It’s that time of the year when the sounds of dhol and the clapping of dandiya sticks are heard and feet tapping music gets you grooving to some of the most delectable numbers from Bollywood. Decked up in colourful desi attires one gets to feel India within - a nation which celebrates Navratri (meaning nine nights) amidst much pomp and show.
Though these festive nine days are dedicated to Shakti or the nine forms of Goddess Durga, people across the country have their unique way of celebrating the festival. While the celebrations in the metropolitan cities have a very commercial feel to it, the traditional way of celebrating Navratri is a very different and far more spiritual.
It wouldn’t be possible for an individual to visit the length and breadth of the country during the festive season to experience the fervour of Navratri in ways that are region specific, but this piece can make one go places virtually! Here’s taking a look at how the different states of India celebrate the auspicious nine nights of Navratri:
This Dravidian state adds a religious touch to the celebrations by dedicating the nine special nights to Goddess Durga, Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Saraswati.
Women belonging to the Iyer community invite married women to their homes in the evenings and gift them with accessories like bangles, earrings and other items that are symbolic of their marital status. These are suggestive of prayers for their husbands and their long lives. A coconut, beetle leaves and beetle nuts, and money are also given as gifts to these women. A special recipe called ‘Sundal’ made of lentil seeds and pulses is made on each day and served to the guests.
Some people also display a `Golu` at their homes. `Golu` is an arrangement made on a make-shift staircase with nine stairs. Each stair symbolizes each day of Navratri. Decorative items, idols of Gods and Goddesses are placed on the stairs. In most cases, the dolls that are used for the ‘Golu’ are handed over from generation to generation.
`Batukamma Panduga` is celebrated during Navratri in Andhra Pradesh, especially in the Telangana region. `Batukamma Panduga` means `Come Alive Mother Goddess`. These nine days are dedicated to Shakti and are celebrated in a very unique way.
Women prepare `Batukamma` which is actually a beautiful flower stack, arranged with seasonal flowers, in seven layers. It is made to look like a pot made of flowers. Batuku in Telugu means life and Amma, as we all know, means mother. So, this festival is devoted to celebrating universal motherhood. Women wear silk sarees and gold ornaments and make the most of these nine days to dig a hole in their husband’s pockets!
After preparing their respective Batukamma’s, women gather in the evening for the ritual. They place them in the centre and dance around them by singing folk songs dedicated to Goddess Shakti. Then they march towards a lake or any other water body and set afloat their Batukammas.
Unlike Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, Kerala celebrates only the last three days of Navratri. Ashtami, Navami and Vijaya Dashmi are of utmost importance for the Keralites. This South Indian state that tops the literacy rate in the country, considers these three days as the most auspicious time to initiate learning. They place books, musical instruments (if any) in front of Goddess Saraswati’s idol on the day of Ashtami. The books are worshipped and people pray to the Goddess for granting them wisdom and knowledge. On the tenth day, the books are taken out for reading.
Karnataka will be celebrating its 401st Navratri this year. Karnataka’s way of celebrating Navratri dates back to the times of Raja Wodeyar in the 1610. The way people spend these nine nights are absolutely historic in nature, for they follow the same trend which was followed by the great Vijayanagara dynasty. It’s called 'Naada Habba’ in the state. However, the basic reason for the celebrations remains the same - victory of Goddess Durga over demon Mahishasur, who happened to be a resident of Mysore. The celebrations include procession of elephants on the streets. Fairs and exhibitions of handicrafts and artifacts are common feature.
The East Indian state of West Bengal celebrates Navratri as Durga Puja with much pomp and glitter. Starting from the seventh day until the tenth, Poshchim Banga looks drenched in bright and vibrant colours as Maa Durga descends from the heaven to visit her maternal home on Earth. She is received with much love and warmth and her arrival and departure are overwhelming, for she departs only to return the following year.
Beautiful and extravagant pandals are constructed and Maa Durga and her sons - Kartika and Ganesha - and Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati are sculpted in different forms much before the festive season starts. For the Gods and the Goddesses, pandals become their temporary abode and their sight mesmerises one and all. A literal visit to the capital city during Durga Puja is `a must watch` in one’s lifetime.
A clay pot symbolizes the garbha or the womb which is the source of life on earth. It is a prominent feature during Navratri celebrations in Gujarat. Women in vibrant and grand costumes dance around the pot which is filled with water, a betel nut and a silver coin. A coconut is placed on the top of the pot. The folk dance form of Garbha derives its name from the iconic clay pot around which women whirl and dance. Even men play Garbha along with women. Dandiya Raas is another important attraction in Gujarat during the festive season. Sticks of equal length are used for the dance and the only difference between this form of dance with Garbha is that the sticks are used for clapping instead of hands.
For the Maharashtrians, Navratri is an auspicious time to initiate new beginnings, buying a new home or a car. Women invite their female friends to their homes and gift them with a coconut, beetle leaves and beetle nuts. They put haldi and kumkum on the foreheads of the married women as a gesture of `Saumangalyam` (remaining the wife of her husband until her last breath). The Navratri celebrations in Maharashtra, especially in Mumbai, bear resemblance to Gujarat owing to its geographical proximity to the state. Each and every locality has its own garba and dandiya nights celebrations and the whole family drenches itself in the festive spirit.
The beautiful state of Himachal Pradesh celebrates Navratri with utmost devotion. Navratri is a time when people meet up with their relatives to collectively pay their respect to the Almighty. It is the most important festival for the Hindus of Himachal. The tenth day of this grand festive season is called Kullu Dusshera in the state. Unlike other states, the festival begins in Himachal when it ends elsewhere. People mark this day to rejoice the return of victorious Lord Rama to Ayodhya. Songs and dance are common ways to express devotion and exhibitions of various items are set-up. On Dusshera or Dashami, the deities from the temples of the village are taken out in processions.
The Punjabis have a unique way of paying obeisance to Goddess Shakti. Most of the people in Punjab go on a fast for the first seven days. They also organize a jagraata (keeping awake whole night by singing devotional songs dedicated to the Goddess). On the eighth day or Ashtami, the fast is broken by organizing a bhandara for 9 young girls (Kanjika). A bhandara means a feast that includes puris and halawa chana. The girls are also gifted with a red chunri.