This month we shall be celebrating the Dasara festival on Friday the 25th instant Apart from the usual religious importance of this function, we Sai devotees give special importance to this day because it is the day of samadhi of Shri Sai Baba. It was on the Dasara day on 15-10-1918 that Shri Sai Baba cast away his human body and from that time his anniversary is being observed every year on the Dasara day.
Shri Sai Baba lived for a long time at Shirdi. He knew very well that his body is perishable and he has to throw it away some day or the other; but he wanted to do this act on a very auspicious day. Hence he chose Dasara for that purpose As a great saint like Sai Baba chose the day of Dasara for Samadhi, this day must be a specially auspicious day since long. Let us therefore try to find out what led Shri Sai Baba to choose this particular day for taking leave of this world.
Dasara falls on the 10th day of the first half of the month ot Ashwin. From the first day of Ashwin the Navratra starts and goes on for nine days. The very meaning of Navratra is nine nights This festival is celebrated on a large scale both in Bengal and Gujrat as in Maharashtra By the end of Bhadrapad the monsoon almost gets over. The crops are seen blooming in the fields. The farmers are a bit free from agricultural work as the harvest season starts by the middle of Ashwin. Hence they are able to take part in this festival whole heartedly.
Apart from this social point of view, there is ample mythological background for this festival. Why this festival is held for nine days can be traced to the defeat of the demon Mahishasur by the Goddess Ashtabhuja (One who has eight hands). The story of Mahishasur, as told in the puranas, says that once upon a time the demon, Mahishasur by name, became Very powerful. He started oppression on the whole world. All the Gods got frightened and they approached Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesha to free the world from the oppression When these Gods Knew about it, they created a Goddess with eight hands, who was well versed in the use of weapons, to fight the demon. The Goddess fought with the demon for nine days from the beginning of the Ashwin month for nine days and killed him, thus freeing the world from oppression. It is because of this incident that the Navratra is being observed for nine days before Dasara.
In Bengal the Goddess that is worshipped in this festival, which is called the Pooja festival, is known as Durga. The Bengalies call this goddess a fighter. In their opinion she requires an offering of blood, either in the form of a cock or hen or a goat. According to the traditions of the different places, the goddess that is worshipped in this festival is attributed different qualities. The Goddess known as Saraswati is also worshipped in this festival and she is supposed to be the goddess of learning. Whatever may be the different ways or traditions of worship, there is uniformity of a goddess in this festival.
Dasara comes at the end of the Navratra festival. This day is also known as Vijayadashmi i. e. the tenth day marking victory. The word Dasara has come from "Dash" meaning ten. Mythology also tell us that Rama started for the war against Ravana on the Dasara day and became victorious and hence for commemorating this victory of Rama, this day came to be known as 'Vijaya Dashmi'. In Northern India, the "Ramaleela" is held for all the nine days of Navratra and the statue of Ravana is burnt on the tenth day i. e. on the Dasara day. It is because of this connection of the above incident with the Navratra and Dasara that Ramaleela is acted in the Navratra. Ramaleela is very popular in Northern India and it therefore attracts large crowds
One other story relating to Dasara is also told in mythology. Kautsa was a Brahmin lad who went to a sage Waratantu by name for study. After the student i.e. Kautsa finished his studies, he requested his guru to state the "Guru dakshina" that he has to pay to him As per the custom in those ancient days Waratantu said that he never imparted the Knowledge to him with the expectation of money. He added further that he has got his dakshina in finding that his student has acquired the lore fully; But when Kautsa insisted too much, his Guru said that if at all he intended to give the dakshina, he should give him fourteen crores of gold coins, as he had imparted to him fourteen different lores and that he would charge him one crore gold coins for each lore.
After listening to the above demand, Kautsa repented for having insisted on his Guru for accepting the dakshina; but he knew of one king who would satisfy the demand. It was king Raghu, the ancestor of Rama, whom Kautsa approached for his money, king Raghu was known for his philanthropy and he had a reputation of not sending back anyone empty handed; but just before that, Raghu had performed a sacrifice where he had given the last gold coin in his treasury to the Brahmins. He therefore requested Kautsa to wait for three days, when he would arrange for the sum.
King Raghu was not a mere philanthropist; he was an equally brave soldier also. He scratched his head fora while and decided to attack the treasury of the gods, which is maintained by "Kuber". When the Gods came to know about this, as they knew the bravery and determination of King Raghu, they directed Kuber to shower gold coins on the trees of "Shami" and "Apta" outside the Ayodhya city. The next day in the morning this news was communicated to King Raghu and he in his turn requested Kautsa to take away his fourteen crores of gold coins. In those ancient days, honesty and integrity were valued much more than gold, silver and diamonds. Hence Kautsa only picked up whatever amount he wanted and left the other gold coins on the trees themselves.
When Waratantu was paid his guru dakshina, the work of Kautsa was done and it was a question as to what was to be done with the remaining gold coins. So Kautsa requested the citizens of Ayodhya to loot the gold coins freely. In memory of this incident there is a system in Maharashtra to exchange the leaves of the Apta tree on the Dasara day calling it "Gold".
In Maharashtra there is another custom of worshipping the "Shami" tree and worshipping the instruments, tools and the weapons. This custom can also be traced back to a Mythological story.
From Mahabharata we know that after Yudhishthira lost the gamble, the pandavas had to resort to the forest for twelve years and thereafter remain incognito for one year. So before this one year's period started, the Pandawas kept all their weapons bundled up on a "Shami" tree and on completion of the one year's period, they recovered their weapons from the tree. This they did on the Dasara day. Hence the custom of worshipping the Shami tree and the weapons, tools, machines etc, was started.
We have so far seen the importance of the day of Dasara from the Mythological point of view. This day is important from the historical point of view also. Our country is essentially a country of heavy rains during the monsoon. Upto the end of the 19th century there were no bridges on any of the big rivers, which could be crossed easily by infantry and cavalry. Because of this difficulty of crossing the rivers, the wars would usually be at a standstill during the monsoon. During the Maratha period, the Marathas had usually to proceed to Northern India for fighting or capturing new territory. In the Maratha army all the soldiers were not professional soldiers. Many of them were farmers also. Hence it was customary among the Marathas to return to Deccan by about May every year and to proceed again by about the end of October. This period used to synchronise with the Dasara festival and therefore there was a custom to cross the border of the village ceremoniously on the Dasara, as this day was considered to be one of the most auspicious days in the year.. This ceremony was called seemoHanghan ( crossing the border). In the Baroda and the Mysore states, the Dasara processions used to be taken out with great pomp and show and people used to go from long distances to see these processions.
Dasara is thus an important and auspicious day from various points of view. Several mythological stories are connected with it and they indicate the importance of this day in many ways In the historical times also this day has retained its importance and it has been looked upon as a very auspicious day. It is a day for undertaking new responsibilities and for “Seemollanghan". It is therefore no wonder that a great sage like Shri Sai Baba thought of selecting it as a day for crossing the boundaries of this world and going to heaven. Let us therefore celebrate this festival as a social and religious function and while meeting our friends and relatives as men of the world, let us also bear in mind that this is the day of the Maha Nirvana of that great ;-age and devote as much time as possible on that day in, meditating on Shri Sai Baba.