[INDOLOGY] the meaning of Daśaharā

Lubomír Ondračka ondracka at ff.cuni.cz
Mon Dec 18 18:17:25 UTC 2023

Dear Colleagues,

I have an apparently very trivial question, but I have not found the 
answer in my sources.

What is the meaning of the name of the autumn festival Daśaharā?

All the textual references I have found are to the summer festival in 
the month of Jyeṣṭha. Here the name is clear: daśaharā is [a day 
(tithi)] destroying (harā) the ten (daśa) [sins]. The sources mostly 
refer to a verse in the Brahmapurāṇa:

śuklapakṣasya daśamī jyeṣṭhe māsi dvijottamāḥ /
harate daśa pāpāni tasmād daśaharā smṛtā // BrP_63.15 // (Gretil)

In other sources it is related to the descent of the Ganges, so we have 
the bathing festival of Ganga Dussehra in summer.

If we understand the construction of the name of the autumn (Āśvin) 
festival in the same way, namely daśaharā = "[the tithi] 
removing/destroying (harā) the ten (daśa) [X]", what is X here?

I once read in a secondary source that what is being destroyed here is 
the ten heads of Rāvaṇa. That would be a nice explanation, but I have 
not found any textual source for it. Is this really the standard 
meaning? And is there any textual evidence for it?

But even if this were correct, it would only explain the Rāmaistic form 
of the festival, not the Śākta form (Durgā celebration).

I would be grateful for your explanations and their textual references.


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