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By Mohan Shenoy

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.

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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.

Mysore Dassera part 1

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.

Mysore Dassera part 2

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.
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.

Mysore Dassera part 3

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.

Mysore Dassera part 4

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 Hindus.

Mysore Dassera part 5

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.
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 distributed.
Panchaanga books
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.

The Table (___________________________________) 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.
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.

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 distributed.