Hindu Festival: Navratri

Further Reading on Navratri

Nav-Ratri - The festival of nine nights is one of the most prominent festivals of Hinduism dedicated to chiefly Mother Durga an incarnation of Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva. This is the most pious and pure time in the complete Hindu calendar. These nine nights are dedicated to the three main goddesses of Hinduism - Parvati, Lakshmi and Sarasvati.

The first three nights are dedicated to the goddess of action and energy. Her different manifestations viz Kumari, Parvati and Kali are worshipped during these days.

Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped for the next three days in her various aspects as the goddesses of peace, plenty and bliss. Fulfillment is more important than wealth itself. As the goddess of wealth, Goddess Lakshmi bestows wealth, success and fame and fortune to her worshippers and devotees. The four hands of Goddess Lakshmi indicate that she has the power to bestow on humanity the four ends of human life. In one hand she holds a lotus flower - reminding us of ever-lasting life and the immortality of the soul. The other hand that holds another lotus symbolizes to us to detach ourselves from too much of the worldly power, position, considerations, etc. Another hand holds what symbolizes material wealth, prosperity which are to be used as a means / tools for the achievements or goal in life; while the other hand, the fourth one is shown open and pointing downward, showering wealth and reinforcing the message of sharing.

On Lalita Panchami (the fifth day), children gather all the books in the house before a sacred lamp and invoke the blessings of Goddess Saraswati. It is also the occasion for all artisans to lay down their tools before the goddess and seek her benediction upon their trade. Goddess Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge. She is the goddess of the spiritual knowledge and the knowledge that frees us from this bind of this materialistic world. She is worshipped during the final three days of the Navratri.

On the eighth and ninth days of the festival, yagnas are performed as a final act of farewell that marks the termination of the ceremonies. Ghee or clarified butter, a sweet concoction of rice cooked in condensed milk (paayas or kheer) and sesame seeds are traditional items used in the yagna to the chanting of mantras conveying the theme-"This is my offering to God".

On the tenth day or Vijaya Dasami, more popularly known as Dussehra, enormous effigies of Ravana stuffed with firecrackers are torched with flaming arrows to the delight of throngs of revelers. It is also valued by devotees as an auspicious occasion to start an enterprise and for the business communities to open their annual books of account.

Legends associated with Navratri:
North Indian Belief :

Lord Brahma of the trinity Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva, granted Mahishasura the "buffalo demon," or simply Mahisa (buffalo) a boon that protected him from any man in the world . Empowered by this gift, Mahishasura set out to conquer the world, heaven and the world, and brought about the defeat of Indra king of deities. At the pleading of Indra, the king of the Gods, Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva created Durga, the female through and amalgamation of their own shakti or divine power. Endowed with the trinity's shakti, Durga proved to be a formidable opponent who fought Mahisa for nine days, beheading him on the tenth. The nine nights simply translated Navratri, symbolize the nine days of battle, while the tenth day, vijayadashami-literally means the victorious tenth day of conquest. This great epic is recounted and celebrated slightly differently in various regions taking on different forms and names. In West Bengal Navratri, and vijayadashami are respectively celebrated as Durga Puja and Dasara. In South India the festival includes other female deities an dedicates three days of the festival to Lakshmi, the female archetype of wealth and fortune, and another three to Saraswathi, the female archetype of learning, music and knowledge. In northern India it takes the form of the great epic Ramyana where Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu is victorious over the evil king Ravana.

Eastern Indian Belief :

Daksha, the king of the Himalayas and the plains, and his wife, Menaka, had a daughter called Uma. Uma, right from her childhood, started worshipping Shiva as her would be husband. Shiva, being pleased with the worship of Uma, came to marry her. Daksha did not like this tiger-skin clad groom with ash & dirt spread over all of his body. Uma got married to Shiva but was prevented by her father from moving to Kailash, the abode of Shiva. Daksha, later on, arranged for a 'yagna' where everyone except Shiva was invited. Uma, feeling ashamed of the behavior of her father and shocked by the attitude towards her husband, committed Sati (the woman immolates herself in a burning pyre). Shiva came to know about this and went to Daksha's house. He lifted the body of Uma on his shoulders and started dancing madly. With the supreme power dancing, the World was on the verge of destruction. Narayana, another SuperGod, came forward as a saviour and used his 'Chakra' to cut the Body of Uma into pieces. Those pieces started falling off from the shoulder of the dancing Shiva into different parts of the World. Shiva was finally pacified when the last piece fell off from his shoulder. Narayana revived Uma for a new life. Daksha, who was extremely sorry about his misdeeds, prayed for mercy and was finally forgiven. The places where the pieces had fallen are known as the 'Shakti Piths' or energy pits, few of these places being Kalighat in Calcutta, Kamakshya near Guwahati among others. Ever since peace was restored, Uma, with her four children, Ganesh, Kartick, Saraswati and Laxmi and with her two 'sakhis' - Jaya and Bijaya, comes to visit her parent's home each year during the season of 'Sharat' or autumn when Durga Puja is celebrated.

What is AkalBodhan?

In the 'Ramayana', as it goes, Lord Rama went to Lanka to rescue his abducted wife, Goddess Sita, from the grip of Ravana, the king of the Demons in Lanka. Before starting for his battle with Ravana, Lord Rama wanted the blessings of Devi Durga . He came to know that the Goddess would be pleased only if she is worshipped with one hundred 'NeelKamal' or blue lotuses. Lord Rama, after travelling the whole world, could gather only ninety nine of them. He finally decided to offer one of his eyes, which resembled blue lotuses. Goddess Durga, being pleased with the devotion of Lord Rama, appeared before him and blessed him. The battle started on the 'Saptami' and Ravana was finally killed on the 'Sandhikshan' i.e. the crossover period between Ashtami (the next day) and Navami (the day after). Ravana was cremated on Dashami. Since the period of this worship was different from the conventional period (during the spring - 'Basanta'), this puja is also known as 'Akal-Bodhan' or a worship (Bodhan) in an unconventional time (A-Kaal).

Navratri in various parts of India

The festival which is devoted to the Mother Goddess known variously as Durga, Kali, Bhavani, Amba, and Chandika, has been celebrated in it's most unique and different nature in various parts of India and abroad with devotional songs, bhajans and cultural programs with the world renowned Garba or Dandiya Raas in the state of Gujarat.

Western India : - Here this Festival is celebrated in a most unique and unusual way. The Garba or Dandiya Raas is the most significant feature during the festival of Navratri. This is the traditional and folk dance of the state of Gujarat, but today, people throughout the country perform this dance with great fervor and enthusiasm. During the dance, a decorated pot is ceremoniously placed with a light inside and the women folk dance in a circle, singing 'traditional songs' or 'garbas'. Then there is a pooja on each day of this holy period where Goddess Durga, known in this state as Ambe Maa is worshiped for prosperity and happiness. The word "Garba" by which the pot as well as the dance is known is etymologically close to the word Garbha meaning womb. In this context the lamp in the pot, symbolically represent life within a womb. The Dandiya Raas or the dance as this is called is played with dandiyas or wooden sticks. Apart from Gujarat, Dandiya Raas and Garba's is a common feature in all over India and especially in cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Vadodra and Surat. The women wear their vibrant, mirror-work ghaghras and cholis in different styles and the men in their traditional attire; play garba to traditional and rhythmic songs.

Northern India: In Northern India specially in Punjab and Delhi, even the name of the festival is changed, this becomes Navratras, here this is a period of fasting for seven days, and the people are said to keep their "Navratras" or fasts. On the eighth day or Ashtami, devotees break their fasts by calling young girls home and these girls are treated as the goddess herself. They are called "Kanjak Devis". People ceremonially wash their feet, worship them and then offer food to the "girl-goddesses" giving them the traditional 'puri', ' halwa' and chana' to eat along with bangles and the red 'chunnis' to wear with a token amount of money as "shagun". The ninth day is then called Navami which means literally the ninth day of this holy and pious period. Another prevalent practice is of sowing pulses, cereals and other seeds on the first day of this festival in a pot which is watered for nine days at the end of which the seeds sprout. This pot is worshipped throughout the nine days. This custom is also indicative of fertility worship and is known as "Khetri".It is significant of prosperity and abundance. On the first day of the Navaratras, grains of barley are planted in the puja room of the house. Every day some water is sprinkled on it. On the tenth day, the shoots are about 3 - 5 inches in length. After the puja, these seedlings or the "Khetri" as this is referred to is submerged in water . This custom suggests a link to harvesting. The sowing and reaping of barley is symbolic of the "first fruit".

West Bengal & Eastern India :- In West Bengal, Navratri is celebrated as Durga Pooja, where beautiful idols of the Goddess are decorated and adorned, and worshipped for a period of nine days and immersed on the tenth day. Different manifestations of Durga are worshipped every night and this is one of the biggest and most important festivals for the people of W. Bengal. For these ceremonies Pundals (temporary public booths) are erected. The ceremonies are conducted amidst grand prayers and mass feeding.

South India : - In southern India celebrations constitute a display of images of God and toys at home for nine days amidst much pomp and gaiety with poojas and archanas conducted for Goddess Durga.

In different states of India especially around the North, the Ram Leela is performed during Navratri. It is the staged enaction of the Ramayana. This is the day according to the Ramayana when Lord Ram killed the demon Ravana and hence this day marks the victory of good over evil. The day after Navratri (i.e the tenth day) is known as Dassera. In many parts of India this is also referred to "Vijaya Dashmi" and is celebrated with equal pomp and glory associated with Divali.

In northern India, on the tenth day (Dassera) giant effigies of Ravana. Kumbhakarna and Meghnad (Lord Rama's enemies), are publicly burnt. But despite the various ways in which this festival is celebrated the feature that is common is that of the worship of the mother goddess.

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