Why you should plan a visit to India in October
If you haven’t visited India yet, and are still deciding when to plan for it or whether to take that first step, let me try and help make up your mind. Firstly, October is a great time to be in India. The weather in general is moderate, monsoon is almost over and the festivities are around the corner. Yes, this year in October you can witness 2 festivals in India.
- Dussehra – the festival to celebrate triumph of good over evil
- Diwali – The festival of lights
1) Dussehra (11 Oct 2016)
Dussehra is a popular festival celebrated by Hindus all over India. Dussehra is derived from two word ‘Dus’ meaning ten and ‘Hara’ meaning defeat. It symbolizes the day Lord Rama after slaying the ten-headed king of Lanka (Ravana), rescued his abducted wife (Sita). It is also known as Vijayadashmi – ‘Vijay’ means ‘victory’ and ‘Dashmi means ‘tenth day, probably referring to the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana that concluded on the 10th day.
Here are the top 7 experiences you can have during Dussehra in India , depending on which part of the country you are.
In most of North India you can watch out for
This is a dramatic re-enactment of the life of Rama, ending up in ten-day battle between Rama and Ravana, as described in the epic Ramayana. This play is staged annually, often over ten successive nights, during Dussehra. On the 10th day of Vijayadashmi, the actors are taken out in a procession through the city, leading up to a ground where the enactment of the final battle takes place.
b) Ravana Vadh (The killing of Ravana)
The battle between Rama and Ravana is enacted even today and is a huge crowd draw. Giant effigies of Ravana, his brother Kumbhkarna and son Meghnath are placed in vast open grounds.
Crackers are placed inside the effigies. Actors dressed as Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana enact the final moments of the battle, the war ending with the character playing Rama shooting an arrow with a flaming tip at the effigies from a safe distance. This draws huge cheers from the crowd as the effigies burn up as the crackers catch fire.
Most folks, especially women, observe fast during the the preceding nine days to Dussehra, referred to as ‘Navratri’ translating into ‘Nine nights’. Food served during Navratri is something that I look forward to. The fare is completely vegetarian. In fact, I have seen restaurants serving meat utilizing this dull period in business to renovate their space ! Most restaurants serve Navratri food options for those observing fast and for the tired travelers – the shopping during festivities (or fast) does not stop 🙂
d) Dussehra in Bengal
This calls for a separate and special mention. Bengalis celebrate Dusshera as a part of their main festival – Durga Puja. Dussehra marks the end of Durga Puja celebrations. Vijayadashmi is dedicated to Mother Goddess Shakti, who re-incarnated in the form of Goddess Durga to kill the mighty demon known as Mahishasura and free the world of his terror.
The atmosphere in West Bengal, and by proximity in Jharkhand and Bihar, is something to be experienced. Exquisitely crafted and decorated life-size clay idols of the Goddess Durga depicting her slaying the demon Mahishasura are set up in temples and other open places in the locality called pandals.
These idols are worshiped in these pandals and is accompanied by round the clock festivities.
There is healthy competition among the pandals for being the best decorated one. Pandal hopping is a done thing and can go on until wee hours of the morning !
My first job took me to Jharkhand where I happened to experience these festivities for the first time from such close proximity. My friend’s mom, an ardent Bengali and a sweetheart, insisted I have 9 pair of new clothes for each day of Navratri ! I was amazed to see the level of excitement and enthusiasm of the community towards manning the pandal of their area. Each community has their own Goddess Durga installed in these pandals and would feverishly decorate and manage it. Many cultural events are organized in the evening – solely managed by the local residents. One can expect a fair of sorts – play areas for kids and stalls for food and gifts !
All this culminates on Dusshera day, with the idols of Goddess Durga being immersed into water – leaving you wanting more of the fun and frolic.
In Western India – in the states of Gujarat and Mumbai
e) Dancing the nights away
Navaratri is celebrated with the famous Garba and Dandiya dance. There are govermnent and private entities who organise the “Navaratri Festival Celebrations” on a regular basis for the nine days of Navaratri Festival.
In the southern states, the ninth day of Navaratri is regarded as an auspicious day to begin formal learning or any form of art, such as dance, music etc. Goddess Saraswati is invoked on this day and students keep their books before the Goddess and take them back after puja on Vijayadasami, the tenth day. I am sure it is a welcome break from studies and books 🙂
In Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the ninth day of Navaratri is celebrated as Ayudha Puja. This day, the tools and implements used in daily life are worshiped. The previous evening, they are decorated with flowers and banana leaves. On the morning of the puja (the 9th day), first they are cleaned after which they are smeared with turmeric paste, sandalwood paste and vermillion. Then they are worshiped along with the images of Goddess Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati.
f) The famous Dasara of Mysore
One of the most famous Dasara celebrations in India is the grand procession in the city of Mysore. Goddess Chamundeshwari is worshiped on this day. The famous Mysore Palace is totally lit up up more than 97,000 bulbs for the occasion and is a sight to behold.
On Vijayadashmi, the traditional Dasara procession (locally known as Jumboo Savari) is taken out on the streets of Mysore, which is a huge draw for people and visitors. An image of Goddess Chamundeshwari is placed on a golden howdah (basket) on a decorated elephant and taken on a procession, accompanied by tableau, dance groups, music bands, decorated elephants, horses and camels.
In Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, young girls and women display dolls, figurine, everyday life scenes along with Goddesses Saraswati, Parvati and Lakshmi and set them up on a step like arrangement. This is known as Golu.
In the evening women in neighborhood invite each other to visit their homes to view Golu displays and they exchange gifts and sweets. I happened to be in Madurai during one Dussehra. The Meenakshi temple of Madurai sets up a enviable golu, with theme based motifs and life-like dolls and excellent lighting.
Although Dussehra is celebrated in different ways across India, the motive behind the celebration is the same – meet, greet and spread happiness and celebrate the triumph of good over the evil !
2) Diwali or Deepavali (30 October 2016)
Diwali, the festival of light, signifies the victory of light over darkness, of good over evil and of hope over despair. Its celebration includes millions of lights decorating houses, buildings and streets.
For Diwali, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes and offices – in preparation for a visit from Lakshmi, the Goddess of fertility and prosperity.
In the North of India, Diwali is celebrated to express joy on the return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana from exile of 14 years after Rama defeated Ravana . It is said that villagers light diyas as much to celebrate triumph of good over evil as to illuminate their path from Lanka !
On Diwali night, Hindus dress up in new clothes or their traditional outfit, light up diyas (oil lamps) outside their homes, on doors and windows.
They offer prayers to Goddess Lakshmi. After puja, fireworks is done with is enjoyed by children and adults alike. This is followed by a family feast and exchange of gifts between family members and close friends.
In the South of India, Diwali is celebrated a day before the North India does. The celebrations are based on the legend of Narakasura Vadha –Narakasura was a demon, who troubled beings in heaven and on earth alike. Unable to bear the tyranny of the demon, celestial beings approached Lord Krishna to save them from the torture. But Naraka had a boon that he would face death only at the hands of his mother Bhudevi. So, Krishna with the help of his wife Sathyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, managed to kill the demon. The message of Narakasura Vadha is that the good of society should always be above one’s personal relationships.
In preparation for Diwali, people clean, paint and decorate their homes as it is a very auspicious day. The festivities start at the crack of dawn and carry on well into the evening. People get up early and decorate their doorways with colorful rangolis (decorations).
They take oil baths and perform pooja. A trip to the local temple is made along with their families to seek God’s blessings. Savouries are made and the family enjoys a feast. Homes are lit up with diyas and firecrackers are usually lit.
Things you may want to know before the travel
- In 2016 Dussehra is on October 11 and Diwali on October 30.
- Visit Kolkatta if you want to experience Dussehra in Bengal. Here a guide of must visit pandals.
- Mumbai is connected to most Indian cities by air and also has an international airport. Here is the guide to 9 top dandiya venues in Mumbai.
- Mysore is well connected by air, road and rail. It is a mere 3.5 hours drive from Bangalore. The Dussehra procession starts from the Mysore Palace and culminates at a place called Bannimantapa. Mysore Dussehra calendar for 2016 is here.
- Madurai can be reached by air, road or rail. Madurai Airport is just 10 km away from the city. It is a 7 hour drive from Bangalore with excellent roads.
- Meenakshi temple rules prohibit photography inside the temple.
- Keep a safe distance from the fire crackers during Diwali as a lot of injuries happen due to negligence.