Celebrated in the month of Ashvin (September/October) according to the Hindu calendar. Dassera is an important festival that is celebrated across the length and breadth of India. Also known as Vijayadashami, Dassera marks Goddess Durga’s victory in battle over the mighty asura demon, Mahishasura who was part animal. The holy trinity comprising Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara had created goddess Durga to kill the powerful Mahishasura who had been harassing the devas (gods). Dassera has immense mythological significance. As per the Ramayana, Lord Rama invoked the blessings of Goddess Durga by performing ‘chandi puja’ to kill the ten-headed king of Lanka, Ravana, who had abducted his wife, Sita. Dassera marks the day on which Lord Ram vanquished Ravana. This is why effigies of Ravana are burnt at various places across India on Dassera.
In the stories above, Mahishasura and Ravana represent people who have taken the unrighteous path. They represent those who do not listen to the voice of their conscience. Lord Rama and Goddess Durga, on the other hand, represent those who live by truth. Follow the voice of their conscience. The victory of Goddess Durga and Lord Rama over Mahishasura and Ravana respectively reinforces our belief that those who live by truth acquire the strength to overcome corrupt and unrighteous forces that come in their way.
At a subtler level, Mahishasura and Ravana represent our lower, base instincts, our vasanas(desires). Goddess Durga and Lord Rama represent the nobler, divine tendencies, the immortal Spirit in each one of us. Their victories epitomise the triumph of good over evil, the destruction of vasanas and the realisation of the Self.
The nine days of worship, Navaratri, preceding Vijayadashami are divided into three days of worship for each of the three goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. These signify that the spiritual journey needs to be undertaken at all three levels of the personality – physical, emotional and intellectual. At the physical level, we must dedicate our actions to a higher purpose. At the emotional level, the yearning and feeling for our spiritual goal must be kindled. And finally, at the intellectual level, we must strive to acquire spiritual knowledge to take us closer to the Goal.
The celebration on Dassera signifies the complete sublimation of desires and the re-discovery of the Divinity within. Thus Dassera is not simply about feasting and catering to the frailties of the senses. It is a reminder to each one of us to commit ourselves to the spiritual pursuit. The ten-day festival is symbolic of the lifelong search for the Divinity within each one of us, of the battle that we fight everyday against our own lower tendencies. If we haven’t yet embarked on the pursuit, the festival serves as an inspiration to take that first step. And for those of us already on the path, it is an opportunity to take stock of the situation and maintain focus on our sadhana (spiritual pursuit).