In other places, towering effigies of the demon Ravana are burnt to mark the destruction of evil.

Dussehra kicks off the preparations for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights and the biggest celebration of the year. Diwali occurs just twenty days after Dussehra.

When is Dussehra

Dussehra falls on the 10th day of Navatri in the month of Ashwin in the Hindu lunar calendar. The date of the holiday changes every year but it typically falls in late September or early October according to the Gregorian Calendar.

Upcoming Festival Dates:

  • 2020: October 25th
  • 2021: October 15th
  • 2022: October 5th

Dussehra Legends and History

Like most of the festivals celebrated in India, the origins of Dussehra can also be traced back to various mythological tales. The most famous legends come from the Ramayana epic and include Lord Rama, Ravana, and Mahabharata.

Goddess Durga

According to Hindu mythology, at one time the world was tortured by the buffalo demon Mahishasura who even the gods could not defeat. To fight him all the gods combined their energies and created the Goddess Durga.

For nine days, the gruesome battle continued between the pious goddess and the vicious demon. However, on the tenth day, the goddess restrained the beast and finally killed him. This sacred day when Mahishasura was defeated is celebrated as Dussehra.

Lord Rama

Most North Indian states trace the roots of Dussehra to the great Indian epic, the Ramayana. According to the story, Lord Rama was the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu who was born to showcase the virtues of an ideal man.

He faced a 14-year long exile to keep his father's word, accompanied by his devout wife Sita and devoted brother Lakshmana. Lord Rama had to go through various tests during his exile, including when his wife was abducted by the demon King Ravana and taken as a hostage.

With the help of Lakshmana and Lord Hanuman, Lord Rama attacked the demon king and a great battle ensued for ten days. On the tenth day, Rama killed the ten-headed demon Ravana and rescued his wife.

Lord Arjuna

According to the Mahabharata, in the thirteenth year of their exile, the Pandavas, the five sons of King Pandu, had to live in complete concealment in Matsya. Before going to Matsya, they hung their celestial weapons in a Shami tree for safekeeping.

Then, Bhima, the second oldest of the Pandavas, killed the leader of Matsya. Hearing about the death of the commander a prince from a neighboring city wanted to wage a war against the Pandavas and the city of Matsya.

When the period of concealment was over, Lord Arjuna and the other Pandavas returned to the Shami tree to retrieve their weapons. Arjuna first prayed to the tree to thank it for guarding their weapons and then retrieved his bow.

Eager to defend the land that had given him refuge, Arjuna engaged a legion of warriors. During the war, Arjuna proved that he was the best archer in the world.

This incident took place on the same day in which Lord Rama killed Ravana. This is why Dussehra is sometimes called Arjuna’s day but is also popularly known as Vijaya Dashami or “Victory after 10 days of fighting”.

Learn more about The Great Hindu Epic, The Mahabharata.

How Dussehra is Celebrated

Many Hindus observe Dussehra through special prayer gatherings and offerings of food to the gods at home or in temples throughout India. The celebrations of this holiday will slightly differ from region to region.

Check out the way each region celebrates Dussehra below to see where you want to go to experience this festival the most.

North India

In northern India, Dasha-Hara, meaning ten days, is celebrated in honor of Dussehra. Thousands of shows and plays based on the Ramlila are performed at outdoor fairs across the region.

In many towns and cities in North India, the Ramlila is enacted over the 9 days before Dussehra. In Varanasi, the entire story is freely acted out by performance artists before the public every evening for a month.

The festivities during the holiday include songs, narrations, and recitals based on the Hindu text Ramacharitmanas. The festival and performances are organized by communities in hundreds of small villages and towns attracting a mix of audiences from different social classes, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds.

South India

In Andhra Pradesh, people celebrate Dussehra by setting up Bommala Koluvu, or an arrangement of small statues of characters from mythological stories. On the 10th day of the festival, the celebrations are concluded by immersing the idols of Goddess Durga in nearby rivers or oceans.

Dussehra is known as Dasara, in the city of Mysore which takes this time to honor the Goddess Chamundeswari of Chamundi Hill (another name for the Goddess Durga).

During the celebrations, Mysore Palace is illuminated with almost 100,000 lights in a dazzling show that takes place from 7 pm until 10 pm nightly. The palace's magnificent Golden Throne is also taken out of storage and assembled in the Durbar Hall for public viewing. This is the only time it can be seen throughout the year.

The main event takes place on the last day, where a traditional procession carrying the statue of the goddess is held. The parade’s main star is an idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari, which is worshiped privately by the royal family and then carried atop a lavishly decorated elephant through the streets of Mysore.

In the evening, there is a torch-light parade at the Bannimantap grounds on the outskirts of the city. Here there are plenty of activities including fireworks, motorcycle stunts, and a laser show.

West India

In Gujarat, both the Goddess Durga and Lord Rama are revered for their victory over evil. Fasting and prayers at temples are common practices. On the night of the festival, a regional dance called Dandiya Raas which is performed with colorfully decorated sticks and traditional clothing is performed.

In Maharashtra, the idols of Goddess Durga are installed on the first day of Navaratri and are immersed in nearby rivers or oceans during Dussehra. People will also visit their friends and relatives and exchange sweets during the holiday.

In Goa, this festival is locally known as Dasro in Konkani and is also a celebration of Durga. At many temples, a Tarangas dance using sacred umbrellas that symbolize the village deities is performed.

East India

Dussehra is known as Bijoya Dashami or Durga Puja in East India. The festival’s main event is the parades and processions where the clay statues of Durga are carried to rivers or oceans to be returned back to the Earth during a solemn goodbye.

It is an emotional day for some devotees as the congregation sings goodbye songs. Goddess Durga is then immersed and she is believed to return to Mount Kailasha to be with Lord Shiva. People will also give sweets to each other and visit their friends and family during the festival.

Where Should you Celebrate Dussehra in India

Although Dussehra falls on a single day each year, celebrations for the holiday take place on various days and differ from region to region. Here are some of the cities that celebrate the day with the utmost enthusiasm

Kolkata

Kolkata is the Dussehra capital of India. During this festival, the city hosts more than 3000 pandals or temporary stages set up to usually worship large and elaborate statues of Durga. Here, travelers can go pandal hopping and see the most famous Durga statues in the city.

Besides treating yourself to unique cultural experiences through visiting pandals, you can also treat your taste-buds to many different Bengali snacks. Bengali sweets such as kheer and langcha are our favorites.

Delhi

Kota

In Kota, Rajasthan, the highlight of the Dussehra celebrations is a huge fair that includes cultural performances and draws artisans from far and wide to sell their artwork.

Villagers gather in traditional dress to offer prayers to Lord Rama and to celebrate his victory over Ravana. The celebrations also include a procession from the Royal Palace to the fairground featuring decorated elephants, camels, horses, and folk dancers.

East India

Dussehra is known as Bijoya Dashami or Durga Puja in East India. The festival’s main event is the parades and processions where the clay statues of Durga are carried to rivers or oceans fto be returned back to the Earth during a solemn goodbye.

It is an emotional day for some devotees as the congregation sings goodbye songs. Goddess Durga is then immersed and she is believed to return to Mount Kailasha to be with Lord Shiva. People will also give sweets to each other and visit their friends and family during the festival.

How Should you Celebrate Dussehra as a Traveler

The best thing to do during Dussehra is to go pandal hopping in Kolkata. There are thousands of pandals in Kolkata, each with a unique theme or decorative style. The most popular time for pandal hopping is at night when they are lit up. If you go during the day, you can avoid much the crowds.

Durga puja idol The displays of the goddess Durga have always been the center attraction

The next best thing to do on Dussehra for travelers is to attend a Ramlila performance. Watching it will allow you to better understand the origins of the festival and meaning behind it.

Tips for Experiencing Dussehra

  • Book your tickets months in advance because India gets very crowded very quickly during Dussehra.
  • When visiting temples, it is important for you to be polite and dress appropriately.
  • Ramlila events are usually be performed in Hindi so it is best to understand a bit of the story before you attend to get the most out of the experience.
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Experience Dussehra with Asia Highlights

Dussehra is one of the major Hindu festivals in India and is a great celebration to attend for those who are interested in the religious side of the country and its mythology. If you are thinking of planning a trip to India during Dussehra or any Indian festival, then we can help.

At Asia Highlights, we specialize in well-planned trips that are personalized to suit your interests and provide beautiful experiences along the way.

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