Several iconic films of Hollywood, Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood, or any other new one on the block for that matter, have always cashed on the big clash of the ‘good’ Vs the ‘bad’. In the Indian context, no other mythology best exemplifies the victory over evil the way Dussehra does. Not only has the moral significance of this festival inspired many a fiction but the imagery of varied festivities have also found their way in depictions on big and small screen alike. From the Maha Navratri festival culminating on Vijayadashami, with the burning of effigies of Ravana to Durga Puja festivities concluding with the visarjan of the idols of Goddess Durga, some of these rituals can be instantly identified with Dussehra festival.
However, India is a country so diverse and widespread that there’s always more to it than you can imagine. We bring you a glimpse of the not-so-familiar customs and practices associated with Dussehra.
1.Finding a Wagtail – for better or worse!
In search of a bird… Well, that’s how some parts of India celebrate Dussehra! Some people practise the ritual of sighting a wagtail (Motacilla alba or a khanjan in local lingo) on Dussehra. If the bird is spotted near lotus flowers or elephants, cows, horses or snakes, it is believed to bring good luck to the household. But if it is sighted near ashes, bones or garbage, it is believed to be a bad omen. Organising feasts for Brahmins and taking medicinal baths are considered to ward off the evil.
Did you know: Once upon a time in India, this species was domesticated as a cage-bird for its singing skills
2. Doll Display – A mini museum in households
Even as ‘Golu’ or ‘Kolu’ is a widely celebrated ritual down South, the rest of India is not quite familiar with this ritual. Known as Bommai Kolu in Tamil, Bombe Habba in Kannada, Bommala Koluvu in Telugu and Bomma Gullu in Malayalam, the doll festival during Navratri is ritualistic display of endearing dolls depicting various scenes from mythology. Tiny figurines of gods and goddesses are bought out from carefully-preserved boxes and placed on makeshift staircases during Navratri.
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Did you know: It is believed that the Kolu celebration was started to increase the demand for clay to eventually encourage dredging and de-silting of irrigation canals.
3. Worshiping Devi Mauli – the Bastar way of celebration
The spirit of Dussehra has a very different flavour in Chhattisgarh. For the tribal community in Bastar, Dussehra is a huge 75-day affair! But if you thought it’s the celebration of Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana just as in other parts of north India, you are mistaken. For the inhabitants of Bastar, it’s the worship Devi Mauli, a local goddess, and her sisters. In a grandiose procession, a massive chariot or rath, weighing two tons (pulled by almost 400 people), is led to Danteshwari Temple in Jagdalpur.
Did you know: The festival is 600 years old and believed to have originated from an incident when the king was kidnapped by the tribes in the middle of his Dussehra celebrations.
4. The Bani Festival – Go for the kill!
Are you ready for bloodbath this Dussehra? Well, it may seem the weirdest and most bizarre way to celebrate a festival but that’s what the Bani festival is all about. Observed at Devaragattu Temple in Andhra Pradesh during Dussehra, numerous lathi-wielding men hit each other on the head in mock fights. The ritual is practised in the memory of the killing of a demon by lord Shiva. In fact, it is believed that a 100 years ago, swords and spears were used instead of lathis.
Did you know: Police and medical staff are deployed every year to take care of scores of people who get injured in this mock fight.
5. Gifting Leaves – The joy of giving
Imagine visiting your family friends on Dussehra and gifting them a bunch of leaves instead of sweets! Well, their reaction may vary beyond the expressions of gratitude?! But not if you lived in some parts of Uttar Pradesh, where exchange of Baani or Aapti leaves is a customary practise. People here collect leaves of the Aapti trees to gift them to near and dear ones. This ritual is rooted in the legend of a young Brahmin boy, Kautsa who is believed to have distributed gold coins on Dussehra.
Did you know: Aapti is also known as Sonpatta tree, considered valuable as gold (sona) for its rarity and medicinal properties.
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