The mood ranged from sadness to joy across India on Monday as Goddess Durga was bid a warm farewell, even as firecrackers marked the celebration of Dussehra, symbolising the victory of good over evil.
A tinge of sadness filled the air in West Bengal as the four-day Durga Puja celebrations came to an end with the immersion of the splendid images of Durga and her pantheon in the river Ganga and other water bodies across the state.
Bijoya Dasami in Bengal marked the end of Durga Puja, observed with the traditional beating of drums, chanting of hymns and a surge of humanity flocking to thousands of eye-catching marquees to savour and pray before the bedecked images that showcase the best of craftsmanship.
Bijoya Dasami, called Dussehra in other parts of India, is also known as "Dasa-Hara", which means the cutting of the 10 heads of Ravana - the burning of giant effigies of the demon king.
On the day of Dussehra, Ram killed the great demon who had abducted the Hindu lord's wife Sita to his kingdom of Lanka. Dussehra marks the end of the nine days of Navaratri.
In Kolkata, the streets were choked with immersion procession of the Durga Pujas as all roads led to the Ganga, where millions gathered to watch the immersion of the idols.
This year, despite occasional rains and cloudy sky and predictions of thundershowers, people thronged the pandals in large numbers as the upbeat mood in a resurgent West Bengal prevailed with revellers flaunting their new clothes and youngsters making their puja fashion statements.
About 2,000 community pujas were organised in and around the city amid tight security arrangements.
From wacky themes to the traditional, Kolkata's Durga Puja marquees this year were designed with pearls and footballs while the idols of the mother goddess range from the conventional clay ones to even those decorated with maize and buttons.
In Mysore, the Dussehra festival concluded on a high note as the famous jamboo savari, or elephant procession, passed through the decorated streets from the royal palace in the heart of Karnataka's cultural capital with pomp and pageantry.
The grand finale, witnessed by thousands of people including hundreds of foreign tourists, culminated in a torchlight parade after the sunset amid a 21-gun salute at the Banni Mantap grounds.
The six-hour spectacular jumbo procession began with Chief Minister HD Kuamraswamy and scores of dignitaries including the scion of the erstwhile Mysore royal family Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar offering floral tributes to the ancient Nadi Dwaja at the palace temple and invoking goddess Chamundeshwari, seated on a 750-kg golden throne astride the caparisoned tusker Balarama.
The colourful procession of a dozen elephants, scores of horses, camels, cultural troupes, folk dancers, artistes and 22 tableaux wound its way through the five-km route that was packed on both sides with frenzied crowds in festive attire.
The canopied male elephant Balarama, flanked by female elephants Kokila and Kavita, straddled majestically to the specially erected rostrum where Kumaraswamy, his wife Anitha and the Wadiyars showered flowers and sought blessings of the deity.
About 200 artistes led the procession that included police bands, pop bands, mounted cavalry and tribals. Tableaux depicting various aspects of Karnataka's cultural heritage and achievements of the state government were a special attraction.
The tradition of a grand finale to the Dussehra festivities dates back to the Vijayanagara empire in the 13th century and was later followed by the Wadiyars of the erstwhile Mysore kingdom.
According to the Wadiyars, the Nada Habba, or the Dussehra fest, is not a mere 10-day affair but a way of life, reflecting the cultural ethos of the 60 million Kannadigas and marking the triumph of good over evil in a festive atmosphere.
Colourfully dressed folk artistes entertained the crowds by dancing en route. The Dollu Kunitha (drum dance) and Suggi Kunitha (harvest dance) were the high mark of the cultural programmes. Various bands of the state police also took part in the event.
As the sunset, the grandeur of the Mysore palace and other heritage buildings in the city stood out with thousands of electric bulbs lighting them up.
The torchlight parade at the Banni Mantap grounds was the fitting finale to the spectacular festivities.
Eight giant screens were installed across the city to beam the grand finale live for those who could not find a place along the route to witness the action directly.
With the southwest monsoon bringing bountiful rains in the old Mysore region, filling in rivers and reservoirs, the Dussehra fest has heralded good times for millions of farmers who are set to reap a bumper harvest this year.
In New Delhi, Effigies of demon king Ravana, his brother Kumbhakaran and son Meghanad were set ablaze amid bursting of firecrackers across the capital Monday to celebrate Dussehra.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit witnessed the staged ritual fight between Ram and Ravana at the Ram Lila grounds here.
"The celebration of Dussehra reminds people to practice truth and follow a path of virtue," Dikshit told the spectators.
Larger-than-life effigies of Ravana, Meghanad and Kumbhakaran were burnt in many neighbourhoods across Delhi, as people gathered in huge numbers to celebrate Dussehra with traditional gaiety.
Standing atop trucks, devotees and enthusiasts dressed as Ram, Ravana and their followers recreated the mythological war between Hindu god and the demon king depicted in the epic Ramayana.
Thousands of people gathered at the oldest Ram Lila event at the Ram Lila ground here to see the burning of effigies of Ravana.
"It's once-a-year celebration and we don't want to miss the festival. Besides, the festival, it gives an opportunity to mix with even strangers," said Rajesh.
The Ram Lila at the ground has been organised for the past 150 years, with India's erstwhile British rulers granting it formal permission in 1921.
All roads to the Ram Lila ground were blocked as police had a difficult time controlling the swelling crowd.