Dussehra, Vijayadasami, Navratri - Enjoy The Victory Of Truth Over Evil

The word Dussehra comes from the word `Dus` meaning `Ten` and `Hara`, meaning `annihilated`. Dussehra is 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. This day is a celebration of the victory of Lord Rama when he rescued his wife, Sita and destroyed Ravana, in a fierce battle. It is believed that Ravana had ten faces. The ten faces likely represent the ten evil facets of his character. On this day, massive effigies of Ravana, his younger brother Kumbhakarna and son Meghanatha are built and packed with crackers. They are set on fire in the evening.

In Bengal, this day is celebrated as the day on which Durga Ma killed the terrible demon Mahishasur. On this day, all the gods in heaven and all human beings on earth worship Goddess Durga. In Kullu, Himachal Pradesh Dussehra is celebrated three days later. The reason for this goes 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 all 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 it 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.

On this day, weapons are also worshipped. Mother Goddess is being worshipped during the Navratras (nine day celebrations coming before Dussehra) and she is 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. After a great `Yagna` (sacrificial fire) 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, people exchange leaves of the Apta tree on Dussehra day.

Significance of Navratri

1. The First Three Days of Navratri
The first three days of Navratri are devoted to the worship of the Goddess Durga. This is the period, when her energy and power are worshipped. Each day is dedicated to a different appearance of Durga. Kumari, which signifies the girl child, is worshipped on the first day of the festival. Parvati, who is the embodiment of a young woman, is worshipped on the second day. The destructive aspects of Goddess Durga symbolize the commitment to acquire triumph over all the evil tendencies. Hence, on the third day of Navratri, Goddess Kali is worshipped, who represents the woman who has reached the stage of maturity.

2. Fourth to Sixth Days of Navratri
When a person acquires triumph over evil tendencies of ego, anger, lust and other animal instincts, he/she experiences a void. This void is filled with spiritual wealth. For the purpose, the person approaches Goddess Lakshmi, to acquire all the materialistic, spiritual wealth and prosperity. This is the reason why the fourth, fifth and sixth day of Navratri are dedicated to the worship of Lakshmi - the goddess of prosperity and peace.

Although the individual has acquired victory over evil tendencies and wealth, he is still deprived of true knowledge. Knowledge is required to live the life of a humane, even though he/she is prospered with power and wealth. Therefore, Goddess Saraswati is worshipped on the fifth day of Navratri. All the books and other literature materials are gathered in one place and a 'diya' (earthen lamp) is lit in front of the deity, to invoke the goddess and seek her blessings. Till the time the books are kept at the puja room, the students would not study.

3. Seventh and Eighth Day of Navratri
The seventh day is dedicated to worshipping Saraswati, the goddess of art and knowledge. Prayers are offered with an aim to seek spiritual knowledge. A 'yagna' is performed on the eight day. This comprises of a sacrifice honoring goddess Durga as well as bids her farewell. The sacrifice or offering is made out of clarified butter (ghee), rice pudding known as kheer and sesame seeds.

4. Ninth Day of Navratri
The ninth day is the final day of Navratri celebrations. It is also known as 'Mahanavami'. On the day, Kanya puja is performed to worship nine young girls, who have not yet reached the stage of puberty. These nine girls symbolize one of the nine forms of goddess Durga. The feet of girls are washed to welcome the goddess and show respect to her. The girls are offered a set of new clothes as a gift from the devotees at the end of the puja.