October, a time when across India, differences such as caste, creed and religion are put aside… and people from all walks of life get ready to celebrate! Barely a week to go for one of the most awaited festivals in India. Call it Navratri, Dusshera, or Durga Pooja, THIS is definitely the BEST time to be visiting India to get a true feel of its vibrant culture and heritage!
While Navratri literally translates to ‘nine nights’ and though its celebrations can be felt across India, Gujarat is the place one can enjoy it the most the place where the whole State erupts into a dance festival that goes on for nine nights. Called ‘Durga Puja’ in the Northern and Eastern states of the country, it is celebrated extensively specially in West Bengal, Orissa, Tripura Bihar, and Jharkhand. While ‘Dussehra’ also referred to as Nadahabba is mostly celebrated in the Southern parts of India, Mysore to be more precise.
While the legends behind each of the festivals are many, one thing they all have in common is the triumph of Good over Evil. Navratri is also associated with the harvest festival and is also a time for farmers to sow seeds and invoke the Goddess for a bountiful yield.
Some of the interesting legends behind the Navratri / Durga Puja celebrations are mentioned here…
One of the most popular legends revolves around the mighty demon Mahishasura. Legends have it that the demon after obtaining the boon (unconquerable powers) by the Fire God ‘Agni’ for his devout meditation started causing grave destruction and terror, and acquired the swarglok from the devatas (Gods). When even the mighty Gods of the Hindu Trinity -Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva were unable to defeat him, they united all their powers to create a divine being named Ma Shakti or Goddess Durga, the Warrior Goddess.
Ready with lethal weapons and riding a ferocious lion, Goddess Durga after a war of nine days, was successful in her task of slaying the demon and restoring the swarglok to the devatas. This is why Navratri is celebrated, the nine days of the festival representing the nine days she fought the demon.
The other popular story revolves around Lord Shiva.According to Indian mythology, it is said that Goddess Parvati (also referred to as Uma) married Shiva against her father King Daksha’s wishes. One day, King Daksha organized a Yagna (ceremonial fire) and did not invite Lord Shiva and Parvati. Insulted Parvati went to the Yagna, but unable to bear her father’s insult towards Lord Shiva jumped into the ceremonial fire and ended her life. She was reincarnated later as Sati and joined with Shiva again. It is said that Sati’s coming home to her parents’ home with her four children Ganesh, Kartik, Saraswati and Laxmi is celebrated as Navratri.
The story of Lord Ram rescuing his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana the 10-headed demon king of Lanka is another popular legend associated with the celebration of Navratri. Legend says that in order to defeat Ravana and get all the strength and power of Goddess Durga, Lord Rama worshipped Goddess Durga and her nine different forms for nine days, and hence these nine days are celebrated as Navratri. Vijayadashmi or Dussehra is celebrated on the tenth day, the day Lord Rama killed Ravana.
History states that during the monsoons the Kshatriya Kings abstained from any hostile activities, but once the monsoons receded they prayed for nine days to the many avatars of Ma Durga before embarking on any warlike journey. During the celebrations, the Goddess is worshipped in three forms; Kumari, Parvati and Kali, representing the transformation of a child into a young girl and then adult.
In Gujarat the mesmerizing Dandiya and Garba take centre stage with the place coming alive in dazzling costumes, decorative sticks and foot tapping music. Once the ’Aarti’ (worship) is complete dancers move around in circles to the beat of the music in various steps performing the ‘Dandiya raas’. The dancing around a lamp or a fire is said to symbolize the Eternal Light of the Durga.
In many places like Maharashtra, the celebrations differ, Here Goddess Saraswati the Goddess of Knowledge is worshipped. It is also considered an auspicious time for new ventures, hence people shop for cars; purchasing a new house is also considered auspicious on this day.
In Tamil Nadu, the Goddess is worshipped in her various forms, the first three days dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, the next three days to Goddess Saraswati the Goddess of Knowledge while the final three days to Goddess Shakti or Durga.
In Punjab young girls considered as avatars of the Goddess herself, are worshipped on the eight day, During this time a seven day fast undertaken is broken. Girls are offered various foods such as puris, chana, halwa even red chunnis (scarves worn along with a Salwar Kameez).
In the Kullu Valley too this festival is one enjoyed by the people of the town where elaborate processions are held and the town’s deities worshipped.
In West-Bengal, the festival is celebrated as Durga Puja; one can find mammoth idols of the Goddess Durga slaying the demon Mahishasura throughout the State. Preparations for the same start in advance with huge statues being made and beautiful pandals being erected as part of the puja celebrations. As a part of the festivities, competitions are also organized to showcase various talents; however the main celebrations start from the 6th day or Maha Shashthi,the following day is observed as Maha Saptami; days observed as fast by the people of the State.
The eight day called Maha Ashtami is one of the most important days of the Durga puja festivity when the priests perform a special puja called the Sandhi Puja or Pranpratishtha. Here the reflection of the idol is looked at in the water; the image moving in the water gives a feel that the idol is moving.
The slaying of the buffalo demon, Mahishasura on the 10th day or the slaying of Ravana by Rama after 10 days of prayer to the Goddess for strength is celebrated as Dusshera. Celebrated with great enthusiasm it also marks the beginning of winter in northern India. As part of the celebrations effigies of Ravama, his son and brother- Meghnadh and Kumbhakarna are burnt, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil, while in north India the ‘Ramlila’ the life of Lord Rama is enacted.
Also referred to as Vijaya Dashami, it is also an auspicious time when people pray that their physical, mental and spiritual strength. In Mysore, Dusshera is one of the biggest festivals celebrated, where elephants dressed in all their finery are paraded through the streets of the city; the Mysore palace is illuminated during the entire month adding to the glamour of the city!
Other parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, dolls called ’Bommai Kolu’ are decorated and specially placed on steps, while young virgin girls ‘kanyas’ are offered sweets and new clothing.
Celebrated across India, this wonderful festival brings across people from various parts of India with one purpose ‘good always triumphs over evil!’