Navratri special: Jagrans and Mata Ki Chowki in northern India
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With the nine-day-long festival of Navratri knocking on the door, we bring you the inside story on how the northern belt of the country believes in celebrating the festivity with ‘Jagrans’ and ‘Mata Ki Chowki’.
As soon as the month of Navratri begins (this year it’s October 1-October 10), the booking counters of various artistes and singers performing at the special poojas witness an overflow of devotees. These special poojas, which are offered during the nine-day long festival of Maa Durga, are called ‘Mata Ki Chowki’ or ‘Jagran’— however, these might also be observed besides ‘Navratras’.
The practice is prevalent more so in the national capital, where various pandals, whether small or big, can be seen with colourful lightings and high-volume music equipments. Apart from New Delhi, there are other northern states as well where the culture is practiced with full vigour, especially in the regions of Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir (where Vaishno Devi shrine is located), and certain parts of Uttar Pradesh.
When describing as to what qualifies as Jagran and what as Mata Ki Chowki, there is a very thin line between the two. There are many who observe fast (abstinence from any kind of food, whether solid or liquid), on all nine days, while some keep on the first and the last day of the nine-day long festival.
Jagrans are organised by people who have expressed their desire or any particular wish before the Goddess. Once that gets fulfilled, they organise a ‘Jagran’ to pay their obeisance before Maa Durga, thanking her for wish-fulfilment. The family (or the head of the family), which organises the Jagran, refrains from any food, and observes the fast, until the Jagran is over. The entire night is usually spent singing bhajans of the goddess, praying and thanking her with folded hands.
In ‘Mata Ki Chowki’, the program is for about three hours. It is organised on special events. Besides Navratri, Mata Ki Chowki can be observed on any auspicious day— wedding, birthday, anniversary or even during Ganpati celebrations.
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One of the most interesting elements found during Jagrans and Chowkis is that they are high on energy and food. There is enough variety of ‘satvik bhojan’ for the devotees, which includes fruit chat, potato savouries and even chaat and mouth-watering pani poori stalls at some. Besides food, the singers and artistes, who usually conduct these functions, are so much experienced in their art of performing that they keep you entertained while remembering the God.
There is enough devotional music, often coupled with Bollywood beats—which makes it easier for the people in attendance to dance and enjoy the entire night of Jagran and Mata Ki Chowki. Also, sometimes there are these artistes, dressed as different Gods, while dancing on the bhajans and keeping everyone in full bhakti mode.
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When in north India during Navratras, do as the true north Indian would do - pray, eat, dance and make merry, while the Goddess is happily evoked.