The end of the autumn festival, Sharada Navratri, is called Vijaya Dashami, also known as Dussehra. The name Vijaya Dashami is made of two words, Vijaya – victory, and Dashami – tenth, denoting the tenth-day celebration of the victory of good over evil. While Dussehra is a derivative of the Sanskrit word Dashahara, meaning the defeat of evil.
As a festival, it conveys the message that good always prevails. The victory of Dharma – good over Adharma – evil is an important ideology in Hinduism. While it forms the basis of countless mythological stories, Vijaya Dashami is specifically known for three stories. And because of these stories, Vijaya Dashmi is celebrated differently in various parts of India. The coincidence of three victories, spanning different eras, falling on the tenth day in the month of Ashwin make it one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu Calendar.
Vijaya Dashami is most widely associated with the Goddess Durga and her victory over Mahishasura, the buffalo-headed. When Mahishasura created havoc by waging a war against the gods, they invoked Durga for the sole purpose of defeating the demon. Once manifested, Durga led the battle against Mahishasura riding a lion and destroyed him. This act earned her the moniker Mahishasuramardini, the killer of Mahishasura. In this story, Durga symbolises the Dharma – good in the world. While Mahishasura represents the ignorance, chaos and evil forces present in the world.
When the Pandavas were exiled, they had to spend the 13th and the last year in disguise. If recognised by anyone during this year, they would be forced into a 13-year exile all over again. However while serving Virata, the king of Matsya, Bhima killed Kichaka, making Duryodhana suspicious of their presence in Matsya. But when Duryodhana led the Kauravas in search of the Pandavas, he met staunch resistance in the form of Arjuna. During the battle, Arjuna was successful in defeating the entire Kaurava army. Arjun, also known as Vijaya emerged victorious on the tenth day of the Hindu calendar month of Ashwin. Thus immortalising the day as Vijaya Dashami.
No story about Dharma or good is complete without the mention of Lord Rama and his victory over Adharma or evil. Ravana was granted a boon by Lord Brahma that meant no gods, demons, or spirits could defeat him. This is why Vishnu reincarnated as Rama. When the exiled Sita was abducted by Ravana, the Rakshasa king of Lanka, Lord Rama set out to save her. He was aided in this task by Lakshmana, Hanuman and the Vanara Sena. Using a bridge of stones, the Rama Setu, Lord Rama crossed the sea to reach Lanka. Once there, he defeated Ravana as the human form of Lord Vishnu and successfully avenged Sita. Since then the day has been observed as Dussehra, the day good defeated evil.
During Navratri, Ramleela – a retelling of this ancient epic is staged in the northern states of India. And on the tenth day, an effigy of Ravana is burnt during an event called Ravan-Dahan or the destruction of Ravan.