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The Feast of Dussehra – or Vijaya Dashami

Vijayadashami, also known as Dussehra, is one of the very important and fascinating festivals of India. It is celebrated in the lunar month of Ashwin (usually in September or October) from the Shukla Paksha Pratipada (the next of the New moon day of Bhadrapada) to the Dashami or the tenth day of Ashwin. The legend underlying the celebration, as also its mode of conduct, vary vastly by region; however, all festivities celebrate the victory of the forces of Good over Evil. Dussehra is derived from Sanskrit words “Dussha” and “hara” meaning removing the ten (10). This is the most auspicious festival in the Dakshinaayana or in the Southern hemisphere motion of the Sun. In Sanskrit, ‘Vijaya’ means Victory and ‘Dashami’ means 10th day. Thus Vijaya Dashami’ means victory on the 10th day.

Dussehra in different parts of India: In most of northern India (Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, Hariyana, etc.,) and some parts of Maharashtra, Dussehra is celebrated more in honour of Rama. During these 10 days, many plays and dramas based on the epic of Ramayana are performed. These are called Ramlila. In Bengal, Dussehra is celebrated as Durga Puja. Idols of the goddess Durga are worshipped for nine days, and on the tenth day immersed in a river or pond. In Bengal, Assam and Orissa, Durga is also worshipped as Kali Mata as a symbol of Shakti (Power). In Mysore – Karanataka, decorated elephants lead a colourful procession through the streets of the city. In some regions all the three principal goddesses – Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati – are worshipped during the festival, each for 3 days of the Navaratri. In Gujarat, Rajasthan and most of Maharashtra, men and women play a typical dance called Raas Garba every night. In the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Vijaya Dashmi 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). 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 Bad.

The legend: On this day in the Treta Yug, Shri Ram (7th incarnation of Vishnu), killed the great demon Ravan who had abducted Ram’s wife Sita to his kingdom of Lanka. Ram, along with his brother Lakshman, Hanuman and an army of monkeys fought a great battle to rescue his wife Sita. The war against Ravan lasted ten days. Rama had performed “Chandi Homa” and invoked the blessings of Durga to kill Ravana. Durga blessed Rama with the secret to kill Ravana. Ravana was defeated in his own kingdom of Lanka by Rama and the vanarsena. Rama with Sita and Laxman returned victorious to his kingdom of Ayodhya on the Ashwin Shukla dashami. This victory of Rama is since celebrated as “Vijaya Dashami”. So also prior to the defeat of Ravana, when Rambhakt Shri Hanuman went to Lanka to search Sita, he found her on the day of Ashvin shukla dashami. During these 10 days of Dussehra, huge idols of Ravana, Kumbhakarna (brother of Ravana) and Meghanad (son of Ravana) are erected and are set on fire at sunset.

The temples perform Chandi Homa or Durga Homa which also helps in purifying the atmosphere. Many houses also perform Aditya Homa as a Shanti Yagna and recite Sundara Kanda of Srimad Ramayana for 9 days. The purpose of performing these homas is also to kill the 10 bad qualities, which are represented by ten heads of Ravana as follows: (1) Kama vasana (lust), (2) Krodha (anger), (3) Moha (delusion), (4) Lobha (greed), (5) Mada (over pride), (6) Matsara (jealousy), (7) Manas (mind), (8) Buddhi (intellect), (9) Chitta (will), and (10) Ahankara (ego). Some houses perform Yagnas three times daily along with sandhya vandana, called as Aahavaneeya Agni, Grahapatya Agni, Dakshina Agni. In addition to this, the Aditya Homa is performed with the Maha Surya Mantras and the Aruna Prapathaka of the Yajurveda. The effect of these mantras is to keep the heart, brain and digestive functions of the body in balance.

Victory of Durga Mata over Mahishasur: Some of the Aasuras (demons) were very powerful and ambitious, and continually tried to defeat the Gods. One such Aasura called Mahishasur, who looked like a buffalo, grew very powerful wreaked havoc on the earth. Under his leadership the Aasuras even defeated the Devas (Gods), all of whom were powerless including Brahma, Vishnu, etc… Finally, when the world was getting crushed under Mahishasur’s tyranny, the Devas came together and contributed their individual energy to form “Shakti” a single mass of incandescent energy to fight and kill Mahishasur. A very powerful band of lightening dazzled from the mouths of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shiva) and a beautiful, magnificent, radiant young virgin with ten hands appeared. All the Gods gave their special weapons to her. This Shakti coalesced in the form of Goddess Durga. Durga with weapons in her ten hands, riding on Lion, who assisted her in the fight, took on Mahishasur. The battle raged for nine days and nights. Finally on the tenth day of Ashwin shukla paksha, the evil demon Mahishasur was defeated and killed by Durga. Hence Dussehra is also known as Navaratra or Durgotsava and is a celebration of the victory of Goddess Durga. Durga as Consort of Lord Shiva represents two forms of female energy – one mild and protective; the other fierce and destructive.

End of Adnyatwas (living incognito) of Pandavas: In Dwapar Yuga, after Pandavas lost to Kauravas in the game of dice, they had to proceed to 12 years of “Vanwas” (exile to forest) followed by one year of Adnyatwas. The Pandavas spent 12 years in the forest and hid their weapons in a hole on a “Shami” tree before entering the Kingdom of Virat to complete the last year of Adnyatwas. After the completion of that year on Vijayadashmi they took the weapons from the Shami tree, declared their true identity and defeated the Kauravas, who had attacked King Virat to steal his cattle wealth. Since that day the exchange of Shami leaves on Dassera day became the symbol of good and victory. Hence on Dussehra, Shami tree and the weapons are worshipped.

Kautsa’s Gurudakshina – story behind exchanging Aapti tree leaves as gold: Kautsa, the young son of Devdatt, was living in the city of Paithan. After completing education from Rishi Varatantu, he insisted upon his guru to accept Guru Dakshina (present). But the Guru said: “Kautsa, to give ‘dakshina’ in return for acquiring wisdom is not proper. The graduation of the disciple makes the guru happy, and this is the real Guru Dakshina.” Kautsa was not satisfied. He still felt it was his duty to give his guru something. Finally the guru said, “Alright, if you insist on giving me dakshina, so give me 140 million gold coins, 10 million for each of the 14 sciences I have taught you.”

Kautsa went to King Raghu. Raghuraja was an ancestor of Lord Rama, famous for his generosity. But just at that time he had emptied all his coffers on the Brahmins, after performing the Vishvajit sacrifice. He asked Kautsa to give him three days. Raghuraja immediately left to get the gold coins from Indra. Indra summoned Kuber, the god of wealth. Indra told Kuber, “Make a rain of gold coins fall on the “Shanu” and “Aapati” trees round Raghuraja’s city of Ayodhya.” The rain of gold coins began to fall. King Raghu gave all the coins to Kautsa, and Kautsa hastened to offer the coins to Varatantu Rishi. Guru had asked for only 140 millions, so he gave the remaining coins to Kautsa. Kautsa was not interested in money. In those days honour was considered more valuable than wealth. He asked the king to take the remaining gold coins back. But the king refused to take them back as kings do not take back the daan (gift). Finally Kautsa distributed the gold coins to the people of Ayodhya on the day of Ashwin shukla dashami. In remembrance of this event the custom is kept with people presenting Aapati leaves to each other.

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