Mahatma Gandhi once said: “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” Well, what better defines the beauty of a multicultural country like India than its lively festivals. Each and every State contributes with its share of traditional practices and cultural significance to worship the divine. While there are celebrations happening throughout the year, the months starting from September show the country at its vibrant best. One of the widely celebrated Hindu festivals, Navaratri 2019 now comes knocking at the door to get you into the festive spirit.
Avatars of Goddess Durga
Celebrated in the lunar month of Ashwin, the nine-day long festival is devoted to Goddess Durga and her various Avatars. The nine different forms of the Goddess certainly symbolize the power of the feminine. These include Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidhatri.
When is Navaratri 2019?
Hindus celebrate the festival of Navaratri four times a year—Sharad Navaratri, Chaitra Navaratri, Magha Gupt Navaratri and Ashadha Gupt Navaratri. As it happens, these are peculiar to each of the four seasons in India. However, Sharad Navaratri holds a special significance in the Hindu religion. Consisting of two words ‘Nav’ (nine) and ‘Ratri’ (night), the word ‘Navaratri’ means nine nights.
Every year, this post-monsoon festival takes place either in late September or early October as per the Hindu lunar calendar. This year, the dates of the great Navaratri festival are from September 29 until October 7.
Navaratri 2019: Infused with the Richness of Diverse Customs
The best part about Navaratri is it is celebrated across the length and breadth of the country in different ways. From the garba dances of Gujarat to the popular Durga Puja rituals of Kolkata, each and every State of India celebrates this festival in their own unique ways. However, it is the common thread of the Mother Goddess that essentially connects them all.
In all the traditions, this Indian festival marks the victory of Maa Shakti (good) over evil. Infused with the flavour of diverse customs, the celebrations span over a period of nine holy nights.
The Popular Legend of Mahisasura Mardini:
The festival marks the victory of the Goddess over Mahishasura, hence the name Mahisasura Mardini. He was the demon son of Rambha (the King of Asuras) and Princess Shyamala (a female buffalo). Legend has it that once Mahishasura tried to conquer all the three worlds, after getting a boon of immortality from Lord Brahma. Though Brahma did grant him this boon, it also meant that if not any man or God, a woman would ultimately be the cause of his death.
To stop him from creating havoc all over the world, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (the Hindu Trinity) combined all their powers to create Goddess Durga. The Goddess subsequently entered into a 10-day-long battle with Mahishasur. She was able to restore peace in the three worlds after fatally stabbing the demon king with her trident on the day of Mahalaya.
Let’s take a look at all the important regions of India which treasure the nine different forms of the divine goddess during this grand festival.
Navaratri 2019: Celebrations in North India
As mentioned above, Navaratri is the celebration of the nine different incarnations of the feminine divinity or Shakti. In North India, people celebrate the festival by fasting and worshipping the Goddess. As part of the ritual, devotees take a bath during Brahma Muhurat (one and a half hours before sunrise) on the very first day. Next, they start with the kalash sthapana (setting of the Kalash or the ritual vessel for puja). After sowing the seeds of barley and wheat in an earthen pot, they use durva (grass), mango leaves, kalava (sacred thread) and panchamrit (mixture of 5 foods , that is honey, jaggery, ghee, milk & yogurt) to establish the kalash on or near the altar. After this, they install the idol of Goddess Durga and offer her flowers, sweets, dry fruits as part of the ceremony.
The festive fervour reaches its zenith in the last three days (Saptami, Ashtami and Navami). This is the time which involves feeding seven to nine young girls as part of Kumari Poojan or Kanjak Poojan,
As they are seen as a manifestation of the nine forms of the goddess, devotees invite young girls to their house and offer bhog(food) prasad to them along with gifts. The prasad typically comprises chana, puri and halwa. Devotees break their 9-day long fast after feeding the young girls.
The final day of Navaratri is popularly celebrated as Dussehra or Vijaydashmi in North India. The word Dussehra comes from two Sanskrit words: ‘dasha’ (the ten heads of Ravana) and ‘hara’ (defeat). It is a festival of the victory of good and its power to defeat the evil. This exhilarating occasion calls for burning the colossal effigies of Ravana, the demon king of Sri Lanka. According to Ramayana, he captured and took Sita, wife of Lord Rama, to Sri Lanka. In the pursuit of his wife, Lord Rama reached Sri Lanka and killed Ravana after a 10-day long rigorous battle.
To celebrate the day, people also burn the effigies of Ravana’s brother Kumbhakarna and son Meghnath along with the evil King. Apart from this, you will also find various play enactments of Ramayana being performed across India before Dusshera.
Although the name and the way of celebrating Dusshera might be different across regions, but they have one common theme: that of the victory of good over evil.
Navaratri 2019: Durga Puja Celebrations in West Bengal
Here in the eastern part of India, Durga Puja is undoubtedly the biggest festive event in West Bengal. The season for ‘pujo’ pulls in all kinds of crowd from far and wide as the city of Kolkata in particular makes it a grand spectacle. Bathed in light and decked up with the magnificent pandals, the City of Joy welcomes the arrival of the Goddess Durga for the 10-day festival.
Be it a residential area or an office complex, you can spot the meticulously crafted Maa Durga idols in themed puja pandals across the city. From a small tea stall owner to a hotshot businessmen, everyone comes together to enjoy this wonderful occasion with a lot of enthusiasm.
Shashti Puja, celebrated on the sixth day of Durga Puja, sees unveiling of the idol’s face. There’s a lot of excitement among the devotees to witness the painting of the main idol’s eyes. Moreover, the festivities take an interesting turn in the last four days known as Saptami, Ashthami, Navami and Dashami. The community is involved in joining in the chorus with the dhol (drums) the puja & in the bhog(food).
Finally, the puja ceremonies culminate on the day of Durga Visarjan, bidding farewell to the Goddess with song and dance. This is also the day when India celebrates Dussehra.
No wonder one gets the best of Durga Puja experiences only in Kolkata. Being part of the shimmering carnival is certainly something you would cherish for many years to come. Also, watching idols of the Goddess being taken out for immersion in the Hooghly River is an amazing experience in itself.
Navaratri 2019: Celebrations in Gujarat and Maharashtra
While all of India commemorates the nine-day festival with much enthusiasm, nothing beats the celebration of Navaratri in the State of Gujarat. The highlights of the grand community event are surely Garba and Dandiya Raas. Moreover, these energy-filled traditional dances steal the spotlight during Navaratri evenings across the whole of western India.
While Garba is performed in circular movements, people use colorful sticks to take part in Dandiya. It is also popular as Garbi, Garbha or Garbha Deep. This dance form glorifies the power of Goddess Durga. The circular movements are representative of the figure of the fetus in the womb of mother, thus signifying life.
In the States of Gujarat and Maharashtra, the first day of Navaratri is marked by the popular puja called ‘Ghatasthapana’ or ‘Kalashsthapana’. For this ritual, devotees mount a wide earthen pot (kalash) inviting Goddess Durga to reside in their homes.
Colorful Ensembles for Dandiya Nights
Dressed up in colorful traditional ensembles, people gather in groups to dance on popular songs every evening. For Dandiya Raas, the traditional attire for women comprises the colorful three-piece outfit beautified with shells, beads and mirror work. This outfit is popular by the name ‘Chaniya Choli’. It includes a Choli (embroidered blouse), a Chaniya (long flared skirt) and an embellished bandhani dupatta.
And before start grooving their Dandiya sticks to the rhythm of the music, women do love to dazzle up their look with the jewellery . These include jhumkas (danglers), silver or black metal necklaces, kangans (bangles), maang tikka, bajuband (armband), kamarband (waistband), payal (anklets) as well as mojiris (traditional shoes).
While participating in the Garba dance, men typically wear a short round kurta along with kafni pajamas. Moreover, pagdi (turban), kadas (men’s bracelets) and mojiris (traditional shoes) are there to complete their traditional Gujarati look.
So if you want to spend this Navaratri in Gujarat, do not forget to pack your dandiya sticks and the colourful traditional costumes.
Navaratri 2019: Celebrations in the South
If you are in a country like India, you certainly cannot run out of reasons to rejoice. Let’s take you to the Southern part of India, particularly the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, to feast on the dolls, the lights, colors, and music.
Mud Doll Festival – Bommai Kolu: This unique festival of dolls is just another way of celebrating Navaratri in Southern India. While it is popular as Bommai Golu in Tamil Nadu, people refer it to as Bommana Koluvu in Telugu.
During Navaratris, the local residents exhibit beautiful dolls, typically made of mud, and figurines of sandalwood, rosewood or teak. They arrange these dolls in odd numbered tiers (7, 9, or 11) on wooden steps at the corner of their household. These dolls are mostly of Hindu mythological characters and include miniatures of different gods, goddesses, animals and people. They are symbolic of marital bliss, fertility and prosperity.
As a traditional practice, the dolls are handed down from one generation to another in most families and also part of marriage gifts. The earliest known person to have used them is always the grandmother in the family. What distinguishes the old dolls is the use of mineral colours as well as the subject thus represented. With a beautiful thematic representation of ancient stories, the exhibit goes on to delineate scenes from the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita.
Moreover, the Kolu tradition brings alive the magic of Indian mythology and folklore. The festival offers a wonderful platform to keep all family members in the house engaged through the thread of culture.
As part of the ritual, South Indian families invite their neighbours to their homes. The idea is to enjoy the picturesque arrangement and display of the dolls. Married women exchange gifts such comb, mirror, kumkum, turmeric, coconut, beetle leaves and sweets. Singing hymns, they collectively revere major forms of the goddess (Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga).
Also, the tradition calls for the making of ‘sundal’ – a special dish for prasadam (offering to the Gods). The protein-rich dish comprises peas, pulses and groundnuts.
On the 10th day, Golu dolls symbolically go to sleep. They are taken from the stand and packed to be brought out for the next Navaratri.