One of the most important festivals celebrated in India by people of all states is this festival of ten days which falls in the Hindu month of Ashwin or Aswayuja masa occurring generally during the period of second half of September to first half of October each year. It is world famous as celebrations of Vijayadashami or Sharad Navaratra festival. This is because of the fact that this festival is celebrated for 9 days/ nights and on the tenth day (during the 1st day of ashwin, which is the beginning of Sharad season, to the 10th day of ashwin or Dashami).
'Dussehra' word is derived from original 'Dashahara' which has some meaning in itself. It is the combination of two sanskrit words 'dasha' and 'hara' meaning destruction of ten. It is the destruction of ten bad qualities that are possessed by demons. Some people mean 'dussehra' denoting as a festival of ten days also. Vijayadashami refers to the victory of Goddess Shakti or Durga over Mahishasura (a buffalo shaped demon) on the tenth day of fighting with him. Goddess Durga killed many other demons also and brought safety and happiness to the people including devas. So to celebrate this happiness this festival of ten days came into being.
How to celebrate it
Maa Durga, Kali or Shakti Puja
In homes, Dussehra or Vijayadasami is generally celebrated for 3 days only in starting from the 8th day or ashtami to the 10th day or dashami. On ashtami day Goddess Durga is worshipped and especially ladies keep vrat or austerity taking food only one time on that day and on 9th day also as they consider that Goddess gets pleased when sincerely worshipped by keeping fast and bestows them with shakti or power to overcome all bad things and grants good health and prosperity of their family members. On the ninth day, other forms of Durga like Saraswathi, Lakshmi, Kali are also worshipped to be bestowed with the powers of education, wealth, power and overall well being of family. On 10th day it is celebrated as a festival wearing new clothes, visiting temples, preparation of various dishes and sweets and enjoying with family and friends.
This festival is celebrated publicly also by erecting pandals or tents at public open spaces or street junctions or playgrounds and clubs, etc. all over India in different styles according to their traditions. Idols of Goddess Durga (Kali or Shakti), Saraswati, Lakshmi, Ganesha, Kartikeya,etc. are placed on elevated platforms and worshipped. These public pandals are erected with the help of donations collected from colony people at each place. All the people visit these celebrations wearing new clothes, especially children and girls. Generally the pooja gets started on 6th day evening and is carried on upto 10th day. Normal worship goes both times (in the morning and evening) and then arati is done in the evenings mostly popular among Bengalis, who perform pooja with dance-like performances holding the earthen bowls containing burning coal or dung cakes with incense powder sprinkled over it emitting a good divinely smelling odour with smoke all over the pandal. They make the dancing steps in such a rhythm matching with the beatings of the holy music. It is a very marvellous and thrilling experience both for the performers and the viewers. During this performance all the devotees gathered there experience a thrilling feeling of union with divinely power.
Vijayadashami is considered to be the day when Lord Rama fought with demon Ravana and won the battle by killing him and released Goddess Sita from his captivity. So to celebrate this occasion, the tradition of enacting plays from Ramayana illustrating these incidents started from that period onwards. This practice of Ram lila performances is mostly popular in Northern India. Ram lila stages are erected at all colonies just like Durga puja pandals. Ramlila is usually held throughout nights on all these ten days starting late in evenings to accommodate people attending Durga puja so that they can attend Ram lila after returning from puja and after having dinner. These Ram lila performances are enacted in a typical traditional style to resemble the real characters and environment of that age. On the tenth day, the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghnath are burnt with firecrackers and people feel the joy of destruction of evil.
Ram Nagar Ram Lila near Varanasi
Ram Nagar is a town near Varanasi in U.P. which is famous for Ram Lila celebrations. Originally the Royal family of Ramnagar kingdom started this festival to be celebrated publicly along with their public many centuries ago. Since then, it grew to be widely popular year after year. It is celebrated for one full month with processions of Ramlila characters and scenes in stages by erecting pandals and stages at many places of Ramnagar and Varanasi by crossing river Ganga at a place connecting Ramnagar Fort with Lanka or BHU of Varanasi. They consider Ramnagar as the kingdom of Rama and Lanka as the abode of demon king Ravana and the bridge on river ganga to be the bridge built by Rama's army consisting vanaras of whom Hanuman was leader. Full Ramayana scenes are very beautifully and artistically presented by these performers during one full month all over Ramnagar and Varanasi.
Dollhouse or Bommala Koluvu (Kolu) decorations
In Southern India, it is customary to decorate their houses with small idols or miniatures of the characters of Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Gods and Goddesses along with other dolls on this festival. Some people treat this practice with competition spirit exhibiting their full skills and tastes in their decorations. People visit one others' places to witness these decorations. It is known as Bommala Koluvu in Andhra Pradesh and as Kolu in Tamil Nadu.
Performance by school children
Schools take participation in the Dasara celebrations by making students dressed as characters of Ramayana or some other ideal characters and take them in procession on streets and to the children's houses to showcase their talents and improve extra curricular talents. Besides, Saraswati pujas are organised in schools on the navami or ninth day and books are kept in front of Saraswati to bestow them with good knowledge and merit.
Overall, Dasara or Durga Navaratri is a festival of victory of good over evil celebrated all over India and in many parts of the world with different cultures and styles. You come to know many lifestyles of the people by observing these celebrations both of contemporary period as well as epic period.