Today( 30th Sept.) marks the beginning of 10 days of celebrations for Hindus in India called Dussera. It overlaps with the Muslim festivities and austerities in the same holy month, called Ramzan.
Every festival in India is associated with a story! That is the uniqueness of our collectivistic culture. Every festival is a reason for us to socialise, with neighbours with family and with friends. There is more, every region will have a different story to tell for the same festivities!! Some times the story remains the same but the embellishments will be unique to that area/region.
So also Dussehra/ Dussera ( pronounced as duh-seh-ra), also known as Navarathri (meaning 9 nights) has two stories associated with it.
In Northern India it is celebrated for the victory of the legendary king Rams' victory over the demon King of Lanka, Ravan (which is the story of Ramayan). In Southern India, the story associated is totally different. Here the 9 days marks the fight /battle between the Shakthi (female power) and the demon Mahishasur (buffalo-demon), and on the 10th day the demon is vanquished by the Shakthi.
Now the other unique aspect of this is that some Hindu families also display dolls ( just like the Japanese), made of mud and terracotta, wood and other materials. These dolls portray our gods, life around us, animals etc. Here too stories are depicted, usually taken from the Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Puranas.
Stories are an integral part of our lives, and this festival reiterates this aspect for me. I share these stories with my children and those who I invite into the house to see our dolls. Though I have lived with these stories all my life, only now as a storyteller I realise how our culture has chosen to weave them into the very thread of our lives!!
Here is the South Indian version of the Story of Dussehra
Name: Abu’s Navrathri and The Buffalo Demon
Text: Adapted from “Abu’s world again” by Gowri Ramnarayan.
Abu’s home looks wonderful. It is the 9day festival of Navrathri. The fragrance of fresh flowers, Incense and rose water all around…..
“Mmm” thought Abu “I love festivals, especially all that yummy food!”
Every one gathered around the Bomme Golu, that Abu and his sister Akila had helped arrange, (of course with a little help from Amma and Ajji (grandmother)!)
(They had dragged tables and stools to make 5 steps. Then Abu’s Ajji had placed the Kalasa, the auspicious pot filled with rice, a coconut and mango leaves at the centre.
“It is the new moon day, Amavasya today, ” said Ajji and from today for nine days we will celebrate the Navrathri festival, and the last or the tenth day is Vijaya Dasami, the day of Victory.”
Abu had been so excited as Amma had opened her old trunks and removed the dolls carefully kept there wrapped up neatly in newspaper and cloth.
One by one as Amma removed the dolls, Abu and Akila had placed them on the steps.
The Gods came first, Lakshmi, Durga, and Sarswathi. Ganesha, Karthikeya, Vishnu in his Dasavathara…so many dolls.
Big dolls, small dolls, old dolls, new dolls, dolls for all occasions, and “even my power rangers” said Abu. So Amma had made room for his toys too!)
That was 8 days ago, today was Saraswathi Pooja, the Goddess of Learning whose special day it was, and the whole family had gathered around the Golu.
Books, office files, are piled on the chowki on which Amma has drawn Rangoli patterns and decorated with flowers, kumkum and haldi.
Everyone closes their eyes and says the sloka, ‘Saraswathi Namasthubyam….’.
Then Amma gives everyone sweet payasam and crisp vada. Yumm! Abu has two helpings of each and is stuffed.
“Amma, tell me a story” said Abu as usual snuggling upto Amma.
Amma thought and then said, “Do you know the story of Navarathri?”
“Yes, Amma, My teacher told us that Lord Rama fought the ten faced Ravana for 9 days and on the tenth day he killed him and that’s why we celebrate Navarathri, the 9 nights festival, where good wins over evil” said Akila knowingly.
“Ahha, that’s is the story from North India”, said Ajji, here in South India we celebrate the same. The same ‘good over evil’ but with a different story, that of Mahishan the Buffalo Demon and the Devi Goddess.
“Why Ajji”, said Abu, slightly confused “Why different stories?”
“Let me start from the beginning”, said Amma
“Our great, great, grandfathers, wanted us to learn good things, do good things and be good people, so they had different stories through which to tell us that we must be brave and courageous, help others and learn good qualities. Rama, Lakshmi, Durga, Saraswathi and many other Gods were made for us to learn good things from them.
So just like Ajji tells you different stories and your teacher tells the story in a different way, North Indians believe in Lord Rama story and we from the South, in the story of the Devi, or Shakthi who is in 3 forms, Lakshmi, Durga and Saraswathi.”
During Navarathri, first 3 days we pray to Durga, next 3 to Lakshmi, and the last 3 to Saraswathi. The tenth day is to the Devi, who is all the above 3 put together. It is the day of Victory, where she defeats the Buffalo demon Mahishan.
Good wins over every thing bad, so if you start some thing good on that day you will do it well!”
“Amma please hurry up and tell me The Demon story,” said Abu
“Yes, This is the story of Mahishan, The Buffalo Demon, and The Devi Goddess.”
Sage Vyasa told this story to King Janamejaya:
In a time where there were Kings and Gods, Asuras and Demons. Ramba and Karamba were two Rakshasas, wicked brothers. They were praying to the sun god Surya, in order to get strong sons. Karamba was sitting inside the water and Ramba standing and praying, seeing this the jealous Lord Indra, the King of Devas came like a crocodile and killed Karamba. Unhappy Ramba wept for his brother, Surya came to him and granted his wish for a son with great powers.
As Ramba’s wife was a she-buffalo, their son was half Rakshasa and half buffalo.
They named him Mahishasuran.
He was extremely strong and powerful, and soon wanted to rule the 14 worlds. For this he needed some help, so he prayed to Brahma, the God of creation (who has 4 heads, seeing the 4 corners of the world.). Brahma was pleased with his prayers, and so asked Mahishan to ask for his heart’s wish.
“As I am already very strong and powerful my only wish is that I want to live forever,” said Mahishasuran.
“But I cannot give you this, as no one can live forever.” said Brahma
The clever Asura then asked that no Bird, Animal, Man, Demon or God should kill him.
(He got his wish,. but then he did not mention Women as he thought they were too weak to fight him.).
Now, Mahishasuran became very cruel, He troubled all the people; he even challenged Indra to fight.
Indra laughed, “I’m not frightened of a buffalo”, he said.
Then taking the blessings from Guru, Brihaspathi, he rode on Airavatha, the majestic 8 tusked white elephant of the Devas.
Surrounded by Agni, Vayu, Varuna, Surya, Chandra, Mitra and many more gods. Even Vishnu came on his kite, Garuda.
It was a terrible war and Mahishan used his Black powers to fight. He created tens and thousands of creatures, like himself. Buffalo headed, sharp horned and with the strength of 1000 elephants.
Vishnu tried to destroy the darkness with his Sudarsana chakra, but Mahishan was too powerful.
Both Vishnu and Brahma had to leave the battleground. Seeing this Mahishan captured Airavata and rode into Indra s palace and crowned himself King of Gods.
Indra escaped and ran to Lord Brahma who in turn led them to Mt. Kailasa to ask Lord Siva for help.
“What can I do? It was you who has given Mahishasuran these powers. We can go to Vishnu and ask Him ” said The Lord.
Vishnu closed his eyes and then asked all to pray to the Goddess of Power and Strength; the Devi alone could save them.
So they all prayed to the 3 wives;
Of Creation; Saraswathi,
Protection; Lakshmi and
They prayed for 9 days and 9 nights and waited, waited for the Power to rise.
On the 10thday they saw a marvellous sight:
The 3 Goddess had joined together to form a single Great, and Beautiful, Woman capable of defeating the terrible Demon.
She had 18 arms, long black hair and a face that shone like the sun.
The Devi had arrived.
Vishnu gave her his Sudarshana chakra
Agni his Shatagni,
Vayu his Bow and quiver of Arrows
Indra his Vajrayudha, thunderbolt.
Yama his Dandayudha
Himavan brought a mighty lion from the Himalayas, for her to sit on.
Surely they would win!
That day was going to be the day of victory; Vijayadasami
The Goddess laughed and the lion roared. The earth shook with the sound.
Mahishasuran saw this beautiful woman and said
“Oh beautiful lady, lets not fight, lets marry”.
The goddess laughed, “ Evil Mahisha give up your wrong ways and become good, otherwise I will destroy you”
Mahishan had never seen such a harsh woman before.
He kicked his legs and ran into the battle. He shot arrows at her and hit her lion with a mace, the Gadhai.
Then turned himself into a lion, the Devi bound him up with snake like ropes. To escape he again turned into an enormous elephant. The Devi’s lion leaped onto the elephant. He again turned into a snake, and then again into a buffalo. Mahishasuran changed into many forms.
Finally Devi raised her Trident, the 3 pronged spear and pierced his chest. The evil Mahishan was no more.
The whole world rejoiced, and called her Mahishasuramardini, the Slayer of Evil and the Guardian of Good.
“So, that’s why on the 10th day we celebrate Vijayadasami”, said Amma
Abu nodded his head slowly, “Amma Mahishan was very bad, was he not?”
“And Mashisa, Mahisha…what was her name?”
“Mahisha-sura-mardini, the killer of Mahisha”
“She was brave and strong, even though Mahishan thought that she was weak”, said Abu
“Yes, everyone can be brave and courageous, you just need to believe in it. We must find Shakthi, (strength) within ourselves, and that is what Navrathri festival is telling us”. Said Amma
“I think you are very strong, Amma’, said Abu, and ran away to help his sister Akila with the Rangoli patterns!
(Last Navarathri, my friend Priyanka and I did a stick puppet show with this story. The stick puppets can be viewed on one of my previous posts, Puppets on Display.)
If you have had the patience to come this far, I believe you and I share a similar passion for stories!!!....