Over nine days the festive fervour of Navratri builds up to heightened activity on the eight and ninth days and ends in a crescendo on Vijayadashmi,the tenth day of the tenth day of the month of Ashwin. It is one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar and is steeped in layers of ancient traditions.
Vijayadashmi literally means victory on the tenth day. Legend has it that on this day King Rama killed the ten headed demon Ravana in Lanka. Hence the festival is also known as Dusherra, meaning das-harra or ten heads.
It is also the day when Durga is said to have slayed the demon Mahishasur ending a long raging battle. Thus Vijayadashmi celebrates the victory of good over evil. Not just in historical and mythical wars but on the battlefield of life. The Nine Nights of the Goddess symbolically end in the spiritual regeneration of every devotee and aspirant.
In another story, Hindus believe that during Navratri, Pravati the daughter of the mountains and the wife of Shiva comes to visit her parents. Before she departs on the ninth day to be re-united with Shiva in the Himalayas, she blesses her people with a bountiful harvest. This is critical. For the end of Navratri marks the beginning of the harvest before the long winter sets in. And so the blessings of the Divine mother who represents abundance in all forms, are sought and received.
In the cities away from the farmlands, it is the day to start all new ventures and strike new business deals. The day to buy gold and houses.
For artists and artisans whose wealth lies in their art, this is the day to worship their tools and instruments. In offices the ledgers and these days even computers are worshipped. Students lay out their books beautifully before Goddess Saraswati and worship them with kumkum and flowers. ( As a child this was my favourite part of the festival for it meant no studying for the day!)
And as such it is a national holiday with different parts of India celebrating it in their own special way.
In the north of India and in Maharashtra Ram Lila, the story of Rama is enacted in the streets by drama troupes and ends in the burning of large effigies of the ten-headed Ravana.
An artist paints Ravana’s head
In Maharashtra gold coin shaped leaves of the apta tree are given to the elders in the family seeking their blessings and to friends wishing them prosperity in the year to come.
In the south of India, Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning, is worshipped making this a preferred day to begin formal education.
In the east, especially Bengal, Vijayadashmi marks the end of Durga Puja and the Goddess is returned to her home by immersing her idol in a river or the sea.
This year however the navami and dashmi overlap as per the lunar calendar and both the ninth and tenth day will be celebrated today.