With the Navratri celebrations coming to an end, India is gearing up for Dussehra, one of the most important festivals in the country. Dussehra or Vijaydashmi is celebrated to mark the victory of good over evil. Dussehra comes from the Sanskrit word Dasha-hara, which means Ravana’s defeat. Dussehra or Vijayadashami also marks the victory of goddess Durga over demon Mahishasura. Goddess Durga fought against the evil Mahisharura for ten days and nine nights. On the tenth day, the goddess killed the demon Mahishasur. The day is celebrated by following some religious practices of worshipping the goddess, social gatherings and also offering food to the gods at home and temples. Also Read - Centre Mulls Extending Nationwide Lockdown as COVID-19 Cases Near 5000-mark With 124 Deaths | Top Developments

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There are several stories and legends associated with Dussehra. One of the most famous stories behind the celebration is based on the Hindu epic Ramayana written by sage Valmiki. On this day Ram, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, defeated Ravana, to rescue Sita. Lord Rama, Lakshman and his disciple Hanuman fought against the demon king Ravana to rescue Ram’s wife Sita. When they returned to Ayodhya, the people of the city celebrated the return of their beloved prince by lighting millions of earthen lamps. The day is now celebrated as the festival of lights Diwali to signify the victory of light over darkness and good over evil.

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In South India, Dussehra is celebrated by worshipping goddess Durga or Chamundeshwari. Grand processions and a display of dolls are part of the celebration. In north India and parts of Maharashtra, Dussehra is celebrated in honour of Ram. Ramleela, which is a dramatic enactment of the story of Ram based on the Hindu epic Ramayan, is one of the highlights of the celebration. The epic tale of lord Rama is performed at a huge public fair.

Ramlila Dasratha

Photograph Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

In North India, majority of the Ram leelas are based Ramcharitmanas, an Awadhi version of Ramayan written by Gosvami Tulsidas in the 16th century. It is based on the life of Ram, who is known as the ‘Maryada Purshottam’, which means ‘The best among the dignified’. It is said that the first Ram leelas were organised in around 1625 AD by one of the disciples of Gosvami Tulsidas. In 2005, the tradition of Ramleela was proclaimed as a ‘Masterpeice of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’ by UNESCO. The ram leela ends with the burning of huge effigies of the demonic king Ravana, known as Ravan Dahan, in the evening.  Ravan Dahan is one of the most popular acts during Dussehra. It marks Ram’s victory over Ravan. Along with Ravana, effigies of his son Meghnath and brother Kumbhakaran are also set ablaze. The effigies are prepared beforehand and are filled with firecrackers to offer a spectacular ending to the celebration. Ravan Dahan is practised in many parts of the country, but one of the most important places to witness it is at Ramlila Maidan, which is a huge ground located in New Delhi. The ground is popular as it is used for the annual Ramleela play and burning of huge effigies of Ravana.

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Photograph Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Before 1930, this ground was a large pond. In the early 1930s, the pond was filled up so that Ram leela plays could be held here. Earlier, Ramleela was organised behind at the floodplains of river Yamuna in the 1800s by Hindu soldiers of the Mughal army. After the pond was filled, the Ramlila ground became popular and it hosts many political meetings and religious events. During Dussehra, ram leela play is performed every night and the celebration culminates by setting fire to huge effigies of Ravana. The ground still has a small pond as a remembrance of its past.

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