The history of Dussehra is an ancient one and derives its origin from a number of popular legends found in the scriptures.
According to popular belief, Dussehra celebrates the victory of Goddess Durga over the wicked demon Mahishasura who, according to legend, belonged to Mysore. The history of the festival has its origin in a puranic story concerning the killing of Mahishasura (Bandasura who took the form of a buffalo) and his comrades Chanda and Munda by Goddess Kali. The fight went on for nine days and nights and on the tenth day Goddess Kali killed them near the hill. Hence, Kali came to be known as Chamundeshwari and the hill where the demons were killed as the Chamundi Hill, sacred to the deity. Chamundeshwari is the family deity of the royal family of Mysore and is sacred to the Rajas and the people of Mysore. The Royal family of Mysore worships Chamundeshwari with great fervour. The word Mysore is said to be derived from Mahishur. The festival commences with puja(worship service) to the deity. Celebrated by the royal family of Mysore, Dussehra has become an important State festival of Karnataka.
Dussehra also has its roots in the Indian epic 'Ramayana'. It is widely held that the festival actually commemorates the killing of the great demon king of Lanka, Ravan, by Lord Rama. The epic mentions how Lord Rama, the god-incarnate, went to serve a period of exile for 14 years under the order of his father. Along with his devoted wife Sita and his faithful brother Lakshmana, Rama faced many hardships during this period prominent among which was the abduction of Sita by the ten-headed Ravana. On a similar day as Dussehra in Satyug, Ram (the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu), is said to have killed Ravan, who had abducted his wife Sita. With brother Lakshman, follower Hanuman, and an army of monkeys on his side Rama fought a great battle for ten days to rescue his wife. Since then, the observance of Dussehra is more in admiration of Lord Rama than Goddess Durga. The word "Dussehra" can also be interpreted as "Dasa-Hara", which stands for the cutting of the ten heads of Ravana by Lord Rama. Dussehra is celebrated by many people of Northern India to commemorate this victory of Lord Rama.
The origin of Dussehra can also be traced to the other great Hindu epic Mahabharata. According to the Mahabharat, in the thirteenth year of their exile, the Pandavas had to live in complete concealment and Arjuna the Pandav prince, disguised himself as a eunuch called Brihannala. So he hid his celestial weapons in a Vanni tree(or Shami tree). After a year, when the period of concealment was over, he retrieved his weapons on the day of Dussehra and the Pandava brothers worshipped the weapons along with the Vanni tree. Thus, the Vanni tree became sacred to the Pandavas and the Maharaja of Mysore who traces descent from them also reveres the Vanni tree. In Mysore the Vanni tree is worshipped with the observance of many sacred rituals.
According to another legend, the festival is linked to a young Brahmin boy Kautsa. Kautsa, the young son of a Brahmin named Devdatt, was living in the city of Paithan. After studying under the tutelage of Rishi(sage) Varatantu, Kautsa insisted that his guru accept his gurudakshina(the voluntary fee or gift offered in olden days by a Hindu disciple to his guru at the end of his training). Initially Varatantu refused but to test his disciple he later asked for 140 million gold coins, one hundred million for each of the subjects he taught. The obedient student went to the ruler of the land, King Raghu, to ask for the money. King Raghu was famous for his generosity, but when he heard the demand of his subject he fell into deep thinking because just a while ago he had emptied all his coffers on the Brahmins, after performing the Vishvajit sacrifice. He asked Kautsa to give him three days’ time. He immediately left to get the gold coins from Lord Indra. Lord Indra summoned Kuber, the god of wealth, and told him to make a shower of gold coins on the “Shanu” and “Aapati” trees round King Raghu’s city of Ayodhya. This is what Kuber did and after presenting the promised amount to his tutor, Kautsa distributed the rest of the coins among the poor people on the day of Dussehra. In Ayodhya, this great event is still observed with the people looting the leaves of the apati trees and presenting them to each other as “sone” (gold).
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