Elephant processions, burning effigies, hundreds of people dancing together through the night, and idol displays!! This is Dusshera, one of the major Hindu festivals, which is celebrated with great splendour and gaiety all over India. ‘Dusshera’ also know as ‘Vijayadashmi’ is the celebration of victory of good over evil. It falls in the month of September or October (depending on the Hindu calendar) and the festivities are held over nine days culminating in the finale on the 10th day.
In the Northern parts of India such as Delhi and Varanasi, it is celebrated as the victory of Lord Rama (whose life story is the famous mythological epic, Ramayana) over the demon King Ravana. Performances of the Ramayana (Ram Lila) are staged over nine days, symbolising the nine days of war between Rama and Ravana. On the 10th day, to commemorate Rama’s victory, effigies of Ravana and his siblings are burnt.
In the East, the festival takes form as Durga Puja. Here again, it is the triumph of the powerful warrior Goddess, Durga over the mighty demon, Mahisasur, that is celebrated. The Goddess is depicted as having innumerable hands (usually eighteen) with a different weapon in each and riding a tiger (or a lion). Temporary structures called pandals are erected where brightly painted idols of the Goddess are installed. People come in hordes to worship their favourite Goddess for nine days and on the 10th day, the idol is immersed in the sea or river, to symbolise her home-going.
Navrathri’, meaning nine nights, is a tradition of the Western State of Gujarat, and is now popularly followed in other parts of the country .Men and women dress up in traditional attire and dance in a circle around a lamp or a statue of Goddess Durga .This high energy dance, ‘Garba’ or ‘Dandiya’ has a specific routine and goes on through the night.
In the South, the celebrations take various forms- worshipping the Goddess, known here as ‘Devi’ or ‘Chamundeshwari’ or reciting the Ramayana at home over the nine days. The city of Mysore in the Southern state of Karnataka is famous for the Dusshera procession on the 10th day, wherein bedecked elephants are paraded through the streets of the city, with the head elephant carrying the idol of the Goddess.
There is also a tradition of displaying colourful idols called ‘Golu’ or ‘Kolu’ in homes over the ten days.The idols are made of clay and painted and have to handled carefully as they are unbreakable. A display of ‘Golu’ (collected over many years!)in my sister’s house..
I started this practise in my home a few years back and am slowly gathering my own humble collection..