Full of fun-filled fairs and festivals, Mewar is always pulsating with life. Hardly does the din of one festival dies down in Udaipur, then it begins to brace up for the next with full force. The longest Hindu festival Navratri concludes on the tenth day with Dussera that has a special significance for Udaipurites as the rulers here are Suryavanshi, the descendants of Lord Rama.
Following an ancient tradition, a colorful ceremony, Ashwa Pujan is held on the eve of the Dussera festival when with the playing of ‘shehnai’ beating of ‘nakkaras’ and playing of Rajwadi ‘geets’ by the Shahi Band, the Maharana reaches Manak Chowk in the Shahi ‘Buggy’. On this occasion Manak Chowk, Nagina Badi, Naharon Ka Dari Khana etc. are tastefully decorated. With the chanting of ‘Veda Mantras’ by Mewar Purohit, Karmatri, Jyotishis and scholars the Maharana performs ‘puja’ of some horses which are attractively decorated. On this occasion salute is also given by the guards of the palace and the royal band.
On Dussera morning a feast used to be arranged in Badi Mahal to which Sardars and Paswans were invited. They were given Paan Bida at the end the feast. The Maharana would go to Pitambar Raiji Mandir in the palace where he worshipped Nagrecharai Mataji. Then he used to go to Rajmata to pay respect and offer ‘nazrana’.
At the third sounding of the ‘naqqaras’ at 4.30 p.m. the Maharana and his entourage used to ride out in procession to worship the sacred Khejari tree that stood at the corner of a large platform in the area outside Hathi Pol. Around the platform an enclosure was made with red ‘Kanats’ (tent wall), carpets and white flour- spread and an ornamental Torana, to which the Maharana bowed. Then four arrows, blessed with ‘mantras’ and holy water, were sent to the gates at the four quarters of the city, a ritual which relieved the Maharana of the need to seek auspicious dates for the journeys for the coming year. The Maharana presided over a grand ‘durbar’ listening to the brave deeds of his ancestor by Charans (bards) and receiving ‘nazarana’ from all those present. An artillery salute of 100 or 150 rounds was then fired. The Maharana’s elephant used to return in procession to the palace. A ceremonial inspection of the royal horses and elephants in front of the palace was held. Then there was a dazzling firework display and each of the state cannons was fired once, to take the muster.
Earlier, a day before Dussera a procession was taken out in which the Maharana marched with his Sardars, senior officers and Rajputs dressed in ancient war dresses and iron hats on their heads, spears in their hands, swords tied on their waists and the whole body covered with shield. But later on this practice was discontinued.
On Dussera the whole city gets busy right from the morning, when people gather at places where the Devi had been worshipped during Navratri, for the final rituals and Mahaarti and bid farewell to the deity. In processions are taken the idols to lakes such as Picchola, Fatehsagar and Goverdhansagar for immersion in ponds especially made for this purpose to prevent pollution of the waterbodies. The roads reverberate with sounds of drums and ‘nagaras’ and shouts of ‘Ambe Mata ki jai’, ‘Sheronwali ki Jai’ etc.
The responsibility of celebrating Dussera in a big way in Udaipur was taken by Shri Baluchistan Panchayat that represents the 40,000 to 50,000 strong Sindhi community in the town in 1948. The community has a long tradition of performing the ‘Mundan’ of new-born children under the shadow of Ravan’s effigy. Even before the formation of the Panchayat, some Sindhis after returning from their work and taking dinner hurriedly used to work overnight to make effigies themselves. The erstwhile Maharana Bhupalsingh himself put the ‘Vijaytilak’ on Ram’s forehead at M.B. Stadium in the first celebration.
The whole city is agog with excitement. In the afternoon is performed ‘Puja’ of Lord Shiv by Ram and Laxman at Sanatan Dharma Mandir, Shaktinagar and then the procession starts for Maharana Bhupal Stadium. When the Shobhyatra wends its way through the main streets of the town it is enthusiastically welcomed by people of different castes and communities. The city witnesses a magnificent procession in which a large number of fabulous tableaus depict themes of different kinds like religious, modern and social. ‘Akharas’ display dare-devil deeds. Groups of artists perform entertaining cultural items. At several places Ram, Laxman and Hanuman are welcomed with ‘aarti’.
The procession enters the stadium as the sun is about to set and goes round the ground lustily cheered by the huge crowd including people from neighboring villages and towns. A priest performs the ‘tilak’ ceremony of Ram. The huge fort shaped Lanka is set on fire by Hanuman with his tail. Then the effigies of Kumbhakaran and Meghnad are set ablaze. The crowd shouts in excitement as Ravan’s effigy goes up into flames. Then Ram’s ‘aarti’ is performed. There is ‘atishbazi’, a fantastic display of fireworks, a fitting finale to the festival.
A unique feature of the organization of this festival is that not only does it bring persons of different communities together but also strengthens the bond between followers of different religions. A Muslim artist from Mathura, Shakir Ali has been coming to Udaipur with his family for over last twenty years to make effigies of Ravan, Kumbhkaran and Meghnad. Shakir has learnt this art from a Agarwal, Hindu ‘guru’. He comes to Udaipur on Janma-astami also to make ‘jhankis’ of ‘Krishan leela’etc. Another Muslim Abbas Ali Bohra Bandookwala is always happy to lend his crane free of charge to lift the faces of the effigies to the right level. Some other Bohra youth also come forward willingly to help in the festival. Ashfaq Bhai of Ayad area, a maker of ‘aastishbazi’ is always trying to the make the fireworks more fascinating every year.
Another interesting aspect of the festival is that the effigies, artists and the guests are heavily insured in case of any accident.
As Dussera is considered to be an auspicious day to purchase new vehicles, some temples like Bohra Ganesh Mandir and Mahakaleshwar Mandir are crowded by persons with new vehicles performing ‘puja’.
The festival is celebrated with great religious fervor in several other parts of the city in different ways.
A festival eagerly awaited by Udaipurites, Dussera is one of the most enthusiastically celebrated events in Lake City.
and Dr. S.K. Jugnu