One thing which makes the celebration of the nine nights so unique in India is the different ways it is actually celebrated. Navratri, the nine nights of festivities followed by the tenth day of Dashami, is a festival that falls in the month of September- October. Venerating the different forms of Goddesses or Shakti, the story behind these festivities speak of triumph of good over evil on one hand and celebrating the feminine ways of living on the other hand. Several local and regional cultures even within our country have varied ways of celebrating Navratri. While some cultures consider it a very personal and spiritual journey, others find an outward expression by exuding exuberance in honoring different forms of the Goddesses.
Durga Puja of Eastern India – The festivities in Eastern states of India; West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, and parts of Bihar and north eastern India start with the Mahalaya Amavasya and progresses in grandeur to the day of Dashami marking the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasur. With bringing the Goddesses’ idol to homes and streets, Sindhoor Khela(smearing of vermillion paste by women at each other), Dhunuchi Nach(dance ritual performed with dhunuchi(incense burner), chants, rituals and finally the immersion of the idol of the Goddess in a water body, the worship of Shakti in Her Durga form is a mix of both celebration and a deep spiritual experience.
Raas Garbha of Gujarat – Like eastern India, Navratri here brings a palette of bright colors, music, dance and a heart full of excitement. The nine forms of the Divine Feminine are worshipped with chants, fasting and the celebration. It also signifies a time of soil fertility and monsoon harvest, a mound of fresh soil with grains sown is kept in every house that worships the Goddess and it is well-watered till the very last day of the festival. During the evening, a garbo (an earthern pot consisting of diyas which symbolizes the source of life) is used for the evening aarti, followed by the traditional folk dance of Gujarat; the garba and dandiya performed by both men and women.
Bathukamma of Telangana – In Telugu, ‘Bathukamma’ means ‘Mother Goddess come alive’ and the festival represents the cultural spirit of Telangana, honoring Goddess Gauri – the life giver. It also celebrates the beginning of the change of seasons, from the dampness of monsoon to the arrival of gentle autumn(Sharat Ritu). Bathukamma is expressed by arranging a beautiful flower stack, usually in seven concentric layers of seasonal flowers. In the evenings, both young and old women (even men), clap their hands, and dance around the flower stacks singing folk songs that praise the Goddess. It ends two days before the Vijayadashami, on the day of Durgashtami when it is left afloat in a water body.
Ghatasthapana of Maharashtra –Amidst the festivities associated with Navratri in Maharashtra, the celebration here takes on a very personal and spiritual space. Ghatasthapana or mounting of the jar is an important part of the festivities. A small bed of mud is prepared in a container. In the middle of this, an earthen pot filled with water is placed. This vessel symbolizes Goddess Durga. Grains are sown in the soil around the pot and allowed to sprout. Five stems of jowar (a food grain) are also placed over the pot. People worship this pot for nine days by performing various rituals and offering fruits, flowers, leaves etc. At the end of nine days the sapling formed is distributed with everybody present. Navratri here is also considered to be an auspicious time to initiate new beginnings, especially on the tenth day.
Dasara or Dussehra of Karnataka – Mysuru during Navratri forms the hub of Dasara celebrations in Karnataka and is known as Nadahabba(state festival). The whole city comes alive with art, dance, music, lighting and fun events. A legendary spectacle, the origin of such celebration dates back in its origins to the times of Vijayanagara dynasty. It honors Goddess Chamundeshwari who slew the demon,Mahishasur(hence the name Mysuru). An image of the Goddess is taken out in a procession in a vibrant and grand parade on the day of Vijayadashami. Kollur Mookambika Devi temple in Udupi also celebrates Navratri with much fervor, with dance and music festivals being part of the celebration. On the day of Navami, Ayudha Puje which involves worshipping of tools and implements is a part of the tradition across Karnataka. Golu or Gombe Habba which is a festive display of dolls and figurines is also another unique part of the festivities.
Vidyarambam in Kerala – The honoring of the Divine Feminine is more of a personal and spiritual journey in Kerala. The last three days of Navratri are considered important and is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati- the giver of knowledge and wisdom. It begins with beginning with ‘Poojavaippu’, surrendering the tools and implements to the Goddess on the evening of Durgashtami. The next day or Mahanavami, people observe Saraswati Puja in which books, musical instruments and tools pertaining to one’s profession are worshipped.
On the following day of Vijayadasami, books and tools are removed and this is known as ‘Puja Eduppu’. It is on this day that a child (between the age of 2-6 years) is initiated into ‘Vidhyarambam’ or learning, and as part of the ritual children are made to write alphabets on rice or sand. On this day, several traditional dance and music schools have their new admissions starting their first day of journey.
Bommai Golu – The Doll Festival of Tamil Nadu –Three forms of the Goddesses are worshipped during the nine days, with three days dedicated to each. The decoration of kolu or golu is an important part of the celebrations. A makeshift staircase, with odd number of stairs (3,5,7,9 or 11), is adorned with beautiful dolls, idols of gods and goddesses, animals, birds and life miniatures. In a few temples, there is a live kolu with devotees who come dressed as gods and goddesses as part of the local tradition. Besides like Kerala and Karnataka, there is Ayudha Puja and Vidyarambam too. This is also a time to visit relatives and friends and offering them appropriate gifts. People also draw elaborate ‘kolam’ , a geometric art of rangoli made using rice flour on these days. One can also witness the grandeur with which several dance and music festivals are organized during this time period to honor Shakti or what She is called with love, ‘Amman’ (Amman Aana) or the One who became a mother to us.
Kanjak of Punjab – Navratri in Punjab involves jaagran (staying awake all night and singing bhajans of the Goddesses) and fasting for the first seven days. On the day of Ashtami or Navami, the fast is broken and Kanjak is celebrated. It is a way of paying obeisance to the Goddess by inviting young girls into the house and offering them food(feast) along with all kinds of gifts. A red-colored scarf or a small chunni is often presented to the girls. They are considered to be a representation of Devi and hence upholding the tradition of embracing the Shakti within and around us.
The festivities also surround around the story of Lord Rama and slaying of Raavan in the northern parts of India. With Ram Lila(plays that tell the story of Ramayana) and burning the effigy of Raavan on Dussehra, also venerating different forms of the Goddess during Navratri, the celebration adds a different color to the diversity of culture.
Today many cities, B-towns and even sub-urban areas are a melting pot of cultures which have interwoven into each other to create all kinds of fusion and grandeur. Yet, the uniqueness finds its expression in several ways in every celebration in India.
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