Wednesday, October 05, 2005


'Navaratri', is celebrated across the globe in a variety of forms. 'Nava' in sanskrit means nine and 'ratri' means night. In the south, Navaratri is the time for arranging the 'golu' (toys) in the house. 

The golu is kept in odd numbers, usually in steps of 3 or 5. The Marapachi Bommai ( a man and a woman carved in wood) are the principal dieties in the golu, apart from which, the various forms of Shakti (Durga) are kept.

The festival is celebrated with gusto across the south. Neighbours are invited for vetthalai-paaku (Betel leaves and nuts) and are usually coaxed into singing a song, much to the horror of the unsuspecting visitor. The women wear bright silk sarees and gold ornaments. The house is abuzz with activities, with one batch of people going out and the next ready to join in the celebration.

Navaratri is the triumph of good over evil. In some parts of India, Lord Rama, one of the Dashaavatars, is worshipped. In other parts of India, Durga is worshipped. In the Hindu religion, Shiva is considered to be the static form while Shakti is symbolic of the dynamic energy. The two forces combine to make the creation.

In some places, it is believed that Shakti, takes the form of Navadurgas to kill the asura,(demon) Mahisha. On the tenth day, the Goddess kills the asura, and that day is called Vijayadashami (Dashami is ten and Vijaya means victory). Hence She is also known as Mahishasuramardhini- the one who vanquished the demon, Mahisha. Vijayadashami marks the beginning of good tidings and the elimination of evil forces. It is believed that Rama also worshipped the Goddess before killing Ravana in the battle.

In Mysore, Navaratri is celebrated on a grand scale. It is also known as Dussera in Karnataka. The goddess Durga is worshipped during this season. The Mysore Maharaja's palace is bedecked with lights and decorated lavishly. The Maharaja of Mysore then goes in a procession through the entire city. My mother witnessed the procession as a child, memories of the Maharaja and his entourage that walked through the city still remain with her. The streets are flooded by the public who come to see the King and the royal procession.

In West Bengal, it is known as the Durga Pooja. The entire city of Calcutta is lit up( with lots of chamak-damaks). Shops, colleges and offices remain closed for atleast, four days . The streets are invaded by the crowds of people who flow into Calcutta. Beautiful clay models of Durga are made only during this time of the year, each form looking more beautiful than the next. Puja pandals are erected everywhere. It is season of supreme bliss.

In Gujarat, it is the time of the Garbha and the Dandiya Raas. Men and women wear colourful outfits and dance with each other with colourfully painted wooden sticks. Goddess Durga's three 'Sakthipithas' in Gujarat; Ambaji in Banaskantha, Bahucharaji in Chunaval and Kalika on Pavagadh hill in Panchmahals are thronged by devotees during Navaratri.

In north India, on the tenth day, huge effigies of Ravana (the Asura King), his brothers Meghnada and Kumbhakarna filled with different fire crackers are set alight to celebrate the victory of good over evil.

The underlying philisophy of Navaratri is the establishment of Dharma and the end of Adharma. That which is righteous(Dharma) is symbolised by Durga and Rama, and the villains (Adharma) here are Ravana, Kumbhakarna, and Mahisha. They are not simply mythological characters. What they signify are infact, the good and bad energies that are present in human beings. It is an internal triumph, where human beings progress by giving up immoral practices and start thier lives afresh. Navaratri is a season for carrying out philanthrophic activites and reaching out to those in need. It is also a time for the entire family to get together and celebrate.

On a general note, festivals are intended to bring people from diverse backgorunds under one roof, thus emphasizing the spirit of solidarity. It is also the emacipation of the corrupted spirit and moving on to higher planes.

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