The festival of Dussehra brings with it joy and vivacity that begins nine days ahead of the actual festival in the form of Navratri festivities, which are dedicated to the worshipping of Goddess Durga. Though the pulsating festival of Dussehra seems like the culmination of Navratri or Durga Puja, yet this festival has its own significance and unique features that set it apart from the rest of the festivals celebrated across the diverse nation of India. The exuberating festival of Dussehra has various interesting and intriguing customs as well as traditions associated with it, which make it truly charming. Skim through this article to discover more fascinating rituals related to the extraordinary festival of Dussehra.
Visarjan of Idol
In the eastern parts of India, especially in West Bengal, Dussehra or Vijayadashmi marks the day when the ten day festivities of Durga Puja come to an end with the submergence of the grand tableaus of Goddess Durga and her children, Ganesha and Kartik in the Ganges or nearby river or pond. These statues are placed in the impressive pandals (makeshift tents) from the sixth day of the ten-day celebrations. On Dussehra, these magnificent tableaus, accompanied by grand processions that include various drum percussionists and singers along with thousands of devotees, are taken for submersion. This ritual symbolizes the return of the Goddess along with her kids to her husband Lord Shiva's home on Mount Kailash.
Although Durga Puja and visarjan is performed in many parts of the country, but the ritual known as Sindur Khela, in which married women color each other with vermilion on the day of visarjan, is a typical West Bengal custom observed in the state on the day of Dussehra. It is considered highly auspicious by Bengali women to play with vermilion on this day as it is believed this bestows marital bliss in their lives. Besides, on this occasion, friends and relatives get together, visit each other's homes, and exchange gifts.
Search of “khaujan” or wagtail
In some parts of the country, the ritual of searching for a wagtail (Motacella alba) is carried out on the day of Dussehra. The location where the bird is found at is believed to divulge the fortune forecast of the household. For example, if the wagtail is sighted near lotus flowers or among elephants, cows, horses or snakes, it is believed that it means conquest and good luck. However, if it is found near ashes, bones or refuse, it is considered a bad omen and to ward off the evil, people organize feasts for Brahmins and take medicinal baths.
In the southern states of India, namely, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, the day of Vijayadashmi is also celebrated as the day of Vidyarambam (beginning of education). On this day, Goddess Saraswati, believed to be the Goddess of Learning as per the Hindu religion, is worshipped with great devotion. The worship of the books and other tools of education, such as, pen, musical instruments etc. are also performed on this day. This day is considered very auspicious for young children to begin learning various traditional art forms, including music and dance.
In some parts of the North Indian belt, the day of Dussehra is marked by a grand feast organized for son-in-laws and daughters of the family. On this day, the daughter performs the ritual of 'teeka', which follows the same line as Raksha Bandhan or Bhai Dooj, the only difference being that on Dussehra, brothers do not present their sisters with any money. Unlike Diwali, when one has to make completely 'satwik' vegetarian food (without onion and garlic), there are no such restrictions in Dussehra feast and serving meat as well as hard liquor is quite common.
In Northern India, Dussehra is celebrated to commemorate the victory of Lord Rama over the demon King Ravana. Hence, plays depicting some of the key episodes from the life of Lord Rama, as per the epic Ramayana, are performed across the region, known as Ram Leela. These entertaining and inspiring plays precede the Dussehra festival by nine days and reach their climax on the day of Dussehra when the colossal effigies of Ravana, his son Meghnad and his brother Kumbhakarna, are burnt as a mark of vanquishment of evil. The occasion is hugely enjoyed by the crowd and the entire atmosphere seems like a magnificent carnival.
Gifting of Banni Leaves
In parts of Uttar Pradesh, the celebrations of Dussehra festival are associated with the legend of a young Brahmin boy, Kautsa. It is believed that he distributed gold coins among the poor on the day of Dussehra. Even today as per a Dussehra tradition, the people of the region collect leaves of the aapti trees (Banni leaves), metaphorically calling them “sone” (gold), and gift them to their near and dear ones as a ceremonial gift that symbolizes the actual gold distributed by Kautsa.
A plethora of mesmerizing rituals and customs related to Dussehra makes this spectacular festival even more enchanting.