With the cold weather on its way and the onset of October comes the most awaited festival.....Navratri !
What is Navratri ?
Navratri is a festival of worship, dance and music celebrated over a period of nine nights. Nav-nine and Ratri-nights.
It is celebrated from the first to ninth date of Ashwin Shukla Paksha of the Hindu Calendar for the worship of the Goddess Durga. Goddess Durga is believed to exist in many forms like Goddess Bhavani, Jagdamba, Mahakali etc. The name “Durga” means “inaccessible”, and she is the personification of the active side of the divine “shakti” energy of Lord Shiva. In fact, she represents the furious powers of all the male gods, and is the ferocious protector of the righteous, and destroyer of the evil. Durga is usually portrayed as riding a lion, and carrying weapons in her many arms.
- Raas Garba of Gujarat
- Dandia of Gujarat
- Kolu of the South
- Dassera of Maharashtra
In the northern part of the country, especially in Punjab and Delhi, even the name of the festival is changed, this becomes Navratras. There is a period of fasting for seven days, and the people are said to keep a strict fast. On the eighth day or Ashtami, devotees break their fasts by calling young girls home and these girls are treated as the goddess herself. They are called "Kanjak Devis". People ceremonially wash their feet, worship them and then offer food to the "girl-goddesses" giving them the traditional 'puri', ' halwa' and chana' to eat along with bangles and the red 'chunnis' to wear with a token amount of money as "shagun".
The ninth day is then called Navami which means literally the ninth day of this holy and pious period. Another prevalent practice is of sowing pulses, cereals and other seeds on the first day of this festival in a pot which is watered for nine days at the end of which the seeds sprout. This pot is worshipped throughout the nine days. This custom is also indicative of fertility worship and is known as "Khetri".
It is significant of prosperity and abundance. On the first day of the Navaratras, grains of barley are planted in the puja room of the house. Every day some water is sprinkled on it. On the tenth day, the shoots are about 3 - 5 inches in length. After the puja, these seedlings or the "Khetri" as this is referred to is submerged in water . This custom suggests a link to harvesting. The sowing and reaping of barley is symbolic of the "first fruit".
In the south, Dusshera or the tenth day is celebrated with a lot of fanfare.
In the south , during Navratri they invite friends, relatives and neighbors over to home to look at the Kolu that is arranged. Each day of Navratri starts with reciting the stotras, or devotional songs. In the evenings offerings of fruit and flowers are made to the decorated Kolu. Also puja is done by lighting a lamp.
Celebrations are complete when friends and neighbors enjoy seeing the beautiful arrangement of the Kolu and eat the delicious sweets and snacks prepared by the hostess.
Kolu is the arranging of the god and goddess dolls on a 3/5/7/9 tier step. The dolls are not restricted to those of gods and goddesses. We find dolls dressed in traditional costumes from the various Indian States.
Picture : Courtesy Ms. Vasudha Narayan - Professor of Religion
The dolls that are about 6 inches to a foot high and are wrapped in cotton sarees and bejeweled. The planks are covered with a white cloth. The tiers can be either 3, 5, 7 or 9. It is quite a show for the girls and women of the south.
The dolls are made especially for this occasion and the buying of the dolls start way before the festival. Newly married brides get a doll during their marriage and their own collection of dolls starts from that time. The dolls are given to the girl from her parents during her marriage and are called "Marapachi Bommai". Marapachi is made from a special kind of wood which has medicinal value. Women prepare for Kolu and take out their treasured dolls from years past and give them a new life by mending, re-painting them.
Kolu has been in existence for at least 500 years. (Source : Saraswathi Mahal library - Thanjavur) The kolu tradition, it is believed, was popular among the royal families of Thanjavur and Pudukkottai.
The kolu is not confined to India alone. It is followed in many Asian countries, especially Sri Lanka and Japan. In fact, the Japanese version of Navaratri kolu is known as Hina Masturi.
Here is a link to an interactive, build your own Kolu http://www.panchangam.com/kolu3.htm
In the east, especially Calcutta, people go crazy over Durga Puja, from the seventh till the tenth day of this annual festival. The first nine days of the Ashwin are devoted for worshipping the Divine Mother -'MAA'. This festival commemorates the victory of Goddess Durga over a demon, Mahishasur.
During Navratri, devotees of Durga fast and pray for health and prosperity. They also perform the 'devi-sthaapna' in their homes wherein they invite the Goddess and perform 'pooja-path' for nine days without consuming any food.
It is an occasion for vibrant festivities throughout the country. Nine different manifestations of Durga are worshipped over the nine days ;
- Durga :goddess beyond reach
- Bhadrakali the auspicious power of time
- Amba or Jagdamba: mother of the world
- Annapurna: giver of food and plenty
- Sarvamangala: auspicious goddess
- Bhairavi: terrible, fearful, power of death
- Chandika or handi: violent, wrathful, furious
- Lalita: playful
- Bhavani: giver of existence.
Idols of the Goddess Durga are elaborately decorated and worshipped in elaborate pandals for nine days, and on the tenth day immersed in a river or pond. Each day during this festival has religious significance for the devotees. Singing, dancing, sweets & gaiety are an integral part of the Durga Pooja Festival. People send Durga Puja Gifts to dear ones and express good wishes.
In western India, throughout the nine days, both men and women participate in a special kind of dance called Garba, around an object of worship.
These nine days are divided and devoted to the Trinity of God worshipped in a female form -
- 3 days for Durga or The Goddess of Valor
- 3 days for Lakshmi or the Goddess of Wealth
- 3 days for Sarswati -Goddess of Learning
The eighth and ninth day, it is traditional to perform Yagna or sacrifice offered to the fire to honor Durga herself and bid her farewell. The day after Navratri i.e. the 10th day after Ashwina, is Dussera which celebrates the victory of lord Rama over Ravana.
Dassera is a time of holiday feasting and family visits.
Starting New Ventures : It is a time-honored belief that a new venture started on this day, is bound to be successful. Also on this day tools, writing instruments, machines, household articles, children's school books are placed before the idol of Durga and worshipped.
Traditional Exchange of "Aptya Chi Pane" : Families have a ritual of exchanging "Shami leaves" or "aptya chi pane". These are heart shaped leaves and are bought in a dried form from the local floral markets. The leaves are exchanged among relatives & friends as gold by saying "Sone Gya Sonyasarakhe Raha" which means take gold and be like gold.
Puja: A puja thaali containing rice, mithai, a coconut and fruits is decorated and placed before the idol. The prasad is then distributed to family members.
Puja of married women: Traditionally during Navratri in many households married (fertile) women are invited for puja. They are doted upon and are given fruits and small gifts followed by a delicious meal. Its a way to celebrate fertility in women.
Ravana is burnt in effigy, often giant dummies of Ravana stuffed with fireworks are shot with arrows until they blow up before a large, applauding audience.
The most characteristic dances of Gujarat during Navratri are the Raas and Garba dances which are performed at all levels of society by men and women.
Garba - A time for dance, music and devotion. A festival when the young-hearts throb with excitement and energy. With music in the background, the leader of the group sings the first line of the song while the rest repeat it in chorus, the beat being produced clapping hands or striking sticks in unison. At every step they gracefully bend sideways, the arms coming together in beautiful sweeping gestures, up and down, left and right, each movement ending in clap.
Women dress up in Chanya Choli's either laden with mirror work - very typical of Gujrat as well as Bandhani duppattas. They dance gracefully clapping rythimically to the beat of the music, in circles around a pot containing a lamp. The word “Garba” or “Garbha” means “womb”, and in this context the lamp in the pot, symbolically represent life within a womb. oday it is a social dance at all levels of society. In essence, it continues to be a fertility dance.
Besides the Garba is the “Dandia” dance, in which men and women participate in pairs beating 2 dandias or sticks made especially for this dance. Dandias have become fancier these days as the ends are decorated with tiny bells called ghungroos that make a jingling sound when the sticks hit one another.
The dance has a complex rhythm. The dancers begin with a slow tempo, and go into frenzied movements, in such a manner that each person in a circle not only performs a solo dance with his own sticks, but also strikes his partner’s dandias in style!
The origin of the Raas is traced back to the legends connected with the life of Lord Krishna. It is essentially associated with the agricultural rites.
Ahmadabad is one of the greatest cities in India, to enjoy Navratri. All kinds of Raas-Garbas or Dandia Raas events, competitions and parties are held.