The word Dussehra is derived from Sanskrit word Dasha-hara that means “remover of bad fate” or remover of ten heads of Ravana. It is celebrated with great zeal on the tenth day of the Hindu autumn lunar month of Ashvin that during September or October of the Western calendar.  Every year, after Navratri Dussehra, is celebrated. It also marks the beginning of the harvest season with farmers praying to the almighty for an abundant crop. Not many of us know that the same day is also commemorated as the Vishwakarma Divas or a Labour Day, which is why books, kitchen knives, spades, even vehicles are worshipped.  At its core, Dussehra celebrates the victory of good over evil and like every other festival has various legends attached to it.

Significance of Dussehra

According to Ramayana, on this day, Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu killed Ravana and brought Sita back home. This is the why effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna, and Meghnad are burnt all over the country.  Ramayana states that Lord Rama, Lakshman returned with Sita to Ayodhya 20 days after Dussehra. To welcome them, Ayodhya was lit up with thousands of earthen lamps. Diwali is celebrated on that day.  Dussehra also marks the beginning of pleasant and cold weather.

Story 1: Ravana’s Death at the Hands of Lord Rama

After losing everything in a game of dice, the Pandavas were exiled by their cousins, Kauravas, to 12 years of Vanvas and one year of living incognito.  They spent 12 years living in forests and the last year — after hiding their divine weapons in a Shami tree — decided to reside in the Kingdom of Virat.  Pandavas spent the year in disguise, but as Kaurava army attacked the Virat Kingdom, the brothers shed their disguise, took their weapons from the Shami tree after years on this day.  In the battlefield, the Kaurava army was routed, and this was the first battle that finally led to the war of Kurukshetra.

Story 2: The Mighty Pandavas

In a fierce war between the demons and the gods, one demon – Mahishasura, managed to create havoc on earth and defeat the gods. As he tyrannized the world, to stop him the gods combined their energies and gave birth to Goddess Durga. The Goddess was blessed with ten hands and weapons to help her slay Mahishasur.  (Read about Navratri Trishakti – Durga, Lakshmi & Saraswati)  The story says that the battle between Durga and Mahishasur went on for nine continuous days and nine nights and finally on the tenth day, Goddess Durga killed Mahishasura.

Story 3: Gods and the Demons

The Dasara festival story is not about any battles or victory of good over evil. It is about a young Brahmin boy, Kautsa, who insisted his guru — Rishi Varatantu — to accept Guru Dakshina.   The Guru was reluctant at first, but the Brahmin boy was very persistent. Finally, Guru asked him to give 140 million gold coins as Guru Dakshina for the 14 sciences that he taught the young boy.  So Kautsa visited the generous King Raghu. King Raghu asked Kautsa for three days to ask for the coins from Lord Indra. Indra asked Kuber, the lord of wealth to rain gold coins on the Shanu and Aapati trees that surrounded King Raghu’s city.  Soon it began raining gold coins, which were given to Kautsa who in turn offered it as Guru Dakshina. Since Rishi Varatantu had asked for 140 million, he returned the rest to Kautsa.   Kautsa returned the wealth to Ayodhya on the day of Dussehra.  This is where the practice of distributing leaves of the Aapati trees as gold was born.

Story 4: Guru Dakshina