Dusshera Kahaani – Exploring the story of the festival of Dusshera

Imagine you’re a prince, you get exiled from your kingdom due to your step mom’s jealousy, and during your exile your wife gets kidnapped, and now you have to walk to the other side of the country, build a bridge, and go find the kidnapper.  Sheesh that sounds like a journey and a half doesn’t it.  This is not a sci fi or an action movie.  This is a Dusshera story!

The Hindu festival of Dusshera is coming up on October 25th, and it is one that makes me very excited every year as it represents one of the most fun festivals in our Hindu calendar.  So what is Dusshera, and what does this have to do with getting exiled and the whole bit? Well let’s jump right in!

In the Ramayana, a revered Hindu scripture, based on the epic of Lord Vishnu, incarnating himself into the human form  Shri Ram, was born as the son of a great King named Dasharath, ruler of the Koshala kingdom.

The reason Lord Vishnu incarnated himself was that the then King of Lanka (Modern day Sri Lanka), Ravana, had done severe penance to Lord Brahma (the creator ), and was blessed with a boon that he would not be able to be killed or defeated by gods, spirits, or other demons.

Ravana’s invincibility and pride caused him to become an evil and selfish ruler, thus needing Lord Vishnu to incarnate himself as he was the only one with the power to destroy Ravana.

As the epic goes, one of Shri Ram’s mothers was jealous of the love the kingdom had for him and was concerned for her own son Bharat.  Another one of the mother’s instigated her by saying that Bharat can have a chance to win the heart of the kingdom if he was anointed to the throne, and if Shri Ram was exiled for 14yrs which at that time, that length of exile will make him ineligible to rule the kingdom.

The request for Ram’s exile was granted by King Dasharath and so the story began.

After Shri Ram was exiled with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman, Bharat with the utmost admiration and love for his brother Shri Ram, placed Ram’s slippers onto the throne and served as a ruler under Shri Ram’s name.

While on exile, Sita ji was kidnapped when Ravana disguised himself as a sage and encouraged her to come out of her protected circle of her hut to give alms. By the time she stepped out of the circle of protection, she discovered that the sage was no other than Ravana in disguise, and was kidnapped and forcefully taken to Lanka.

After many a days she was found by Hanuman ji who was Shri Ram’s most ardent devote.  He came back to inform Shri Ram, they built a floating bridge over the water and reached Lanka with their entire army.  The war started and eventually Shri Ram and Ravana were in combat.  With Shri Ram being the divine incarnation of the Lord himself, he was able to slay Ravana and return home with his beloved Sita.

By destroying the 10 headed Ravana (10 heads symbolizing the knowledge that he held), righteousness was restored to the land and the people were free of the wrath of an unrighteous king.

The word Dusshera means the killing of the one with ten heads!

So how exactly is Dusshera celebrated?

In each Indian state it is celebrated a little differently but many core things remain the same.

In the week leading to the auspicious date of Dusshera, there is an effigy of Ravana built usually out of a bamboo frame and decorated with a sort of paper mache type of body, painted and crowned to look like Ravana, twenty to thirty feet tall, ten heads and all!

Everyday of that week there will be actors from the village or community all dressed up like Shri Ram, Sita ji, Hanuman ji, and a host of other characters from the epic, where they play out the scenes from Sita getting kidnapped, finding her, and finally the war where Ravana was defeated on the final day. 

To celebrate the defeat, a flaming arrow is shot into the effigy of Ravana and it is lit on fire until it burns to ashes.  During this event, songs are sung, drums are played, and everyone celebrates the triumph of good over evil.  The festivities include lots of food, dance, and many wonderful memories of the planning and excitement that it took to complete this big task of the play, and finally getting to destroy Ravana.

In a sense, it represents that it takes many people working together as community, family, and friends, to continuously be doing everything that they can to ensure that righteousness always prevails.  The burning of Ravana also symbolizes the burning of the ego and pride, which can cause one to make bad decisions without regard for someone else or their well being.

For more details and the entire story, we encourage you to read the Ramayan, usually knowns as “Shri Ramcharitramanas”, in which unfolds a universe of teachings of humanity, and most importantly, the entire story of how Dusshera came to be!