In 2012, a book called Asura: Tale of the Vanquished turned the focus on a villain set to fire every year in different avatars across India. Its author Anand Neelakantan narrated Ravanayana instead of the familiar Ramayana, in his fiction Sita is Ravana’s daughter and the demon comes across as someone quite sensible.
Two years ago, a documentary on similar lines told the story of effigy makers that supply demons for everyone to alight on Dussehra.
It’s a day that comes and goes with some noise in the background that seems too distant and archaic to bother with. But to really see Dussehra in a different getup (and in some cases, on different dates!), you need to be in the right place.
Several cities in India continue to uphold traditions that are not even known elsewhere, they celebrate the victory over evil in grand ways that will make you want to turn an ageing festival into a colourful holiday. Here’s where to head:
Kullu during Dussehra is ethnic awesomeness. It’s like a mini Kumbh Mela but minus the chillums and babas, and plus devis and devtas from across the valley that make a spectacular congregation. Not to forget the potential edginess of illicit animal sacrifices and the collective women’s folk dance – thousands of them – that upgrades its own Guinness World Record every year.
The weather is cool, absolutely one of the best times to visit Himachal. Starts Sept 30 and goes on for a week, along with another week of kickass shopping and mela atmosphere. Find out more about the event lineup here.
Starting 10 days before the actual Dussehra date, the Mysore Dasara is what gives its name to the city. Durga’s avatar Chamundeshwari had slain the demon Mahishasura, hence ‘Mysore’.
For over 400 years Mysore has taken these celebrations very seriously and, great fireworks aside, it has unusual traditions of military pageantry, exhibition, torch light parade and lovely classical concerts in the evenings. Oh ya, and hot air balloon rides too!
The Kota Dussehra Mela boasts the distinction of carrying out the longest Dussehra fair in India. It goes on from Sept 21 until Oct 17, during which you can check out Ramlila performances, kavi sammelan (poetry symposium), wrestling competition, turban and moustache competition in keeping with Rajasthan’s favourite pursuits, qawwalis, ghazals and of course fireworks for a grand finale – all of this on the banks of Chambal river.
The country’s ‘oldest city’ obviously produces quite a show on one of the biggest Hindu festivals known. You shouldn’t confuse it with the Ganga Dussehra though, that is held in June and marks the descent of Ganga to earth.
At this time of the year, instead, you should head to the sprawling Ramlila ground in Ramnagar nearby, where Ramlila performances are held for a whole month and can barely be matched in their grandeur by any other city.
Perhaps the coolest part of Varanasi’s Dussehra is that, in an established act of brotherhood, effigies of Ravana burnt here have traditionally been made by Muslims. Go on, capture those sparks.
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