September 16, 2009 > Navarathri: Nine Nights of Celebration
Navarathri: Nine Nights of Celebration
By Mekala Raman
India is a land of mythological stories with traditional beliefs of gods and goddesses. The beginning of summer and the beginning of winter are two very important junctions of climatic and solar influence. When the cold season creeps in, Hindus begin their season of festivities with Navarathri, or Dusshera, a ten-day festival in praise of Hindu goddesses. This year Navarathri begins Saturday, September 19th, the day after the new moon day. Observance of this holiday varies in different regions of India.
Navarathri originates in a legend of the goddess Durga, wife of the god Shiva. According to the legend, Durga desired to visit her parents; her husband Shiva only allowed her to do so for nine days in a year. The festival celebrates the nine-day reunion of Durga with her family. Many regions spend the first nine days of the festival praising the war-goddess Durga, the symbol of power and strength. On the tenth day they celebrate Saraswathi, the goddess of learning and music.
In ancient times, kings would use Dusshera as a time to seek Durga's blessings before military operations. These days, people in places like the state of West Bengal worship Durga as an embodiment of Shakti, or power, and honor her victory over the evil demon Mahishaasura. A clay idol of her is made which they eventually immerse in water. People in Calcutta hold celebrations for Durga for nine days and five days later, at the full moon, they worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.
Citizens of the state of Punjab respect the goddesses by fasting. In Gujarat and Maharashtra they celebrate with lively Garba dances using wooden sticks or clapping to emphasize the rhythm while singing devotional songs. In Himachal Pradesh, dolls from all over the valley are borne on lavishly decorated palanquins and presented in a fair. Those from Mysore exchange sweets and hold celebrations during Dusshera in commemoration of good over evil.
In Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andra Pradesh the nine days are broken into three parts to worship the three goddesses Durga, Lakshmi, and Sarawathi; the first three days are dedicated to Durga, the next three are for Lakshmi, and the last three are for Saraswathi. Dusshera is celebrated as a doll festival called Golu. Dolls representing gods, goddesses, stories, parts of daily rituals, etc. are arranged on steps and people visit friends and neighbors to see each other's collections.
Although celebrations vary throughout India and the world, its central purpose is to give thanks to the female principle of nature and goddesses connected to them. Many Bay Area residents have continued the traditions of their regions and celebrate Navarathri in their homes or in the events organized by local temples.
Note: Arathi Satish also contributed to this article.