It’s time to grab your sticks and play the festive songs for Garba because Navratri is here!! To describe Navratri in one word won’t do it any justice. That’s because it’s vibrant, energetic, and offers a never-ending feast. It is a carnival celebrated in almost every corner of India and spans nine days. The term Navratri means ‘Nine Nights’, and people celebrate it in honour of Goddess Durga.
Being one of the most significant festivals in India, it’s celebrated four times in a year- in March, known as Chaitra Navratri. However, it is called Sharad Navratri in September/October, Magha Navratri in January/February, and Ashada Navratri in June/July. According to folklore, Goddess Durga has nine avatars, which are,
- Mata Shailputri- Also known as Parvati or the daughter of Parvat Raj, Himalaya; she is worshipped on the first day and signifies action and vigour. She is the wife of Lord Shiva and portrays herself riding a bull, with a ‘trishula’ in her left hand and a lotus in her right.
- Maa Brahmacharini- She is an incarnation of Parvati and holds the significance of the second day. Devotees worship her as she bestows peace and prosperity and symbolizes bliss and calm. Depicted as walking bare feet, she holds a ‘japamala’ and a pot in her hands.
- Mata Chandraghanta- Symbolizing bravery, she is also an incarnation of Parvati, and after her marriage to Lord Shiva, she adorned her forehead with a half-moon.
- Maa Kushmanda- Worshipped on the fourth day, i.e. Chaturthi, she is depicted having eight arms and sitting on a tiger. She is associated with bestowing vegetation on earth and the creative force of the universe.
- Mata Skandamata- Known as the mother of Kartikeya, she signifies the strength of a mother when her child is in danger. She is portrayed riding a lion, having four arms, and carrying her baby.
- Maa Katyayani- Known to exhibit courage and as the warrior goddess, she is one of the most violent forms of Devi and signifies the sixth day. In this form, she has four hands and rides a lion, and is a form of Parvati, Mahalakshmi, and Mahasaraswati combined.
- Mata Kaalratri- Signifying the seventh day, she is the most ferocious form of Durga. She is portrayed in red colour attire or tiger skin with rage in her fiery eyes.
- Maa Mahagauri- She symbolizes intelligence and peace and is worshipped on the eighth day. It is believed that after taking a bath in the Ganga river, her dark complexion changed to fair instantly.
- Mata Siddhidatri- Also known as Mahalakshmi, she is portrayed sitting on a lotus, has four hands, and bestows all forms of Siddhis (meditative ability).
Moreover, several legends revolve around Navratri in different cultures. Some are-
- According to North Indians, Mahishasura, a demon, worshipped Lord Shiva. After obtaining the power, Mahishasura started killing people to attain the ‘Three Lokas’. To protect the world, Lord Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva combined their energies to form a divine female warrior called Durga. After the first meeting with Goddess Durga, Mahishasura asked her to marry him. However, Durga put forth a condition saying that he will have to win her over in a battle. A battle ensued for nine nights, and on the ninth night, Durga beheaded Mahishasura. Hence, the nine nights were known as Navratri, and the tenth day was Vijayadashmi.
- The Eastern Indian states have a different story to tell. Daksha, the king of the Himalayas, had a daughter, Uma, who wanted to marry Lord Shiva. After years of worshipping, Lord Shiva appeared before Uma, but his appearance displeased Daksha. One day the king organized a pooja but did not invite Shiva. Seeing this behaviour from her father, Uma jumped into the Agni Kund to end her life. It’s believed that since then, Uma comes home to her parents every year with Ganesha, Kartik, Saraswati, Lakshmi, and 2 of her sakkhis (best friends); Jaya and Bijaya.
- Another legend of Navratri relates to Ramayana. According to the legend, Lord Ram was a devotee of Goddess Durga and worshipped her for nine days to gather strength to kill Ravana. Later, everyone celebrated the nine nights as Navratri, and on the tenth day, the day Ram killed Ravana, was known as Vijayadashami or Dussehra, signifying good’s triumph over evil.
With a festival, this huge, celebrations tend to differ in different cultures and states in India. Let’s look at some of the most prominent celebrations in India during Navratri.
- The eastern states lavishly celebrate Navratri and is a sight to behold. In West Bengal, the festival is called Durga Puja and is one of their biggest festivals. Observing fasts and worshipping all nine forms of Durga is a must. Devotional songs, dances, and their grand processions make this state a must-visit during the festival. During Navratri, several worshippers visit Dakshineswar Kali Temple in Kolkata.
- Navratri, in Gujarat, is a community event where people perform the traditional Dandiya Raas and Garba Raas. The Amba Mata temple in Junagarh is prominent in Gujarat and attracts thousands of devotees.
- Maharashtrian culture dedicates its whole nine days to Durga Mata. People believe the festival is auspicious to make new purchases such as ornaments or vehicles. In Mumbai, people visit the Ayyappa temple to receive Durga’s blessings.
Although the main attraction is the nine days during Navratri, the tenth day is Dussehra or Vijayadashami. Celebrated a day after Navratri, Dussehra celebrates Durga winning the battle against the demon, Mahishasura. Although, in Northern regions, people celebrate the end of Ramlila, which marks Lord Ram’s victory over Ravana. In western states, the burning of Ravana statues symbolizes the release of evil spirits within us, and people decorate and adorn their household objects such as ornaments, vehicles, and others.
With Navratri being a ritualistic festival, feasting is not popular among people. However, during fasting, some people like to enjoy some ‘upwas’ delicacies. Some follow a strict no-eat diet during Navratri, but some may choose to eat fasting delicacies. Dishes mainly consist of Tapioca (Sabudana), certain Millets, a few milk products, coconut, potatoes, and different fruits. Some famous delicacies include Sabudana Khichdi (of course), Sabudana Wada, Upwas Thali, and many more. During Dussehra, people usually enjoy sweets to commemorate the day.
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Wishing everyone a happy and safe Navratri and Dussehra!!