Festivals of India - Dassehra

Tuesday, November 14, 2006 Dr. Vishaal Bhat 0 Comments

Dassehra or Dasara is a 10-day-long colourful annual festival that celebrates the victory of the forces of good over the evil. Being a festival that worships the palpable power of a woman, Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped according to certain traditional practices. Goddess Saraswati who embodies knowledge, Durga symbolising dynamism and Lakshmi, an epitome of willpower are revered and offered prayers.

Dasara in Karnataka is known for its legendary
magnificence and splendour. Apart from the high profile Dasara processions, breathtaking illumination of the Mysore Palace, craft fairs, lights and exhibition, the festival has gathered enormous significance among the households as well. It is perhaps one of the few festivals in the country where pomp and show have not quite managed to steal away the real essence and meaning from it.

The festival comprises a long drawn series of poojas and arrangements for which preparations start much earlier. During the first three days, we do Durga pooja, then Lakshmi pooja and the last three days, we worship Saraswati. We invite guests and offer them Harishina Kumkuma. Pooja happens in the mornings and in the evenings, we make sweets and sundal.

It is a festival that is taken care of completely by the women in the family.

In Tamil Nadu, the nine-day Navaratri celebrations more or less resemble that of the Kannadigas. The festivities start after Ammavasai (full moon). Of the nine-day-celebrations, three days are dedicated to the worship of Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga. The day is celebrated to commemorate the death of demons in the hands of these three goddesses who killed them to save the people. Betel leaves, betel nuts, mirrors, combs, fruits and other gifts are given to guests on that day.

During the festival we make sundal with boiled green gram and keep kalasam, a small pot with a coconut on top. Later bommai kolu, which is arranging dolls on artificially constructed steps, is made and it is then decorated elaborately with lamps and flowers. We put up the bommai kolu on the first day of Navaratri and is removed on Vijayadashmi.

Navaratri celebrations end with Vijayadashmi, a day to worship goddess Saraswati. Books are placed in front of the goddess and pujas are done.

This is believed to be an auspicious day to start anything new. ‘‘Brahmins usually wear the nine-yard saree and have a special menu each day,’’says Bhuvaneswari Sriram.

Compared to other states, Dasara in Kerala is a low key affair. Vijayadasami is celebrated as Vidyarambham, marking ritualistic initiation of tiny tots into the world of art and letters.

This is done by writing the letters Hari Sri Ganapataye Namah Avignamastu and all the letters with a piece of gold on the tongue of the child. The child is also made to write the same letters with his index finger on raw rice kept in a steel plate and utter each word while writing it.

Either the father of the child or an eminent teacher officiates at this ritual. A lot of children get initiated into learning in temples dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and learning on Vijayadasami.

Kochi adorns a special look due to the presence of Gujarati community. With Krishna, Devi and Jain temples close to each other, it is easier for these Gujaratis to celebrate their functions in all its grandeur. Bharat Khanna, board member of Gujarati Mahajan, Parwana Mukh, Kochi, says ‘‘every year in Kochi, we celebrate Navratri in a very traditional way, unlike in Mumbai. We have the ladies’ Garba in the evening and men join them later in the night. The women will fast through out the day and on the ninth day of the festival, we immerse the Devi idol in a river or the backwaters.’’

The Brahmin community in several parts of Kerala also celebrate Navaratri with grandeur.

In Andhra Pradesh is season for the devout. Big or small, every village, town or city has a temple of Goddess Durga/Shakti. Starting from day one of the festival, the Goddess is decorated in one of the incarnations like Balatripura Sundari, Gayatri, Annapurna, Saraswati and Mahalakshmi. Special pujas are performed on each day. On the ninth day, the jammi tree is worshipped. Devotees write their wishes on paper slips and attach to the tree in anticipation of getting them fulfilled.

In Hindu homes, Dasara is celebrated with great reverence, especially by the women. There is the nine-day puja ritual wherein the Goddess is worshipped with offerings of one particular colour each day. For instance, on the first day, Rajarajeswari puja is performed by offering dark blue saree, blue bangles and flowers. Another interesting tradition that’s in vogue in Telangana is Batakamma. It is a floral arrangement in the shape of a cone.

This is believed to be Goddess Gowri. Starting from Amavasya, village belles prepare Batakammas, congregate at the temple pond and leave it in the water. On the ninth day, huge Batakammas are prepared. But that’s about tradition. The present generation doesn’t have time for rituals. The festival and its significance is reduced to new clothes and festival delicacies.


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