Dussera is the festival celebrated to commemorate the victory of Ram over the ten-headed king of rakshasas, Ravan. This is perhaps the most popular tale that every Indian associates with the festival of Dussera.

When Sita was abducted by Ravan, Ram, along
with his brother Lakshman, his follower Hanuman and an army of ape men, waged a war against Ravan. The conflict culminated with the defeat of Ravan and his death in the war.

This happened on the day of Dussera. It is this occasion that people celebrate by burning effigies of Ravan. It is said that before Ram left for Lanka, he had prayed to Durga for his victory. Durga, who is associated with Shakti, had blessed Ram.

Another story that is associated with Dussera is the one about Durga vanquishing the rakshas Mahishasur. When Mahishasur wreaked havoc and had defeated all gods, Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva combined their powers and created Shakti in the form of Durga to destroy Mahishasur.

The victory of Durga over Mahishasur is celebrated as Vijayadashami or Dussera. After the three-day celebration of Durga puja, the fourth day is celebrated as Vijayadashami. This is the last day of Durga puja when idols of Durga are consigned to water.

A lesser-known story that is associated with
Dussera is that of the Pandavas. After the Pandavas lost the game of dice to the Kauravas, they were exiled for 13 years. In the last year of their exile, the Pandavas had to live in disguise.

Before they left the forest, they hid their powerful weapons under a Shami tree so that no one could find them. When they returned after a year, it was they found their weapons lying under the tree untouched.

The Pandavas declared war on the Kauravas
soon after this and won the battle against them. Since then the exchange of Shami leaves has become a custom among people as it symbolises good will and victory. In many parts of the country people worship the Shami tree on Dussera.

According to another story, in Ayodhya, there
lived a boy called Kautsa, the son of a Brahmin called Devdutt, who had pursued his education
from Rishi Varatantu. When it was time to pay his Gurudakshina, the rishi asked him for one hundred and forty gold coins.

Unable to pay his gurudakshina, Kautsa requested the King to help him. Kautsa’s wish was answered when Kuber – the God of wealth – showered gold coins from the sky near the Apati tree.

Kautsa collected the gold coins and gave his
gurudakshina. He distributed the remaining coins to the poor on the day of Dussera. Since that day, people have offered leaves of the Apati tree to each other considering them to be a symbol of gold.

The festival of Dussera also marks the beginning of the war season. It is said that in ancient times, Kings used this festival to cross borders and fight against their neighbouring enemies. This custom was known as Simollanghan.

The celebration of Dussera in India, however,
started in the 17th century when the King of Mysore had ordered for the celebration of the occasion on a large scale. Since then, the festival of Dussera has been celebrated with great pomp and enthusiasm.

This festival is symbolic as it enables  people to win over their fears and celebrate the victory of good over evil.