The essence of the divine and colorful festival of Navratri lies in its faith, devotion, and glorification. Marked as one of the most reverent and devout festivals in Hinduism, Navratri is celebrated across nine days, each bearing a special significance. Beginning from the first day of the bright fortnight of Ashwin month, according to Hindu calendar, this festival continues for the next nine days with immense splendor and grandeur. Goddess Durga, along with her nine different forms, serves as the major and central deity for worshipping. The literal meaning of the term 'Navratri' is nine nights. The significance of inherent positive qualities conquering negativity is emphasized through this festival, after which one can acquire divinity and purification. This sacred festival also represents the evolution of consciousness to a heightened awareness. While this highly religious and pious occasion is observed across India and even abroad, but celebrations in Gujarat and West Bengal are the most revered and distinguished.
History of Navratri
Similar to the varied and diverse celebrations observed in different parts of India on Navratri, various legends have also been associated with its origin. Idol worshipping is an age-old tradition followed India, even before Aryans stepped on this land. Devi or Stree has been placed at the highest pedestal and worshipped as Shakti since times immemorial. Amongst all the myths and legends linked with this festival, one is of the mighty demon Mahishasura who worshipped Lord Shiva and obtained eternity. Eventually, he used his power to brutally harass and kill innocent people, in order to win seven lokas. Thereafter, Lord Shiva was requested by the gods from swargloka to tame and teach the demon a lesson. With this purpose, Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwar combined their superlative powers to create a divine being called Shakti or Durga as the Warrior Goddess.
On sighting the goddess, Mahishasura was enthralled by her supreme beauty and offered her marriage. Finding him completely captivated by her, Goddess Durga agreed but placed a condition of defeating her in a contest. The duel carried on for nine nights and at the end of the ninth night, Durga beheaded Mahishasura and turned victorious. Thereafter, the nine nights are celebrated as Navratri, the victory of good over evil, while the tenth day is marked as Vijayadashmi. As per another legend, the story of Navratri relates the eternal love story of Lord Shiva and Sati. Sati was the beautiful and gorgeous daughter of King Daksha of the Himalayas, who desired to marry Lord Shiva and even began worshipping him. Satisfied by her worship, Lord Shiva married Sati, but on one occasion, he was highly insulted by Sati's parents. Unable to tolerate the insult, she jumped into the fire to give up her life and attained eternity. She had a second birth and was united with her parents. During that birth as well, she was married to Lord Shiva. Hence, Sati is considered to come and stay with her parents during the nine days of Navratri.
A third legend has it that Kshatriyas had excluded themselves from participating in any kind of war-like activities during monsoons, in ancient times. At the end of the monsoon season, they restored back with their war activities. But before they began their war activities, they worshipped different forms of Goddess Shakti for nine days, which is why Navratri is celebrated today for nine continuous nights. Lastly, the fourth legend recounts the story of Lord Rama who desired to free Sita from the clutches of the forceful demon Ravana. Lord Rama offered prayers to nine aspects of Goddess Durga across nine days to gain the power and strength to free his wife from the kingdom of Lanka. Therefore, the nine days are celebrated as Navratri and on the tenth day, he successfully killed Ravana, which is observed as Vijayadashmi.
Celebrations and Rituals
Navratri stands as a highly admired and prominent occasion, commemorated by people across different parts of India, a land of colorful and vibrant clutter of festivals. Even though the festival is marked differently, the essence and core remains the same - victory of good over evil. Goddess Durga and her nine different avatars are worshipped during the nine days of festivities. The famous Garba and Dandiya-Raas dances take the lead during Navratri festivities in Gujarat, while, in Bengal, the festival is a community occasion with huge idols of Goddess Durga killing the demon Mahishasura being installed throughout. The South Indians prepare elaborate golus, which are steps with small idols placed on them. The last four days of Navratri are highlighted on a dramatic stage, especially in West Bengal, which celebrates it as Durga Puja. The largest festival of the state, it is characterized by beautifully crafted and beautified life-size clay idols of Goddess Durga depicting the manslaughter of Mahishasura which are set up in temples and other places. After worshipping the idols for last four days, they are immersed in the water on the last day. Special Navratri festival celebrations are made in the colorful state of Gujarat that emphasizes largely on the world famous Garba and Dandiya-Raas dances. The last two days and tenth day of Navratri are celebrated as Sarasvati Puja in Kerala, wherein books are worshipped.
Navratri is usually celebrated in each part of the country. It is highly auspicious for every individual following Hinduism religion. This devout festival is mainly celebrated in the Ashwin month according to Hindu calendar, which falls in the month of September-October, as per the Gregorian calendar. Celebrated for nine days, the tenth day is commemorated as Dussehra. Navratri is observed to welcome Goddess Durga and worship her nine different forms, while Dussehra is celebrated to rejoice the triumph of good over evil.
Celebrations and festivities of Navratri come alive with pomp and galore across India. Go through to know all about Navratri and Durga Puja celebrations in India.
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