Dussehra or Navratri is one festival that is celebrated in each and every state of the country. Sometimes the festivities are short and confined to the last day – Vijayadashami – and in some places all ten days are time for huge festivals and spending time with family and friends. In most places this is a time for worshiping the Goddess Durga or Shakti – the Feminine Divine. It is said, the Goddess delivered humanity from Mahishasura, the buffalo-headed demon on Vijaya Dashami. People also celebrate Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana, the 10-headed Asura on Vijay Dashami.
Here are nine very unique Dussehra celebrations from across the country:
• West Bengal’s Glorious Durga Puja
In all fairness, Durga Puja is not exclusive to West Bengal. Odisha and almost all the North Eastern states celebrate the festival as well. But if you wish to see the real charms of an entire state in carnival mode, come to West Bengal. Here you will find imposing makeshift pandals built like temples right on the streets and hundreds and hundreds of eateries set up to cater to the thousands of pandal hoppers and revelers. The people of Bengal all dressed in their best, indulging in music, dance, and mirth – this is one Dussehra you don’t want to miss. Do look out for the Sindur Khela on the tenth day when married women colour each other and the Goddess’ idol with Sindur.
• New Delhi’s Spectacular Ram Leela
One might say that Ram Leela and Ravan dahan are part of north Indian festivities during the Navratri and are not unique to Delhi. However, unless one lands at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan to witness thousands transcending religious, caste, and other boundaries to participate in the Ram Leela celebrations, or unless one visits Chandni Chowk or some of the older parts of Delhi where Muslims prepare the stage for the Ram Leela enactment, and Sikhs, and Christians, and people from all other religions participate heartily in the festivities, one cannot savour the true character of India’s capital, or of the nature of Indian festivals.
• Tamil Nadu’s Traditional Navratri
Celebrations in Tamil Nadu are quite unique. The Navaratri are 9-days of Goddess worship and unlike most other festivals celebrated by the Hindus in the state, women take the lead in this celebration. The Goddess temples all across the state hold grand festivals where the deity is decked up in nine different forms (alankarams) on these days. At home, women arrange beautiful displays of dolls and toys in what is called the Golu Festival (also called Bommai Kolu). Married women visit each other’s homes to admire the Golu display, sing and dance, and exchange sweets. These women are gifted traditional accessories symbolizing their marriage such as betel leaves, flowers, vermillion, bangles, and jewelry.
• Gujarat’s Colourful Navratri
Open community celebrations, worship of the Feminine Divine, vibrant loud music, men and women joining in to dance the garba and dandhiya, sparkling colours, and nine “no-fatigue” nights of celebration…. Welcome to the Navartri in Gujarat. The other side of this high energy medley of song, dance, and revelries, is the devotion of men and women. Many fast during these nine days giving up their favourite foods and following austerities. Pilgrimages are undertaken to the Goddess temples of Ashapura Mata, Ambaji temple, Chamunda Mata Temple. One thing is clear, though. If song, dance, and social festivities are your thing you must head to Gujarat this Dussehra.
• Mysore’s Majestic Nadahabba
The Nadahabba or the Dasara (Duddhera) is a ten-day long state festival of Karnataka that culminates on Vijaya Dashami or the last day of Navratri. While festivities and celebrations across the state are rather spectacular, Mysore takes this festival a notch up. Local legends say that the demon Mahishasura was the ruler of Mysore. The very name Mysore is a version of the words Mahishasurana Ooru or city of Mahishasura. The Goddess Durga descended as Chamundeshwari at the nearby Chamundi hills and killed the demon. In olden days the royals of Mysore would celebrate the festival by organising a massive elephant procession. These days the temple festival at the Chamundeshwari Temple and numerous fairs keep the people entertained. A number of events such as song and dance programmes, sports competitions etc. are held on these days. The Mysore palace is still lit up and looks splendid during the festival days.
• Himachal Pradesh’s Fun-filled Dussehra
Kullu in Himachal Pradesh is the place to be if you want to spend Dussehra in the lap of the majestic Himalayas and yet not miss out on all the celebrations and festivities associated with Navratri. Hundreds of thousands of people descend upon the Kullu valley to attend the Kullu Dussehra, which is now known as an international festival. Interestingly, unlike other parts of the country, this festival starts on Vijay Dashami and goes on for a week. Held in the Dhalpur Maidan in Kullu, the festival is known for a spectacular procession where a number of deities are carried in a chariot. Folk dances and music programmes are ubiquitous and this is the best time to pick up all the Himachali handicrafts and trinkets you have been meaning to.
• Punjab’s Fascinating Jagratas
Navratri celebrations in Punjab are again rather unique. Young girls and married women undertake austerities by praying and fasting for the first seven days. On the eighth day a bhandara is organised. This is a feast in honour of the Goddess where huge quantities of food are served to the neighbours and even to poor people. Young girls are gifted Chunris or red stole-like wraps. Jagarans and Jagratas are held at homes and neighbours and families assemble to keep awake all night while singing devotional songs. In many parts of the state, Ravana’s effigy is burnt on Vijay Dashami day. In 2014, Punjab delivered a wonderful social message by setting ablaze a Ravana effigy made of narcotics symbolizing the war against drug use.
• Maharashtra’s Beautiful Navratri
Maharashtra, being in the neighbourhood of Gujarat, adopts many of the vibrant festivities, and Garbas and Dandhiya Ras are organized all over the state. The more modern youth community gives these celebrations a twist by setting up disco dandiyas and rain dandiyas with loads of food and fun. In traditional Maharashtrian households, married women make sweets and Prasad and worship the Goddess these nine days. They exchange “Suhag” items and apply turmeric and vermilion on each other.
• Telengana’s Floral Bathukamma
Apart from the usual temple and household pujas for the Goddess, the exchange of greetings and sweets, people from Telengana celebrate the Bathukamma Panduga or the Bathukamma festival during the Navratri. This is a flower festival in which women create beautiful and very elaborate floral arrangements, usually in a concentric conical form. This is their way of asking the Goddess in women to come alive. ‘Bathukamma’ literally translates into ‘Mother Goddess come Alive’. In some parts these floral arrangements are left in temples and in some places they are left to float in rivers and ponds.