Festivals of India: Navratri

With the Ghatasthapana, yesterday marked the start of the nine days of revelry that is the Navratri festival. This festival, which pays homage to the female energy or shakti is dedicated to the nine major Goddesses of the Hindu Pantheon.

Navratri translates to Nav or nine and ratri or nights in Sanskrit. During the nine nights of Navratri, nine forms of Devi or the female energy are worshipped. The tenth day is celebrated as Dusshera or Vijayadashami or The Day of Victory. This comes about as this was the day Lord Ram (of the celebrated Hindu epic, Ramayana) defeated the Demon Lord king Ravana in what is present day Sri Lanka and freed his wife Goddess Sita who was imprisoned by Ravana. The two, along with Lord Rama’s brother Lord Lakshmana who had accompanied his brother and sister-in-law in their exile, then left for home as this day had also ended their fourteen years of exile. The enter the city of Ayodhya in north India around twenty days later, which is celebrated as the festival of Diwali in north India.

Navaratri represents a celebration of the Goddess Amba, (the Power). Navaratri or Navadurga Parva happens to be the most auspicious and unique period of devotional sadhanas and worship of Shakti (the sublime, ultimate, absolute creative energy) of the Divine conceptualized as the Mother Goddess-Durga, whose worship dates back to prehistoric times before the dawn of the Vedic age.

A whole chapter in the tenth mandal of the Rigveda addresses the devotional sadhanas of Shakti. The “Devi Sukta” and “Isha Sukta” of the Rigveda and “Ratri Sukta” of the Samveda similarly sing paeans of praise of sadhanas of Shakti. In fact, before the beginning of the legendary war between the Pandavas and Kauravas in the Mahabharata – a foundational Sanskrit epic in the Hindu tradition – Lord Krishna worshipped Durga, the Goddess of Shakti, for the victory of the Pandvas.

The Navaratri commences on the first day (pratipada) of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Ashwin. The festival is celebrated for nine nights once every year during the beginning of October, although as the dates of the festival are determined according to the lunar calendar, the festival may be held for a day more or a day less.
This is how Navratri is celebrated in most parts of India, specifically in the north. The first day of Navratri is the Pratipada or Ghatastapana pooja, the second day called Dwitya is the Chandra Darshan Brahmacharini Pujan. The third day is the Tritiya day and the pooja that day is the Sindoor Tritiya Chandraghanta Pujan while the fourth or Chaturti day is the Varad Vinayaka Chauth. The fifth or Panchami day is the Upang Lalita Vrat Skandamata Pujan, while the sixth or Shashti and seventh or Saptami is devoted to the Godess of Learning or Saraswati with the Saraswati Awahan Katyayani Pujan on the sixth day and the Saraswati Puja Kalaratri Pujan on the seventh day. The eighth day is called Ashtami and is the day the Goddess Durga is worshipped with the Durga Ashtami Mahagauri Pujan Sandhi Puja or Maha Ashtami. The last day of the Navratri is called Navami and this day is when you worship your implements of your profession and is called Ayudha Puja or Durga Visarjan or Maha Navami. So on this day, students and professionals will put their books in front of a portrait of Goddess Saraswati, IT guys will worship their computers, farmers will worship their plough, tractors, other professionals will worship what they use the most….you get the point….
Everyday of the nine days has a colour associated with it. Sunday is red/maroon, Monday is white or cream, Tuesday is orange, Wednesday is green, Thursday is yellow, Friday is silver and Saturday is blue or peacock. Most people will try to wear the above colours during the nine days. I remember when I was working in India, almost everyone in the office would be wearing uniform colours depending on the day! I too try to wear the colours as much as possible, but working means you can’t wear colours like silver, so I try to incorporate it somewhere as much as possible.

In our neighbouring state of Gujarat, the Navratri is a huge festival, with the nights reserved for dance. Every day, everyone, be you young or old, will flock to communal grounds and dance the Garba and the Dandiya Raas! This practice is also very popular in Mumbai and I am also nostalgic about this festival when you get a chance to dress up and go and dance the night away!

In Tamil Nadu, dolls and idols are set up on tiers of steps called Golu. Usually in the evening, women and girls are invited to the house of the host and they are given turmeric and betel leaves, called vathailay paaku and asked to sing for the Goddess. On the ninth day, as mentioned, Saraswati Pooja is done which I have blogged before. Books, computers, musical instruments are placed before the Goddess and worshipped.

On the next day, which is Vijayadashami when good overcomes evil, children are encouraged to read the books. The tenth day is also a day for beginings. Most new ventures will start this day. I remember we did BB & GG’s vidhyarambham or the day children formally start learning when they were around two years old on a trip to India during Dusshera day. That day parents make the children write a holy word on a mound of rice and this kind of starts their formal learning journey. Most parents do it just before their children start school, but we did it earlier than usual as the children were scheduled to start daycare a few months after Dusshera and that India trip.

In the evening of “Vijayadasami”, any one doll from the “Kolu” is symbolically put to sleep and the Kalasa is moved a bit towards North to mark the end of that year’s Navaratri Kolu. Prayers are offered to thank God for the successful completion of that year’s Kolu and with a hope of a successful one the next year. Then the Kolu is dismantled and packed up for the next year.

Mysore, in the state of Karnataka is very well-known for it’s Navratri festivities, which is the state festival, with the royal family taking part whole heartedly. On the ninth day of Dasara, called Mahanavami, the royal sword is worshipped and is taken on a procession of decorated elephants, camels and horses. On the tenth day, called Vijayadashami, the traditional Dasara procession (locally known as Jumboo Savari) is held on the streets of Mysore. An image of the Goddess Chamundeshwari is placed on a golden howdah on the back of a decorated elephant and taken on a procession, accompanied by tableaux, dance groups, music bands, decorated elephants, horses and camels. The procession starts from the Mysore Palace and culminates at a place called Bannimantapa, where the banni tree is worshipped. The Dasara festivities culminate on the night of Vijayadashami with a torchlight parade, known locally as Panjina Kavayatthu.

In the eastern state of West Begal, the last four days of Navaratri are particularly celebrated as Durga Puja. This is the biggest festival of the year in this state and exquisitely crafted and decorated life-size clay idols of the Goddess Durga depicting her slaying the demon Mahishasura are set up in temples and other places. These idols are then worshiped for five days and immersed in the river on the fifth day. People in the state go puja mandal hopping and try to make it home irrespective of where they are in the world for the pooja!

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