As with the rest of India, Bastar celebrates Dussehra. In fact, it is the region's most important festival, and all the tribes participate in the 10-day event. But Dussehra in Bastar is different from anywhere else. Here, instead of rejoicing over the triumphant return of Lord Rama (the hero of the epic Ramayana) to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, the tribals celebrate Dussehra as a congregation of Devi Maoli ( Bastar's native deity, revered as the "elder sister" of Devi Danteshwari, the family goddess of the ruling Kakatiya family), and all her sisters. Hundreds of priests bring flower-bedecked local deities to the Danteshwari temple in Jagdalpur, arriving with all pomp and show.
In the former princely state of Bastar, however, Dassehra has long held a different meaning, being the time when the Rajput ruler and his tribal subjects reaffirmed their special bonds over several days of spectacular celebration. Dassehra is the principal royal festival of the state, and uniquely linked to the personal Goddess of the Kakatiya ruling family, Sri Danteshwari Mai, an aspect of Durga, representing the feminine principle of shakti that is the object of worship and renewal in other parts of India at this time of Navratri (notably in the Durga Puja of Bengal).
Bastar Dussehra is believed to have been started, in the 15th century, by Maharaj Purushottam Deo, the fourth Kakatiya ruler. This would make it a 500 year old festival. For 10 days, the king (as the high-priest of Devi Danteshwari) would temporarily abdicate office to worship Danteshwari full time. He would seek, in confidence and through a siraha (a medium "possessed" by the devi ), a report on the state.
Jagdalpur's Dassehra also reflects the long historical influence of Orissa Brahmins on the rites of the Bastar royal house, with giant chariots in procession recalling the worship of Sri Jagannath at Puri. Traditionally, huge numbers of (non-Hindu) forest people from all over Bastar converged on Jagdalpur with their tribal gods to honour their Hindu Raja and relate their grievances. Members of certain clans and villages have age-old tasks to fulfil each year in building the chariots with specific woods and performing other rites.
Though the ruling family was Hindu and the festival has its roots in Hinduism, it has assimilated many tribal elements and is a perfect example of the unique amalgam of traditional Hinduism and tribal traditions that make up the local culture.
Bastar Dussehra is unique!
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