Adyar Gopal Parivar
Mysore and Dassera Festival
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Mysore and its Dassera Festival
By Mohan Shenoy
Navaratri festival is a long festival lasting 9 days and 9 nights. (Nava=nine, Rathri=night).
The day following the 9 days is the Vijayadashami festival. Vijayadashami day is added
with the Navaratri to name it Dassera (Dass=ten, 10-day festival). For Hindus to observe
the festival at home, oil-lamps are lighted and placed on the windowsills of their house
every night for 9 nights. But the oil-lamps are risky because there is a danger of fire.
Therefore it is safer to use small electric bulbs arranged in a long line, which can be hung
in front of the house. Multiple lines can be hung to give a beautiful look.
The first day of Navaratri is the first day of the first fortnight of the month of Ashweeja. To
make it easy to relate the day with the common calendar, this festival can be celebrated
on the first Monday of October every year. The Vijayadashami festival therefore can be
celebrated on the second Friday of October every year.
The festival of Navaratri signifies the march of victory. The nine days are spent on
preparations to celebrate victory on the 10th day of Vijayadashami. The days of
preparations begin with the installation of the clay figure of goddess Mahashakthi (Super
powered goddess) on the first day. Goddess Mahashakthi is said to have formed as a
powerhouse having the combined strength of the three original goddesses Lakshmi,
Parvathi and Saraswathi.
The installation of goddess Mahashakthi takes place in temples, Mathas or public places
such as an open-air theatre and usually not in homes of Hindus. Installation of clay figure
of Mahashakthi does not take place in homes as in Ganesha festivals. Ganesha festival
is celebrated with Puja and a feast in homes but not the Mahashakthi festival. The money
required to successfully manage these festivals is collected from donations of the
residents of the area. The number of Mahashakthi figures is also much less than the
Ganesh figures in the community. Apart from the lights, there are no programmes in the
homes for goddess Mahashakthi. In some homes there are exhibition of dolls during the
Navaratri festival. These dolls could be of the gods and goddesses but also of ordinary
men and women dressed up in different costumes. The dolls might be arranged to show
a mythological event or a social event in the community.
Throughout the history of the Hindu people Navaratri has undergone periodic
modifications especially regionally. In the Hindi heartland Navaratri festival is culminated
by burning the effigies of Raavana and Kumbhakarna, the villains of Raamaayana. This
way the festival is supposed to give a message that good triumph over evil ultimately.
In the South, the main attraction is the procession held on the 9th or the 10th day in
Mysore city.
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In the procession there are elephants carrying the goddess Chamundeshwari.
Chamundeshwari is another name for the goddess Mahashakthi. Chamundeshwari is
supposed to have killed a demon by the name of Mahishaasura on this day thousands of
years ago. In the procession there are all kinds of floats that display the achievements of
the government. In the evening there are entertainment programs held in the Mysore
palace grounds where India's famous musicians and dancers show their talents.
Thousands of people crowd around the palaces and the Exhibition grounds. In the
Exhibition grounds a huge exhibition is held, in which there are a large number of stalls
displaying and selling the arts and crafts of the South. There are joy rides and
stunt-shows. On the final night there is a display of gymnastics by torch-bearing soldiers
dressed in the army-uniform of the erstwhile Maharajah. There are fly-pasts of helicopters
and aeroplanes during the days. All this is in the name of Navaratri festival.
Before the Muslim kings came into India in the 13th century, there were feudal wars
fought between Hindu kings of the neighbouring states, in the Navaratri time. This was
called Seemollanghana (Seema=border, ullanghana=crossing) or crossing the borders.
The winning king would accept the defeated king as his vassal and restore the kingdom
back to him. There will be a paper of surrender signed by the defeated king and later an
agreement to pay tributes to the winning king. The winning king and the defeated king
celebrated the Vijayadashami day together in the winning king's capital. The day would
be celebrated with pomp and gaiety.
During the first seven days of Navaratri, various programmes may be held in the venue to
attract crowds, which may bring business to the stall-owners and contractors of joy rides.
But the eighth day is reserved for the goddess Durga. Durga is another name of goddess
Mahashakthi. Puja of goddess Durga is celebrated on a grand scale in the states of West
Bengal and Orissa, and on a smaller scale elsewhere. In Kolkata city for example there
are thousands of pandals erected and a large clay figure of the goddess Durga installed
in each of them, on the 3rd or 4th day of Navaratri. There are professional sculptors who
make these clay figures of the goddess. They make them every year and their vocation
has been passed on to them from generation to generation for the last many centuries.
There are Durga figures of various different poses. They are all so beautiful and
awe-inspiring. People come to the pandals and offer their Archana or Namaskaara
worship. They seek blessings and pray the goddess to grant them boons. There are
prasaad (food offered to the goddess and then distributed among the devotees) in all
pandals. In some pandals there are meals served at the end. The end was marked by the
Maha Mangalaarathi (the final big aarathi) being waved to the goddess.
The immersion of the clay goddess would take place on the ninth or subsequent
convenient day. There would be many people marching in the procession. Some of them
sing in praise of the goddess. Others would dance away to their heart's content. All in all
the festival makes the people who participate in it forget their day-to-day worries for while.
`                It is believed widely that the Vijayadashami day is an auspicious day for
starting new activities. A new shop would be opened on the Vijayadashami day. A house
would be occupied on this day. A school would be formally opened on this day. Feeding
solid food to an infant i.e. Annapraashana would be held on this day. Taking the baby out
of the house for the first time (Nishkramana) would also be done on this day. On this day
a 3-year old child would begin to write his first letters of the alphabet. Any new activity
begun on this day would turn out to be a tale of success according to the belief of many
The ninth day is the Mahanavami (big 9th). On this day there is a practice to give
attention to the tools and machines. Puja held to the tools and machines is known as
Aayudha Puja (aayudh=arms such as swords, muskets, guns, pistols, etc.). Although the
defense forces might perform Puja of the arms and ammunitions, the frigates and
destroyers, the fighter-jets and bombers, the common man would offer Puja to his tools
and machines used in his business, industries, farms and the vehicles on the road. There
would be rest given to the taxis and buses from plying. The vehicles would be washed
and cleaned, decorated with flowers and garlands, and then a lime fruit would be kept
against all the wheels, one lime fruit for each of the wheels. Then the engine would be
started and the vehicle moved forward a little bit to crush the lime underneath the wheels.
This is believed to prevent any one coming under the wheel until the next Aayudha Puja
in the following year. Then there will be an aarathi waved to the vehicle. Naivedya (food
offered to gods) is offered to the vehicle god (considering there is a god hidden in the
vehicle), and distributed to the people attending the Puja. Commonly a sweet is
The festivals of Naraka Chathurdashi, Dhanalakshmi Puja, Deepavali, Gow Puja, Festival
bath, Balipadyami and Shops Puja are bunched together in the season of Festival of
Lights in the month of November.
The Panchaanga books would give the dates for these festivals every year but these
dates differ from year to year. Therefore to bring an order in relation to the common
calendar the days suitable to observe the festivals are determined in such a way that they
come on the week-ends. This (Table 6) arrangement prevents people from absenting
from their work or business in the middle of the week. Businesses would also not suffer.
Offices would have good attendance because there are no holidays haphazardly claimed
by employees for festivals.
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