Nine Days of Joy And Devotion #Navratri Narratives

Posted on October 24, 2012 in Culture-Vulture

By Bhaskar H. Narula:

Time illustrates the good times we have and have had. Pictures, sweets and smiling faces are what constitute the festivities. These however might perish with time as the rising costs are hitting the festive season and there is a steady decline in the enthusiasm of people for celebrating festivals in India. But that does not stop people from celebrating the most cherished of festivals, Navratri, which brings in nine days of happiness in their hearts. Navratri derives its name from Sanskrit Language; “Nava” means Nine and “Ratri” means Night.

Navratri embarks with the dates decided by the Purohits (Priests) of the temple. India is well known for its diversity and each state celebrates Navratri in its own magnificent style. Navratri entails worshipping the Goddess Durga and her nine incarnations. Navratri has its special significance as it comes after the shraadhs. Shraadhs are the days when people pray for peace of their deceased relatives and ancestors. During these days, a lot of food is donated to priests, animals and temples. It is considered holy and promises peace to the departed souls. To exhale out the spirit of mourning after shraadh comes Navratri. It brings happiness back and teaches people that real purpose of life is happiness through devotion.
A smile rests on everyone’s faces as extravagant spending, holidays from work and school provide people ample reasons for the same. The perfect blend of the aroma of the incense sticks and the devotion people have for the heavenly powers is worth noting.

You will find a special zeal when it comes to celebration in the states of West Bengal and Gujarat. Navratri is a prime festival in both these states. In Gujarat people play the Garbha (a dance form) and worship Goddess Durga. In West Bengal, Durga Puja pandals are set up on all streets. People buy new clothes for each day and show their reverence towards the divine Goddess Durga. Each day, ceremonies begin with prayers or Aarti and several events follow. Thousands of people visit the pujas, enjoy themselves and show their devotion towards the Goddess of power. Durga Puja brings people together: you can find Hindus, Muslims, Bengalis, Sikhs and Christians attending the Pujas and contributing their bits. I was amazed to find a Sikh boy performing the Pujas in a Durga Puja Pandal.

I visited the capital city of West Bengal this year and I have to say that the city looked exuberant. Kolkata smelt of roses and lilies amalgamated with incense sticks. My apartment was in Patuli which is a bit far from main city. Preparations for Puja started days before Navratri began, with the setting up of tents for the Puja ceremonies and collecting money from the society members. You pay five hundred bucks per family to witness the religious ceremonies that are performed, twice. I could feel the high spirits of the people considering the amount of shopping they did. Women clad in beautiful sarees and matching jewellery drew everyone’s attention. Men wore formals or the traditional dhoti and panjabi. The pujas were performed thrice a day. They started with the morning prayers, followed by the noon prayers and most of the celebrations happened at night. During the Puja days the city enjoyed twisted rules. Due to overcrowding in various streets, no vehicles were permitted. However, the entire city was declared open for a whole nine days i.e., even at night. One can easily roam around in their cars and can enjoy the beauty of the city during these days. I hired a car and moved through the city all night. All I could find were the several joyous eyes filled with devotion for the Goddess. At some places I could find special competitions, at one place there was a cooking competition where people could bring in their recipes, cook food and sell them. One could set up his own stall and sell whatever he has made and the one who earns the maximum profit is given a small prize. A majority of the participants were women. At another place, there was dance competition organized for children where they had to hold a diya in their hand and offer prayers to the Goddess and the best performer was awarded.

Moving ahead towards West, we reach Maharashtra. Navratri is celebrated here by playing Dandiya. Dandiya is another for dance where people clad in traditional dresses dance to the tunes of Bollywood and other special traditional songs. Several schools and organizations organize a Dandiya Mohatsav which gives people a chance to dance and have the time of their lives.

In the North, the festival of Navratri is celebrated by fasting for nine days and worshiping the Goddess. During these nine days, people abstain from consuming non-vegetarian food, alcohol and even onions. It depends on one’s perception too. A lot of people even avoid the normal flour which we consume. Special food is cooked which is basically rich in starch, i.e., potatoes and is served in the family. Milk and fruits become the major parts of one’s diet.

Each state celebrates Navratri and offers a piece of its devotion to the Goddess. There may be different names for the festival, but they convey the same feeling. In Tamil Nadu, Navratri is celebrated with Golus where people make steps and place idols on them and name it as Golus. The nine nights and ten days come to an end with the victory of good over evil i.e. with Dussehra or Vijayadashami. During Dussehra, effigies of King Ravan and his two brothers Meghnath and Kumbhkaran are burnt, which demonstrate the prevalence of good (Lord Ram) over evil (King Ravan).

Happiness seems to have no end. The nine day journey is a package of laughter, joy and devotion. People come together; thereby bridging the gap created by caste and creed and celebrate the essence of Navratri. Visarjan of the idols of the Goddess Durga Idols comes across as a promise that Goddess will return the next year and shower blessings on all her children. The happiness however will linger as Diwali, with the happiness it spreads by virtue of the million lights, is around the corner.

Note: This article is also published on the author’s personal blog.

Re-connect with your family this festive season. Go hunt down those stories  – traditions, best kept secrets, recipes, family tales, wild jokes, moth-eaten priceless photos and more! Go talk to everyone at home about their Dussehra and see their eyes light up wistfully (grabbing pen, paper, or recording instrument is a good idea, these stories are precious and never retold in quite the same way!).

And write/blog/photograph/video about it. About your Dussehra story.

Navratri Narratives is a collaborative campaign between The Alternative and Youth Ki Awaaz this festive season,to urge us to re-connect with our cultural roots in meaningful ways.