Mystical Navratri Celebrations – Then and Now

By Suma Kumar

 
 

During Navratri, offer all anxieties, fears,
worries, negativity into the sacrificial fire
and be rejuvenated with courage, enthusiasm
and knowledge and spread wisdom and light to
the suffering world. Let’s bring peace, love, joy
and Happiness to all.

 
 

Navratri always brings memories of my childhood, which was so joyful, as we got 10 days of school holidays, after the quarterly examinations. This was the only time when we were not expected to do any studies and was only play all the time. In fact our books and pencils were taken off us and kept in the Puja. I remember the pavements on both sides of the road having mounds of golden chrysanthemums and garlands of yellow, orange flowers with mango leaves tied together in them. Also this was the time when we as little girls, my sisters and our friends were often invited by neighbours, friends and relatives to their homes for a special meal and given gifts, bangles and plenty of attention by the women folk. I felt we were kind of worshipped and this made me feel very special and happy. During these holidays we used to grind mehendi leaves to a fine paste and apply it on our palms and keep it all night, sometimes waking up to see if it is still in place and adding a few drops of water to places where it was too dry, so that we got the best colouring and pattern on our hands. We also visited Devi (Mother Divine) temples, and were invited to homes that had a bommai kolu - display of Devi and Vishnu idols in their many avatars. This was arranged in 7 or 9 steps or more with lots of lamps, lighting and floral decorations and also kolams (patterns made of geometrical lines and curves and dots on the floor with rice flour). We the children were asked to dance or sing bhajans praising Mother Divine and were offered sundal (chick peas and coconut), puffed, flaked and popped rice with jaggery, sugar cubes, banana and coconut and kesari (a sweet dish) as Prasad, which we all enjoyed and looked forward to during the nine nights of Navratri. Many years later and now living in a multicultural environment, I try to bring back that magic for my daughter. However she needs a lot of explanation for the things we do and it has been very educational and insightful for me as I share this age old tradition and celebrations with her and with all of you through this piece on mystical Navratri.

Significance of Navratri

The beginning of spring and the beginning of autumn are two very important junctions of climatic and solar influence. These two periods are considered as sacred opportunities to worship the Divine Mother. Navratri thus represents the celebration of the shakti (energy). Mother Divine is the manifestation of the Divine consciousness as shakti.

Maha Navratri (the Great Navratri) is celebrated in the month of Ashvina. Also known as Sharad Navaratri, as it is celebrated during Sharad (beginning of autumn, September–October), it commences on the first and ends on the tenth day of the bright half of the lunar month, Ashvina.

This festival is devoted solely to the Mother Goddess — known variously as Durga, Bhavani, Ambika, Chandika, Gauri, Kaali, Parvati, Lalitha, Tripurasundari, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Chamundi, Mahishasuramardini and her many other manifestations.

Mother is our first Guru, who guides us on the path of righteousness; she is the provider of nourishment for her children, protector of her family and upholder of dharma and traditions. We honour and worship these principles and rededicate ourselves to honour and uphold these principles and human values and to spread joy, peace, love and happiness in the world.

During this period, Hindus observe nine nights and ten days of ceremonies, rituals, fasts and feasts in honour of the Supreme Mother Divine. It begins with the fast of Navratri, and ends with the festivities of Dusshera or Vijayadashami.

During this vowed religious observance, a pot is installed (ghatasthapana) at a sanctified place at home. A lamp is kept lit in the pot for nine days. The pot symbolizes the Universe. The uninterrupted lit lamp is the medium through which we worship the effulgent Adishakti or Divine Mother, i.e. Sree Durgadevi. During Navratri, the principle of Sree Durgadevi is more active in the atmosphere. Pots of water, called kalash, are also worshipped as the Divine energy is absorbed into the water during the chanting of mantras and yagnas that are performed to invoke the Divine energy during the period of Navratri.

Nine Nights and ten days of Navratri

"As we take nine months in our mother's womb, before we are born, we take these nine days to go back to our source. These nine days are to be spent in meditation, satsangs, silence and knowledge." - Sri Sri

Navratri purifies the individual & universal consciousness, the environment and the creation by eradicating the misery, sorrow and pain in the world.Navratri is divided into sets of three days to adore three different aspects of the supreme goddess. To know more about these three aspects, read Honoring Durga, Laxmi, Saraswati.

Unique Navratri Celebrations in Different Parts of India

The last five days of Sharad Navratri is celebrated as Durga Puja in West Bengal, north-eastern part of India. Devi Durga is shown with various weapons in her hand, riding on a lion. Lion signifies the dharma, the will power, while the weapons denote the focus and severity needed to destroy the negativity in our minds. Eighth day is traditionally Durgashtami. 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 worshipped for five days and immersed in the river on the fifth day.

In Western India, particularly in the state of Gujarat, Navratri is celebrated with the famous Garba and Dandiya-Raas dance. Garba is a graceful form of dance, wherein women dance gracefully 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. Besides the Garba is the Dandiya dance, in which men and women participate in pairs with small, decorated bamboo sticks, called dandiyas in their hands. At the end of these dandiyas are tied 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 dandiyas in style!

The Ayudha Puja is conducted in many parts of South India on the Mahanavami (Ninth) day with much fanfare. Agricultural implements, all kinds of tools, books, musical instruments, equipments, machinery and automobiles are decorated and worshipped on this day along with the worship of Goddess Saraswathy.

The 10th day is celebrated as 'Vijaya Dashami'. It is the day of “Vidyaarambam” in Kerala, where young children are initiated into learning. In the southern city of Mysore Dussehra is celebrated with grand processions on the streets carrying Goddess Chamundi.

In North India, Navratri is celebrated as the victory of Lord Rama over the evil king Ravana. It culminates in the celebrations of the Ramlila which is enacted ceremoniously during Dussehra. The effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna, are burnt to celebrate the victory of good (Rama) over evil forces on the 'Vijaya Dashami' day.

These nine days are filled with special pujas, yagnas, homas, fasting, meditations, silence, singing and dancing honoring Mother Divine, her entire creation- all forms of life, all forms of art, music and knowledge. She is worshipped as the savior of mankind from ignorance and all forms of evil.