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December 2023

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The History of Dussehra: Triumph of Good over Evil

Many of us have childhood memories of the joyous Dussehra festival. Ravana’s vivid colours, rhythmic beats, and burning effigy are etched in our minds. Dussehra, also known as Vijayadashami, is an important festival in Hindu mythology and culture. 

Let’s delve into the illustrious history of Dussehra and discover some fascinating facts about this festival.

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The Mythological Origins

Dussehra has its origins in ancient Indian mythology, specifically the Ramayana epic. According to Hindu scriptures, Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, set out on a mission to rescue his abducted wife, Sita, from the demon ruler Ravana. 

During the final day of Navratri, celebrated as Dussehra, Lord Rama defeated Ravana after a ten-day conflict. This day serves as a reminder of the triumph of good over evil and represents the triumph of righteousness over evil.

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The Ten-Day Celebrations

Dussehra marks the end of the ten-day festival known as Navratri. Each day of Navratri is devoted to the worship of numerous manifestations of the goddess Durga. 

Devotees observe fasts, engage in rituals, and participate in traditional performances such as Garba and Dandiya Raas. As people gather together to honour the goddess and seek her blessings, these celebrations highlight the cultural diversity of India.

Ravana and the Effigy Burning

The burning of effigies of Ravana, his sibling Kumbhakarna, and his son Meghnad is one of the most recognisable traditions associated with Dussehra. These intricately detailed, towering puppets are constructed from bamboo, paper, and fabric. 

As dusk approaches the final day of Dussehra, these puppets are set ablaze amid shouts and applause to symbolise the destruction of evil forces. This magnificent display serves as a visual reminder of Ravana’s ultimate defeat at the hands of Lord Rama.

Regional Variations

Dussehra is celebrated differently in various regions of India, lending the festival distinctive cultural flavours. In the country’s northern areas, particularly in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, Ramayana-themed Ram Lila performances are performed.

These dramatic performances feature professional and amateur actors who captivate the audience with their dramatic retellings of the epic tale.

Durga Puja in West Bengal

Dussehra is celebrated as Durga Puja in West Bengal and other eastern states, a magnificent festival dedicated to worshipping the goddess Durga—the construction of elaborate pandals (temporary structures) that feature artistic depictions of the deity. 

The air reverberates with devotional melodies and traditional drumbeats as devotees immerse themselves in the festivities. On the concluding day of Durga Puja, goddess idols are submerged in water to symbolise her departure from the mortal realm.

The Significance of Ayudha Puja

The festival of Dussehra is also known as Ayudha Puja or Shastra Puja, in which people worship their tools, instruments, and vehicles. 

This ritual is a tribute to the implements and apparatus that play vital roles in their lives, symbolising their dedication to their respective professions. On this day, it is believed that divine blessings are invoked upon these objects, ensuring their efficacy and success. 

Ayudha Puja is a method to express gratitude and seek divine guidance, practised by farmers who adorn their ploughs, students who decorate their books, and artists who honour their brushes.

The Cultural Significance

Dussehra has enormous cultural significance in Indian society and its religious origins. It is a time when families gather to exchange pleasantries and feast on traditional foods

Communities organise festivals and processions highlighting the festival’s rich heritage and folklore. The vibrant music, dances, and elaborate costumes foster a sense of unity and camaraderie by creating an atmosphere of pleasure and merriment.

International Influence

Dussehra’s appeal extends beyond India’s borders, with communities worldwide celebrating this joyous occasion. Dussehra is commemorated with equal fervour in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, albeit with regional variations. 

This international recognition and participation demonstrate the universality of the festival’s message of victory over evil.

Environmental Considerations

The environmental impact of Dussehra celebrations, notably the burning of effigies made of non-biodegradable materials, has received increased attention in recent years. Utilising organic materials and natural dyes, efforts are made to promote eco-friendly alternatives.

In addition, initiatives to raise awareness about responsible waste management and the preservation of natural resources have gained traction, ensuring that Dussehra celebrations are consistent with environmental sustainability.

Symbolism in Everyday Life

The significance of Dussehra transcends its limited duration, as its teachings resonate in daily life. The festival functions as a reminder to conquer personal demons, overcome negative characteristics, and strive for righteousness. 

It encourages individuals to engage in self-reflection, introspection, and personal development. Dussehra motivates individuals to oppose injustice, fight for what is right, and uphold moral values.

Dussehra symbolises the enduring strength of faith and righteousness and the triumph of good over evil. Its extensive history, mythological origins, and diverse regional celebrations make it India’s most remarkable festival. 

As Ravana’s effigies burn, hearts are filled with hope, optimism, and the conviction that light will always triumph over darkness. 

Dussehra remains a time of celebration, introspection, and renewal — a reminder of the eternal struggle between good and evil that echoes in myth and reality.

Meet the author

Jane Parkinson

Jane Parkinson

Jane is one of our primary content writers and specialises in elder care. She has a degree in English language and literature from Manchester University and has been writing and reviewing products for a number of years.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the significance of burning effigies during Dussehra?

The significance of burning effigies during Dussehra is profound. The act symbolises the triumph of good over evil and serves as a reminder of Lord Rama’s victory over the demon ruler Ravana. The towering effigies, painstakingly crafted from bamboo, paper, and fabric, embody malevolent forces. As they are set ablaze to the cheers and applause of onlookers, they represent the destruction of corrupting influences and the triumph of righteousness. This ritualistic burning not only reinforces the belief in the ultimate victory of good but also serves as a cathartic release, purifying the collective consciousness of society and inspiring individuals to aspire for their moral uprightness.

How is Dussehra celebrated in different parts of India?

Dussehra is celebrated differently in various regions of India, highlighting the country’s cultural diversity. The Ram Lila plays a central role in northern states, particularly Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. These dramatic performances depict episodes from the epic Ramayana, mesmerising the audience with their evocative storytelling and dynamic performances. In West Bengal and the eastern states, Dussehra is celebrated as Durga Puja, a magnificent festival honouring the goddess Durga. Artistic representations of the goddess are displayed in elaborate pandals (temporary structures), and devotees engage in devotional music and performance. In other regions of the country, the festival is marked by processions, fairs, and communal gatherings. Each is imbued with regional traditions and customs.

How does Ayudha Puja contribute to the significance of Dussehra?

Ayudha Puja, also known as Shastra Puja, is essential to the Dussehra festivities. This ritual involves the worship of instruments, vehicles, and equipment. It represents the respect and admiration accorded to the objects necessary to people’s professions and livelihoods. Worshipping these instruments signifies appreciation for their contribution to one’s success and prosperity. It is believed that by requesting the divine’s blessings, individuals can ensure their tools’ efficacy and flawless operation. Ayudha Puja emphasises the significance of devoting one’s work and abilities to a higher purpose by highlighting the connection between spirituality and daily life.

How does Dussehra promote environmental consciousness?

There has been a growing awareness in recent years regarding the environmental impact of festivals, including Dussehra. Efforts are being made to promote environmentally responsible practices throughout the festivities. For example, there is a shift towards using organic and biodegradable materials for effigy creation, thereby reducing the festival’s ecological imprint. In addition, campaigns and initiatives are being implemented to increase awareness of responsible refuse management and the conservation of natural resources. Communities are encouraged to implement environmentally friendly practices, such as proper waste disposal and eco-friendly decorations. By incorporating environmental awareness into Dussehra celebrations, individuals and communities seek to preserve the festival’s sanctity while safeguarding the environment for future generations.