Dussehra is a popular festival celebrated by Hindus all over India, albeit with different names. It is also known as Vijayadashmi (‘Vijay’ meaning ‘victory’ and ‘Dashmi meaning ‘tenth day), as it is believed that it was on this day that Lord Rama killed the demon-king, Ravana and rescued his abducted wife – Sita. In other words, it signifies the triumph of good over evil. The legendary triumph is reenacted to the day. In the northern parts of India, huge effigies of Ravana, his giant brother Kumbhkarna and son Meghnath are placed in vast open grounds. Fireworks and crackers are placed inside the effigies.
Actors dressed as Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana enact the final moments of the battle, at the Ramlila ground. After the enactment of the climax of the war with Ravana, the character playing Rama shoots an arrow with a flaming tip at the effigies from a safe distance and the crowd bursts up in cheer, as the crackers catch fire. The enthusiasm and the cheers sometimes even drown the deafening blast. Merriment ensues, as people indulge themselves games, dance and music that are held at the fair.
Bengalis celebrate Dusshera as a part of their main festival – Durga Puja. This day marks the end of Durga Pooja celebrations, the preceding nine days being collectively referred to as ‘Navratri’. Vijayadashmi is dedicated to Mother Goddess Shakti, who incarnated in the form of Goddess Durga, a combined manifestation of the divine energies of the Holy Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh and all the other devatas, when they summoned her to kill the mighty demon known as Mahishasura and freed the world from his terror.
On Vijayadashmi, the idols of Goddess Durga are immersed into water, after the nine days of festivities. It is said that the people of the earth in the eastern state of West Bengal adopted Durga as their daughter and thus, she visits the home of her parents every year, during the last four days of Navratri, along with her sons Ganesha and Kartikeya, and daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati. She finally leaves for her husband’s place on Vijayadashmi. Similar customs are seen in Orissa and Assam. In the North-eastern state of Tripura, huge fairs are conducted and effigies of Ravana, Meghnath and Kumbhkarna are burnts at Ramlila maidans.
In the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Vijayadashmi holds special significance. The day is considered auspicious for starting education or any form of art, such as dance and music. Saraswati Puja is conducted on the day, when the formal commencement of education of small kids takes place. It is called ‘Vidya aarambham’ (the beginning of Vidya, meaning education). In Karnataka (especially Mysore) and Andhra Pradesh, Dusshera is celebrated with fanfare. Huge processions can be witnessed in both the States. Although Dussehra is celebrated in different ways across India, the motive remains the same – to spread good cheer and celebrate the victory of good over the evil.