It is a festival that celebrates the conquer of good over evil. In north India it is celebrated as ‘Navratri’and is observed in the nine days preceding Dussehra. It is also known as Durga Pooja, Vijayadashmi and Dasahara.
In Karnataka it means the start of 2 weeks of celebrations in Mysore ending with a great elephant parade.
When is it?
It is on the 10th day in the bright half (Shukla Paksha) in the month of Ashwin. Ashwin is the seventh month in the Hindu calendar starting on 17th September and ending on 16th October. (Ashwin means ‘light’ in Hindi and the Sanskrit translates as ‘possessor of horse’ or ‘horse tamer’.)
In 2017, Dusserha falls on Saturday 30th September. The start of Dassara festival in Bangalore is marked by a government holiday on Monday 18th September.
History and legend
Dussehra is celebrated as the victory of the lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of lord Vishnu. His birth was to overpower the powerful ruler of Lanka, the ten-headed demon king Ravana. The story is that Lakshmana, the brother of lord Rama, cut off Surpanakha’s nose, the beloved sister of Ravana. Full of revenge, Ravana, disguised as a sage, kidnapped Sita. Later lord Rama declared a war against Ravana and brought Sita back.
Mythology states that goddess Durga killed demon Mahishasura after a long period of cruelty and oppression. Another story involves gold coins. The lord Kuber rained coins on the city of Ayodhya following Kautsa asking King Raghu for 140 million coins to give to his guru in exchange for knowledge. After giving 140 million coins to his guru, Kautsa distributed the rest to the people of Ayodhya.
How is it celebrated?
It is believed that the celebration of Dussehra commenced in the 17th century when the King of Mysore ordered a celebration of the day on a grand scale. The celebrations at Mysore Palace attracts thousands of visitors each year – it’s a real crush. Children are lifted on to shoulders of parents to see the great parade of elephants at the palace. The Karnataka State government arranges 10 days of festival celebrations with a program of music and arts. Major buildings are decorated with lights and colour across the city of Mysore.
Episodes from Rama’s life are staged in the form of ‘Ram Leela’. In the evening of Dussehra big effigies filled with crackers (fireworks) are installed in grounds. The figures are the embodiment of Ravana, his brother Kumbkarna, and son Megahnatha, which are burnt later in the evening.
People visit the Pooja Pandals wearing new clothes, prepare traditional food at home and celebrate the festival with their friends and families.
The day also coincides with the immersion of the idol of goddess Durga.
The Dussehra celebrations spread the message of victory of good over evil. It is also start of the festival season with Deepavali / Diwali next month and national holidays to mark Anniversary of Gandhi.
There are lots of adverts appering at this time of year as it is the start of the festival season. Here are a selection from the newspapers.
At the beginning of April we had a visitor from the UK with us for a week’s short break from the madness of work. The holiday was mainly to relax in the sun but some tourist intake was necessary to make it a worthwhile trip (other than seeing us obviously!). We decided to do a day trip to “Magnificent” Mysore (the palace city) on the Ugadi holiday as Zahra was off school and Rez was off work, so we could all go.
We set off suitably early at stupid o’clock to miss the traffic and arrive in Mysore at 9am. It was already getting hot but we had come prepared…we had socks with us. (We have learnt, painfully, that bare feet in temples and sacred places in searing heat leads to very hot feet and blisters.)
Tippu Sultan’s mausoleum
The first stop was Tipu Sultan’s Mausoleum. It is magnificent and peaceful; surrounded by beautiful landscaped gardens. The Gumbaz at Seringapatam is a Muslim mausoleum holding the graves of Tippu Sultan, his father Hyder Ali and his mother Fakr-Un-Nisa. It was originally built by Tippu Sultan to house the graves of his parents. Tippu was himself allowed to be buried here by the British, after his death in the Siege of Seringapatam in 1799.
The original carved doors of the mausoleum have been removed and are now displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The present door made of ebony, and beautifully decorated with ivory was gifted by Lord Dalhousie.
Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace
A few minutes drive away is The Dariya Daulet Bagh, Srirangapatna, “the wealth of the sea” is referred to as the summer palace of Tipu Sultan, was built in 1784. It’s a square palace built on a raised stone plinthwith teak pillars running along the outer edge enclosing a corridor all the way around. There are two open air rooms overlooking open air halls on the north and south sides, which are accessed by four staircases. The walls and ceilings of the entire palace are painted with fabulous murals and battle scenes. Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside to protect the ancient paintings.
Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel
On a hill just outside Mysore is the Lalitha Palace Hotel. It was built by the Maharaja of Mysore to host the Viceroy of India in 1931. The Lalitha Mahal is now one of India’s “most opulent” hotels. When we visited at Brunchtime it was deserted and trying to have some food served proved a little tricky at first but was soon resolved when we finally got hold of the man in charge. Whilst the menu was limited, the meal was fine. We were starving anyway, so it was very welcome sustenance.
Chamundi Hills is located 13 km east of Mysore at 1000km elevation and is famous in India. At the top of the hill the Sri Chamundeswari Temple.
‘Chamundi’ or ‘Durga’ is the fierce form of ‘Shakti’. She is the slayer of demons, ‘Chanda’ and ‘Munda’ and also ‘Mahishasura’, the buffalow-headed monster. She is the guardian and protector deity of the Mysore Maharajas and the presiding deity of Mysore. For several centuries they have held the goddess Chamundeswari in great reverence.
Named after goddess Chamundi, the Chamundeshwari Temple sits atop the main hill. The main hill itself features an ancient stone stairway of 1,008 steps leading to its summit. Approximately halfway to the summit is statue of bull Nandi, the vahana, or “vehicle” of Lord Shiva, which is 4.9m tall and 7.6m long and carved out of a single piece of black granite. Around this point, the steps become significantly less steep and eventually the climber is rewarded with a panoramic view of the city. We drove.
According to a legend, the asura Mahishasura (king of the city that is currently known as Mysore) was killed by goddess Chamundeswari (also called Chamundi) after a fierce battle.
Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, known as ‘Mysore Zoo’, is one of the oldest zoos in India established in 1892, by His Highness the Ruler of Mysore Sri Chamarajendra Wadiyar Bahadur. Mysore Zoo holds an important place in Karnataka. It was ok as zoos go, and certainly one of the better maintained we have seen since being here, but the enclosures were not large and the lack of enrichment activities made for bored and restless animals. Like everything in India, there is so much more that could be done to make it a fabulous place, but the lack of cash is always a factor here.
As usual, it was the ‘wild’ Monkeys that proved to be most mischievous, stealing ice creams from visitors on this day. Rez risked losing his hat to one for the photo.
Mysuru Palace is the official residence and seat of the Wodeyars — the rulers and Royal family of Mysore, who ruled the princely state from 1399 to 1950. The palace houses two durbar halls (ceremonial meeting halls of the royal court) and incorporates an array of courtyards, gardens, and buildings. It is an example of a combination of Indo Saracenic architecture and is truly magnificent. The palace is in the central region of inner Mysore and faces the Chamundi Hills eastward. It is illuminated on Sundays and festive occasions between 7pm and 7:30pm. Entrance is INR 40 (about 50p) for adults. Shoes have to be left at the entrance and the chaos surrounding the shoe stall makes you wonder whether you will ever see your shoes again! Having been before we knew to wear socks if we were ever to get our feet clean again. After passing through some airport style security checks we have our tickets checked and sent back to the start adthe ticket office has given us one short. (a nice little scam!) after finally gettting through security we followed the carefully sanctioned route around the Palace, passing regular security guards whose main purpose was to hurry people along and to ensure no one took any photos inside the Palace….oops!
After the Palace we were famished and were ready to eat (nearly) anywhere. We quickly found a restaurant in a hotel on TripAdvisor which was close by and headed there. We enetered a very dodgy looking dark restaurant with walls covered in African style artefacts. It was very strange. The menu was fine and we ate a hearty meal before heading out back to the Palace to see it lit up at night for Ugadi.
I haven’t written a blogpost for a couple of weeks. I have come to really enjoy writing and I am missing my daily drafting of notes of things to write about and update you. What have I been doing then?
U.K. Visitor and School Inspection
We had a visitor with us from the UK for a week. We took a day trip to Mysore (which will be the subject of a blogpost at some point) as well as a trip around Bangalore seeing a few things. I also took him to a friend’s place as she was hosting a talk on North East India. The beer and biryani was certainly an attraction but the talk was fascinating.
During the same week though there was a visiting group from the international Baccalaureate accreditation who were looking at the school. I was on a panel of parents who were asked a few very easy questions about the school and the environment. So that took up an afternoon.
On the Friday Zahra was in the PYP music concert and then finished school at midday. She also had a friend over for the afternoon for a play date. We went to the pool for the afternoon.
The week just flew by really.
PTA Charity Gala
Well, it’s all been about the Stonehill International School PTA Charity Gala for the last few months and very hectic over the last few weeks.
I’ve been sourcing gifts for the raffle and silent auction as well as vouchers for all attendees. I was pleased with the results. Thank you to those wonderful people who did donate and those who bought tickets.
I have to say though that the experience was one that was certainly an education in cultural differences. I can say with confidence that it is a heck of a lot easier to source raffle prizes in the UK than it is in India. Most businesses simply refused. Others passed the request up the lines of management (for there are many) before refusing. Those who indicated they might be interested in sponsoring wanted to know immediately what they would get in return and presented a long list of requests. Suffice to say that European contacts and companies were a lot more forthcoming and didn’t make these demands.
The whole process was exhausting. I had so many phone calls, emails, Whatsapp messages to try and get some of the donators over the line. It was if I was asking some of them to sell their granny to me!
I won’t be quick in volunteering to do that again. I’d rather bake some cakes. Which leads me nicely onto the next event.
Swim Tournament at School
There is an international swim tournament being held at school on Friday and Saturday. (Zahra has an ENT viral infection and can’t participate.) We are hosting two girls from the Dehli school who are from New Zealand and Japan. They arrive Thursday afternoon. I’ve been shopping for healthy snacks (not easy in Bangalore) as I am sure competitive swimmers will be hungry. We rearranged bedrooms and got spare beds ready, all whilst baking for the bake sale.
I’ll be having a stall to sell cakes and (handmade) cards at the swim tournament. So I’ve been baking: Chocolate Brownies, cookies, red velvet tray bake, flapjack, chocolate fudge cake with mini eggs, coconut cake and chocolate coconut cake. So far. More to come.
It’s fair to say that travelling thousands of miles in a shipping container and a move across campus took its toll on our sofas. I washed the removable covers, only for them to shrink.
I’ve bought new fabric – which Zahra chose- and the tailors are currently sewing up a storm in the lounge. Bespoke re upholstery is cheaper than buying a new sofa in India.
So imagine the scene, there are cakes and cookies chilling everywhere and I have tailors measuring and sewing on the floor. In addition I finally got round to having all our art work framed and that’s sat around the walls on the floor waiting to be hung.
Volunteering at a Slum Summer School
This week was also the start of the summer school in a slum. This will be two mornings a week for the next 8 weeks. The first one was on Tuesday and it was great fun for both the kids and the volunteers.
This festival period is dedicated to the goddess Durga and observed all over India. It is called Durga Puja in West Bengal. The goddess Durga is the goddess of motherhood and of victory of good over evil. Durga means a fort or ‘invincible one’ and is considered the ‘mother of the universe’.
When is it?
The nine holy days in the month of Ashram (September or October). The day of Durga’s victory is celebrated as Dusserha (Hindi) meaning ‘the victory on the tenth day’ (see separate blog post on Dusserha).
How is it celebrated?
In north India on either the eighth or ninth day of the festival the ladies of the house prepare delicious food for offering as Prasad. For nine consecutive days the ladies keep fast; on the festival day they give food to seven or nine young girls. It is a symbolic act of worshiping the goddess in the form of a virgin girl.
In south India a specially decorated deck is constructed in homes, on which idols, toys and other useful things are arranged. This edifice is known as ‘Bomma Kolu’. During this time women visit each other’s houses. Little gifts such as betel leaves, coconut, kumkum and turmeric are offered to the goddess. The ninth day is celebrated as Saraswati Puja when all the objects are worshipped as objects of learning and knowledge.
Worship of Mother Nature is done through nine types of plant (called Kala Bou) including plantain (banana) which represent the nine divine forms of the goddess Durga. In south India, especially Andra Pradesh, Dusserha Navaratri is also celebrated and the goddess is dressed each day as a different devi for the nine days.
In Mysore, Karnataka Durga is worshipped as the patron goddess of the city as it is believed she saved all the people from Mahishasura, the buffalo demon, who terrorised them. The city’s name originated from Mysoru after goddess Mardhini who slew the demon. The Dasara or Dusserha festival in Mysore attracts thousands of visitors annually on Vijayadashami (the tenth day) as it has a long tradition of celebrating in a grand and elaborate style. The parade of elephants, camels and horses is a notable part of this celebration as is the lighting of Mysore Palace.
The festival of Navaratri in the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh it is customary to display dolls and figurines called Bommai Kolu (‘divine presence’) or Bomma Golu, Bommala Koluvu (‘court of toys’). The doll festival is where young girls and women display dolls and figurines of court life and everyday life along with the divine presence of of the goddess Saraswati, Parvati and Laxmi for the nine nights.