Navratri festival

Navratri is a Hindu festival celebrated for nine days worshipping the various forms of Durga. ‘Nav’ means nine and ‘ratri’ means night, thus the name meaning ‘nine nights’ in Sanskrit.

It is celebrated five times a year – Vasanta Navaratri, Ashadha Navaratri, Sharada Navaratri and Poushya/Magha Navaratri. Of these, Sharada and Vasanta Navaratri are most important..

Vasanta Navaratri is the festival of nine days dedicated to the nine forms of Devi, in the spring season. Sharad Navaratri is the most important of the Navratris and often called ‘Maha Navratri’. It is called so since it is celebrated during Sharad, i.e. beginning of winters, sometime in October – November. The Chaitra Navratri culminates to Ram Navami and the Sharad Navratri in Durga Puja and Dussehra.

Celebrations:
The festival coincides with the end of the rainy season; considered auspicious as it is associated with the sprouting of new seeds, a sign of prosperity. Many people consider it the best time of the year to initiate something new in their personal or professional lives.

It is celebrated in different ways throughout the country. During these days the nine forms of Shakti – Durga, Bhadrakali, Amba, Annapurna, Sarvamangala, Bhairavi , Chandika or Chandi, Lalita, Bhavani and Mookambika are worshipped. Some people observe fasts for all the nine days. The festival ends on Mahanavami. On this day, ‘Kanya Puja’ is performed. Nine young girls representing the nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped. Their feet are washed and a puja is performed, at the end of which they are given food, traditionally consisting of pudi, chana and halwa. People who do not fast for all nine days do so on the 1st and 2nd or 1st and last or the last 2 days, since it is believed that the fasts have to be kept in pairs.

The nine days are divided into sets of three days, each dedicated to different Goddesses. The first three days are dedicated to Durga, also known as Kali, the Goddess of power. On the next three days Lakshmi, the Goddess of peace and prosperity is worshipped. The seventh and eighth days are dedicated to Saraswati, the Goddess of wisdom. Devotees believe that one needs the blessings of all the three to be successful in life.

Navratri is synonymous with Dandiya Rasa and Garba, the characteristic folk dances of Gujarat. Both men and women dress in traditional attires. Village girls bearing garbis (pots) on their heads go from house to house and perform dances. The garbi has a diya burning inside which signifies knowledge and the end of darkness. Dandiya-Rasa is performed mostly by men. They dance in concentric circles and beat the dandiya sticks in rhythm while performing.
Rituals across the country:
The last four days of Sharad Navratri are celebrated as Durga Puja in West Bengal. It is the most important festival in Bengal. Elaborately decorated clay idols of Goddess Durga depicting her slaying the demon Mahisasura are set up in temples. The idols are worshipped for five days and immersed in the river on the last day.

In North India the tenth day is celebrated as Dussehra, the festival which marks the triumph of ‘good over evil’. Ram Lilas portraying the story of Rama’s life are performed. Huge images of Ravana are burnt, depicting the end of evil.

In the Southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh the festival is known as Kolu, it is celebrated for ten days. Women decorate the houses with dolls and draw rangolis. Families gather to display traditional wooden dolls, sing songs and depict scenes from various epics. They also exchange sweets and gifts.