On October 25, India will be celebrating its most famous and auspicious festival, Dussehra or Vijayadashmi. The festival marks the end of the 9-days-long Sharad Navratri and Durga Puja. It also signifies the win of Lord Rama over Ravana.
How it is celebrated
The festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm across the country. On this day, the idols of Goddess Durga is given a grand farewell and immersed in the holy water. People indulge in dance, singing and all sorts of merriments with a slight emptiness in the heart as they bid goodbye to Goddess Durga who, as per the beliefs, stayed with the devotees for nine days.
What also adds to the enthusiasm is the custom of burning of colourful effigies of Ravana, his son Meghanad and his brother Kumbhakaran. Ramlila, a theatrical production of Ramayana with a specific focus on the war between Lord Rama and Ravana, is also the centre of attraction on this day. Dussehra or Vijayadashami is widely celebrated in Bihar, Bengal and Orissa. Moreover, in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, Vijayadashmi has been declared as the International Festival by the State Government.
History and significance of the festival
Dussehra is celebrated as the win of good over evil. It is considered as a reminder that evil or wrong-doers will ultimately be exposed and perish while the good people will receive happiness and success. This belief is tied to two famous mythologies. One is the tale where Goddess Durga kills the buffalo demon Mahishasura while the other is the tale where Lord Rama kills Ravana and rescues his beloved wife Sita.
In the former story, the holy trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, gave birth to Goddess Durga by accumulating their powers and grace. The purpose of Goddess Durga was to slay the Mahishasura, man with a buffalo face, who was destroying the world with his power. The twist in the tale is that the power was given to Mahishasura as a boon by Brahma himself when he was impressed by his penance and devotion. The boon made Mahishasura invincible and immortal. No man or animal could kill him except a woman. But Mahishasura never believed the idea that a woman could be so brave to match his valour and slay him. Ultimately, Goddess Durga fought a 15-day-long battle with him and won it. Commemorating that victory, she is revered as Chamundadevi or Mahishasurmardini, one of the nine faces of the deity.
In the other story, Lord Rama, a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, went to Lanka and rescued his wife Sita who was abducted by the demon king Ravana. He fought a long battle with him and the day when he slew him is known as Dussehra. The common chord joining the stories is the idea of the victory of good over evil. Moreover, it is also believed that it was Rama who began the ritual of worshipping Goddess Durga during the time of Sharad Navratri. He prayed and invoked the deity to seek her blessings to fight the battle.
Watching from the Feminist lens:
The festival of Dussehra or Vijayadashmi should also be a reminder of how the reality is replete with wrongdoers who disrespect women after worshipping womanhood for nine-long days. It should remind us that women, be it of any face, colour, race, caste or religion, have feminine power, dignity and freedom. The festival is also unique because it not only celebrates the power of womanhood represented by Goddess Durga but also the love of a wife for her husband through Sita. But, it is unfortunate that on one side Goddess Durga is revered as the ultimate power, on the other side, Sita is abducted and detained by a man. Moreover, her dignity and identity are disrespected by her own people who label her as impure for being abducted by an unknown man. Even Rama himself banishes her amidst the criticism rather than supporting her.
Doesn’t the contradictory narratives remind us of the present reality also? Where there is a wide difference in the treatment meted out to Goddesses and the real-life women? Will another Durga Puja and reverence of womanhood for nine days reduce the disrespect and crime committed against women? It is high time that we stop perpetuating double standards about women and oppressing them in the name of tradition. Let us celebrate Durga puja with great enthusiasm and also mean it.