Dussehra, one of the most popular festivals of India, is observd across the country (with some regional variatons) as the victory of Rama, the epic hero, over the demon king Ravana, signifying the win of good over evil.
Here is our pick of the five best destinations to observe the festival.
See all the leading deities of Himachal Pradesh assemble in Kullu town (nearly 40km away from Manali) during Dussehra to pay their respect to Lord Raghunath. The festival begins on the day of Dussehra and continues for seven days. The deities arrive in their own palanquins and camp in the Dhalpur Maidan. Some of the deities arrive from remote corners; the entourage—consisting of the palanquin bearers, the musicians, priests and other attendants—making the journey over several days and on foot. Some of the interesting rituals that take place during this time are the Rathayatra of Lord Raghunath, the procession of the gods around town, and the meetings that take place between the various deities (conducted by the officiating priests) where they exchange news and views—don’t be surprised if you find some of them engaged in heated exchanges. Kullu town is immersed in festive cheer and a big fair is held at the Dhalpur Maidan. Enjoy the cultural programmes and shop for locally made handicrafts, especially caps and shawls of Kullu. It is best to book accommodation in advance as Kullu Dussehra draws a large number of visitors from home and abroad.
Kota in Rajasthan is known for its Dussehra Mela. On the day of Dussehra, religious functions are held in the royal palace since morning. Then the king and other members of the royal family travel in a colourful procession to the fair ground. Towering effigies of Ravana Kumbhakaran and Meghnad are kept ready and the king inaugurates the celebration by igniting the effigies. The firecrackers stuffed inside the effigies burst and light up the dark sky. A huge fair is held during this time, including a cattle fair. The Kota municipality organises a cultural programme too. You can browse through local handicrafts and sample local cuisine at the fair.
Although called Bastar Dussehra, it has got nothing to do with the story of Ram’s win over Ravana. The 75-day festival and fair is mainly held in honour of Goddess Danteshwari (the guardian deity of the tribal belt of Bastar in Chhattisgarh) and other divinities. Local history says the festival began in the 15th century after the Kakatiya king Purushottam Deo returned from a pilgrimage to Puri in Odisha. There are many rituals associated with this festival, including chariot processions, the visit to Jagdalpur by various deities of Bastar, the tribal chieftains’ conference, the thanksgiving ceremonies, etc. The nearest airport is in Raipur, less than 300km by road from Jagdalpur.
In Kolkata (or wherever Durga Puja is celebrated), Dussehra is known as Vijaya Dashami. It marks the final day of Durga Puja when the idols of Goddess Durga and her four children are taken to the river for immersion. Of the many rituals observed on this day, the most popular is the one where married women offer vermillion and sweets to Goddess Durga, and then smear each other with the vermillion. In Kolkata, the deities are taken out in a huge procession and carried to the Hooghly (Ganga) river. One of the best ways to watch the immersion is by hiring boats.
Known as Dasara, this is Mysore’s most popular festival. Held at the end of the nine-day Navaratri festival, it marks the day of victory when Goddess Chamundeswari defeated the demon Mahishasura. The illuminated Mysore Palace looks like a fairyland by night. After the goddess is worshipped in the palace by the royal family, she is taken out in a grand procession. The goddess is placed in a golden howdah atop a decorated elephant. The procession, known as jamboo savari, consists of grand tableaus, musical and dance performances by various artists, enactment of local folklores, decorated elephants, horses, etc. The procession starts from the royal palace and concludes at the Banni Mantap. A torch-light parade is held here in the evening. A huge fair is held at the Exhibition Ground opposite the palace. Cultural and sporting events are also organised during the 10-day festival. Check if you have to buy tickets for the procession and the torch light parade.