India, Travel in India

Nine Days of Devotion: Navratri Celeberations in India

In a country with a myriad of religions, customs and beliefs, blended expertly in colours of democracy, there is one festival that stands out for other, perhaps in part due to the vibrancy of its celebrations, or perhaps due to the diversity of it. The Navratri is in many ways a celebration of celebrations.

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Goddess Durga Aarti in Navratras

The months of October-November arrive and India is completely dipped in colours of fun and frolic. Navratri Festival is celebrated in different regions of the country with a lot of vim and brio. Though these festive nine days are dedicated to Shakti or the nine forms of Goddess Durga. Throughout India, Navratri is celebrated in diverse ways but what remains same throughout whole country is the intensity of enjoyment and devotion, and it is these celebrations that highlight the culturally rich aspect of our incredible India. While the celebrations in the metropolitan cities have a very commercial feel to it, the traditional way of celebrating Navratri is a very different and far more spiritual.It wouldn’t be possible for an individual to visit the length and breadth of the country during the festive season to experience the fervor of Navratri in ways that are region specific, but this piece can make one go places virtually!

Here’s taking a look at how the different regions of India celebrate the auspicious nine nights of Navratri:

In West Bengal, and most parts of eastern India, it takes the form of Durga Puja, an occasion to celebrate the Triumph of Good over Evil. According to legend, a vicious buffalo-demon, Mahishasura, had raised hell at the gates of heaven, causing widespread terror. The Goddess Durga was actualised by the combined efforts of all the deities to slay him. Thus, Durga astride a lion, with an assortment of weapons in her 10 hands, slayed Mahishasura. Durga is also worshipped as Shakti, and beautiful idols of the Mother Goddess adorn elaborate pandals (marquees) for five days (starting from the fifth day of Navratri). Believers (and non-believers) flock to these pandals with gay abandon. On the tenth day of the celebrations, the idols are carried out in colourful processions to be immersed (visarjan) in a river or a pond. With a different style of celebrating this festival and a different name too, Poschim Bangal looks drenched in bright and vibrant colours as Maa Durga descends from heaven to visit her maternal home on Earth. She is received with much love and warmth through worships, fasts and cultural events. Bengalis play with red colours to mark Goddess’ departure. The festivities go synonymous with the sound of the “Dhol & Dhak”, the “pandal-hoping” and the traditional “bhog”.

Even though religious festivals in the region are observed by the people according to their faith in the north-eastern states, Durga puja is a time when the entire region irrespective of State, community, ethnicity, tribe or religion is immersed in a festive spirit. In most parts, community pandals are set up in almost all urban localities and many villages to celebrate the festival. Idols of the Goddess are made by local artisans & Puja pandals are attractively decorated & to create public awareness a recent trend has been to have thematic displays highlighting the problems plaguing society like inflation, crime against women, corruption, violence, terrorism, flash- floods, rhino poaching etc. Durga puja is also conducted in the Kamakhya temple at Guwahati for five days. Kamakhya is known as a shaktipeeth. Tripura also celebrates Durga puja extensively. Manipur started celebrating Durga puja from 1714, when the then king Pamheiba Ningtou embraced Hinduism. Aizawl the capital of Mizoram has a long tradition of observing Durga puja dating back to 1904.

North India has a bit modified name i.e Navratras and is enjoyed by fasting and visiting decorated temples but the best feature about this festival is Ramlila. Ramlilas are organized by almost every area or block in New Delhi & around, where stage artists enact various scenes from the Hindu epic Ramayana. Food and huge bumpy rides along with various cultural shows add to the beauty and enjoyment of Ramlilas; which are also a great way to spread teachings of Lord Rama and to popularize the Epic Ramayana.

Himachal Pradesh celebrates Navratri with utmost devotion. The tenth day of this grand festive season is called Kullu Dusshera in the state. Unlike other states, the festival begins in Himachal when it ends elsewhere. People mark this day to rejoice the return of victorious Lord Rama to Ayodhya. Songs and dance are common ways to express devotion. On Dusshera or Dashami, the deities from the temples of the village are taken out in processions.

The Punjabis have a unique way of paying obeisance to Goddess Shakti. Most of the people in Punjab go on a fast for the first seven days. They also organize a jagraata (keeping awake whole night by singing devotional songs dedicated to the Goddess). On the eighth day or Ashtami, the fast is broken by organizing a bhandara for 9 young girls (Kanjika). A bhandara means a feast that includes puris and halawa chana. The girls are also gifted with a red chunri.

The festival of Navratri acquires quite a fascinating and colourful dimension in the region of Gujarat, and in some parts of Rajasthan and Maharashtra. The highlights of the festival are the extremely colourful dances of Garbha and Dandiya-Rasa during which, both men and women dressed in the traditional attires put up stunning performances to the vibrant rhythm of music. These dances are performed around the traditionally decorated terracotta pot called the garbi that has a small diya (lamp) burning inside signifying knowledge, or light meant to dissipate the ignorance, or darkness, within. Dholak players (drummers) accompany the dancers, and groups of singers sing songs ranging from songs handed down generations to popular bollywood hits.

In the South India, the Dravidian states add a different colour to this festive fabric. In Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the festival of Navratri is celebrated in a different manner. People adorn their houses with dolls (Bommai Kolu), draw traditional designs or rangolis (patterns made on the floor by using various coloured powders and flowers), and light lamps. During Navratri festival (also known as Kolu in the state of Tamil Nadu), families proudly display traditional ‘golu’ and gather to sing songs and depict scenes from the various epics, for a period of ten days. `Golu` is an arrangement made on a make-shift staircase with nine stairs. Each stair symbolizes each day of Navratri. Decorative items, idols of Gods and Goddesses are placed on the stairs. In most cases, the dolls that are used for the ‘Golu’ are handed over from generation to generation. Another runaway hit is the sundal, a special sweet made from lentil and brown sugar. Families and friends exchange the traditional gifts of coconuts, clothes and sweets on this occasion.

`Batukamma Panduga` is celebrated during Navratri in Andhra Pradesh, which means `Come Alive Mother Goddess`. These nine days are dedicated to Shakti and are celebrated in a very unique way. Women prepare `Batukamma` which is actually a beautiful flower stack, arranged with seasonal flowers, in seven layers. After preparing their respective Batukamma’s, women gather in the evening for the ritual. They place them in the centre and dance around them by singing folk songs dedicated to Goddess Shakti. Then they march towards a lake or any other water body and set afloat their Batukammas.

Unlike Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, Kerala celebrates only the last three days of Navratri. Ashtami, Navami and Vijaya Dashmi are of utmost importance for the Keralites. This South Indian state that tops the literacy rate in the country, considers these three days as the most auspicious time to initiate learning.

Karnataka will be celebrating its 403rd Navratri this year. Karnataka’s way of celebrating Navratri dates back to the times of Raja Wodeyar in the 1610 & they follow the same trend which was followed by the great Vijayanagara dynasty. It’s called `Naada Habba’ in the state. However, the basic reason for the celebrations remains the same – victory of Goddess Durga over demon Mahishasur. The celebrations include procession of elephants on the streets. Fairs and exhibitions of handicrafts and artifacts are common feature.

The festival of Navratri ends with the celebration of Dussehra or Vijaya Dashmi; literally meaning ‘The Day marking the Triumph of Good over Evil’). It is associated with another legend where Lord Rama killed the demon-king Ravana. Dusherra is celebrated all over the nation by burning down big idols of three demons i.e. King Ravana, Meghnatha and Kumbhkarna. Dussehrra conveys the message that goodness and humbleness can defeat power and evil intentions. It marks the happy ending to the 9 day-long celebrations.

It is not just in India that these festivals are celebrated; Indians abroad have not forgotten their roots and culture and celebrate each of the festival with immense fervor. Today, round the globe wherever there are Indians, these festive traditions are enjoyed!
I’m hoping that reading this has taken you places…..happy festivities! 

Shristi Singh

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