The land of the tribals
A blend of both abundant natural beauty and spirituality, Bastar is Chhattisgarh’s most compelling destination. Even though the region is now fragmented by seven district boundaries, together these make the erstwhile Bastar. The region demands that you fine-tune your own rhythm to match that of the slow paced life it holds, and to immerse yourself completely in the vibrancy of tribal life that throbs here.
The region exposes you to the striking world of witchcraft, local deities, their magical powers, dances, songs, tribal-centric crafts and local festivals (known as madhais). To be able to experience even a part of the ancient culture is something of colossal value for travellers. Amongst other cultural events that give the traveller a peek in to the life of the locals of Bastar, the 75-day Bastar Dussehra is the most insightful. The festival ends in October, overlapping with the Navratris, but is not connected to the more popular legend of Lord Ram’s win over Sri Lankan King, Ravan.
The Legend of Bastar Dussehra
The Bastar Dussehra Mahotsav or Jagdalpur Dushera came about in the 13th century in Bade Dongar, which was the erstwhile capital of the Kakatiya kings in the region, north of the current city of Jagdalpur. The King of Bastar, Purushotam Dev, was an ardent devotee of Lord Jagannath of Puri. In order to elevate the cultural essence of his Kingdom, the King walked to Puri to pay obeisance to the lord. With gifts and gold in hand and his ministers in tow, the King walked for over a year. Upon reaching Puri, King Purushotam made his offerings.
It is said, looking at the king’s devotion, Lord Jagannath appeared in the temple priest’s dream and asked him to give this devotee the title of ‘Rath Pati’ (head of a chariot) and a chariot from the longstanding tradition of a chariot festival held in Puri. The priest obliged and gifted King Purushotam a towering wooden chariot with 16 wheels. With the massive vehicle in tow, it took the King many years to reach Bade Dongar. To accommodate the unwieldy chariot, he broke it into three parts. The two chariots of eight and four wheels were used in Jagdalpur, and one of four wheels was left behind.
Over the years, the composition of the Bastar Kingdom changed and the capital shifted to Jagdalpur. It was under King Dalpat Dev in 17th century that Dussehra started being celebrated in Jagdalpur and was since known as Jagdalpur Dussehra. The king encouraged the participation of the local tribals and other communities and gave them different roles in the celebrations, making it one of the most pervasive festivals of the region. This is celebrated as a commemoration to Goddess Danteshwari and other indigenous Gods and Goddesses of the tribals. The chariots became a significant part of the festival, and remain till date.
As the festival unfolds
Bastar Dussehra reaches a crescendo in the last 10 days of the 75-day festival. The festival starts in July and ends only in October, with significant festivities and rituals scattered over these months. There are twelve main dates that encompass many rituals and traditions of Bastar Dussehra. The King of Bastar leads the ceremony and the festivities, playing a role of the head of the community and the priest, depending on what it entails.
The last ten days of Jagdalpur Dussehra are the most significant and awe-inspiring. The air is with effervescent with celebrations, as the chariot starts getting made; the tribals descend on the town of Jagdalpur; and the Danteshwari temple in Dantewada starts prepping for the long queue of devotees. Jagdalpur becomes the focus of much celebration, as tribal communities march in from far-flung areas and base themselves in temporary camps. Their arts and handicrafts like stone sculptures, shell work, dhokra artefacts, wrought iron curios and much more line the main street in front of the white and blue Bastar palace. The town is abuzz with impromptu songs and general cheer. ‘Mahua’ and ‘salphi,’ the local brews are brought out in copious amounts as the joyful tribals look forward to paying homage to Goddess Danteshwari and seeing the grand spectacle of the chariot being pulled around the town.
Recommended stay: Devansh Residency
Expect a brightly lit place, clean ambience and some cheerful staff that’ll greet you as you enter the hotel. From royal to executive rooms, there’re plenty of suites to choose from. Book ahead as the hotel gets packed during the festival. For more, visit their website: www.devanshreidency.com
The article was first published in 2015 and has been updated.