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Bastar Dusshera

If you are one for the rich culture and heritage of India, Chhattisgarh is the place for you! It’s also the place for those who want to savour the traditional fervour associated with Indian festivals, especially those related to the tribes. The best example of this is the 75-day long Dussehra, which is celebrated with much gaiety in the Bastar region. Bastar lies in Dandakarnya region, where Lord Rama is believed to have spent fourteen years of his exile; yet the Dussehra here has nothing to do with Lord Rama or the Ramayana and has a distinct identity of its own that is unique to anywhere else in India. Instead of rejoicing and celebrating in the traditional style, the tribals celebrate Dussehra by hailing Devi Maoli (Bastar's native deity, the elder sister of Devi Danteshwari, family goddess of the ruling Kaktiya family) and all her sisters.


Bastar Dussehra is replete with historical facts and cultural legacies. Dussehra is celebrated by the Raj family for ten days, a period where arms gifted by their family Goddess are worshipped with ardent devotion. A unique tradition is the formal handing over of the charge of the state’s management to the Diwan in the presence of the Zamindars and other noted people of Bastar region. A lot of history and lore is attached to the Dussehra festival in this part of the country. The origin of Bastar Dussehra goes back to an event in the 15th century A.D. The Kaktiya ruler (descendants of Chalukya Dynasty) King Purushottam Deo visited Jagannath Puri temple for worship and came back as ‘Rath-pati’, which means he could from then on mount the chariot as he had the necessary ‘divine permission’ for it. This tradition has withstood the test of time and is being maintained till date - it is now celebrated with all fervor as the 500-year-old festival of Bastar. Interestingly, earlier it was a Hindu festival, but later the tribal customs and norms were assimilated into the festivities. For ten days, the king (as the high-priest of Devi Danteshwari) gives up his office and worships the goddess Danteshwari full-time.


Local versions of the Ramayana, including the banishment of Lord Rama for fourteen years and his victory over Ravana, abound in Bastar region. The celebrations too are culturally rich. On the tenth day, the chief of Bastar is symbolically kidnapped in his sleep by Muria tribesmen and taken to their settlement in village Kunharbokra. In the evening, the chief, seated on a huge rath, is slowly taken towards the town. Bhatra tribals have a special role to essay in this ceremony - armed with bows and arrows they make way for the rath.

Each tribe has a set role to play in the ceremonies. The rath is always exclusively constructed by the Saoras tribesmen. The iron nails used in the wooden rath are made by Lohars, blacksmiths. The ropes for dragging it are prepared and supplied by Parja tribesmen. Its construction is supervised by the Dhakada people. Before the rath is actually used, it is fervently worshipped by members of the Khaki caste. The girl who gets possessed in the temple of Kachhingudi Devi always hails from a weaver family. The musical band is played by the same caste year after year. The Bastar Dussehra is surely a study in tradition and influenced by local myths as well as religious beliefs as none other festival in the country. The pristine tribal culture is maintained to the core and age-old beliefs are adhered to with extreme sanctity.


Dussehra in Bastar begins with a worship session at the temple of local goddess Kachhingudi. A seven-year-old girl, who symbolizes the goddess, from the weaver caste is chosen and ceremonially married to the priest of the shrine. After some time, she goes into a trance and is asked to grant permission for the safe holding of the celebrations to follow.

A unique feature of this festival is that it cuts across caste and creed, so that a mutual bonhomie is created between people from various castes and tribes in the region. During the course of the festivities, along with Danteshwari Mai, representing the Hindu Goddess Durga or Kali, obeisance is also paid to a number tribal deities, some indigenous and others borrowed from Hinduism.

The festival involves rituals that are extraordinary and for somebody viewing them for the first time, quite amazing. Some of these include a girl swinging on a bed of thorns; a youth (jogi) sitting in tight vigil buried shoulder-deep for nine days; mediums, believed to be possessed by the local deities, dancing eerily on the roads. The Bastar Dussehra also provides a forum for elected representatives, administrators and tribal chieftains to meet and discuss strategies for the state of Bastar at the Muria Durbar.

Amid all this, one of the most-awaited events is the rath yatra. The massive rath (chariot) might appear as primitive to people from outside, but it is symbolic of the king's wish to patronize locals instead of bringing a fancy chariot from elsewhere. Part of it is the fact that there are tribal taboos on using sophisticated tools to make the chariot. It is made afresh each year and the sight of 400 Marias pulling, is indeed a true indication of tribal faith in India.

Rituals Performed

A variety of rituals are associated with the Dussehra festivities in Bastar. There is a special sequence to some of them. It starts with Pata Jatra, which is worship of the wood, followed by Deri Gadhai, the posting of the pillars; Kachan Gaadi, the throne for goddess Kachan Devi; Kalash Sthapana, the installation of the urns; Jogi Bithai, the Jogi’s penance; Rath Parikrama, the chariot circuit; Nisha Jatra, the nocturnal festival; Jogi Uthai, the raising of the Jogi; Maoli Parghav, the reception of the Devi Maoli; Bheetar Raini, the inner circuit; Baahar Raini, the outer circuit; Kachan Jatra, the thanksgiving ceremony; Muria Durbar, the tribal chieftains' conference and finally on the last day, Ohadi, a farewell to the Deities.

Recipes for Bastar Dusshera

Channar/Rasgulla Payesh (Paneer Kheer)

This Bengali sweet is milk pudding with dumplings made of Paneer (Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese). It is very similar to the rasmalai.

Kuttu Ki Puri (Buckwheat Poori)

This bread is made of Buckwheat (Kuttu flour) and potatoes; these are fried to make crispy puris.

Sabudana Vada (Maharashtrian Style)

This sumptuous dish is made from Sago, potatoes and peanuts.

Semiya Payasam (Vermicelli Kheer)

This popular dessert is made using condensed and normal milk.

Maladu (Pottukadalai/Roasted Gram Laddu)

Maa Ladoo/maladoo is a famous South-Indian sweet known as "Pottukadalai Urundai".

Badam Kheer (Sweet Almond pudding)

Blanched, pureed almonds are cooked along with sugar and milk. Cardamom and saffron adds taste as well as colour to this famous and mouth-watering Indian dessert.

Moong Dal Halwa

Creamy, moist and tantalizing are the words used to describe this traditional Rajasthani sweet.

Gulab Jamuns

This is a popular Indian dessert made with fresh homemade khoya; these soft and fluffy fried milk cheese balls soaked in aromatic and lightly spiced sugar syrup make for a wonderful dessert, which is a real treat for the palate.

Related Image

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