Navaratri as Durgotsava in the land of Hilsa
Navaratri is celebrated as Durga Puja or Durgotsava in West Bengal. While in every other place people fast, bongs do the reverse and feast themselves to tons of tasty foodstuffs. Every empty place suddenly becomes alive with countless pandals or temporary stages and every street becomes crowded with women wearing white and red sarees thus giving the whole place a divine feeling.
Durga Puja, marks the glorious and victorious battle of Maa Durga with the shape-shifting, illusory and powerful buffalo asura (demon), Mahisasura. Thus, the festival epitomizes the victory of Good over Evil. It is celebrated in the last four days of Navaratri- Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami. It’s on the seventh day, Saptami that every Bengali receives the goddess happily with love. The idols are then taken in a procession on the streets and then immersed in the rivers with mixed feelings among the crowd on the tenth day, Dashami.
Welcoming literacy in God’s own country
Will you be surprised if I say that Malayalis celebrate Navaratri by spreading education among kids? They celebrate the last three days of Navaratri, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami by taking their kids to the temples where they are introduced to their first letters by making them write on rice grains. Education is indeed important for Malayalis and they worship goddess Saraswati during these days.
Books, as well as musical instruments, are carefully packed and kept along with the goddess’s idols for special Navaratri pujas where the people pray to the goddess to grant them wisdom and knowledge. They are then unwrapped after Navaratri is over and at that moment a special Prasad made of rice flakes, jaggery, sugarcane pieces as well as flowers are served. (I still vividly remember the kid-version of me picking up all the sugar cane pieces from the Prasad while the puja was going on.)
Mysore at its peak of glory in Navaratri
Karnataka would probably be the only place to follow the same Navaratri traditions since 1610 without any single change to it. Nadahabba, which means the festival of the region is the term used for Navaratri here. The Navaratri celebration has its roots in the great Vijayanagara dynasty where it was celebrated in honor of Mother Goddess who killed the demon Mahishasura. People celebrate it here by conducting pujas and procession of elephants on the streets.
Of all the Navaratri celebrations across the state, Mysore Dasara is the most pompous and the most popular. A lot of people from all around the country as well as from across the globe come to take part in the Navaratri festivities. Ironically, the state of Mysore was named after Mahishasura as it is believed that Mahishasura hailed from this very city. Raja Wodeyar I started the festival here in 1610 to show the power of the Wodeyars. On the ninth day of Dasara, called Mahanavami, the royal sword from the palace is worshipped and is taken on a procession of decorated elephants and horses. On Vijayadashami, the traditional Dasara procession is held on the streets of Mysore. An image of the Goddess Chamundeshwari is placed on a golden saddle on the back of a decorated elephant and taken on a procession, accompanied by decorated animals, artisans and tableaux depicting the festivals.
The end is the new beginning for Himachal
The most interesting fact about the Navaratri festival in the sleeping valley of Himachal Pradesh is that they celebrate it after the Navaratri celebrations of the whole country is over. The Hindu families of Himachal Pradesh celebrate only the last day of Navaratri. It is also known as the Kullu Dussehra which has been given the status of an International Festival as it draws attention from all around the world to the town of Kullu. Navaratri is celebrated to honor the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya and the victory of good over evil. The festival is marked by the Rath Yatra of Raghunathji along the streets of Kullu.
History of Kullu Dussehra goes back to the 17th century when local King Jagat Singh installed an idol of Raghunath on his throne as a mark of penance to the gods. After this act, god Raghunath was declared as the ruling deity of the Valley and the Navaratri tradition is continued even now.
Its traders time during Navaratri in Maharashtra
Navaratri ushers a new beginning in Maharashtra the same way it ushers in an era of education in Kerala. The people there consider Navaratri as the best time to buy new properties, cars and even conduct new business transactions. Women of rural households take a jar of copper or bronze and fill it with water and keep it on top a small heap of rice kept on a wooden stool during Navaratri. Other agriculture symbols, as well as a lamp symbolizing knowledge and household prosperity, is kept along with the rice. In the last day of Navaratri, Ayudha Puja is conducted where all sorts of tools, weapons, vehicles and productive instruments are decorated and worshipped. Women invite their friends over and apply turmeric and saffron on their foreheads and exchange gifts.
Dolls are the highlights of Navaratri in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is full of different traditions. The most notable one during the Navaratri festival is the festival of dolls called Bommai Kolu where they arrange miniature figures called Gollu dolls. These include figures of gods, goddesses, animals, birds, farmers and rural life that are passed down from generation to generation and are arranged in a temporary staircase depicting each day of Navaratri called Kolu. The three goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga are worshipped in three different days. People invite friends and families over to their homes during Navaratri to view the kolu and exchange gifts. Married women come together and pray for the wellbeing of their husbands while newly married women are given bangles and other ornaments.
Temples are decorated and special prayers are conducted for the goddesses and classical dance programs are performed in the dance halls.
It’s Dance India Dance in Gujarat
Come Navaratri and the whole of Gujarat reverberate with dance and music. Irrespective of caste, creed or sex, the whole of Gujarat performs the folk dance Garba wearing colorful costumes as well as Dandiya Raas using wooden sticks called dandiyas. Gujaratis fast partially for the first nine days of Navaratri and take only liquid foods. Each of the nine days represents the nine aspects of Goddess Shakti. They pray to a symbolic clay pot called Garbo which represents the womb and the entire universe. A lamp is lit next to the pot which is considered as a representation of oneself.
Women celebrate more in Punjab
The Navaratri celebrations in Punjab are quite unique when compared to other parts of the country, especially Gujarat. Women fast for the first seven days of Navaratri. They spend the nights of the seven days participating in Jagrans, where they spend the night chanting hymns and singing devotional songs. They break the fast only on the eighth and ninth day. The way in which the fast is broken is not observed anywhere else in the country. Nine young girls are invited to their homes from the neighborhood called ‘Kanjak’. These girls represent the nine different avatars of the goddess. The girls are then honored with gifts and money.
Goddess comes alive in Andra Pradesh & Telangana during Navaratri
In the states of Andra Pradesh and the newly formed Telangana celebrate “Bathukamma Panduga” which means ‘come alive mother goddess’ during Navaratri. The festival gets its name from the Telugu word where Bathuku in Telugu means life and amma mean mother. These nine days of Navaratri are dedicated to Maa Gauri, the goddess representing womanhood. The way they conduct the puja is very different. A beautiful flower stack arranged with seasonal flowers in seven layers like a temple gopuram called Batukamma is prepared and the puja is conducted with it.
Bathukamma Panduga begins on the day of the Mahalaya Amavasya and the festivities conclude on Ashwayuja Ashtami, often called Durgashtami in the rest of the country. It is noted that the names for the nine days of Navaratri are different than the rest of the country. Ashwayuja Ashtami falls two days prior to Dussehra. On the 10th day of Navaratri, these floral arrangements are immersed in the river as a sign of farewell to the festival.