Navarathri festival and Dussera procession | Page 3 | Sunday Observer

Navarathri festival and Dussera procession

9 October, 2022
A scene from the Dussera procession
A scene from the Dussera procession

Navarathri festival, one of the biggest and most revered Hindu festivals observed in honour of mother goddess Durga, commenced on September 26 and concluded on October 5. Navaratthri spans over nine nights. It is celebrated as Durga pooja in Bengal.

It is the most important annual festival to Bengali Hindus and a major social and public event in India. In Bengal, the occasion is celebrated with thousands of pandals (temporary stages) built in community squares, roadside shrines and large Durga temples in Eastern India.

Vijaya Dasami, the tenth day of the Durga pooja festival, marks the victory of the goddess Durga in the battle against the deceptive and powerful demon Mahishasura. A great procession is held where clay statues of Durga are ceremoniously walked to a river or sea coast for immersion and a solemn goodbye. Many people mark their faces with vermilion (kumkum) or dress in red clothes.

It is an emotional day for many devotees and the congregation sings emotional goodbye songs. After the procession, devotees distribute sweets, gifts and visit their friends and family members. The Navarathri tradition in Tamil Nadu has been decorating a part of one’s home with art dolls called Golu Bommai an art themed Golu featuring folk dances that incorporate the dolls is also a part of the celebration.

The Kannada speaking state of Karnataka, formerly known as Mysore state, where a multitude of religions, cultures and kingdoms have unrolled across the terrain, Navarathri has been celebrated as Durga Poojabeginning in the third century BC when Chandragupta Maurya, India’s first great emperor, retreated to Karnataka after he renounced worldly ways and embraced Jainism.

In the 6th century, the Chalukyans built some of the earliest Hindu temples in Karnataka near Bedami.

All later South Indian temple architecture stemmed from their designs from those by the Pallavas at Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu. Other important Indian dynasties such as the Cholas and the Gangas have also played their part in Karnataka’s history. However, it was the Hoysalas who ruled between the 11th and 14th centuries who left the most vivid evidence of their presence. The beautiful Hoysala temples are gems of Indian architecture.

Apart from temples, the kings fostered religious festivals and traditions and Navaratri was one of them. In Karnataka, Navarathri is observed at home and by lighting up Hindu temples, cultural sites, and many regal processions. It is locally called Dasara (Dussara) and it is the state festival of Mysore (now Karnataka). Of the many celebrations, the Mysore Dasara is a major one and is popular for its pomp and pageantry.

Dasara festivities

The contemporary Dasara festivities at Mysore are credited to the efforts of King Raa Wodeyar I in 1610. After the demise of Vijaya Nagar Empire, the Hindu Wodeyars of Mysore kingdom grew in importance. They quickly established their rule over a large part of Southern India. The Wodeyars continued to rule Mysore state as Maharaa of Mysore until Independence in 1947. The Mysore state was renamed Karnataka in 1972. Until Independence, Mysore was the seat of the Maharaja of Mysore state.

Mysore has been named after the mythical Hahisasira (Mahisuru) where the goddess Chamundeswari (another name for Durga) slew the demon Mahishasura. The kings ruled the state from the palace in the city named Mysore of the Mysore state. The beautiful profile of the walled Indo Saracenic palace, the seat of the Maharajas of Mysore, graces the Mysore city’s skyline. The Dussera festivities of Mysore started in 1610 on the ninth day of of Dussera, called Mahanavami.

The royal sword is worshipped and is taken in a procession of decorated elephants and horses.

Also Ayudha Pooja (worship of the weapons and tools) is dedicated to Saraswathi, in which military personnel maintain the upkeep of their weapons and families of their tools of livelihood. Both offer a prayer to Saraswathi as well as Parvathi and Lakshmi. The day after Navarathri is Vijayadashmi (Day of victory).

The traditional procession is held on the streets of Mysore. An image of goddess Chamundeswari (Durga) is placed on a golden saddle on the back of a decorated elephant and taken in a procession accompanied by tableau, dance groups, music bands, decorated elephants, horses, camels and Maharaja’s guards.

The pomp and pageantry and the scale of the procession is unbelievable and should be seen to believe it. The sheer mass of humanity at the festival provides an incredible spectacle. The Dussera procession reminds one of the Kandy perahera in Sri Lanka.

Nayaka kings

Following the tradition set by the Nayaka kings of the Vijayanagar Empire, the ten-day festival of Dussera to commemorate the goddess Durga’s slaying of the demon Mahisasura is celebrated on a grand style only at Mysore. Scores of cultural events include concerts of South Indian classical (Carnatic) music and dance performances in the great Durbar Hall of the Maharaja’s palace.

On the last day of the festival, a magnificent procession of mounted guardsmen on horseback and caparisoned elephants – one elephant carrying an elaborate gold saddle – marches five kilometres from the palace to the temple hall. There is also a floating festival in the temple tank at the foot of Chamundi Hills and a procession of chariots around the temple at the hill top.

A torchlight parade takes place in the evening followed by a massive firework display followed by much jubilation on the streets. Navarathri symbolises the victory over evil.

The Durga festival in Mysore completed the 409th anniversary in 2019. Goddess worship is not only found in India, South Asia and South East Asia, but also was prevalent in pre-Islamic Sumeria, Akkadia, Babylonia and Assyria under the name Ishtar. Cannanites worshipped Quetesh or Asherah of the triple goddesses Qudshu, Astarte and Anat.

The writer is a freelance journalist and Indologist based in Hyderabad, India