As the world’s largest democracy rushes head long into the future; India is still known for its rich culture rooted in its past. For every Indian, celebrating festivals is not merely following rituals but; marks prosperity. With changing seasons, festivals of India depict this change. Navratri, a hindu festival who’s name itself has change (ratri). ‘Nav’ means nine and ‘Rartri’ means night; this festival is celebrated worshiping, nine forms of Goddess Durga for nine nights. Beginning on the first day of the bright fortnight of the Hindu month Ashwin, roughly corresponding to dates in the Gregorian calendar in September/October.
This also usually coincides with the end of the rainy season. It is celebrated two times a year and like every hindu festival Navratri also derives its significance form myths corresponding to its origin. It is said that; Sati (also known as Uma) married Lord Shiva against the wishes of her father, King Daksha Prajapati. In revenge, Daksha organized a huge yagna and invited all the gods and deities except his new son-in-law. Sati decided to attend the yagna despite Lord Shiva’s attempt to persuade her not to. The King ignored his daughter’s presence and publically abused Lord Shiva.
Unable to bear her father’s insults, Sati committed suicide by jumping into the yagna fire. However, she was reborn and again won Lord Shiva as her groom and peace was restored. It is believed that since then Uma comes every year with her four children Ganesh, Kartik, Saraswati and Laxmi and two of her best friends or ‘sakhis’ called Jaya and Bijaya, to visit her parent’s home during Navratri. Another well known myth is that, demon Mahishasur, after being given a boon by the fire god Agni that he wouldn’t be killed by weapons bearing masculine names, caused grave destruction and terror.
The gods sought the help of Lord Shiva, who advised the invocation of the goddess Shakti. With the gods’ prayers, a divine luster sprang from the heart of Lord Shiva and the bodies of all the gods and formed the goddess Adhya Shakti. The gods gave her ornaments, arms and a lion as a vehicle. She fought with the evil Mahishasur for nine long days and nights, and at last, resulted in the beheading of Mahisa on the tenth. The nine nights came to be known as Navratri, while the tenth day was called Vijaya Dashami, the tenth day that brought the triumph of good over the evil.
These legends and story are part of the history that surrounds the festival of Navratri and are going to be around as long as the festival continues. First three days of navratri; Goddess Durga are worshiped; Kumari the girl child, Parvati the young woman and Kali, the mature woman signifying the power of the woman which is worthy of respect. To overcome ego, lust, anger; the animal instincts acquired out of triumph we need spiritual wealth. For the purpose a person approaches goddess Laxmi.
The fourth, fifth and sixth day of Navratri are dedicated to the worship of Laxmi – the goddess of prosperity and peace. Gathering wealth man doesn’t attain true knowledge. Seeking the urge to learn the seventh day is dedicated to worshipping Saraswati, the goddess of art and knowledge. A ‘yagna’ is performed on the eight day. This comprises of a sacrifice honoring goddess Durga as well as bids her farewell. The sacrifice or offering is made out of clarified butter (ghee), rice pudding known as kheer and sesame seeds. On the ninth day Kanya pujan or girl child worship is performed.
These Nine girls symbolize nine forms of the goddess and are offered with new cloths and delicacies as homage to the mother Durga. After the nine nights the tenth is celebration of Vijaya Dashmi when Durga killed the demon Mahishasur. This day coincides with another hindu festival Dushhera when lord Ram killed Ravana and made peace in the land of Lanka. Both occasions mark the triumph of good over evil. Singing and dancing people celebrate each one with spirit of botherhood. The diversified land of India continues to unfold a new definition of celebration crossing every state.
Garba and Dandiya from the west, crackers and fireworks in the north to traditional dances of the northeast; It is these festivals that celebrate civilizations. The idea may be subjective but it truly is. Their ethinic nature links us to our roots; religion we belong. A child here grows up in a potential superpower and yet knows what it is to belong to an ancient civilization. Festivals not only bring prosperity and joy but have preserved our rich culture and heritage for the generations to come. -Nitin Ghuliani