Dussehra means the Tenth Day, being the 10th day of the bright half of Ashwin. This day is also known as Vijayadashmi, or the victory on the tenth day – the day Ram vanquished Ravana.
As Dussehra is preceded by the Navratri or the nine days of the worship of Goddess Durga, some rituals related to the Goddess are also carried out that day. The rituals of Durga Puja involve the usual ‘puja’ of goddess Durga along with Lord Ram. On this day in ‘satyug’ (the period of Lord Ram's reign), Ram (the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu), killed the great demon and king of Lanka, Ravan, who had abducted Ram's wife Sita. Ram, alongwith his brother Lakshman, follower Hanuman, and an army of monkeys fought a great battle for ten days to rescue his wife Sita.
According to another story, Kautsa, the young son of Devdatt, a Brahmin, was living in the city of Paithan. After studying under the guidance of Rishi Varatantu, he insisted on his guru accepting a present or ‘gurudakshina’. Initially the guru refused but later asked for 140 million gold coins, one hundred million for each of the subjects taught. The obedient student went to the King Raghu to ask for the money, as the king was renowned for his generosity. Within three days the king made the God of Wealth Kuber make a rain of gold coins near the shanu and apati trees. After giving the promised amount to the guru, Kautsa distributed the rest of the coins among the needy on the day of Dussehra. Even today, in Ayodhya, the capital of King Raghu, people loot the leaves of the Apati trees and present to each other as ‘sona’ or gold.
Dussehra is one of the significant Hindu festivals, celebrated with much joy and happiness in the entire country. The occasion marks the triumph of Lord Ram over Ravana, the victory of good over evil. Brilliantly decorated tableaux and processions depicting various episodes from Ram's life are taken out. On the tenth day, or the Vijayadasami, colossal effigies of Ravana, his brother Kumbhkarna and son Meghnad are placed in vast open spaces. Actors dressed as Ram, his consort Sita, and brother Lakshman arrive and shoot arrows of fire at these effigies, which are stuffed with firecrackers. The result is a deafening blast, and an explosion of sound and light enhanced by the shouts of merriment and triumph of the spectators.
Also part of the celebration is the Ram Lila or the dramatic depiction of episodes from the lives of Ram, Sita, and Lakshman. All the regions across the country have evolved their own distinctive style, and performances at different places are done in the local language.
This was also the day to worship the weapons. According to legend, Arjuna, one of the Pandav princes, hid his weapons in a Shami tree when the Pandavs were banished into the forests. After one year he returned from the forest and on the day of Dussehra, he retrieved his weapons and worshipped them along with the Shami tree. Hence the custom of worshipping weapons on this day started.