Dussehra is a major Hindu festival that is celebrated at the end of Navaratri by Hindus every year. It is also known as Vijayadashami, Dasara, or Dashain. It is observed on the tenth day in the Hindu calendar month of Ashvin that is the seventh month of the Hindu Luni-Solar Calendar. Moreover, this festival usually falls in the Gregorian months of September and October. The festival of Dussehra celebrates the victory of good over evil. Furthermore, it marks the end of Durga Puja, Navaratri as well as Ramlila.
Vijayadashami is a composite of two words "Vijaya" and "Dashami" which means "victory" and "tenth" respectively, connoting the festival on the tenth day celebrating the victory of good over evil. According to James Lochtefeld, the word Dussehra is a variant of Dashahara which is a compound Sanskrit word composed of "dasham" and "ahar" which means "10" and "day" respectively.
On the day of Dussehra, towering models of Ravan which symbolize evil are burnt with fireworks signifying the destruction of evil. Furthermore, on the same day, people of other religions advance to a riverbank or oceanfront carrying clay statues of Goddess Durga, Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Saraswati, Lord Ganesha, and Lord Kartikeya with music and chants. Then, they immersed statues in the water for dissolution and farewell. The festival also starts the preparations for Diwali which is celebrated twenty days after Dussehra.
Dussehra is celebrated for different reasons and celebrated differently in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. In the southern, eastern, northeastern, and some northern states of India, Dussehra or Vijayadashami marks the end of Durga Puja. The day commemorates Goddess Durga's victory over the buffalo demon Mahishasura to restore and protect dharma. In the northern, central, and western states, the festival marks the end of Ramlila and commemorates God Rama's victory over the Ravan. On the very same occasion, Arjuna alone decimated more than 1,000,000 soldiers and defeated all Kuru warriors including Bhishma, Drona, Ashwatthama, Karna, and Kripa that shows a significant example of the victory of good (Dharma) over evil (Adharma).
There are various legends associated with the celebration of Dussehra. According to the regions, people celebrate this festival differently. Furthermore, their reason for celebrating this festival is also different.
As per Hindu scriptures, the Goddess Durga battled with the shape-shifting buffalo demon Mahishasura and emerged victorious. Mahishasura received a boon that he can’t be killed by a man or a god. Thus, he became evil and started brutal activities. Thereafter, Goddess Durga was born from the wishes of all gods. Then, she battled with Mahishasura and ultimately killed him. This battle as well as the victory of good over evil is celebrated as Vijayadashami in Eastern and North-Eastern states of India.
We all knew of this legend from our childhood. According to the epic Ramayana, Ravana kidnaps Sita and takes her to his kingdom in Lanka. Rama asks Ravana to release her, but Ravana refuses and this leads to war. Ravana was a powerful demon king who disturbs the penances of rishis. Moreover, he received a boon from the creator-god Brahma that he could not be killed by gods, demons, or spirits. Thus, God Vishnu incarnated as the human Rama to defeat and kill him. A deadly and fierce battle takes place between Rama and Ravana in which Rama kills Ravana and ends his evil rule. Finally, Dharma was established on the Earth because of Rama's victory over Ravana. Furthermore, Ravana has ten heads and the killing of one who has ten heads is called Dussehra. Hence, the Dussehra festival is being celebrated that commemorates the victory of Good over Evil.
In the Mahabharata, the Pandavas are known to have spent their thirteen years of exile in which they spent the last year of exile in disguise in the kingdom of Virata. Before going to Virata, they hung their celestial weapons in a Shami tree for safekeeping for a year. During that one year, Bhima kills Kichaka. After hearing about the death of Kichaka, Duryodhana guessed that the Pandavas were hiding in Matsya. He took a host of Kaurava warriors and attacked Virata to steal their cattle but in reality, he was hoping to find as well as to reveal the Pandavas’ cover so that they have to spend thirteen years of exile once more.
Full of daring, Virata's son Uttar attempts to take on the army by himself while the rest of the Matsya army has been lured away to fight Susharma and the Trigartas. As suggested by Draupadi, Uttar takes Brihannala, who was Arjun’s coverup getup, with him as his charioteer. But, when he sees the Kaurava army, Uttar loses his nerve and attempts to flee. After that, Arjuna takes Uttar to the tree where the Pandavas hid their weapons and reveals his as well as his brothers' identity. Then, Arjuna picks up his Gandiva after worshipping the Shami tree for safeguarding their weapons for that complete year. Then, he arrives on the battlefield.
Eager to defend the land that had given him refuge, Arjuna engaged in a battle with the entire Kuru army. All the warriors including Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Kripa, and Ashwathama together attacked Arjuna to kill him, but Arjuna defeated all of them multiple times simultaneously. During the battle, Arjuna also killed Sangramjita, the foster brother of Karna. Instead of taking revenge for his brother, Karna tried to fly away but he could not since Arjuna invoked Sammohana Astra which made the entire army fall asleep. This is the war in which Arjuna proved that he was the best warrior in the world at his time. In this way, Arjuna alone defeated the entire Kuru army consisting of 1,000,000s of soldiers as well as Duryodhana, Dushyasana, Shakuni and Maharathis like Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Kripa, and Ashwatthama.
Coincidentally, this incident took place on the same day in which Lord Rama killed Ravana. As it was Arjuna's victory and his one of the names is Vijaya which means ever victorious, the day also became popular as Vijaya Dashami.