Festivals and celebrations play an important role in the Indian culture and it's heritage. Most Indian festivals have it's roots in religious disciplines imprinting social and cultural heritage. Dasara ritual is a forte of the followers of Shakthi tradition, who believe in feminine or goddesses worship, as a symbol of the good prevailing over evil and hence the protection of all life. All over India, we can see the celebration of Dasara in it's variations, proving it to be a national festival of unity and showcasing it's evolution in diversity.
Tradition & History
Dasara is derived from Sanskrit, and literally means 10("Dasa") days("ahar"). So, this is a celebration of 10 days, and the 10th day is Dasara or Vijayadashami. Other names prevailent for the festival are Dussehra(in northern India), Durga Pooja (in Eastern India), Durgotsava, navaratri, and so on..
It seems that during its early inception Dasara was an all night event with offerings to Goddesses and other poojas. Hence this festival was also called as nine("nava") nights("ratri"). As time passed, and people evolved into urban lifestyles, the late night offerings and rituals changed to all day event, which can still be seen followed similarly.
Dasara is celebrated in two parts, the first six days is one part of the festivity, and the 7th - 10th day, is the second and the last part of the celebrations.
The days of celebration is chosen through the Lunar calendar, Month of Ashwayuja(gregorian months of Sep-Oct, from 2nd day of waxing moon till the 10th day.
All over India, the feminine Goddess Durga and her other forms of incarnation like Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth), Saraswathi (Goddess of Wisdom), and so on..
This tradition of female deity worship is followed since and before Vedic times, Rig Veda suggest that the Hindu's belief in the feminine deity was in favor of considering her as the all pervading energy of the universe, and all life and gods as we perceive have come out of this Mother, The Mother of all known and knowing.
We can see the mentioning of Dasara and deity worshiping since the times of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Apart from that, historians have found that Devagiri's Yadavas, Hoysalas, Warangal's Kakateeyas celebrated Navaratri in accordance to the afore mentioned Vedic traditions.
A Bronze statue of mother Durga in form of Mahisasura-mardini (lit. The killer of buffalo headed demon) was found from Shimoga District in Karnataka and is believed to be from 5th Century. Looking at all this historic evidence and other cultural texts, we can put forth this argument that female deity worshiping has been a long lived tradition as part of Indian culture, and a rough estimate that these celebrations have survived time scales of about 2000 years.
The tradition and history of royal Dasara can be traced back to the Vijayanagara empire [1336 A.D-1646 A.D]. Keen on protecting the Hindu religion and culture from destruction by Muslim invaders, laid great emphasis on the restoration of temples and religious festivals during their reign. During the period of Proudaraya and Deva Raya or Krishna Deva Raya of the Vijayanagara empire, The Navaratri festival started receiving royal patronage, and it acquired the status of a state festival. It was celebrated with great pomp, enthusiasm and fervor, and attracted visitors from many parts of the country and even abroad. Political, administrative, religious and social significance with the appreciation of the laity added to its grandeur.
The Mysore Kingdom was a small feudatory Kingdom under the Vijayanagara Empire. With the fall of Vijayanagara Empire, The Mysore kings, Wodiyars inherited and perpetuated the traditions of Vijayanagara Empire thus showing their goodwill to the fallen Empire and it's great Men.
Hampi Royal Dasara
The most significant history of Dasara is it's relation to the Vijayanagara Dynasty. The historians have detailed about the Vijayadashami tradition in this region, and we can see that though empires have fallen, but the rituals and traditions haven't died. These ideas or ideologies are exquisite human expressions, which has spread across the society, lived, propagated like a living organism, and still evolving in the modern day society.
Dasara was celebrated with great religious importance, devout and passion since the Vijayanagara times. Hampi's Mahanavami Dibba and Hazara Rama Temple is the living witness of a glorious past.
All along the side walls of the Mahanavami Dibba, we can find sculptures of wrestlers (Garadi or kushti), hunters, horse traders, Camel traders, Gymnasts, other Street acts, jugglers, conjurers and illusionists, dancers, instrumentalists, singers, kings, attendants, army chieftains, are speaking of the time begone, and great majesty of the Dasara celebrations.
Hazara Rama being the most important deity of the Royal family of Vijayanagara, we can see that the temple was built attached close to the palace complex. This temple also has beautifully designed sculptures of Bhagawata, Mahabharata and Ramayana stories. The outer walls of the temple, meaning the walls to east, north and west, have sculptures of elephant rows, horse rows, camel rows, army knight team, army bishop team, army rook team, swords and other short range weapons team, and long range weapons team like the bows and arrows and other depictions of the then defense system. Apart from that folk artists like, kolata, dombaraata, wrestlers and gymnasts, okali aata, instrumental artists playing shenai and other musical instruments, bharatanatya dancers, street dancers, monkey charmers and various other artists and performers from different parts of the kingdom and around.This shows that, all the artists, the royal defence and other people involving all hierarchies of the then living society was religiously involved with the celebrations and processions, this is documented by Foreign travelers travelogues, whose details is discussed further.
Bharatesha Vaibhava, a great piece of literature from RatnakaraVarni cites the Dasara celebration from the 14th-15th century A.D in it's chapter Mahanavami Sandhu.
If all this is the preserved historic evidence of a bygone time, another side of the story is the survival of these traditions amongst the local culture and society for whom still Mahanavami is the most important annual festival.
Mahanavami, Dasara, Navaratri, Banni Habba, Hiriyara Habba are the synonyms for Dasara in Hampi region where this tradition is found to be followed even before the Vijayanagra kings. Foreign travelers who visited this region during the Vijayangara period have published their travelogues add to this available evidences and most important of them will be Abdur Razzak, Domingo Paes and Nuniz ... Nuniz's description of Common folk's dasara.. "Their writings made references to the ‘great feast’ celebrated for nine days in what is inferred to be Dasara; the wrestling competitions, the musicians and dancers entertaining the court, the march of the caparisoned elephants, decorated horses, foot soldiers and the tableaux."
Mysooru Royal Dasara
The divine mother Chamundeshwari would be worshiped on all these nine days of Navaratri in her different forms as believed in the Hindu tradition. On the first day, the king, after having a ceremonial bath, would perform purificatory rites. He would then worship his family deity, goddess Chamundi, and would wear the ceremonial, sacred wrist - band which signified his intention to perform the sacred rituals with devotion and dedication.
He would then enter the durbar with the accompaniment of sacred chants and music. He would also worship the throne as per the ancient injunctions. He would then circumambulate the throne thrice and ascend it at an auspicious moment. Later royal insignia and sword were presented to him amid prayers to the goddess. At that moment all the lights in the palace would come alive, and there would be the royal 21- gun salute.
After this the king would sit on the throne and receive royal guests. Soon after this, the royal elephant and horse would receive ablutions and worship. The court would present the king with the offerings received from various temples and religious centers (mathas). This was followed by Vedic chants, sprinkling of holy waters and blessings by the royal priests. The vassal kings [or feudatory], dewans, army chiefs and other royal staff would come and offer their respects to the throne in earlier times. Musical instruments would start an ensemble accompanied by dance performance, and the blowing of conch es and trumpets with the parade of uniformed soldiers and other staff.
The tradition of the durbar, an adoption from the Mugal emperors, was first introduced by Mummadi[lit. The Third] Krishnaraja Wadiyar, and it is an assembly of the royal court, attended by the invitees, chief citizens, members of the royal family, palace officials, royal priests, and the intelligentsia.
The beautifully decorated royal elephant would arrive showering roses on the assembled guests; and the royal horse, equally well - decorated, would bend down on its knees in salutation to the throne.
The same procedure would be followed on all the Navaratri evenings with the addition of acrobatic feats, wrestling bouts by champions, fireworks display and other entertainment’s, watched by the teeming masses everyday. While the durbar would be held in the outer court the worship would be done within the palace. The king would worship Goddess Sarasvati on the seventh day and Durga on the eighth. On the mahanavami day, the royal sword would be worshiped ceremoniously, signifying the worship of all the weapons and would be taken out in procession accompanied by the army, elephants, horses, camels and the royal retinue. The assembly rooms of the palace and the royal insignia would also be worshiped.
After a mile - long walk, the procession would reach the Banni mantapa site, where the king, after a bath, would worship the sami tree(or banni in Kannada).
Worshiping this tree before embarking on any war adventure was customary for kings of this dynasty. The Wadiyar king would return to his palace after viewing the wonderful torchlight parade and the grand fireworks display at Banni mantapa.
The Navaratri celebrations would reach their culmination with the grandest Vijayadasami celebrations, also called in popular parlance as Jambu Savari. The grandeur and magnificence of this event has popularized the Navaratri celebrations of Mysore both in India and abroad. On this day, after ablutions, the king would worship the royal sword again and place it in a palanquin, would offer an ash gourd smeared with vermilion as sacrifice to it. He would follow the grand procession, seated on the historically famous golden howdah bedecked with the rarest gems and pearls, which was carried by the royal elephant.
The next day, after the goddess Chamundeshvari would be worshiped with great devotion, the king would honor distinguished personalities by conferring titles on them. That would mark the close of the grand ten - days long celebrations during the days of the kings.
The beginning of the traditional Vijayadashami procession, which is continued even today with the same - if not more - fervor and devotion, would be announced with a 21- round gun salute. The important streets of Mysore city would be decorated beautifully with electric bulbs. Millions of people from everywhere would stand on both sides of the route - as they do today also - to witness the grand procession.
Devaragudda is a holy place in Uttara Karnataka's RaniBennur Taluk, and the Mailara temples in this region have a interesting way of celebrating Dasara.
The beginning is marked by the first day on which the entire community visits the temples, the deities from the temple are taken out on a procession along with the Bows and arrows and other tools of war and utility. During this processions there is a lot of folk performances of Music, dance and other street shows. Another unique part of the celebrations is that the local muslim community also participates in the celebrations and rituals with same dedication and fervor. These rituals will be held every day of Dasara.
Common people’s Dasara used to start two days prior to Royal Dasara. The king along with his family used to participate in the common people’s dasara. This Dasara was celebrated towards the west from the kingdom at a distance of 5-6 furlong as recorded in Nuniz’s travelogue. This has been verified, common people’s dasara was celebrated in Gudi hobbalapura which is located on the bank of Tungabhadra river which is located to the west of Mahanavami Dibba, Hampi. This dasara is still alive in these regions.
Present day Dharamaragudda or Kallaghata (Devaramala) still observes common people’s dasara. This Dasara brings the villagers from surrounding regions of Hampi. Pastorals and farmers can be seen participating along with their deities.
The first day of Vijayadashami, people assemble by the bank of the river Tungabhadra at Devaramala. From here they take the deities to have a dip in the holy water and then wrap the deities in new clothes. The deities are then carried to Banni tree. This tree is called “Devara banni”. People take the leaves of this tree and they distribute it in their village. This ritual spreads the message of equality. In accordance with this ritual a complete 9 days program has been documented.
The deities from the temple are taken out on a procession along with the Bows and arrows and other tools of war and utility. During this processions there is a lot of folk performances of music, dance and other street shows. Another unique part of the celebrations is that the local muslim community also participates in the celebrations and rituals with same dedication and fervor. These rituals will be held every day of Dasara.
Surrounding Hampi, in the left bank of Tungabhadra there is another major deity, called Durgamma temple which is located in Anne Gundi. Here also dasara festival of common people is followed.
Present day Dharamaragudda or Kallaghata (Devaramala) still observes common people’s dassara. This Dassara brings the villagers from surrounding regions of Hampi. Pastoralists and farmers can be seen participating along with their deities.
The first day of Vijayadashami, people assemble by the bank of the river Tungabhadra at Devaramala. From here they take the deities to have a dip in the holy water and then wrap the deities in new clothes. The deities are then carried to Banni tree. This tree is called “Devara banni”. People take the leaves of this tree and they distribute it in their village. This ritual spreads the message of equality. In accordance with this ritual a complete 9 days of programme has been documented.
The dieties from the temple are taken out on a procession along with the Bows and arrows and other tools of war and utility. During this processions there is a lot of folk performances of music, dance and other street shows. Another unique part of the celebrations is that the local muslim community also participates in the celebrations and rituals with same dedication and fervor. These rituals will be held every day of Dasara.
Surrounding Hampi, in the left bank of Tungabhadra there is another major deity, called Durgamma temple which is located in Anne Gundi. Here also dassara festival of common people is followed.
Dept of Tribal studies, Kannada University, Hampi.
Mobile Number: +91 9480353091
Email: chaluvaraju dot hampi at gmail.com
Website: Chaluvaraju's Hampi Website