India is a pluralistic, multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual population. Any brief essay runs the risk of inaccuracy and incompletion about the cultural fresco of this country.
The word Dussehra can be bifurcated into two halves: `Dus` meaning `Ten` and `Hara`, meaning `annihilated`. Dussehra marks the day when the ten facets of evil were destroyed. It is celebrated on the tenth day, after the new moon in the month of Ashwina and this festival is also called the Vijayadashmi. There is also a legend behind the celebration of Dussehra. Celebration of the victory of Lord Rama of his rescuing his wife, Sita
, in a fierce battle serves to be the back story behind Dussehra. It is believed that Ravana had ten faces. The ten faces likely represent the ten evil facets of his character. One myth speaks of Ravana being the cursed Kinnar, and was invariably fated to be killed by Rama (the messiah) and later retreating to heaven. On this day, massive effigies of Ravana, his younger brother Kumbhakarna
and son Meghanatha are built and packed with crackers set on fire in the evening.
In West Bengal
, this day is the one when Goddess Durga
is believed to retreat to kailash, and celebrated despondently amidst Bengal with sidurkhela (smearing forehead with vermillion) and spreading mouthful of sweets ultimately ending with the immersion. In Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
Dussehra awaits celebration three days later. The reason for this dates back to the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab. The hill states of Punjab, now in Himachal Pradesh, were under the court at Lahore. The Maharaja expected the less powerful kings to be present at his court during the Dussehra celebrations. After the celebrations at Lahore, the rulers would speed back to their hill kingdoms to celebrate Dussehra there. It took them three days to reach their states. Since then, the custom has continued.
The fundamental nature of the festival is the same and is celebrated all over India as a symbol of victory over the evil. Thus, at some places, instead of the three effigies, five animals - a cock, a fish, a lamb, a crab and a buffalo - are sacrificed and pile of wood is burnt seven days later to symbolize the victory of good over evil. In Karnataka
, they place lemons on the road in front of the wheels of cars, buses, scooters, and drive their vehicles over them, since it symbolizes sacrifice. Scarified rites have long lasting tradition amidst India where it depicts the purification of the soul, the cathartic purgation.
On this day, weapons are also put to the pedestal and worshipped. Mother Goddess is being worshipped during the Navratras (nine day celebrations coming before Dussehra) she being the epitome of `Fight against Evil`. It is believed, that one worships weapons, to remember to use them in a wise manner. Here, the people also exchange leaves of Apta tree. There is also a legend associated to this tradition. King Raghu, one of Sri Rama`s ancestor, was very generous. A great `Yagna` (sacrificial fire) ascended the king distributed all his wealth among the poor. A poor boy came to him asking for alms. Raghu had nothing left to give the poor boy; hence he attacked Kuber, the God of Wealth. When he did that, then gold rained on earth and some of it fell on the Apta tree. Since then, exchanging leaves of the Apta tree on Dussehra day is believed to be auspicious and practiced as a custom.
Thomas Friedman, the notable author, observes in the dynamic of globalization we are witnessing the complex interaction between a new system and our old passions plus aspirations. Dusshera thus not only brings to the fore the traditional centralism but the spirit of festival where whole of India surpassing the little traumas and trifles of life transcends to the charm of the same.