Dussehra is a significant Hindu festival celebrated with pomp and show across India. This vibrant festival is celebrated right after nine day festivities of Navaratri. The day is also known as Vijayadashmi. Like most of the festivals celebrated in the mystical and spiritual land of India, the origins of Dussehra can also be traced back to various mythological tales and legends, which keep changing from one region to another, since India is a multicultural land. In the North, the burning of the effigies of Ravana and 'visarjan' (submersion) of the idols of Goddess Durga in the East mark the culmination of Dussehra celebrations. This difference in celebrations is based on the popular religious belief systems followed by people of these regions, which are deeply rooted in different intriguing mythological legends. Some of the most significant legends related to Dussehra are mentioned herein.
Legend of Goddess Durga
As per the tale in the ancient scriptures, when the world became tortured by a mighty vicious demon known as Mahishasura and even the Gods could not defeat him, they all combined their energies and the mighty warrior, Goddess Durga was born. The Goddess engaged the demon in battle and killed many of his comrades, like Chanda and Muna, who also came to be known as Chamundeshwari. For nine days, the gruesome battle continued between the pious Goddess and the vicious demon; however, on the tenth day, the Goddess subdued the ravaging beast and killed him. This sacred day is celebrated as Vijayadashmi in eastern India and Karnataka. The celebrations in Mysore, Karnataka are most lavish as it is believed that demon King Mahishasura belonged to Mysore and the royal family of the city is an ardent devotee of Goddess Chamundeshwari.
Legend of Lord Rama
Most of the North Indians trace the roots of Dussehra to the great Indian epic Ramayana. This vibrant festival is celebrated to commemorate the vanquishing of the malicious and powerful demon King of Lanka, Ravana at the hands of Lord Rama. As per the epic, Lord Rama was the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu who was born to showcase the virtues of an ideal man. He faced the 14 year long exile to keep his father's word, accompanied by his devout wife Sita and devoted brother Laxman. Lord Rama had to go through various testing times during his exile, especially when his wife was abducted by the demon King Ravana and taken to Lanka as hostage.
According to the epic, Lord Rama along with his brother, trusted aid Hanuman, and an army of monkeys, attacked the demon king and a great battle ensued for ten days. On the tenth day, the Lord killed the ten headed Ravana and rescued his wife. Since then, Dussehra is believed to be celebrated on that day till date. The word Dussehra, in itself, can be construed as Dasa Hara, which means cutting of ten heads of the demon Ravana. Therefore, the day is celebrated to mark the triumph of good over evil.
Legend of Shami Tree
Another interesting legend associated with the origin of Dussehra is related to the grandest Hindu epic of Mahabharata. Legend has it that after the Pandavas were defeated in gambling by the Kauravas, they were served with the punishment of 12 years of banishment and one year of living in disguise by the winners. For 12 years, the Pandavas lived in forests but for the final year, they had to conceal themselves from all their divine and powerful weapons, as they were well-known throughout various lands and were posing a hindrance in their incognito status.
Therefore, the Pandavas hid their weapons under a Shami tree, which was located near their residence. Although Kauravas made great efforts to find Pandavas in the final year of their concealment so that another exile of 12 years could be levied on them, but were unsuccessful in doing so. As soon as the period of disguise was over, the Pandavas went to the Shami tree and retrieved their weapons after worshipping the Shami tree and the sacred weapons. It is believed that this happened on the day of Dashmi. Hence, this day came to be known as Vijayadashmi, since Pandavas were triumphant in completing their exile. Since then, people hug each other under the Shami tree and exchange its leaves on Dussehra.
Legend of Kautsa
According to this legend, the young son of a Brahmin Devdatta, named Kausta, after finishing his education under the guidance of Sage Vararantu, requested his teacher to ask for a gurudakshina (a voluntary fee offered to a teacher by a student in ancient India). After initial hesitation, seeing the adamancy of his student, the sage decided to test his pupil and hence, asked for an incredulous sum of 140 million gold coins. The determined Kausta went to King Raghu of Ayodhya to ask for the sum, since he was known as a great philanthropist. However, the king had just emptied his treasury to give alms to the Brahmins after performing a yagna.
The king took three days' time from Kausta and went to Lord Indra to ask for the gold coins. Lord Indra called the treasurer of the deities, Kuber and asked him to shower gold coins on the “Shanu” and “Aapti” trees located around King Raghu's Kingdom. Kuber followed the order and due to this, Kausta fulfilled his promise to his teacher and distributed rest of the coins to the poor and needy. It is believed this all happened on the day of Dussehra. In Ayodhya, people, even today, observe the ritual of presenting leaves of Aapti trees to each other as a sign of prosperity on Dussehra.
The origins of festival of Dussehra can be traced back to various fascinating Hindu mythological legends.