Acquaint yourself with some of the most popular rituals of the Dussehra festival. Most of these are thousands of years old and are still observed with great excitement.
For many people, Dussehra is the time to clean, plaster and whitewash their houses and generally put things in order. It is the occassion when people decorate the entrance of their houses with torans, and flower-studded strings.
The ritual of Vidyarambha is widely practiced in South India and sees little children getting ceremonially initiated into the learning of alphabets.
In West Bengal, Dussehra is the final day of the ten day Durga Puja celebrations and is known as Vijaya Dashami. Beautiful clay idols of Goddess Durga and her children - Ganesh, Kartik, Laxmi and Saraswati are set up inside grand makeshift marquees known as pandals and worshipped from the sixth day onwards. On the tenth day, Vijaya Dashami, these are taken out in grand processions through the streets in the accompaniment of songs and loud drumbeats and immersed in the holy water of the Ganges or in the water of a nearby lake or pond. The immersion of the idol of Goddess Durga and her offsprings signify the Goddess' return to her husband Lord Shiva’s home in Mount Kailash along with her children. Elsewhere in the country, this ritual is known as Durga Nimajjan or Durga Visarjan and is the last and concluding event of Durga Navarathri. It is also the day when married women play with vermilion (Sindur), an act known as Sindur Khela which is observed only in Bengal. It is an occassion when friends and relatives exchange visits thus building up an atmosphere of cordiality.
The Dussehra ritual of Sindur Khela is particular only to the state of West Bengal. It has married Bengali women playing with vermilion (Sindur) among themselves. For the members of the Bengali community, it is an occassion when friends and relatives exchange visits thus building up an atmosphere of cordiality.
In the Southern parts of India, Dussehra is known as Dasara and is celebrated on the occasion of Navaratri. On this day, people worship the idol of Durga with utmost devotion. They pray to the Goddess for peace and prosperity in their families. The puja (worship) is done in the morning in the puja room (worship chamber) and no specific decoration is required, but if one likes, one can make a chowk on the floor.
In some parts of India, it is a custom to look for a "khaujan" or wagtail (motacella alba) on Dussehra day. The search for the wagtail is fraught with omen. If the wagtail is found taken, near lotus flowers or among elephants, cows, horses or snakes, it forebodes conquest and good luck; if however on ashes, bones or refuse, evil may follow and the gods must be propitated - Brahmans must be fed and a medicinal bath taken.
Everyone wears good clothes with zari and gota as on all festive occassions. It is said that if one wears a set of new clothes on this day, one shall get ten sets of new clothes in the coming year. There is no compulsory wearing of the chunri, but there is no taboo on donning it either. A chonp on the forehead is a must.
A well-known Dussehra tradition is to worship all weapons, tools, instruments, pens and pencils, because they are the means of fighting injustice, ignorance and evil. These items are placed in front of the gods. A foolscap paper is decorated all around the edges with 'aipun' and a 'swastik' is placed on the top of this paper that is reminiscent of the Aryan origin of the inhabitants of India. The eldest member of the family then writes on this paper:
Uttar ka ghoda, Dakshin ka neer
Paschim ka varda, Purav ka cheer
The foregoing couplet is about the famous things obtained from the four corners of India and it focusses children's attention onto them. The names of all those assembled are then added onto the paper. It would be better if everybody present signed it, as it is a record of the people present during the puja that year. The month, date and year are added to the paper and it is glued on with atta(dough) near the gods.
On Dussehra, usually a big lunch or dinner is arranged for the sons-in-law and the daughters of the family. The daughter brings a 'teeka', which is akin to Raksha Bandhan or Bhai Dooj observances except that in Dussehra there is no presentation of money by the brothers. This is a day of family get-togethers and feasting with no restriction on serving meat and hard drinks. It is a time for total, unrestricted enjoyment.
On this day, all articles that are used for progress and prosperity of mankind are worshipped. For artisans across North India, it is the time to polish the instruments of their profession. All vehicles like cars, trucks and buses are also worshipped by the individuals using them. On Dussehra morning, drivers clean and polish their vehicles with great solemnity and patience, and then perform the puja of the vehicles. A symbol of the swastik is drawn with roli, aipun and rice on the already cleaned and polished vehicle. The ritual is observed even in the armed forces, police and paramilitary organisations.
In Northern India, it is widely believed that Lord Rama vanquished the demon king Ravana on a similar Dussehra day about 10,000 years ago and the festival is henceforth celebrated in commemoration of this event. A few of the outstanding events of the epic are dramatized in the form of a pantomime called "Ram Lila". The performance ends with the burning of effigies of Ravana often along with similar structures of his son Meghnada and his brother Kumbhakarna (stuffed with firecrackers) amidst great cheer and rejoicing. The "Ram Lila" is a highly popular Dussehra tradition observed across the states of North India.
In parts of Uttar Pradesh, the day is associated with the ancient legend of the young Brahmin boy Kautsa's act of distributing gold coins among the poor people on the day of Dussehra. As a commemoration, people in Uttar Pradesh collect leaves of the apati trees(Banni leaves), euphemestically calling them “sone” (gold) and using them to greet their friends and relatives as a ceremonial gift reminiscent of the actual gold distributed by Kautsa.
In Kullu, the capital town of the Kullu District of Himachal Pradesh, Dussehra witnesses exuberant week-long festivities. The rituals observed at the end of the Kullu Dussehra celebrations consist of the sacrifice of a buffalo, a rooster, a lamb, a fish and a crab.