Celebrated in the Hindu month of Ashwin – which falls in September /October, Dassera is also known “Vijayadashmi”. Dassera marks the end of Navratri, the festival of nine nights. Dassera day is considered very auspicious.
Navratri : “Nav” means nine and “ratri” means nights, therefore the word “Navratri”. Dassera : means the Tenth Day, being the 10th day of the bright half of Ashwin. This day is also known as Vijayadashmi, or Victory Tenth.
There are two stories linked with this festival.
As per the Ramayana, Ram did “chandi-puja” to invoke the blessings of Durga to kill Ravana. Ravana the 10 headed demon had abducted Lord Rama’s wife to his capital city of Lanka. Lord Ram with the help of his brother Laxman and Hanuman, rescued Sita from Lanka. Dassera marks the triumph of Lord Ram’s victory. After vanquishing him, Ram with Seeta and Laxman returned victorious to his kingdom of Ayodhya on Dassera day.
The Burning of the effigy of Ravana
On Dassera, the tenth day the celebration of good over evil is marked by burning the effigy of Ravana. The statue of the 10 headed demon Ravana is made of wood, hay etc with fireworks inside. The celebrations begin around sunset, families and friends gather in the evening and then the statue is set on fire. People shoot arrows on the effigy. The effigy burns up with a huge display of fireworks, which is an exciting event for kids and adults alike.
In all parts of India “Ram Leela” is performed which are the stories from the Ramayana. These stories are about Hanuman and his burning tail, Ravana’s abduction of Sita, Ram’s victory over Ravana and the rescue of Sita by Hanuman and the monkeys.
Goddess Durga is also commonly known as Kali, Bhavani, Amba and Chandika. Goddess Durga represents two forms of female energy – one mild and protective and the other fierce and destructive. She stands independent, and is worshipped in her own right.
This reinforces the interpretation of rites performed during Navaratri as those originating in a festival eulogizing fertility in women.
Another story tells this day as a celebration of the victory of Durga over the demon Mahishasura. This is how she came about. The gods in heaven decided to create an all-powerful being to kill the demon king Mahishasur who was ready to attack them. With a stream of lightning from the mouths of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh a beautiful, magnificent woman with ten hands was created. Then all the gods furnished her with their special weapons. She then destroyed King Mahishasur. The image of Durga, the Eternal Mother destroying the demon, Mahishasur on Chamundi Hills near Mysore is symbolic of the final confrontation of the spiritual urge of man with his baser passions.
How it is celebrated ?
Dassera is a time of holiday feasting and family visits.
Starting New Ventures : It is a time-honored belief that a new venture started on this day, is bound to be successful. Also on this day tools, writing instruments, machines, household articles, children’s school books are placed before the idol of Durga and worshipped.
Traditional Exchange of “Aptya Chi Pane” : Families have a ritual of exchanging “Shami leaves” or “aptya chi pane”. These are heart shaped leaves and are bought in a dried form from the local floral markets. The leaves are exchanged among relatives & friends as gold by saying “Sone Gya Sonyasarakhe Raha” which means take gold and be like gold.
Puja: A puja thaali containing rice, mithai, a coconut and fruits is decorated and placed before the idol. The prasad is then distributed to family members.
Puja of married women: Traditionally during Navratri in many households married (fertile) women are invited for puja. They are doted upon and are given fruits and small gifts followed by a delicious meal. Its a way to celebrate fertility in women.
This festival is celebrated in different ways in different parts of India.
The farming communities also worship Durga who invoke her blessings because this festival coincides with the period of rest and leisure after their strenuous work in the fields. The farmers with her blessings wait with tremendous hopes for a bountiful harvest.
In eastern India the Durga Pooja festival which is part of Navaratri, is the principal festival and is celebrated with gaiety and devotion through public ceremonies (Sarvajanik of Sarbojanin Durga Puja). For these ceremonies Pundals (temporary public booths) are erected. The ceremonies are conducted amidst grand prayers and mass feeding.,
In southern India celebrations constitute a display of images of various gods and toys at home for nine days. In northern India, on the tenth day (Dassera) giant effigies of Ravana. Kumbhakarna and Meghnad (Lord Rama’s enemies), are publicly burnt.
The Garba Dance dance in western India is performed around a pot containing a lamp. The word “Garba” by which the pot as well as the dance is known is etymologically close to the word Garba meaning womb. In this context the lamp in the pot, symbolically represent life within a womb. Another prevalent practice is of sowing pulses, cereals and other seeds on the first day of this festival in a pot, which is watered for nine days at the end of which the seeds sprout. This pot is worshipped throughout the nine days. This custom is also indicative of fertility worship. The dances start after 10 p.m. and many a times they continue up to the small hours of the morning.
Dandia Raas parties are organized in great gala in many of the clubs, homes, hotels and organizations. It is more a social event and meant purely for celebrating the fun part of the festival of Navratri. Many organizations invite famous “Bollywood” stars and make the vent …eventful. There are special bands that play music especially for this event.
Organizing “garba” or “dandia” dances here in the US hindu temples and/or homes is becoming very popular by the many Indo-American Cultural Societies. It is a great way to bring culture and parties together.
Like in India, it’s the most looked forward to event for the young as they can dance all night long and show off their Indian outfits and accessories. Dressed in exquisitely embroidered, set in mirrors ‘Choli’, ‘Ghagra’ and ‘Bandhani’ dupattas the women adorn themselves with beautiful jewelry including anklets. Men dress in formal as well as informal Chudidar Kurta. Garba is a dance danced in a circle, by clapping your hands on a very catchy rhythmic tune.
“Dandias” is the same dance with 2 sticks held in the hand.