As a Sikh, I don’t celebrate certain Indian festivals like Navratri or Durga Puja, but I do participate, as an Indian. Dussehra is a cultural festival more than a religious one. I extensively covered Diwali on my blog last year, which you can read about here, here, here and here.
THE STORY BEHIND DUSSEHRA:
In Northern parts of India, the legend of Dussehra stems from the mythological epic of Ramayana. It marks the victory of god Rama over the evil demon Ravana, after an epic battle. It’s celebrated on the tenth day after the Navratri (nine nights) festival. Most pious Hindu families fast during these nine days, and perform various puja’s (prayer ceremonies). On the tenth day, a huge statue of Ravana and his two demon brothers, Kumbhkaran and Meghnad, are erected in large public spaces, to be burnt.
The festival is celebrated differently in the Eastern and Southern parts of the country. Dashami (another name for Dussehra) marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the unassailable demon Mahishasura. The Pujo’s, as they are called, happen with much fanfare. Believers dress up morning and evening for nine days and make merry together with food, prayer, music and dance in pandal’s (community tents in large public spaces). On the tenth day, a statue of Goddess Durga is immersed in a water body.
Children playing with traditional wooden toys at our neighborhood Dussehra celebration
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF DUSSEHRA:
In the modern-day, rapidly globalizing world, this pan-Indian festival ties its citizens together like few other cultural activities. The message of “good over evil” has universal and timely appeal. For young ones, the burning of Ravana is highly entertaining. Moreover, worshipping a powerful female god gives the strongest message of female empowerment in times of rampant gender inequality.
More than anything, the Durga Puja pandal’s, Ramlila’s (theatrical enactments of the Ramayana), and Ravana burning grounds act as a medium for people across castes, classes and genders to interact and celebrate together.
Buying effigies of Ravana at the Blind School in Lodhi Road
HOW I CELEBRATE DUSSEHRA:
I remember attending Ravana burnings at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium grounds in Delhi, as a young child. After a long gap, I re-visited the tradition when my son was born. A friendly neighbor has organized a Ravana burning in our neighborhood park for the last couple of years. This community celebration is well-attended and very popular with little children. There are many wooden and paper toys like “teer-kaman” (bow and arrows) and Hanuman’s “gada” (mace- the weapon carried by the elephant god), for the children to play with before the Ravana and demon effigies are put on fire. It’s a wonderful tradition that brings everyone together.
This year, my son’s playschool ingeniously destroyed their Ravana effigy by beating it down instead of burning it. This was great for the environment and also amusing for the children! Inspired by this, we decided to bring our own Ravana effigy home. I picked up a medium sized model from the Blind School at Lodhi Road (read about the iconic Diwali Mela that happens here). It was very expensive as I bought it a day before the festival, so buy it well in advance if you’re keen to have your own Ravana!
I hope you enjoyed my post on Dussehra. Follow my blog for regular updates on all the festivals of India!
You can read about other Indian festivals here: