Navratri is celebrated all over India with much pomp and reverence. The essence of this festival lies in faith and glorification of the nine aspects of Durga, one on each of the nine days.
Before the onset of the festival, houses are painted and cleaned and new idols of deities are installed in the prayer rooms. As this festival falls during the autumn season, the air is pleasant and pious.
Beautiful clay idols of the three Goddesses, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are created, worshipped and immersed in a sea or lake after the puja is complete on the tenth day. The devotees carry the idols with much fanfare and gaiety in the form of procession across the city.
Throughout India, Navratri is celebrated in diverse ways. The celebrations highlight the culturally rich aspect of our incredible India.
In Bengal, Navratri calls for a gala celebration for five days. It is the most important festival of the Bengalis. The city takes on hues of bright red with auspicious signs and freshness. Celebrations heighten as ‘dhakis’ beat traditional drums in houses. The festivity starts from Bodhon or Mahashashti or the sixth day of the festival to the visarjan (immersion) of the clay idol on the tenth day. Bengalis regale in the festival by buying new clothes, jewellery, visiting pandals etc.
The capital of Bengal, Kolkata, alone boasts of more than 10,000 pandals vying for attention of the happy masses hopping on their feet. In Orissa the festival is celebrated in a similar manner due to proximity between the two states.
The Gujaratis worship Amba Mataji, incarnation of Goddess Durga. They celebrate the festival performing Garba or dandia-ras, a form of folk-dance around an earthen pot throughout the night for nine days in public squares, grounds and streets.
It is an important festival associated with harvest and crops, so it is essentially linked to agricultural rites. Traditionally, village girls carrying attractively designed earthen pots on their heads go from door to door and dance ceremoniously.
The celebrations of Navratri in Ahmedabad bring in a lot of visitors from across the world.
In Kashmir, Hindus celebrate Navratri in a subtle manner. Devotees fast for nine days on water and perform puja at home. In an important ritual, devotees go to Maa Kheer Bhawani, a prominent deity, who is said to warn her devotees about impending catastrophe by turning the nearby lake water into black.
Here, dance and music is avoided as believers devote time in prayer and contemplation of the Goddess. At some places, barley is grown in earthen pots. It is believed that if the growth of barley is good, then the year would bring luck, peace and prosperity.
Maharashtra celebrates Navratri with great fun and revelry. The puja is performed daily by adorning the deity with fresh garland on each of the nine days. On the tenth day, the garlands are removed and the idol is immersed in the sea. People invite young girls, who have not attained puberty to their house and offer them food of their choice.
In Punjab, fasts are strictly observed during Navratri. Some people live on milk for seven days and break their fast on Ashtami (eighth day) or Navmi (ninth day). Goddess Durga is worshipped and pujas are performed at home. Non-vegetarian food and liquor is avoided completely. Beggars are fed and little girls worshipped as ‘Goddess’ at the end of the fasting period.
In Tamil Nadu, the nine nights of Navratri are dedicated to the three Goddesses, Lakshmi, Durga and Saraswati. In a raised platform the clay idols of these three deities with their consorts, Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma are placed and worshipped. The main room of worship contains a pitcher made of clay, silver or copper. The pitcher is placed in the centre of the room; its mouth covered with a coconut, worshipped symbolically as Durga. Families gather for small functions in their respective houses. Girls perform traditional dance and songs around the symbol of deity in the evening and gifts are exchanged.
Durga Puja is the onset of starting formal education of children aged 3-5 years. The puja goes on in the temple for all the ten days but the last three days hold relevance for most of the malayalis. Ayudya Puja is celebrated on ashtami, the eighth day of Navratri, during which the tools available in home are worshipped. It is a local custom to not use any tool on this day. On Navmi, the books and records symbolising Goddess Saraswati are worshipped.
The Saraswati temple at Kottayam is a major attraction during this period as devotees throng to take a dip in the mysterious holy pond whose source is yet unknown. At Thekkegram in Palghat, there are no idols but mirrors which reflect the image of the devotee. One has to bow before own reflection in the mirror, which indicates that God is within us. Ponnani’s famous Durga Temple, the Thrikkavu Temple, is reknowned for Navratri celebrations and vidyarambham (beginning of formal education).
The nine days of Navratri and tenth day Vijay Dashmi is collectively reffered as Dussehra in Mysore. The festival is celebrated with a lot of pomp and show. Goddess Chamundeswari is the family deity of the Royal House of Mysore and during Dussehra; caparisoned elephants carry her idol in procession across the streets.
The famous Mysore Palace is illuminated with lights for a month marking the joy and gaiety of the festival. Many cultural performances are presented before the king in the Durbar Hall of the Palace. The whole city is decorated with bright light and colourful patterns for ten days. In fact, many people visit Mysore from all over the country to watch this vibrant event. There is also a floating festival in the temple tank at the foot of Chamundi Hill and a procession of chariots around the temple at the top.