Thousands throng to Dussehra festival at Hare Krishna Temple in Washington

It was the 36th Dussehra festival held at the temple, also known as ISKCON of DC.

A cross-section of the crowd at the 2017 Dussehra Festival held at the Hare Krishna Temple in the Washington area.

POTOMAC, MD – Thousands of people clad in colorful Indian attire thronged to the Hare Krishna Temple in the Washington area on a picture-perfect day in early Fall to celebrate “Dussehra,” a Hindu festival signifying the triumph of good over evil.

The event is now in its 36th year at the temple, also known as ISKCON of DC, and draws some 3,000 people, making it the third largest celebration following “Holi,” the festival of colors (4,000) and “Janmashtami,” the birth anniversary of Lord Krishna (5,000).

“Today we are celebrating Dussehra which is the day when Lord Ram rescues his wife Sita and kills the demon, Ravana,”  Ananda Devi, President of the Hare Krishna Temple, said. “It’s a great part of our Hindu, Vaishnava tradition to celebrate this festival symbolizing that good always win. If you do the right thing and if you really care about people, then good will always triumph over evil.”

On a deeper level, she told us, “It is a time to remember our connection with God. The idea is that when we spend time nurturing our spiritual relationship with Krishna, we get a deeper sense of happiness in life. This festival is all about awakening our pure, spiritual love for Krishna and for each other.”

Among the attractions of the 2017 festival were: a drama on the Ramayana which has been staged for 20 years on the expansive lawn of the temple; Garba dance, a new feature, a fun community dance in the courtyard; popular mascot, Hanuman, mingling with the crowd; an outdoor carnival for children replete with games; “darshan” (viewing) of Lords Krishna and Rama in the sanctuary of the temple, with Kirtan (chanting) and music; booths for meditation, face painting, henna, food; the temple’s vegetarian meal; all followed by the burning of Ravana’s effigy at dusk.

On a previous occasion, Ananda Devi informed us that she lived for 20 years in Vrindavan, India, from the early 1990s to 2011, before moving to the Washington area. How does the celebration of Dussehra differ in both countries, we asked at the festival on Saturday.

“India has it’s own flavor, we have our own flavor here,”  she replied, adding “Dussehra wasn’t a big festival in Vrindavan.”   It is celebrated on a large scale in Delhi, Mumbai, and other cities. In the US, “not every ISKCON temple celebrates Dussehra,”  she said. “We have the deities of Sita-Ram-Lakshman-Hanuman (at the Maryland location), so we celebrate the festival.”

About the drama, Sruthi Mungara, serving as the narrator, told us, “This is the epic of all epics — the Ramayana — one of the oldest, most sacred text, story and teachings in the whole world. It is such an honor to be able to perform it here,” she said.

Sruthi explained that the 40-minute piece, in English, is basically an enactment of the pastimes of Lord Rama: how he got married to his wife Sita, how he was banished to the forest by his father’s order, how Sita was kidnaped by the demon Ravana. “This drama is a depiction of Lord Rama’s journey with his devotees to rescue his wife,” she said.

Sruthi mentioned that the play features some 20 actors ranging in age from five to eighteen, all students of the temple’s Sunday School, and one older artiste in his forties. Now in its twentieth year of being staged at the temple in Maryland, it is a highlight of the Dussehra festival and draws a large, attentive crowd.

“It culminates with the burning of the 25-foot Ravana,” Sruthi said, adding, “The artiste who plays Rama shoots the arrow which burns Ravana.”

Amritha Sridhar told us she has been performing in the festive drama since the age of three when she played the part of the smallest monkey on stage. “Now, I am 17 years old and playing Sita,”  she said, her voice reflecting the excitement and enthusiasm she felt for being part of the team for so long.

Rukmini Walker, among the dedicated volunteers at the temple, was heading the information booth at the festival when we queried her about the symbolic significance of Dussehra. “The work of the people who are conscious in this world is to return the gifts of nature to be used in the service of the divine,”  she replied, thoughtfully. “The bounty of the earth, whatever talents we possess, everything should be used as an offering to the divine. We enjoy our wealth, our cars, homes, clothes, bank balance. But, when we use them in the service of the divine, everything becomes blessed and we are in harmony,” she said.

Referring to a passage in the Koran which states that Allah made everyone different so that we can learn to honor and respect each other, Walker noted, “If in His infinite wisdom He wanted, He could have made us all the same: one race, one religion. But, he didn’t. He made us different so we can respect the differences: unity in diversity. We have to honor the diversity in this world,” she said. “There are so many extremists in every culture. But, the people who are conscious want to uplift the world by honoring each other,” she said.

An effigy of the demon Ravana was burnt at the conclusion of the Dussehra Festival held at ISKCON of DC.

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