Dussehra commences both the victory of the warrior Goddess Durga (consort of Shiva) over the buffalo demon, Mahishasura, and that of Rama (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu), over Ravana, the ten-headed king of Lanka, who had abducted Rama's wife, Sita. Worship of the Goddess is the oldest tradition, significant in this case as it represents the female deity's supremacy over the male Gods who unable to destroy the demon.
Durga worship also has social implications. As Goddess of war, she is a particular favourite of the Kshatriyas, the warrior caste, once constituting the ruling elite and aristocracy.
Celebrations Across India
Dusshera celebrations in India vary from region to region. In various parts of the country, all through Navaratras, Ramleelas use the Sahitya of the several versions both the Desi and Margi streams of tradition of the Ramayana to put on board a mind-boggling array of performances. The most well-known one started by the Raja of Benaras over a century ago, which is a magnificent form in itself of enacting the Ramayana of Tulsidas, composed in rhyming couplets.
During the Navaratras, the town of Ramnagar becomes one vast set of play. Different scenes are enacted in different parts of the town, and the audience walks along with the actors of the play, involving themselves physically with the action of the narrative.
All over northern India, the culmination happens on Dussehra with three gigantic effigies of Ravana, Meghanath and Kumbakarna being set aflame by the actor dressed as Rama, by shooting an arrow into Ravan's navel. It is said that this particular time is the Vijay Vela when Rama had defeated Ravana and it is believed that anyone who wants to demolish or defeat his enemy must worship the Shami tree and set out of their homes in splendour in order to do so. This tree is said to be doubly auspicious as it was on the Shami that the Pandavas had hidden their weapons during the Agyatvaas, which was the last year of their Vanvas (exile), when they has to live in anonymity.
Down south, the city of Mysore is synonymous with its annual Dusshera procession. Chamundeshwari, the patron Goddess of the Mysore Royal family is worshipped with great fervour. After weeks of feverish preparations, a spectacular procession of floats, entertainers, and elephant wends its way through the streets of the city, complete with the erstwhile scion of the Mysore royal family astride an elephant. Perhaps a muscle flexing exercise at some point in history, it is now a magnificent pagent reminiscent of the glory of the Maharajas of yore.
Not to be outdone is the Dussehra celebrations of Kullu, nestles in the lap of Himalayas. The festivities begin nearly 10 days in advance and as per tradition, Gods and Goddesses along with their followers of musicians and attendants descend from the neighbouring peaks on the relatively flatter Kullu to make merry and attend the durbar of Lord Raghunath, who was brought from Ayodhya, nearly 300 years ago. While the celestial durbar is in place, people too are having a great time in the melas and animal fairs held on the occasion.