World ? Asia ? India


A giant Dussehra celebration effigy filled with fire crackers

28 Sep 2009 (annual)
The Hindu festival of Dussehra celebrates the victory of the legendary hero Rama over the demon-king Ravana. The battle is re-enacted in towns across the country as giant effigies filled with fireworks are set ablaze with flaming arrows.
Marking the end of the nine-day Navaritri celebration, this is one of the most significant Hindu festivals, celebrated with enthusiasm throughout the sub-continent. It evokes both Rama's victory, celebrated in the Ramayana and the defeat of the demon Mahisha by the goddess Durga.

Colossal figures representing the grotesque demon king and his court (stuffed with fireworks and explosives) are transported to open spaces, followed closely by those that represent Rama and his cohorts. Flaming arrows are fired into the bodies of their enemies, setting fire to them and exploding them dramatically, amidst joyous shouts of Ramchandra ki jai, or "Victory to Rama".

Not all celebrations re-enact this battle, though, and there is a rich body of local lore and folklore that makes the celebration of this festival different everywhere you go in India. In Tamil Nadu, for example, little dolls re-enact scenes from the Ramayana, while in Bengal the festival particularly honours Durga (the goddess of fertility) and is called the Durga Puja.

The story of Rama and Ravana forms an important part of the Indian classic, the Ramayana. The hero Rama, banished from the court through the lures of his stepmother, lived as a hermit with his wife Sita. By magic and trickery, the evil king Ravana, who lived in the kingdom of Lanka across the sea, abducted the beautiful Sita. Rama then enlisted the aid of the monkey-king Hanuman and his tribe of monkey warriors, who proceeded to lay siege to the city of Ravana. In a climactic final battle, Rama finally shot the supernaturally protected ruler with his arrows and had his wife restored to him.

Devotees believe that the name Rama itself vibrates on a spiritual level and that the mere act of pronouncing it can purify and spiritually elevate the soul. This is because Rama was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu in his protector aspect, who is reborn to protect the Earth every time the human race faces great evil or danger.
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