Bastar Dussehra

Bastar Dussehra

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.

Ceremonial rituals

Bastar Dussehra is unique!

  • Bastar is in Dandakarnya, where Lord Rama is believed to have spent the 14 years of his exile. Yet Bastar Dussehra here has nothing to do with Lord Rama or the Ramayana.
     
  • Beginning with amavasya (dark moon) in the month of Shravan , Bastar Dussehra spans over 75 days, ending on the thirteenth day of the bright moon in the month of Ashwin. It is thus the longest Dussehra in the world.​

Colours of the Bastar Dussehra Festival

  • Bastar Dussehra involves the participation of diverse tribes and castes, each of whom is assigned a specific task, which they continue to carry out 5 decades after monarchies were abolished in India. For example, to build the two-tiered chariot, carpenters come from Beda Umargaon village; the special, massive ropes are twined by the tribals of Karanji, Kesarpal and Sonabal villages; the smaller chariot is pulled by the youth of Kachorapati and Agarwara pargana s; the larger chariot is pulled by the bison-horn marias of Killepal. Singing hymns at all rituals is the prerogative of munda s from Potanar village.
     
  • The festival involves rituals of extraordinary rigor like a girl swinging on a bed of thorns; a youth ( jogi ) sitting in vigil, buried shoulder-deep, for nine days; mediums, reputedly possessed by the local deities, dancing eerily on the roads.
     
  • The festival provides a forum for elected representatives, administrators and old-time tribal chieftains to confer on the state of Bastar at the Muria Durbar.

 Chariot pulling ceremony by locals

  • One of the most awaited events is the rath yatra . The massive rath (chariot) might look primitive to an outsider, but it is symbolic of the king's desire to patronize locals instead of bringing a fancy chariot from elsewhere and tribal taboos on using sophisticated tools to make the chariot. It is hewn afresh each year, and the sight of 400 maria tribe pulling it leaves a potent impression of tribal faith.