Hindus across the subcontinent are celebrating Sharad Navratri 2017. Navratri translates to Nine nights of devotion and festivities in honour of Goddes Durga or Shakti. Soon after the culination of Navratri is the holy occasion Vijay Dashmi, which is also celebrated as Dussehra. Dussehra marks the epic defeat of Ravana by Lord Ram according to the Ramayana. In the eastern part of the country, Vijay Dashmi is the celebration of Goddes Durga's triumph over the invincible Buffalo king Mahishasura. Both the legends signify the victory of good over evil.
The festival of Dussehra is celebrated with different traditions and rituals throughout the country. Here's looking at some of them.
Mysore's Dussehra or Dasara as they call it is one of the most spectacular Dussehra celebrations in the country. The royal heritage of Mysore interspersed with the ritualistic celebration is worth witnessing. Celebrated elaborately over a span of 10 days, the city honors Goddess Chamundeswari, who killed the great demon Mahishasura. The biggest highlight of the festival has to be the beautifully illuminated Mysore palace, which is decorated with 100,000 light bulbs from 7 P.M to 10 P.M on each day of the festival. Many cultural and religious programs, song and dance performances are also organized in front of the palace. The festivities culminate with a procession through the streets, carrying an idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari atop an elephant adorned in gold and lavish accessories. The ride is taken through the city of Mysore, from the historical Mysore Palace to the Banni Mantapa. The revelry continues till late in the evening with a torch-light parade that takes place in the outskirts of the city.
2. Dussehra in Bengal, Tripura and Orissa
Come September and the excitement of Durga Puja takes over the state of Bengal, Orissa and Tripura. In these states, Dussehra celebrations are not quite tied to the epic battle of the Ramayana unlike the other parts of the country, rather they celebrate the victory of Goddess Durga over buffalo king Mahishasura. The five day long extravaganza starts from Shashti (6th day of Navratri) and goes on till last day known as Vijaya Dashmi. The preparations begin months in advance - from setting up pandals, organising various cultural activities like poetry recitation, singing, dancing and painting competitions to the simple joy of purchasing new clothes. A lavish bhog is offered, and may traditional delicacies are served in the pandals. On the tenth day, married women bid a tearful goodbye to Goddess Durga. After the ritual of Sindoor daan, they offer sweets, betel leaves and prasad to the idol of Durga , and later distribute sweets amongst themselves. Women also put sindoor on each other's cheeks and foreheads (symbolizing the well-being of their married life). People gather again one last time in the evening, to wish each other 'Shubho Bijoya'and later feast on some good mutton biryani, ghugni or mutton kosha with pooris.
3.Dussehra In Kullu
The Dussehra celebrations in the valley are imbued with rich culture, traditions and a rich legacy of the yesteryears. On Vijay Dashmi, Kullu valley's Dhalpur maidan is beautifully decorated with flowers and lights to celebrate Dussehra. In the 17th century, local King Jagat Singh installed an idol of Raghunath(Lord Ram) on his throne on Dussehra and from thereon God Raghunath was declared as the ruling deity of the Kullu Valley. In Kullu, they don't burn the effigies of Ravana. On the first day of the celebrations, Goddess Hadimba is carried from the temple in Manali down to Kullu, from where she's taken to the palace of the royal family. Later, in a procession she is taken to Dhalpur and is joined by the idol of Lord Raghunath or Lord Rama where they stay until the end of the festival with many more Gods and Goddesses. Cultural performances, fairs and exhibitions are spread across the maidan and they further add to the excitement. On the last day of the festivities, the chariot carrying all the Gods and Goddesses is immersed in the Beas river. There is also a tradition of setting a pile of bushes on fire which is believed to depict the burning of Lanka.
4.Dussehra of Gujarat
Navratri or Navratra is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Gujarat. Devotees fast through the day, and perform pujas. In the evening, men and women gather, clad their vibrant clothes, to play Garba and Dandiya (Gujarat's folk dance). The folk melodies, and a lot of singing and dancing makes for a fascinating sight on the last few days of Navratri. Several devotees also take a tour of iconic pilgrimages like the temples of Goddess Ashapura Mata, Ambaji temple, and Chamunda Mata Temple.
5. North India's Spectacular Ram Lila
Navratri is one of the most significant festivals up north. Celebrated with much grandeur and enthusiasm, Sharad Navratri brings alive the festive spirit in all devotees. Devotees observe ritualistic fasts and do pujas to please their beloved deity. On the eighth or ninth day, there is a ritual of doing Kanya puja. Nine girls(seen as the nine avatars of Goddess Durga) are welcomed into the house by first washing their feet and then tying moli (red thread) around their wrists. These girls are seated in a line and given halwa, poori and chole . There is also a practice of organizing grand bhandaras, in honour of the Goddess, where Prasad is distributed to the neighbours and the needy in the locality. The Ram Lila depicting the historic tale of Rama defeating Ravana and winning back his wife Sita is also a common part of the festivities On the last day, the celebrations culminate with the splendid Dussehra festivities, wherein Ravana's effigies are burnt, symbolizing his epic defeat at the hands of Lord Ram and the ultimate victory of good over evil.
6.Telengana's Floral Bathukamma
The newest state in the country, Telangana is a melting pot people and cultures. Apart from visiting temples and conducting the ritualistic pujas, Telangana also celebrates the Bathukamma Panduga or the Bathukamma festival during Navratri. This is a flower festival where the women of the house create beautiful flower arrangements and decorations in seven concentric layers in the shape of the Temple of Gopuram. 'Bathukamma' literally translates into 'Mother Goddess come Alive'. The flower arrangements are an attempt to invoke the Goddess and seek her blessings. Each year, this festival is celebrated as per the Shalivahana calendar for nine days starting Bhadrapada Amavasya (also known as Mahalaya Amavasya ) till Durgashtami,
While the sentiments and the enthusiasm remains the same, the different ways in which Dussehra is celebrated in India is a stellar example of unity in diversity.
Happy Sharad Navratri and Dussehra everybody!