¤ The Festival Time Begins With Dussehra Come September and an intangible bubbling excitement begins to charge the Indian air. Folks go about their daily chores as usual. But hey, look closer and you’ll notice the little skip in their steps, the wider than usual smiles and basically a general lightness of spirit. Ask them why and you’ll be answered with a blank look. No, it’s not a secret but just a feeling, the feeling of ‘good times are here again’. It’s festival time; one after another, and the fever is just catching on. The first big festival of the season is Dussehra.
¤ The Exciting Tales Associated With The Festival
This hugely popular festival falls on the 10th day of the waxing moon during the Hindu month of Ashvin (around September or October). A fascinating collection of mythological legends and regional tales are embroidered around Dussehra. On this day, Rama, the god-king and hero of the great Hindu epic, Ramayana, killed the unrighteous Ravana, the 10-headed demon king of Lanka who had abducted Rama’s wife, Sita.
It is believed that Lord Rama’s brother Lakshmana, along with an army of monkeys, fought a colossal battle that lasted 10 days. Rama, who was a devout believer of Durga, the Goddess of War, prayed to her for the first nine days of battle and killed the evil Ravana on the 10th day. He shot Ravana with a bow that pierced his navel. Out flowed the nectar of immortality that was stored in a pot in his navel, thus destroying his invincibility. Ravana’s own brother Vibhishana (being the sensible one, he had switched sides) had divulged this secret to Rama. Rama also slew Ravana’s brother Kumbhkarna (more famous for maintaining a lifestyle worthy of a record in the Guinness Book – he hibernated for six months at a stretch each year!). Lakshmana killed Ravana’s son, Meghnath. and Dussehra is the festival that commemorates this triumph of Good over Evil. To this day Rama Lila (the enactment of the Ramayana, or literally the saga of Rama) is staged in towns and villages across the length and breadth of the country.
Another legend that is linked to Dussehra is that of the Goddess Durga slaying the buffalo-demon, Mahishasura. According to popular mythology, the gods were compelled to grant Mahishasura indomitable powers for his unparalleled meditation. As expected, the omnipotent buffalo-demon Mahishasura raised hell at the gates of heaven, astounding the gods with his mammoth dominion. The infuriated gods then created Durga. It is believed that Durga was actualised by the combined effort of all deities. Durga possesses a weapon of each god and is said to be more powerful than all of them put together. In Bengal the festival is known as Durga Puja and is the single most important festival for the Bengalis. But that is another story.
¤ Ram Lila- Depicts A Legendary Story of Lord Rama
The highlight of Dussehra is Ram Lila. It is enacted for 10 days to mark the 10-day battle fought between Rama and Ravana. Ram Lila is generally held in large open grounds that come alive with brightly-lit stalls, rickety giant wheels that might fall apart any minute but never do, merry-go-rounds, brightly-painted manually run mini giant wheels with bucket seats for children. All this is very reminiscent of a country fair. Gigantic effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkarna and Meghnath are erected on the fairgrounds. The grotesque and colourful effigies, generally filled with crackers, are set ablaze on Dussehra, or the 10th day of Ram Lila. Huge crowds gather around the burning effigies to enjoy the spectacle. Children are especially delighted at the sight and shoot arrows into the exploding effigies.
Ram Lila is generally held in the evenings, and year after year, people flock in huge numbers to watch the saga unfold, yet once again. In ancient times when it was considered demeaning for women to go up on stage, men performed the female roles. This still happens in most parts of India. Needless to say, the most effeminate and ‘beautiful’ boy is handpicked to enact the role of Sita.
¤ Delhi Ramlila Ground —A Famous Site For Ramlila Lovers
Perhaps the most celebrated Ram Lila is the one held in Old Delhi around the Red Fort. This Ram Lila in particular is of considerable social and religious significance. The more important actors and actresses for this Ram Lila come from a small town in Uttar Pradesh called Moradabad. The man who plays Rama has been doing so for the past 15 years or so. The organisers of the Rama Lila host his stay and he describes this experience as an essentially purifying one. He is expected to remain celibate, abstain from smoking and drinking and other such practices for the month that he spends in Old Delhi. He is subject to such veneration and awe by people that when he walks in the streets, people come out of their homes to touch his feet. He says that he feels it incumbent upon him to live upto this reverence and to not do anything that would go against the grain of the adulation that people bestow upon him. He also says that the experience has added meaning to his life and helped him become a better person. Such is the importance of this Rama Lila that it is almost a ritual for the Prime Minister or the President of India to attend it. The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, attended the Ram Lila held in 1999.
¤ The blazing of Ravana
After the Ram Lila and the burning of the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghnath (right down to their curly moustaches), the stars of the night – Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are taken around in a huge chariot. Crowds of people shouting Jai Shri Ram (Victory to Rama) join the procession. (The processions of Mysore in Karnataka, and Ahmedabad in Gujarat are especially spectacular).
The stars are driven right up to their doorsteps, and India wakes up to a new day and the business of making a living. In a small town in Uttar Pradesh, Rama goes to work like the rest of us. But come September and he will again be god.