When the last showers of the monsoon are beginning to fall sparsely between spells of bright sunshine, comes the month of Ashwin. In this month the festive season in India reaches a crescendo with the beginning of the nine-day Navaratri festival.

For weeks, people eagerly look forward to this time of gladness and celebration. Navaratri is a combination of many concepts. Durga or Shakti, the goddess of power and vitality, has nine forms called Navadurga, On each day of the nine days, she takes a new form, with an arsenal of weapons, to ride a lion and fight the demon Mahishasura.

Her eight arms hold different weapons given to her by various gods to annihilate this enemy of dharma. The legend about this battle relates how the demon was so powerful that no god could individually defeat him. The whole pantheon prayed to Shakti (Durga) to fight him with the collective weapons given by them. On the ninth day Durga killed the demon. Vijayadashami or Dussera, the 10th day, is celebrated with feasting and rejoicing as her day of victory. Venerated all ov as the mother goddess, here Durga assumes her awe like aspect in order to annihilate the forces of evil and bring harmony and light.

The most joyous celebration of Navaratri is seen in Gujarat, Karnataka Tamil Nadu and Bengal. Gujarati women plant nine pulses and cereals in earthen pots on the first day and worship the growing plants for nine days. The plants are then dried and kept till next Dussera or immersed in a river or the sea.

Every night, people gather in courtyards to gaily dance the dandiya raas and garba, a community dance in which men and women dressed in festive clothes, dance in pairs with dandiyas or painted wooden sticks with tiny bells attached to them. The raas originated from the state of Gujarat, where the worship goddess has always assumed a large role in the life of people.

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