Dussehra (pronounced Duh-shei-ra) is a popular celebration in India. It is also celebrated in countries which have welcomed the Indian diaspora and amongst practitioners of Hinduism scattered all across the globe. Why is Dussehra so popular despite the millennia? Let’s experience this colourful celebration together, exclusively in this MasteringIndia blog. We’ve also included an interesting short video, which you can watch below; courtesy of e-learning specialist SLX Learning.
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The Status of Women in Indian Society
Dussehra is synonymous with piety, love, and gratitude to the Feminine Divine. It is with joy in their hearts that devotees celebrate the creative force for nine nights. It can be celebrated four times during the year, but the one during the lunisolar month of Ashwin, which varies each year, from August to October, depending on the astral plane, is the most popular one. Dussehra derives from the Sanskrit Dash, which means ten. It is the tenth day of the Navratri festivities: nine nights of devotional prayers and songs offered to Devi, the representation of divine feminine strength. The fundamental role of women has always been recognized in the Hindu tradition and she is honored during these ten days.
This festivity is rich in emotions. Many a times, it is women, who, concerned about the well-being of their families, dedicate themselves body and soul to the Divine Mother, with unparalleled devotion. Depending on the regional traditions, some devotees fast during these ten days: vegetarian meal only, either savory or sweet depending on the individual’s preference, frugivorous meals or only water! Others feast and even consume meat, with the exception of beef, which is sacred in Hinduism. This fervour is often in gratitude for prayers that have been answered or which are yet to be manifested. Dussehra gives expression to the desires buried in the depths of one’s heart.
Indian culture is based on fundamental human principles, as the Dussehra demonstrates so well. People from all walks of life, rich, poor, transgenders, among others, gather in Shakthi Peeth or in the temples dedicated to Devi during these ten days. Garba dances and other folk styles are integral part of these nights of celebration.
Why nine nights of prayer?
In Hinduism, Devi, the Feminine Divine, has nine aspects associated to her. Each of these nine forms uniquely facilitate the evolution of the faithful, while still being an integral part of the primary form of Devi. Some practices also divide the nine days into multiples of three and associate each three with the goddesses Kali, Lakshmi and Saraswati, three main forms of Devi. Kali is related to the body and health and dominates tamas, lethargy. Lakshmi, on the other hand, is linked to the heart, to feelings and to refinement, which hold the secrets of abundance and prosperity and govern rajas, feverishness. As for Saraswati, she promotes intellectual and artistic efforts, as well as pursuits of spiritual wisdom and presides over satva, self-control. On the tenth day, Devi is commonly celebrated in her form of Mahishasura Mardini, the one who defeated the demon Mahishasura.
Mahishasura Mardini in Indian culture
According to the story passed down from generation to generation through the millennia, a demon named Mahishasura had been granted the boon of being invincible to attacks of men. Arrogance inebriated him and he became a nuisance to humans, who pleaded to the Gods to help them. The Gods combined their forces, which resulted in the manifestation of Durga, also called Chamundeshwari. After defeating the demon Mahishasura, she came to be known as Mahishasura Mardini (conquer). From another point of view, this story can be interpreted as invoking the Feminine Divine for overcoming inner demons and self-limitations.
The open-mindedness of Hinduism and the flexibility of India
More and more people practice Hinduism around the world, despite not having Indian origins. Hinduism is a beautiful religion open to all schools of thought: those worshiping idols, those focusing on Vedic chants and mantras, those believing in the unmanifest aspect of God, those spreading unconditional love to all, and even atheists! There are no rituals for conversion to Hinduism because it is a way of life. Many celebrities, like Julia Roberts, practice Hinduism and enjoy the well-being that it imparts. This thousands-of-years-old way of life holds many secrets that are beneficial to the contemporary man. Let’s learn, again and again, there is no age limit!
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