- Dussehra is on October 19 this year
- Burning of effigies during Dussehra can contribute to air pollution
- Burning of fire crackers can further worsen air quality
Dussehra, also known as Vijayadashmi will be celebrated on the 19th of October this year. 'Vijay' refers to victory and 'Dashami' refers to tenth. This popular Hindu festival, celebrated at the end of Navratri each year, signifies the victory of good over evil. The word Dussehra is derived from the Sanskrit words "dasha" and "hara" which mean "ten" and "defeat" respectively. Dussehra is celebrated on the 10th day of the month of Ashvin, which falls in the Gregorian months of September or October.
Dussehra is celebrated in different ways in different parts of India. In West Bengal, Durga Puja celebrations begin on Sashti or the sixth day of Navratri and continue till Vijayadashmi - when idols of Goddess Durga are immersed in water bodies. It is believed that Durga led a nine day long battle against the demon Mahishasur and killed him on the tenth day. This is why the different manifestations of goddess Durga are worshiped during the Navratri festival each year and the tenth day is dedicated to Durga as Vijayadashmi.
In Mysore, Dussehra is celebrated as Mysuru Dasara wherein the people celebrate Goddess Chamundeswari (an avatar of Goddess Durga) as the vanquisher of Mahishasura. On this day, the Mysore palace is beautifully illuminated and processions are held through the city, with the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari perched atop an elephant.
In north India, Dussehra celebrations include burning huge effigies of Ravana, his brother Kumbhakaran and his son Meghnad. This is done in order to signify Lord Rama's victory and also the victory of good over evil. Another significant part of Dussehra celebrations is Ram Lilas. Ram Lilas begin some days before Dussehra. People gather in huge numbers to witness plays, musicals and skits revolving around some of the most memorable episodes from Hindu epic Ramayana.
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Amidst celebrations, it is also important to keep in my mind our environment and air pollution in particular. With the rising levels of air pollution in Delhi, it is important to realize that burning effigies can contribute to the worsening of air quality. It is also important to avoid using firecrackers as they are one of the major contributors to air pollution. Increasing levels of air pollution can make people more prone to diseases like asthma, cardiovascular diseases and other respiratory problems. Since the past few years, the levels of air pollution tend to rise tremendously in Delhi during this time of the year. It becomes so hazardous that health experts advise to refrain from all outdoor activities. So, it is important that activities which further contribute to air pollution are avoided. Celebrations of Dussehra can be kept simple and environment-friendly by focusing on its significance.
According to Dr Geeta Prakash, a Delhi-based family physician, "burning effigies and fire crackers contribute tremendously to air pollution. Traditionally, Dussehra celebrations have been synonymous with effigy burning but toning that down to some extent is the need of the hour as it can help meet concerns of rising levels of air pollution in the city."
"Burning crackers emit a lot of smoke and this smoke aggravates pollution levels which are already on the rise. People with asthma, chronic lung disease and allergies tend to feel worse during this time of the year," says Dr Geeta.
She also points out how animals get scared with the noise of the burning crackers. "The only problem is that Dussehra celebrations have always been celebrated by burning effigies and crackers. And since we don't get any smokeless crackers here, it would be nicer if crackers were completely avoided."
Speaking on alternatives to burning effigies to cut down the smoke, she says that it can be avoided by lighting a diya under the effigy as part of symbolizing that the effigies are burnt. "However, fighting against tradition is going to be very difficult. We are used to watching the Ravana effigy burn. It is one way in which we have always taught our children about victory of good over evil but efforts have to be made. Another way of controlling burning of effigies can be by limiting the number of effigies burnt in an area. Instances of 6 effigies being burnt in one single locality must be avoided."
"Since the areas where these effigies are burnt gets very dusty, it is difficult for kids to be in such crowded places especially since viral infections, dengue and malaria are spreading," she says. The idea is to maintain a balance by burning fewer effigies and lighting lamps and diyas instead of fire crackers to tone down the celebration and make it environment-friendly.
(Dr. Gita Prakash is a Family Physician at Max Multi Speciality Hospital, Panchsheel Park.)
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