Most Indians love festivals. From decorations and dances to fireworks and food, we delight in every aspect of festivals and as far as festivals are concerned, Dasara brings all these aspects together in the grandest of manners. Dasara embodies the concept of unity in diversity. From fasting and feasting to fireworks, it is celebrated in different ways in different parts of India even as the central essence of the festival. The triumph of “good over evil” remains the same.
So if you are looking for a diverse Dasara experience, here are 12 places in India that celebrate this festival in an exceptional way.
1. Kolkata Durga Pujo
Kolkata Durga Puja pandals have always remained in news for their uniqueness as every year there are something special and innovative things they offer for the devotees. From hopping between elaborate pandals and indulging in delectable bhogs to doing the dhunuchi dance to the fervent beats of the dhaak, Durga Puja in Kolkata is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, while Kolkata’s public Durga Pujas tend to hog all the attention, a little-known yet unique experience can be found at the traditional ‘Bonedi Bari’ pujas held in the city’s time-worn palatial mansions.
2. Mysore Dasara
Mysore Dasara is a Royal Festival Celebrating the victory of Truth over Evil. Legend has it that the Goddess Chamundeeswari or Durga slew the demon Mahishasuran on Vijayadashami day. In Karnataka, Dasara is observed as State festival – Nadahabba, because of the celebration of the festival is steered by the Royal Family of Mysore. The royal family of Mysore performs special pooja on the occasion of Dasara. During Dasara, the entire City is gaily decorated and illuminated. The preceding nine days of Navarathri have celebrations starting only after six days. The sixth day is in honor of goddess Saraswathi. Eight days is dedicated to Durga and Ninth day is for Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. On the tenth day, a grand spectacular Procession is held which starts from Mysore Palace and ends in Bannimantap. Other highlights of the event are the special Durbar at the spectacularly lit Mysuru palace and the majestic Dasara procession known as the Jumbo Savari.
3. Kullu Dussehra
Kullu Dussehra is the renowned International Mega Dussehra festival observed in the month of October in Himachal Pradesh state in northern India. Started by Raja Jagat Singh in 1637, the Kullu Dussehra is the only festival in India where such a large number of deities are assembled at one place. What also makes this festival unique is that unlike other places, the celebrations begin on Vijayadashami, the day when the Dussehra festivities end in the rest of the country. Interestingly, instead of burning effigies of Ravan, the festival concludes its celebration with the Lankadahan ceremony or the burning of the Lanka (symbolized by dry leaves, grass, and twigs) on the banks of river Beas.
4. Hyderabad’s Bathukamma
Celebrated across Telangana and in parts of Andhra Pradesh, the festival starts with the worship of Lord Ganesha followed by women dancing around a flower arrangement that is made by placing seven concentric circles of wood on top of each other to resemble a temple gopuram. Coinciding with Navratri, Bathukamma starts on the day of Mahalaya Amavasya and culminates on on Ashwayuja Ashtami. It is then followed by Boddemma, a 7-day festival that marks the ending of varsha ritu and the advent of sharad ritu. Interestingly, each day of Bathukamma is named after the type of food that is offered to the deity on that particular day.
5. Bastar Dussehra
Bastar Dussehra is the unique cultural trait of Chhattisgarh. A unique 75-day festival celebrated in the tribal heartland of Chhattisgarh and the Bastar Dussehra is all about nature, spirituality and Devi Danteshwari. This tradition is believed to have been started by 13th century Bastar King Purushottam Dev in Bade Dongar the erstwhile capital of the Kakatiyas that lies near the present day city of Jagdalpur. Unique rituals at this tribal festival includes pata jatra (worship of wood), deri gadhai (posting of the pillars, kalash staphna (urn installation), kachan gaadi (throne installation for Devi Kachan), nisha jatra (nocturnal festival), muria durbar (conference of tribal chieftains) and on the last day, ohadi (farewell to deities).
6. Chennai’s Bommai Kolu
The brightly colored tableaux represent the assembly of Goddess Durga during her battle with the demon Mahishasura, it also displays other themes such as episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Often abstract concepts add to the layers of stories on the tableaux. From local wedding rituals and folk songs to contemporary heroes, over the years, the all-encompassing tradition of Bommai Kolu has transformed into an annual exhibition of creativity and innovation.
7. Varanasi Ram Lila
Ram Leela is a popular enactment of the mythological epic, Ramayana. It is believed that the great saint Tulsidas started the tradition of Ram Lila, the enactment of the story of Lord Ram. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Varanasi is famous for its Ram Lila that has been performed beside the Ramnagar Fort since the early 1800s. It was started by the Maharaja of Benaras, Udit Narayan Singh. Here, almost the whole town is transformed into a vast Ram Leela ground as permanent structures are built and spaces designated to represent the main locations of the story. Thus, we have Ashok Vatika, Lanka etc at different locations in the town. The audience moves along with the performers with every episode, to the next location. The most amazing thing about the Ram Leela of Ramnagar is its sober character. It is incredible to see that electric lights, mikes and loudspeakers are hardly used in the performances, even when the audience number in thousands.
8. Madikeri Dasara
A colorful, carnival-like festival celebrated amidst the serene hills of Madikeri. Madikeri’s Dasara has a long and fascinating history that dates back to the reign of Haaleri Kings. There are four temples dedicated to Goddess Mariamma, each having its own unique Karaga that is performed during the festival. However, the main amusement is the boisterous parade of 10 elaborately done up floats on which mechanical figures of gods, goddesses, demons, and goblins enact dramas based on ancient plot lines.
9. Ahmedabad’s Navratri Mahotsav
A much-awaited annual event in Gujarat’s calendar, Navratri Mahotsav in Ahmedabad (or Amdavad) is celebrated with dazzling gaiety and fervor. Nine nights of bustling midnight buffets, energetic Garba dances and vibrantly colored chaniya cholis, kediyus and kafni pajamas twirling to the beat of the dhol, this festive extravaganza is sure to leave a lasting impression on visitors. Another reason to swing by Ahmedabad for Navratri is the iconic Gujarati aarti dance performed in honor of the mother goddess. Thousands of people dancing in circles around intricate arrangements of earthen lamps to commemorate the triumph of good over evil is a stunning sight to behold.
10. Delhi’s Ram Lila
Ramlila in Delhi is one of the most awaited events of the year. The supremely entertaining Ramlila celebrated annually on the day of Dussehra, marks the victory of Lord Rama over the demon-king Ravana. This is the day when life-size effigies of Ravana, Meghnath, and Kumbhakarana are burned in an enactment. The most popular place to view the Ramlila is at Ramlila Maidan, the aptly named fairground in Old Delhi. It is believed that this particular Ram Lila musical was started by Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar nearly 170 years ago. Kanjak Puja, Navratri specials in restaurants and setting fire to the sky-high effigies of Ravana, Meghnath, and Kumbhakarana on the last day are other things that people look forward to.
11. Kulasekarapattinam Dasara
A rather nondescript coastal town in Tamil Nadu, Kulasekharapattinam comes alive during its 10-day Dussehra festival. This festival starts with flag hosting, following by various rituals and concludes with Soorasamharam on the 10th day. On last day, Soorasamharam which symbolizes the victory of good over evil, the highlight of 10 days festival, is performed at the beach. The Devotees who perform fasting for 41 days, dress like God/ Goddess and marsh towards temple from neighboring villages. They lose themselves and move into the trance state for a while when folk music is turned on. More than 1.5 million people gather near temple year after year on the tenth day after new moon day. Another unusual aspect of this festival is a trance dance in which pilgrims in fancy costumes sway to the pulsating beats of Thara Thappattam for hours on end and far into the night.
12. Kota Dussehra
Kota celebrates Dussehra with a fun-filled fair that includes cultural performances, costume plays, spectacular displays of fireworks and a plethora of stalls serving delicious festive food. The tradition of organizing a Dussehra fair which runs for 25 days is believed to have started in the reign of Maharaj Durjanshal Singh Hada in 1723 AD.On Vijayadashami, massive effigies of Ravan, Meghnath, and Kumbhakarna are set aflame to commemorate Ram’s victory over the demon king of Lanka. This is followed by a series of Kavi sammelans, mushairas and moustache competitions. Along with religious programs, many cultural programs have also become part of this astonishing event. On Vijayadashmi, somebody representing the erstwhile royal family shoots an arrow toward the effigy of Ravan which depicts the death of Ravan by the hands of Ram. More than 1 Lac people from Kota and nearby villages reach Dussehra Maidan to witness this event. From the next day onward the series of cultural programs start. Prominent artists from all over the country are invited to participate in various cultural programmes. The events include Cine Sandhya, Kavi Sammelan, Sindhi cultural programme, Bhajan Sandhya, Rajasthani folk music and dance programme, all-India mushaira, Punjabi programme, qawwali night, Bhojpuri Night etc.
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