About Indian festivals
Festivals that we celebrate in India portraying the incredibility of our cultural heritage have become a part and parcel of our lifestyle. Almost throughout the year, numerous festivals are entertained in association with religion, culture, and tradition that has been wondrous for the Western people who visit India to be a part of the celebration. Indian festivals are celebrated generally through some unique rituals making the festivity alluring and colorful. Regional wise celebrations of following certain customs also add to the fervor of carnival mood such as Navratri and Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Onam in Kerala, festivity of Dasara in Mysore, Durga Pooja in West Bengal, and so on. Certain festivities may be of welcoming seasons of the year, the rains, harvest, rivers, or full moon or new moon, commencement of New Year, and birthdays of deities similar to Krishna Jayanthi, Vinayaka Chathurthi, Christmas, etc. Most of these festivals have been basically commonness in nature, however, sometimes, differentiated by names, rituals and style of celebration in various regions of the country. Festivities include offering poojas at home or prayers in temples, goodwill exchange, seeking blessings, home decoration, wearing new dresses, dancing, singing, feasting, hosting and so on.
With the Indian festivals reverberating zest of the people across the country, Navaratri is the one amongst those festivals celebrated with great zeal and devotion. Navaratri, the festival of nine nights manifests the supremacy of divinity in the form of Shakti (superpower) against the evil.
Significance/history of Navaratri, the festival of nine nights
Festivals, however, seem to be a breakthrough from routine sometimes, but the fact is more than simply a fun and enjoyment each festival has its unique rationality and significance behind its festivity. Navratri, a festival to rejoice over a period of nine nights almost across the country for its religious, cultural and social significance is dedicated to the adornment of Divine Goddess in various forms and names by different people. Despite these differences, the virtue of humanness is a sole attribute throughout the celebration wherever it may be.
Similar to other religious festivals, Navratri has a spiritual theme for its devotees. The festival of nine nights endorses the triumph of righteousness over malefic and inspires the humankind to be relieved from dormant of ignorance and negativisms by inculcating positive virtues and by sanctifying the inner mind. To attain the most eminent goal of human living by overcoming all temporal bindings – salvation can be accomplished with the spiritual knowledge alone. This is indeed the centerpiece of whole Vedas, the ancient Hindu write-ups.
Navratri, primarily a Hindu festival has been celebrated generally at the end of September or at the onset of October month based upon the Hindu lunar calendar. The Navratri festival represents the devotion to the Goddess Durga/Shakti/Devi. In Sanskrit, the term Navratri, literally denotes nine nights, (nava has a meaning of nine and ratri as nights). The Divine Shakti is worshipped throughout these nine nights and the tenth day is celebrated as Vijayadasami added to the festival of nine nights that commemorates the victory of the Divine Shakti over the wicked demons. The Navratri celebrated in this period between September and October is also known as Sharada (Sharad) Navratri or Maha or the Great Navratri, Sharad denoting winter.
Other than the above said Navratri, there have been three kinds of Navratri notable as Vasantha Navratri also known as Chaitra Navratri or Raama Navratri in spring season between March and April, Gupta Navratri mentioned variably as Magha or Ashadha or Gayatri or Shakambhari Navratri during the month of Ashadha or between June and July and Paush Navratri in the period of December to January. All these types of devotion are similar in nature of nine days devoted to nine forms of Shakti.
Traditional myths of Navratri festival
Though there are various myths related to this festivity, traditional theme is the triumph of the goodness over the evil. Based on the puranas as Indran, the king of Devas was defeated and tormented by the powerful Asura called Mahishasura, the divine trinity (Deities) of Brahma, Vishnu and Eshwar consecrated a superpower of Shakti by combining their energies and made a request to Goddess Durga to help them to kill the demon. Thus the Mahishasura (the evil) was destroyed by the Goddess Shakti (Durga) and the 10th day, on which the Mahishasura was killed, has been celebrated as Dasara or Vijayadashami symbolizing the victory of good virtues over evilness. Dasara is one of the important Hindu festivals observed with great enthusiasm across the country.
Added to this, another interesting tale endorsing the celebration narrates the destruction of Ravana by Lord Rama, similar to the ultimate win over the malefic forces and it was on the Vijayadasmi day. By making giant effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkarna and Meghnadh (brother and son of Ravana respectively) and get them burnt in a public place, thus the devotees need to get their evil thoughts destroyed and to follow the virtue of goodness and honesty. At the Ramleela grounds in Delhi on the Vijayadasami day, these effigies packed with explosive substances have been fired using an arrow illustrating the success over immorality.
Divine Goddesses for nine days of Navratri
Each day of Navaratri is devoted to different Goddesses and we specially worship them on that day.
1. Day one is devoted to Shailputri, daughter of the Himalayas, another form of Shakti, wife of Lord Shiva.
2. Day two has been addressed to Brahmacharini, derived from 'Brahma', a form of Durga/Shakti that indicates 'Tapa' or 'penace'.
3. Day three is dedicated to deity Chandraghanta, symbolizing beauty and courage.
4. Day four is specially meant to dedicate to Kushmandas, the Creator of the Universe.
5. Day five is for Skand Mata, the mother of the chief warrior of the Gods, Skanda.
6. Day six is for Divine Katyayani having three eyes and four hands.
7. Day seven is for poojas to the Goddess 'Kalratri' instilling fearlessness in devotees.
8. Day eight is meant for Mata Rani or Maha Gauri denoting a feeling of calm and wisdom.
9. Day nine is for Siddhidatri who has eight siddhis and is adored by the yogis and rishis.
10. Day ten is Vijayadasami dedicated to Saraswati, Goddess of wisdom or knowledge.
Rituals in Navratri festival
Navratri celebration is categorized into three parts, each part consisting of three days, first part for Durga, Goddess for power or Shakti, the second Lakshmi for wealth and prosperity and the final for Saraswathi, Maatha for knowledge and wisdom with the tenth day completed as a day of Vijayadasami. Throughout the nine days of Navratri, devotees observe fasting depending upon their customs and region with one-time meal alone and the rest of the day not taking anything other than the morning meal. They also offer Bajans or stotrams or prayers for prosperous and healthy living. In addition, Navratri, other than being a time opted for spiritual introspection and purgation is believed to be auspicious for commencing new ventures on the tenth day or Vijayadasami day. In Maharashtra and in some North Indian states, during Navratri on the first day, a pot called ghata sthapana or Kalasa sthapana has been set up in a holy place at home (normally pooja room) with a lamp lit up inside the pot for nine days. This represents the universe or earth and the lamp that has been lighted up continuously as medium for devoting the Goddess Shakti or Shree Durgadevi.
Navaratri celebrations in different parts of India
Throughout India, Navratri festival has been wallowed with vibrant festivity mood for ten days in which nine nights have been meant for worshipping the Goddess and the tenth day for celebrations such as beginning anything afresh or buying precious things on that day or starting initial schooling for small children. However, Navaratri celebrations in India differ based on the tradition and culture of the region.
Navratri in North India
The Chaitra Navratri and the Sharad Navratri are followed in north India with the most fervidness by observing fasting through all nine days and revering the deity Shakti in various forms. The Chaitra Navratri ends on the ninth day Ram Navami and the Sharad Navratri finales at the tenth day as celebrations of Durga Puja or Dussehra. In the Kulu valley of Himachala Pradesh, the Dussehra of Kulu in particular is much famous in the northern region with grand ceremony by the hill tribes. Goddess Durga has been worshipped by offering poojas with sugarcane stalks during the ninth day of the Navratri in this region. Kanya puja is a form of worshipping on the ninth day in some parts of north India such as Punjab, Harayana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The Kanya puja symbolizes that nine little girls as nine forms of the Goddess Shakti will be given feast and these young girls will be honored by performing poojas to them cleaning their feet and keeping tilak on the forehead. They will also be presented gifts. People of Punjab celebrate Navratri through fasting for seven days and Navratri in Punjab is mainly in connection with harvesting or the nature. By ending the fast on Astami or the eighth day, they perform pooja worshipping young girls who they believe are like the Goddess and these girls are offered feast and gifts as well.
Navratri in the West
The Navratri, a festival of nine nights in the western region is the grand carnival held in the state of Gujarat and Maharashtra with well-known traditional dances of Garba and Dandiya similar to the famous celebrations such as festivity of Dasara in Mysore and Durga Pooja in West Bengal. In Gujarat, the state government itself has initiated "Navratri Festival Celebrations" for continuous nine days in the state. Participation of the people from all over state or sometimes from abroad in the festivity is the highlight of the nine-day celebration. It has been a fantastic occasion of galore throughout India and amidst global Indian residential mostly in UK and USA too. These traditional Garba and Dandiya dances are being held almost everywhere in the state. People wearing colorful clothes with beautifully decorated sticks in their hands, striking rhythmic to the divine songs and dancing in a circle with unique dancing steps around a light that stands for the eternal light of the Goddess Durga is a real visual retreat.
Worshipping in the State of Maharashtra varies somewhat. Navratri is devoted to Goddess Durga with the last day Vijayadashami for Goddess Saraswati, Divine of Knowledge or Wisdom. Maharashtrians believe Vijayadashami as a day of auspicious to begin learning or education, to acquire new homes or properties or precious things such as gold and silver and to start new business or investment.
Navratri in Goa starts with zatra and the whole Antruz Mahal in Ponda of Goa is extremely ornamented with flowers during this festival. The Saraswati Brahmin temples have been awesomely decorated and the deities adorned with flowers, sandalwood paste, turmeric and kumkum paste have been out for the devotees to have a non-stop special dharshan and for Kaul Prasad (flowers), which is considered to be divine from the Gods and Goddesses. When the festivity gets concluded at night the Pradad of flowers will be distributed to the worshippers. The idols of Dasha Maitrikas (ten sisters in Goa) of the Saraswat Brahmins are Shantadurga, Aryadurga, Mahalasa, Katyayani, Mahamaya, Kamakshi, Vijayadurga, Bhumika, Mahalakshmi and Navadurga that are brought out for worship during the Navratri celebrations.
Navratri celebrations in the East
Navaratri celebrations in India especially in the West Bengal of the east is a festivity time across the entire State and it symbolizes a uniform civil code as Navratri is a religious occasion, cultural event, season of euphony, food carnival and literary expo, all in one. Wherever you go you will notice nothing else other than puja pandals, food stalls, and a multitude of Bengalis out on the road until the eleventh hour. Sharad Navaratri, known as Durga Puja, the most important festival in the State is celebrated as a devotion to the Goddess Durga with puja rituals everywhere. Big-sized idols made up of clay that are exquisitely designed and adorned of the Goddess Durga portraying the destruction of the devil called Mahishasura are worshipped by a huge gathering of devotees in all places. Huge 'pandals' are made for worshipping Goddess Durga by the people who are costumed in new dresses. The last four days of Sharad Navratri are the most important days in West Bengal. The idols of the Goddess are immersed in the Hugli River on the fifth day, Vijayadasami day after a 5-day celebration with great devotion.
Navratri in South India
Navaratri, the festival of nine nights is celebrated in the state of Tamil Nadu in south in devotion to the Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. Set up of Navaratri Kolu is much popular in the Tamil culture where various dolls of deities and dolls symbolizing different themes or stories in the ancient history or the nature are organized on decorated steps with paper flowers, serial lights or natural scenarios representing hill, temple, park, agri lands, etc. In the Puratassi Tamil month on the Mahalaya Amavasya day (new moon), the preparation for Durga Puja starts since it is an auspicious occasion followed seven days prior to the Durga Puja that hails the arrival of the Goddess Durga, the Shakti or the supreme power.
The first three days for Durga who is trusted to be slayer of our miseries and flaws, next set of three days to Lakshmi, a Goddess for prosperity and wealth and the final part of three days to Saraswati who renders blessings with wisdom and knowledge and these three forms of Deities are worshipped with great devotion and splendor and the Saraswathi Puja/Ayutha Puja is of much significance to the devotees. A kalash that represents the arrival of Goddesses is set up in the center of the Kolu steps organized and adored with Bajans, Mahishasuramardini stotrams and Abirami Anthathi in the morning and evening on all days of the Navratri festival. Mostly devotees observe full or partial fasting at this time. The Kolu with the arrangement of dolls have been traditional collections gifted from one generation to other and sometimes a new collection of dolls also may be added to the Kolu setup every year. Decoration with Rangoli or Kolam of colorful mixings is an integral part of Hindu auspicious occasions in South India and Navratri festival also is of no exception. It is more interesting that theme-based Kolus are the most attractive feature of Kolu during Navratri lately. Chundal is a delicious snack that has been prepared for puja for complete ten days in Tamil Nadu and also in Kerala. It is believed to be that dolls arranged in Kolu are the warriors of the Goddess Durga prior to Mahishasura's devastation to save the whole universe (including Devas and Trinity of the Gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). Ayudha Puja/Saraswathi Puja is performed on the ninth day of Navratri. The people will perform puja for shops, industries, schools, offices, vehicles, and household articles, books, stationary related to education at their residences to be healthy, knowledgeable and prosperous. The books and other articles kept for puja will be detached from the puja place on the next day only and it is considered to be propitious for the small children to get initiated to write and read that has been known as Vidyarambham which is similar to the celebration in Kerala.
A Bommai Kolu that simply resembles the one in Tamil Nadu is set up in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and nine young girls or 'Kanyas' are gifted with sweets, thambulam, and new dresses and wedded women exchange thambulams, sweets and snacks between them. A festival of nine days known as Bathukamma as of Navratri is popular in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh.
The Keralites observe a form of puja for three days called Ashtami, Navami, and Vijayadasami of Sharad Navaratri collectively as Saraswathi Puja through which books have been idolized. On the day of Ashtami, puja popularly known as 'Puja vaipu' are performed for books, a symbol of Saraswathi that are placed in Kolu in their houses, traditional schools and temples and ceremonially separated out for reading and writing that has been observed as 'Puja eduppu.' Little children are learnt to read and write on the tenth day of Vijayadasami. They are taught to write first alphabets on the sand or rice and this sort of observance for the enlightenment of children is noted as 'Ezhuthinu Iruthu' or 'Vidyarambham' and the children should begin the schooling only after this occasion. The ninth day is named as Mahanavami. Certain groups in Kerala celebrate the festival for all days during the period of Navaratri. An exhibition addressed as 'Koluvaipu' in temples or in public places is organized with idols of deities, animals and a plethora of dolls for the grand festivity.
The finale of the Navaratri is observed on the ninth day as Mahanavmi and the last day of festivity. In West Bengal especially, the people end up with mixed feelings of touching the peak of joyous mood and emotional setback at which time they feel extremely mournful and tearful too. They are left with no option but looking forward to the next year's celebration and they feel that the festive mode is not yet over. In Kerala, the mahanavmi day has been regarded as resting day without commencing any new venture or business and children not permitted any reading even on this day. Instead of navmi, the ninth day, people in some regions of Haryana, Kashmir, Maharashtra, and UP celebrate the final day on ashtami since it is the birthday of Parvathi, another form of Durga.
Festivity of Dasara in Mysore
Dasara in Mysore observed as the State Festival of Karnataka is a grandiose festivity of Navaratri in Mysore that is maneuvered by the royal family of Mysore symbolizing triumph of righteousness over evil. Special pujas are organized on this grand occasion by the royal family of Mysore. The mythology goes that on the Vijayadasami day, Goddess Chamundeeswari, variant form of Durga culminated the life of Mahishasura after a nine-day thapaz from whose name, the city is entitled as Mysore and Dasara is a carnival for ten days in the region Vijayadasami being the tenth day. Throughout the duration of ten days, the whole city is adorned with lights and seems as if a city of illumination. Cultural programs have been organized in the Mysore Palace along with sports, wrestling, food and film fete that are luxuriant attracting huge gathering inclusive of foreigners. By the year 2010, this traditional festival completed 400 anniversaries.
Though the Dasara celebrations date back in 15th century when the region was ruled under the Vijayanagar Dynasty the festivity was originally officiated by the Wodeyar Kingdom in 16th century at Srirangapatna. With the Mysore Palace illuminated throughout the ten-day Dasara jamboree, celebrations have commenced with royal family conducting a special puja to the Divine Chamundeshwari of the Chamundi Temple that is situated on the Chamundi Hills in Mysore accompanied by a traditional special Durbar (royal assembly) in the royal palace in which royal family members, special guests, officials and the public participate and this custom is still being continued by the descendant of the royal family entertaining a Durbar personally during Dasara. The custom of revering the royal sword in a procession engaging the elephants, camels and horses which are the chariots for the kings is organized on Mahanavami, the ninth day of Dasara in Mysore up until now.
The main event of the festivities is the traditional Dasara parade on the roads of the city also referred as Jumbo savari by the local people on the day of Vijayadasami in which the procession of the idol of the deity Chamundeshwari positioned in a decorative golden mantapam on the top of the royal elephant is the highlight of the Dasara ceremony. Colorful and attractive tableau with group of dance and music orchestra, beautifully adorned elephants, camels and horses also signifies the procession with the sourcing point at the Mysore Palace and terminating stage at Banni mantap where the banni tree (botanically Prosopis spicigera, a Fabaceae family) is being worshipped since it is believed that the kings go with the custom of worshipping the banni tree conventionally to be victorious prior to set about for any battle. On holding a celebration called torch-light procession (Panjina Kavayatthu) in the Banni mantap, the festivities come to a closing point at night on the vijayadasami day.
An exhibition that has been held in the place situated opposite to the Palace is also another major entertainment of Dasara in Mysore. In 1880, the Mysore Maharaja primitively instituted this exhibition to introduce apropos developments of the State to the public and at present the Karnataka government is holding the responsibility of organizing the exhibition under the Karnataka Exhibition Authority. The exhibition that begins with Dasara extends until December with variety of booths exclusively for sale of clothes, kitchenware, cosmetics, other accessories and eatables for foodies, play areas of amusement park such as giant Ferris wheel to entertain the children and stalls from several state agencies denoting major achievements and projects undertaken by the government. Music bands and dance groups across the whole India will be invited to give their concerts in the theaters or auditoriums allocated around the city on these ten days of Dasara. Wrestling contests for wrestlers all around the country is an additional enchantment of Dasara in Mysore. This Dasara exhibition project was assigned to Karnataka Exhibition Authority initially and the Information, Tourism and Youth Affairs Departments of the State does streamline the exhibition later on and then was transferred to Kannada Culture, Information and Tourism Departments recently.
Festivals for men exhibit valiance or virility through different marathons similar to boat races in Kerala or wrestling contests in Mysore, for women these explore their artistic inclining and various managerial skills and for children, it is in fact a time slot to get rid of their tedious study programs with mouthwatering and tasty sweets and savories all the time, new dresses and lot of time to roam around with friends and cousins. Visitors from abroad are astonished by the multiplicity of those Indian festivals featuring gaiety, enthusiasm, rituals and worships, and above all, festivals are moments of recollection and commemoration of great deeds of gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines, and saints. These festivities symbolize unity in diversity. Much more than celebration viewpoint, festivals have opened up the windows into the chronicle of great Indian legends unveiling the philosophical system of our country at different time periods. The bottom line is that the festivals do connect people together in friendship and love and do facilitate rejuvenating the lost relationship.
Let us have the Navratri festivity at its best with the spirituality of oneness throwing off all our negativities and keeping our mind strong enough to overcome these unethical thoughts or deeds.