Vijayadashami, is a festival celebrated across India. The mode of celebration and the theme of celebration is diverse across the sub-continent. It is also celebrated as Dussera in few parts of India, as Navratri or Navaratri (Celebrations spanning upto nine days) in various other parts. The celebrations signify the victory of good over evil.
Vijaya Dashami - (The Tenth day of victory, Sanskrit) as the name signifies, the day is celebrated as the victory of good over evil, either on the victory of the Lord Rama over the asura (Demon) king Ravana in Lanka, or worshipping godessess Durga. It is said that the Pandavas, who returned from their exile of one year, worshipped godessess Durga on this day. It is celebrated on the tenth day of the Hindu month of Ashwin.
According to the Indian mythology, the Pandavas, after their exile in Drupada's Capital city panchala, for a year, came back to the 'shami' tree on the outskirts of the panchaala city* where they had hidden their precious weapons (#). They worshipped the shami tree which had protected their weapons for all that time, and worshipped godessess Durga who had blessed them with her protection for the weapons when they had come there to hide it. Meanwhile, the kauravas had attacked Panchala, Drupada's Capital with a huge army. The Pandavas took their weapons, made it straight to the battle from there and won the battle comprehensvely. Hence the day was since then known as 'Vijaya Dashami'.
Even to this day, people exchange shami leaves and wish each other victory in their own ventures and efforts. The following shloka is used, sometimes, to signify that:
शमी शमयते पापम् शमी शत्रुविनाशिनी ।
अर्जुनस्य धनुर्धारी रामस्य प्रियदर्शिनी ॥
करिष्यमाणयात्राया यथाकालम् सुखम् मया ।
तत्रनिर्विघ्नकर्त्रीत्वं भव श्रीरामपूजिता ॥
shamI shamayate papam shamI shaTruvinaashinI |
arjunasya dhanurdhaari raamsya priyadasrshinI ||
karishyamaaNayaatraaya yayaakaalam sukham mayaa |
tatranirviGnakrtrItvam bhava shrIraamapUjithaa ||
In Southern India, the celebration reaches a colorful glee with Mysore Dasara - a world famous event that takes place in Mysore. The nine day long ceremony has a rich cultural heritage, with historical importance, here. On the tenth day (on the day of Vijaya dashami), Godessess Chamundi is worshipped and carried in a Golden Chariot over Elephants from the Historical Palace to Bannimantap.
In Northern India, the celebrations get colorful with huge effigies of Ravana being burnt to signify the victory of good over evil. Crackers are burnt, and huge melas are organised. Ramlila - a play enacted of a shortened version of ramayana is very popular during these days in the melas. People get together to celebrate the occasion.
- More light on Pandavas story (http://www.panditjiusa.com/Dasara_Info.htm#End%20of%20Adnyatwas%20of%20Pandavas)
- Mysore Dasara portal (http://www.mysoredasara.com/)
- Kamat's description of Dasara, Vijayadashami (http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/festive/dasara.htm)
- Navaratri on BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/holydays/navaratri/index.shtml)
(*) - It is said that they had hidden their weapons in a cremation ground, to make sure none spotted it, they had hidden it on a shami tree wrapping them in a white cloth, making the weapons look like a dead body.
(#) - Arjuna's GanDeeva was one among them.