Celebrated for 75 days (with the 10 days of Navratri being the prime ones), Bastar’s Dussehra is one of the longest festivals in the world. And that’s just one of the unique facts you will discover about the intriguing world of Bastar’s tribal culture, a composite whole comprising tribal groups such as Gonds, Marias, Murias, Abhujmarias and Bhattras.
While most of India marks the triumphant return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya, having defeated the demon king Ravana, Dussehra in Bastar has nothing to do with that. Rather, the festival celebrates Danteshwari Mai, its tutelary deity and her reunion with ‘elder sister’ Maoli Devi and her other sisters.
In fact, the Bastar Dussehra is first a festival of the deities rather than men, with local tribal deities from all parts of the district coming together to pay obeisance to Danteshwari Mai in an explosion of symbolic rituals and awe-inspiring veneration. The entire festival is an amazing amalgam of local religious beliefs and tribal customs.
Danteshwari is the reigning deity, but the tribal communities also worship their own gods and goddesses, inspired by nature in its countless forms. Situated by the confluence of the Sankhani and Dankhani rivers, the town of Dantewada is home to the 14th century temple of Goddess Danteshwari. The royals of Bastar play a significant role in the arrangements of the Dussehra festivities. The celebrations are conducted at Jagdalpur’s Danteshwari Temple, located near the Bastar Palace.
Let the Preparations Begin
Though Bastar has a slew of festivities all year round, the Dussehra festival of Bastar is neither a folk nor a harvest festival; rather it is the sovereign festival of worship and gaiety in Bastar’s culture. This tribal pageantry showcases some of the world’s most unique religious rituals and festivities that have been practiced for many centuries.
The preparations for Bastar Dussehra begin with the dark fortnight or the waning moon (Krishna Paksh) in the month of Shravan in Hindu calendar, which falls somewhere around the end of July; celebrations continue up to the 13th day of the waxing moon (Shukla Paksh) of the month of Ashwin (around October).
As a run-up to the actual Dussehra festival, a string of rituals, including sacrifices, processions etc, are set in place over 12 main events observed during these 75 days.
Most of the ritualistic duties are designated to specific communities, villages or families and individuals from some specific lineages or tribes.
For instance, to build the two-tiered chariot, carpenters come from Beda Umargaon village; the massive ropes are twined by the tribals of Karanji, Kesarpal and Sonabal villages; the smaller chariot is pulled by the youth of Kachorapati and Agarwara parganas; the larger chariot is pulled by the bison-horn Mariasof Killepal. Singing hymns at all rituals is the prerogative of Mundas from Potanar village.
By tradition, numerous other indigenous tribal deities gather together at Danteshwari Devi's shrine in Dantewada and then proceed with the goddess in her palki to Jagdalapur for the remaining festivities. Led by dancing Bison Horn Marias, the procession is greeted at many villages by troupes of native communities along the route.
The celebrations kick off at the temple of Kacchin Gadi, where a young girl from the Mirgin (weaver) community is placed upon a swing of thorns. It is believed that the spirit of Danteshwari, which enters her, prevents her from getting injured. The Bastar Raja then approaches her in all humility and asks if the celebrations may begin.
A ritual of severe austerity, it involves a Halba tribal youth staying inside a pit fasting for nine days, to ensure that the festivities proceed seamlessly.
Pushp Rath Parikrama
The rath yatra begins on Ashwin Shukla Paksha Dwitiya to Saptami Tithi. During this period, the chariots are regularly taken out in procession throughout the city.
Maoli Devi arrives from Dantewada to Jagdalpur in a doli to attend Dussehra after receiving an invitation, mainly led by the members of the royal family.
During a midnight blackout in the city, the chariot is stolen from the temple and hidden outside the city at a place called Kumdakot. About 3,000 guardian deities from Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Telangana congregate around the chariot.
On the thirteenth day of the bright moon in the month of Ashwin, a ceremonial farewell takes place for the deities from different parts of Bastar who have attended the festivities.
As part of the celebrations this year, a Devi Mandai is being organised. Visitors will also get a glimpse of Bastariya Madai. The Mandai Mela, an integral part of Bastar's rural culture, will be organised in Jagdalpur. However, it will be a limited and simple affair and will follow all the standards of sanitisation and social distancing.
Images: Anzaar Nabi Photography