Compiled by B.R. Ramaprasad and sent to me by my Aunt Lalitha Rao.
• Navaratri and Dussera are festivals celebrated over a period of ten days. The
first nine days constitute the Navaratri festival. Navaratri means nine nights (Nava= nine, ratri = night).The term “Dussera” which is the last and tenth day is derived from the word for number ten i.e. Dus (in Hindi) or Dasha (in Sanskrit). The tenth day is also celebrated as “Vijayadashmi” (Vijaya is victory in Sanskrit.) The 9 night festival of Navratri begins on the first day of the bright half of Ashvina (Ashvayuja) month of the Hindu calendar.
• This festival is devoted to the Mother Goddess Devi known variously as Durga, Kali, Bhavani, Amba, Chandika, Chamundeshwari, Lalitha etc., (manifestations of Paarvati the consort of Shiva.) As the female manifestation of the supreme lord, she is also called Prakriti or Maya. (The male manifestation of the supreme lord is called Purusha.)
• In southern India usually Devi is worshipped in the form of Durga (Goddess of valor) for the first three days, as Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) for the second three days and as Saraswati (Goddess of knowledge) for the next three days. Celebrations includes a display of images of Goddesses and toys at home for nine days.
• The Garbha Dance mainly in the state of Gujarat in western India is performed around a pot containing a lamp. The word “Garbha” by which the pot as well as the dance is known is etymologically close to the word Garbha meaning womb. In this context the lamp in the pot, symbolically represents life within a womb. Another prevalent practice is of sowing legumes, cereals and other seeds on the first day of this festival in a pot, which is watered for nine days at the end of which the seeds sprout. This pot is worshipped throughout the nine days. This custom is also indicative of fertility worship.
• Significantly, no male God is worshipped during Navaratri. This contrasts strongly with other festivals in which male gods are dominant e.g. Ganesh Chathurti for Ganesha, Gokulashtami (Janmastami) for Krishna, Mahashivaratri for Shiva, Ramnavami for Rama etc.
• The Ramlila ceremony observed in northern India on Dussera day commemorates the victory of Rama over the demon-king Ravana and the rescue of Rama’s consort Sita whose chastity Ravana tried to violate. Rama succeeded in rescuing Sita unmolested from Ravana’s clutches. Giant effigies of Ravana,
Kumbhakarna and Meghnad (Lord Rama’s enemies), are publicly burnt.
• In southern India, eastern India and western India, the festival of Navaratri culminates with Vijayadashami on the tenth day of the bright half of the lunar month of Ashvina. The day commemorates the legend in which the Goddess Durga, also known as Chamundeshwari or Mahishasura Mardini, vanquishes the demon Mahishasura, an event that is said to have taken place in the vicinity of the present day city of Mysore in the State of Karnataka.
• When Mysore was still a princely state, celebrations on this day included a grand procession of the Maharaja (King) of Mysore in a Golden Ambari (elephant mounted throne) to Banni Mantap (a playground) where he would symbolically cut a fully grown shami tree (please see Legend of the Shami tree below.) With the integration of the princely states into the Union of India, the Maharaja is now replaced by the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari in the Golden Ambari.
Legend of the Shami Tree
There is another and little-known legend associated with this festival, the one associated with the Mahabharata. The Pandavas underwent a period of exile, 12 years of living in the forest followed by a year of exile incognito. Disguise being indispensable during the latter period, the Pandavas found it necessary to lay aside, for the length of that year, the many divine and distinctive weapons that they possessed#. These they hid in a ‘Shami’ tree in the vicinity* of their chosen place of incognito residence. At the end of a year, they returned to the spot, found their weaponry intact, and worshipped in thanksgiving both the Shami tree and the Goddess Durga, presiding deity of strength and victory.
Meanwhile, the Kauravas, suspecting the residence of the Pandavas there had invaded that area. Upon finishing their devotions, the Pandavas fought the battle, and won the contest. The day that all these events occurred has since been known as “Vijayadashami.” In recognition of the endeavors of the Pandavas, even to this day, people exchange Shami leaves and wish each other victory in their own ventures and efforts. The following shloka is used, sometimes, to signify this:
shamI shamayate paapam shamI shaTruvinaashinI |
arjunasya dhanurdhaari raamsya priyadasrshinI ||
(Shami, the remover of all sins, the destroyer of all enemies bore witness to Arjuna taking his bow and Lord Rama coming back to his near and dear ones.)
# – Arjuna’s Gandeeva bow was one among them.
* – It is said that the Shami tree chosen by the Pandavas stood inside a cremation ground.
It was chosen to make detection difficult. The Pandavas wrapped their weapons in a white cloth and concealed them on that Shami tree making the weapons look like a dead body.
Sources: Hindunet.org, Wikepedia etc.
P.S: Dates of various festivals performed during Dussera have already been posted. You can get all the details here.