The story of Vijayadashami, the victory of good over evil
Vijayadashami known as Dussehra is a major Hindu festival celebrated at the end of Navaratri every year in India and Nepal.
Vijayadashami is observed on the tenth day of the Hindu calendar month of Ashvin, the seventh month of the Hindu lunisolar calendar, which usually falls during the Gregorian months of September and October.
In the south, east, northeast and some northern states of India, Vijayadashami celebrates the end of Durga Puja, remembering the victory of Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura to restore and protect the dharma .
In the northern, central and western states, the festival is called Dussehra (also spelled Dasara, Dashahara). In these regions, it marks the end of Ramlila and recalls the victory of the god Rama over Ravana. Alternatively, it marks reverence for one of the aspects of Goddess Devi, such as Durga or Saraswati.
Vijayadashami celebrations include processions to a river or waterfront which involve carrying clay statues of Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartikeya, accompanied by music and chanting, after which the images are immersed in the water for abolition and farewell. Elsewhere on Dasara towering effigies of Ravana, symbolizing evil, are burned with fireworks, marking the destruction of evil. The festival also begins preparations for Diwali, the important festival of lights, which is celebrated twenty days after Vijayadashami.
Vijayadaśamī is a compound of the two words vijaya ‘victorious’ and daśamī ‘tenth’ evoking the tenth day festival celebrating the victory of good over evil. However, the same term related to Hindu festival takes different forms in different parts of India and Nepal, as well as among Hindu minorities found elsewhere.
The word Dussehra is a variant of daśaharā, which is a Sanskrit compound word composed of daśama, ‘tenth’) and ahar ‘day’.
In this epic, Ravana kidnaps Sita and takes her to his kingdom in Lanka (now Sri Lanka). Rama asks Ravana to release her, but Ravana refuses; the situation degenerates and leads to war. After performing severe penance for ten thousand years, Ravana receives a boon from the creator god Brahma; he could no longer be killed by gods, demons or spirits. Lord Vishnu incarnates as human Rama to defeat and kill him, thus bypassing the advantage given by Lord Brahma.
A fierce battle takes place between Rama and Ravana in which Rama kills Ravana and ends his evil rule. Eventually Dharma was established on Earth because of Rama’s victory over Ravana. The festival commemorates the victory of good over evil.
In the Mahabharata, the Pandavas spent their thirteenth year of exile under hidden identity in the kingdom of Virata. Before going to Virata, they are known to have hung their celestial weapons in a Shami tree to keep them for a year. During their exile, Bhima kills Kichaka for harassing the Pandava woman, Draupadi.
Upon learning of Kichaka’s death, Duryodhana suspects that the Pandavas were hiding in Matsya. A mob of Kaurava warriors attack Virata, likely to steal their cattle, but in reality, eager to find the Pandavas. Brave Virata’s son Uttara attempts to face Kaurava’s army alone while the rest of Matsya’s army has been drawn in to fight Susharma and the Trigartas.
As suggested by Draupadi, Uttar takes Arjun (in his disguise as Brihannala the eunuch) with him, as a charioteer. When he sees the Kaurava army, Uttara gets scared and tries to flee. Then Arjuna reveals his identity and those of his brothers.
Arjuna takes Uttar to the tree where the Pandavas have hidden their weapons. Arjuna takes his Gandiva after worshiping the tree, as the Shami tree has protected the weapons of the Pandavas for this entire year. Arjuna reties Gandiva’s thread, simply pulls it and releases it – which produces a terrible twang.
The Kaurava warriors waited eagerly to spot the Pandavas. A tiff takes place between Karna and Drona.
Karna told Duryodhana that he would easily defeat Arjuna and is not threatened by Drona’s words since Drona was intentionally praising Arjuna, as Arjuna was Drona’s favorite student. Ashwathama supports his father by praising Arjuna. Then Arjuna comes to the battlefield.
In northern India, the Dasara is observed with the burning of Ravana effigies. In most of northern and western India, Dasha-Hara (literally, “ten days”) is celebrated in honor of Rama. Thousands of plays-dance-music based on the Ramayan and Ramcharitmanas (Ramlila) are performed at outdoor fairs across the country and in gathering places temporarily built with effigies of the demons Ravan, Kumbhakarna and Meghanada . The effigies are burned on bonfires on the evening of Vijayadashami or Dussehra.
While Dussehra is celebrated on the same day across India, the festivities leading up to it vary. In many places the “Rama Lila” or the brief version of the story of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, is staged over the 9 days preceding it, but in some cities, such as Varanasi, the whole story is freely staged by performers in front of the public every night for a month.
The festival and dramatization of the narrative filled with virtues against vices is organized by communities in hundreds of small villages and towns, attracting crowds from different social, gender and economic backgrounds. In many parts of India, the public and villagers spontaneously join and participate, helping the performers, others helping with the staging, make-up, effigies and lights. These arts end on the night of Dussehra, when Rama’s victory is celebrated by burning the effigies of the evil Ravan and his colleagues.
The performing arts tradition during the Dussehra festival has been listed by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as one of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” in 2008.
Credits to Hindu religious sources and Wikipedia