By Swami Harshananda
Dasarā literally means ‘festival of ten days’.
General Celebration of Dasarā
Festivals and sacred days are the popular manifestations and legion in any religion. One of the major festivals observed throughout the country is the Dasarā festival. It is celebrated from the Āśvayuja śukla pratipad to the daśamī. This festival is celebrated for nine days (Navarātri, festival of nine nights) or ten days. This festival takes many forms in different parts of the country.
Dasarā Celebration in Bengal, Bihar & Orissa
In Bengal, Bihar and Orissa it is celebrated as the Durgāpujā. Durgāpujā is the worship of the Divine Mother Durgā, usually in a clay image. The tenth day is known as Vijayadaśamī. It is observed as the day for immersion of the Durgā images after the Durgāpujā.
Dasarā Celebration in North India & Uttar Pradesh
In Uttar Pradesh and some other northern States it is observed as Rāmalilā, a re-enactment of the Rāma story. Wherever Rāmalilā is enacted, Vijaya-daśamī is celebrated as the day of victory of Rāma over Rāvaṇa, the demon-king.
Dasarā Celebration in Karnataka
In Karnataka, it is a multi-festival, comprising Sarasvatīpujā on the saptamī, Durgāpujā on the aṣtamī and Āyudhapujā (worship of weapons and implements) on the navamī days. The tenth day is known as Vijayadaśamī. It is observed as the day for immersion of the Durgā images after the Durgāpujā.
Dasarā Celebration in Ancient Times
It is also the day on which kings used to start expeditions of victory or conquests for expansion. Worship of the śamīvṛkṣa (Prosopis spicigera) and the royal weapons like the sword, and the animals of royal army like the horse and the elephant were part of the Vijayadaśamī festival.
Dasarā Celebration as per Foreign Travelers
As per the account of various foreign travelers like Abdur Razak (A. D. 1413- 1482), Domingos Paes (A. D. 1520) and Fernao Nuniz (A. D. 1536), the Dasarā was being celebrated with all pomp and glory as a State festival with the king being given the prime place, in Vijayanagara, the capital of the Vijayanagara empire. After the fall of the empire, it was taken up by the kings of Mysore State, and celebrated in a grand manner. The celebrations are continued even now, though as a peoples festival.
- Daśamī is the bright half of the month Āśvayuja or Āśvina, generally falling in September-October.
- dasarā = daśa + ahar = ten days
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore