Dussehra: In India, Hindus permitted to gather in larger groups for joyous festival

Dussehra effigies street

Celebrating Dussehra in the streets of India. Photo by Tanuj_handa, courtesy of Needpix.com

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 25: The festival of Navaratri—which began in India and in Hindu communities worldwide nine days ago, on October 17, this year—culminates in the most celebrated holiday of all nine nights: Dussehra, or Dasara (spellings vary).

News 2020: Just days before Navaratri began—on October 15—India underwent its fifth “unlock,” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. For Navaratri and Dussehra, worshippers will be permitted to gather in temples—some of which have been closed since the lockdowns began. Religious functions may be held, with a limit of 100 people (outside of containment zones). The wearing of masks, social distancing, sanitizing and other health precautions will remain mandatory.

From the Sanskrit words for “remover of bad fate,” today’s Dussehra brings towering effigies to the streets of India, along with a host of ancient rituals and marked traditions. Many Hindus recognize the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana, a demon, during an epic battle over Rama’s wife, Sita. It’s believed that Ravana had 10 heads, and thus, 10 unfavorable qualities are rid from households with elaborate Yanga performances today; the unfavorable qualities include lust, anger, delusion, greed and jealousy.

In many parts of India, massive effigies of Ravana and his brothers are traditionally filled with firecrackers and exploded. The burning effigies are also seen as a cleansing ritual, as they encourage Hindus to burn inner evil and follow the path of righteousness. In northern India, it is custom that a chariot holding devotees costumed as Lord Rama and Sita rolls down the streets; in southern India, homes are decorated with lamps and flowers.

Did you know? Feminism shines in the victory of Goddess Durga over demons, thereby continuing the female-centered rituals of Navaratri. In rural areas of India and Nepal, it’s recognized that harvest season begins today.

Given the day’s auspiciousness, many Hindu (and non-Hindu) children begin their formal education today. (Note: Under to Unlock 5.0, India is now permitted to reopen schools. However, virtual learning is still emphasized as the preference, and not all states are opening schools yet.) Some devotees purchase new work tools—whether books, computers or farming equipment—and still others pay respect to elders and request their blessings. Families and friends often gather for a feast.

Dussehra: Hindus end Navaratri, celebrate the victory of righteousness

Lit up palace

The Palace of Mysore, in southern India, lit up for Dussehra and Navaratri. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30: The nine-day Navaratri festival ends and celebrations commence today for Dussehra, also known as Vijayadashami. Legend has it that a war raged between Lord Rama and demon king Ravana for 10 days, and that on the 10th day, Lord Rama killed Ravana. It’s believed that Lord Rama killed Ravana and also reclaimed his wife, Sita, from the clutches of the demon. Today, the victory of goodness over evil—of virtue over wickedness—is commemorated.

Did you know? Dussehra is also known as Vijayadashami, the celebration of yet another victory involving goodness over evil: Goddess Durga’s defeat of the demon Mahisasura. According to this legend, Mother Goddess Shakti incarnated in the form of Goddess Durga. As the festival of Navaratri—which honors Goddess Durga—comes to a close, devotees venerate her victory over Mahisasura.

In many parts of India, towering effigies of Ravana and his brothers are filled with firecrackers and exploded. Citizens cheer at the blast and dance, sing and feast. The burning effigies are also seen as a cleansing ritual, as they encourage onlookers to burn inner evil and follow the path of righteousness. In India, gratitude is expressed for the end of a scorching summer season and the approach of cooler days.

As part of the autumn harvest season, Dussehra is a time when many Hindus ask the Mother Goddess to renew the soil. Some devotees submerge statues of Goddess Durga into the water for further symbolic cleansing of water for the soil.

DUSSEHRA: ACROSS INDIA TODAY

Vijayadashami has become known as a type of Labor Day in India, and for the occasion, buses and factories are gaily decorated. In northern India, effigies are burned and a chariot holding devotees costumed as Lord Rama and Sita rolls down the streets. In southern India, homes are decorated with lamps and flowers.

EXTRAS

Which Dussehra festivals are the most noteworthy? NDTV reports on six exceptional Dussehra celebrations across India.

Interested in explaining Dussehra to children? Get the scoop on how to explain the significance of this holiday at IndiaParenting.com.