Dasara, also known as Vijayadasami, Dussehra, Navratri or Durgotsav, is one of the most important Hindu festivals celebrated in various forms, across India. The term Dussehra is derived from the Sanskrit Dasha-hara literally meaning “removal of ten”, referring to Lord Rama’s victory over the ten-headed asura king Ravana. Other readings state that Dasha-hara means “remover of bad fate”.
When termed Navratri, Dasara, is a festival dedicated to the worship of the Hindu deity Durga. The word Navaratri literally means nine nights in Sanskrit, nava meaning nine and ratri meaning nights. During these nine nights and ten days, nine forms of Shakti/Devi are worshiped.
The tenth day is commonly referred to as Vijayadashami or Dasara.
Navaratri celebration across India
Navaratri is celebrated in different ways throughout India. It is celebrated five times a year. They are Vasanta Navaratri, Ashadha Navaratri, the Sharad Navaratri, and the Paush/Magha Navaratri. Of these, the Sharad Navaratri of the month of Puratashi and the Vasanta Navaratri of the Vasanta kala are the most important. The Sharad Navaratri culminates in Durga Puja and Dasara. It is a very important and major festival in the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The festival is also celebrated with great zeal in North India, including Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and the northern state of Punjab. The Sharad Navaratri begins on the first day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Ashvin. The festival is celebrated for nine nights every year during the beginning of October, although as the dates of the festival are determined according to the lunar calendar, the festival may be held for a day more or a day less.
In West Bengal and in east India, Dasara is known as Durga Pooja. It is the biggest festival of the year and the last four days of Sharad Navaratri take on a particularly spectacular form.
Delicately crafted and painted life-size clay idols of the Goddess Durga depicting her slaying the demon Mahishasura are set up in temples and other places. These idols are then worshiped for five days and immersed in the river on the fifth day.
Dasara major events across the country
- Performances of the Ramlila (a short version of the epic Ramayana) in Northern India
- Festival and procession including the goddess Chamundeshwari on a throne mounted on elephants in the town of Mysore in the state of Karnataka
- Blessing of household and work-related tools, such as books, computers, cooking pans and vehicles
- Preparation of special foods, including luchi (deep fried flat bread) and alur dom (deep fried spiced potato snacks), in Bengal
- Bonfires and fireworks
- Painting of red tikas on people’s foreheads
People of the Hindu faith observe Dasara through special prayers and food offerings to the gods at home or in temples. They also hold outdoor fairs and large processions with wood and paper effigies of Ravana. The festivities culminate by the burning of the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna, and Meghanada to celebrate the victory of good (Rama) over evil forces on the Vijayadashami day.