It is the time for festivals to come knocking at our doors and for all the revelry to begin! From Eid and Onam to Dussehra and Diwali, with Christmas and New Year’s following close behind, it is the season to make merry and leave all our troubles on the backburner.
The scheduled date for Dussehra this year is September 30, which is of course preceded by Durga Puja, with Ashtami falling on September 28. Everyone who has grown up in India will know the significance of these two festivals, as this is when the streets come alive with not just the sound of music, but also that of foot stomping revel-making crowds, the aroma of street food, the clanging of temple bells and the clamour of children who just can’t seem to get enough of it all. And if you thought Delhi and Kolkata are the ONLY two places to enjoy these festivals, think again! Along with these two cities, here are some unusual destinations where Dussehra is celebrated with pomp and grandeur.
Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Of course this is the ideal place for a quick weekend getaway. However we’d much rather you spend Dussehra here for once as you’ll be amazed by the week-long festivities. That’s right, an entire week of pomp and splendour in this hilly region that’s bound to leave you slack-jawed. For seven days, worshippers carry the idols of their gods and goddesses (Goddess Hadimba is carried from the temple in Manali on the first day) from villages in the vicinity to the fair ground, Dhalpur Maidan. Here, they meet the presiding deity, Lord Raghunath. The Maidan is alive with multiple activities, from cultural programmes and exhibitions to vendors plying their trade and tourists soaking in the atmosphere. And if the folk music and dance isn’t riveting enough for you, do shop for traditional and genuine clothes from the region!
The icing on the cake, of course, is the last day, the day of the Rath Yatra. On this day, the King of Kullu leads a procession of Lord Raghunath on a splendidly decorated chariot right till the River Beas, where to symbolise the destruction of Ravana’s Lanka, a pile of wood, grass and thorn bushes is put to flame.
Dussehra in the hills, with a nip in the air and a spring to your step… What’s not to like?
Stay at: Himalayan Kothi, Kais
Which is about 10 km from Kullu town.
Somewhere in the state known for its swirling desert and blazing sun is a town that celebrates Dussehra with such fervour and gusto that you are left feeling breathless. Kota is situated on the banks of the River Chambal and bears the distinction of heralding the festive season with Dussehra in a very unique manner – with the Dussehra Fair of Kota. Popularly known as the Dussehra Mela, it is characterised by a distinctive rural feel to lend authenticity. With effigies that are 75 feet tall and filled with crackers to artisans selling their wares and multiple cultural performances and programmes, the Mela has something for everyone.
The Mela, which is held for 25 days, is also marked by performances by various acclaimed artistes from across the country. Dance, music, singing, etc, add to the splendour of this event which draws crowds numbering over a lakh each year.
The highlight of course is the grand procession which leads from the Royal Palace right up to the Mela, and features folk dancers, decorated camels and elephants, etc. And for those inclined, there are kavi sammelans, all-India mushairas, bhajan sandhyas, qawwali nights, etc… All of which lend a glamorous and fun vibe to the festivities. For a while, leave life as we know it behind and travel straight into a fantasy land of pomp, splendour and much gaiety!
Stay at: Bhainsrorgarh Fort
Ok, so it is just not a celebration here. Durga Puja here is a way of life. The festive fervour starts a couple of months before the actual festivities and is marked by much shopping and plans for pandal-hopping! The Pujo Pandals are typically based on a theme with various organisers trying their level best to be as different as possible. And despite all the fancy lighting and new-age technology, you’ll find traditionally-clad Bengalis enjoying their event of the year.
Basically, Kolkata come alive at this time. Each street corner has a pandal from where the sound of the dhaak curls a finger around you and draws you in. The bhog (traditional food) is what you must try, apart from all the other stalls that stand in all their glory – from Mughlai parathas to (outside the pandal and not within range of the deity) Kosha Maangsho (a thick mutton gravy), there’s no way you’ll leave the venue without a distended stomach! And of course, no visit is complete without the ever-famous egg rolls.
A special attraction is the dhaak (drum) and dhunuchi (a mud pot that holds fire) dance. Performed during the evening aarti, it is a treat to watch the dancers balance the dhunuchi on their forehead or hands or even mouth and sway to the energetic beats of the dhaak. The festival ends with the immersion of the idol in the River Ganges, with much dancing and cheers.
To see an entire metropolis transform itself and sway to drumbeats like never before, a visit to Kolkata during Durga Pujo is an absolute must… Hoye Esho!
Stay at: The Rajbari in Bawali
Took an hour away from Kolkata.
With typical North Indian fervour, Delhi lets itself go during Dussehra. Celebrated as the day Lord Ram defeated Ravana, Dussehra is preceded by Navratri (nine nights of traditional dancing and days of fasting and abstinence).
Every street corner puts up their version of the Ramayana – a theatrical representation replete with traditional costumes and dramatic dialogues. The Ramlila performances draw huge crowds and there are various committees responsible for each. Of course the oldest Ramlilas (most of which are staged in the precincts of the Red Fort) are the most popular ones, with crowds thronging at the gates. Each venue tries to have the tallest effigies of Ravan, Kumbhakaran and Meghnad, which are of course stuffed with crackers and shot down on Dussehra amidst massive applause and cheering.
Each Ramlila maidan becomes a mini-entertainment centre, with food stalls, artisans selling their wares and amusement rides as well.
To be in Delhi during Dussehra is an experience, which goes beyond words. Each Ramlila committee tries to do something that sets it apart from the others. For instance, the Shri Ram Lila Committee – the oldest Ramlila committee in Delhi – features a costume parade of performers through Chandni Chowk and Sitaram Bazaar – before each evening’s performance! Then there is the Luv Kush Ram Lila Committee, which puts up performances at the Lal Qila Maidan and invites celebrities from the world of Hindi films…
A Delhi Dussehra Dekko is a must. With all the pomp and pageantry, all your Capital woes will be forgotten, at least for a while!
Surprised to see Kerala in this list? Don’t be as Kerala has a unique way of celebrating Dussehra. Observed as Ayudha Puja – or Durga Puja – it is the Goddess of Learning and Education, Saraswati before whom every head is bowed on the penultimate day of the Navratri, that is Vijayadasami. Not surprising, considering the fact that Kerala is the state with the highest literacy rate in the country! Essentially, on Vijayadasami, children are initiated into the world of reading and writing or to the particular skills that their family practices. On the 8th day of the Navratris, which is Durga Ashtami, every house observes Puja Vaipu, i.e. praying to tools, implements and books. Temples and houses are also bedecked with rangoli to mark the occasion.
This age-old tradition has been continuing unhampered and serpentine queues are seen at temples, where parents with children between 3 and 5 come to seek the blessings of the Goddess of Learning. So if you want to be away from the usual Dussehra festivities and spend it instead in a serene manner, Kerala is where you should head to for a very different experience.
Stay at: Niraamaya Surya Samudra