Appeared in the student edition of Deccan Herald 23rd September 2019
The Pooja vacation is round the corner. A welcome respite for students indeed, especially as it crops up during the middle of a hectic academic year. Maybe you should keep this article aside and read it at leisure during the vacation.
The Mysore Dusshera our Naada Habba is a world famous event which attracts tourists from every nook and corner of the globe. The reverence towards the goddess Chamundeshwari coupled with pomp and glory exhibited during on these days reflects on the ambience of an age that has flit past. Though one can view the entire ceremony on the television shows which relays the occasion in great detail one must make it a point to enjoy the experience first hand at least once in your lifetime. It can be a joy to re-live the splendour and the grandeur of a prosperous era which is represented by caparisoned elephants, royal relics besides the food and music fit for a connoisseur.
The Dusshera festival is also known as the “Gombe habba” or dolls festival in south India. Temples and homes have wide stairs built, numbering up to eleven in number and display figurines of gods and goddesses in addition to several dolls representative of historical or contemporary life. This also an occasion to unveil the creativity and imagination by setting up parks, railway stations, cricket grounds to add colour to the occasion.
Dusshera is symbolically celebrated to mark the struggle and the ultimate victory of goddess Chamundi to vanquish the demon Mahishasura. It is believed that this demon assumed the form of a wild buffalo and troubled the sages and disrupted their Yagas. He was very powerful and was blessed with immortality by Bramha who said that the demon would never face death until a woman exterminated him. Mahishasura was extremely pleased with the boon and took his life and power for granted and acted ruthlessly. He knew no woman would dare to even look at him, let alone kill him. It was at this juncture goddess Shakthi assumed the form of Chamundeshwari at the behest of the pantheon of Gods and waged a battle against Mahishasura for nine days.
Puranas reveal that the strength of the goddess was supplemented by Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga in phases of three days each, to empower her to destroy Mahisha eventually.
A closer look at this story appears to disclose a coded message for us. The assets of the goddesses are representative of different strengths like wealth ( well- being) , education and power. The goddess also employed Yantra (Mechanisations), Mantra ( synthesized information in the form of formulae) and Tantra (Logic) to kill Mahisha. Hence it becomes apparent that one needs a strength which is a combination of physical power and mental power to achieve one’s end for success does not come very easily without a struggle.
To this day we worship machines, even laptops and palmtops on the ninth day of the festival also known as Ayudha pooja day as a mark of deference towards the instruments that play a part in our success. The last day of the festival is called – a day of victory when the victory of the goddess is celebrated.
It is also celebrated as teachers’ day by traditionalists. It is considered as an auspicious day when new learning or projects can be launched without fear of failure.
The north Indians take pride and happiness in celebrating the event as Durga Pooja or Navrathri. The traditional Garba dance in worship of the goddess has caught the imagination of youngsters in a big way nowadays who spend the Pooja holidays in fun and frolic.
The Ramayana mentions that Rama returned to Ayodhya with Sita and Laksmana after his exile of fourteen years during this period. Ram Leela is celebrated with great fervour in Uttar Pradesh and surrounding states when an effigy of the ten headed Ravana is set on fire.
The Mahabharatha says that Arjuna the Pandava prince retrieved his bow Gandeevi from the Banni tree on Vijayadashami after living incognito for a year to fight Duryodhana and his forces as he took the side of prince UttaraKumara.
A closer observation of their activities will reveal that each geographical area has a different custom which has been followed over the ages though the core value and understanding the festival is uniform throughout the country.
Did you know that this Pooja season has a lot of relevance to mans relationship with the environment around him?
For instance, people give a lot of importance to different cereals and food grains during the first nine days of this festive season.
This tradition has a lot of practical connotations when we delve deeper into it. We all know this festival falls at the fag end of the rainy season. There is usually a dearth of fruits and vegetables during this time. The greens also do not thrive during this season. When man is cut off from a major source of nutrition he is likely to fall sick hence he resorted to utilize the food grains stored by him. The cereals which are a rich source of protein supplement as nutritious food during the season which is punctuated with fasting and feasting.
Down south, families display dolls and images of gods and goddesses recreating myths, historical and contemporary events during the ten days. If you have noticed they also build a small park where they allow food grains to germinate and grow into young plants. The site of greenery indoors not only lends beauty to the atmosphere but also acts as an indicator of the condition of the soil. In the past, in a predominantly agricultural society the festival proved to be a platform for experimenting on a possible bumper crop using this aesthetic mode. Farmers collected soil from their fields and sowed different food grains and watered them regularly till they developed into healthy little plants. At the end of ten days they got a fairly good idea of the crop which would do well that season in their soil. This little agricultural experiment formed the basis on which farmers could exchange seeds and agrarian know-how.
This custom encouraged the “give and take policy” among people and helped them to live in harmony amongst themselves and the nature around them.
A study of ancient Vedic texts reveals that each food grain was identified for its specific strengths and its ability to nourish and medicate the various parts of the body when consumed or distributed on a particular day of the week. It has been discovered that intake of rice on Mondays, Toor dal on Tuesdays, green-gram on Wednesdays, channa on Thursdays, beans on Fridays, urad dal on Saturdays and wheat on Sundays can prove to be potent. Recent studies by dieticians and healthcare researchers have confirmed the veracity of the tradition.
Just like any other festivity in India, there are several reasons assigned for the celebration of these ten days which commence on the Mahalaya Amavasya day during the Sharath or the autumn season. Nevertheless they convey the same messages – the triumph of good over evil and how it is important for us to live in harmony with each other.
The festivities begin on a somber note at riversides, beaches and the several water bodies of India which are generally flooded with people who offer their obeisance to their dead ancestors and pray for the peace and general well being of the departed souls. The following nine days are celebrated with variations that suit the geographical and social backdrops of the various regions. It is amazing to know that each one of our festivals have several layers of meanings and relevance to people from all walks of life. They have been tested and formulated by our ancestors in a purposeful manner to bring added meaning and joy into our lives!!! Happy Dussera !!!