The word “Navaratri” is a conjunction of two words “Nava” (meaning “nine”) and “Ratri“ (meaning “night“). Spread over 9 nights and 10 days, it is one of the most sacred festivals in Hinduism where we worship Goddess Durga or Shakti, which represents the total energy in the universe. It is also a reminder of the historical status of women in India and how they hold lot more power in ancient India.People celebrate Navratri in different styles and forms.
Why do we celebrate Navratri ?
According to an old legend, people believe that Shiva gave permission to Durga to see her mother for nine days in a year.It is during these 9 days that Navratri is celebrated.This festival marks this visit. Families make an attempt to return home on these days, and leave after the completion of nine days,on the Tenth day.
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This festival is dedicated to Goddess Durga, the mother goddess who represents power. Durga annihilated the demon Mahishasura after a relentless battle lasting nine days and nights.
During Navaratri, we invoke the energy aspect of God in the form of a universal mother, commonly referred to as “Durga,” which literally means the remover of miseries from life”.
Goddess Durga is also referred to as “Shakti” (energy or power). It is this energy, which helps God in creation, preservation, and destruction. Thus it can be inferred that God is motionless, absolutely changeless, and the Divine Mother Durga does everything. Our worship of Shakti is similar to the scientific theory that energy is imperishable. It cannot be created or destroyed. It is always there.
There are various reasons why we celebrate Navratri and each has its own significance in different parts of India.
Killing of Mahishasura
One of the fiercest daemons in the ancient times, Mahishasura undertook severe penance to obtain a boon.According to this boon, he could not be killed by any male.Underestimating the power of the women, he started creating havoc everywhere. To stop him, Shakti came in a very beautiful form and told him that she would marry him if he defeats her in a battle. It is believed that they battled for 9 days, and on the 10th day, Durga(shakti in a Beautiful Form) killed Mahishasura.
Therefore the 10th day is called Vijayadashmi, the day of victory. One of the most famous idols that you see in temples depicts this scene where Mahishasura, in the form of a half bull, is being slain by Mother Durga.
Lord Rama praying to Goddess Durga
Another legend has it that Lord Rama fasted and prayed for 9 days to seek Goddess’ blessings before killing Ravana. He killed him on the 10th day, and this day is called Dusshera, the day when the 10-headed Ravana was killed.
During the 9 days of Navratri, 9 forms of Durga, called nav-Durga, are worshiped in the following order
- Shailaputri: She is the primal energy of the tridentBrahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and was born as daughter (Putri) to Himalayas (Shaila – mountains)
- Bhrahmacharini: She represents penance and austerity in human beings,which leads them to blissfulness and moksha
- Chandraghanta: She is represented as a 10-armed mother riding a lion, she adores a bell-shaped (ghanta) moon (Chandra), and is the slayer of evil forces.
- Kushmanda: ‘Kushmanda’ literally means “little warmth cosmic egg“, She is the creator of universe
- Skandamata: She is the mother of Skanda, or Kartikeya, the chief warrior of Gods.
- Katyayani: As the daughter of sage Katyayan, she is the fierce form of Durga.
- Kaalratri: As the death of Kaal (time), she showcases the other side of life and death. She is the most terrible and ruthless form of Durga.
- Maha Gauri: She represents calmness and grants wisdom to her devotees.
- Siddhidatri: The fulfill-er of all the wishes and giver of boons.
During the 9 days of Navratri, there is a feeling of festivity and happiness in the air. Many people fast during the entire period of nine days while some people fast on some specific days.(usually the first and the last date)There are different forms of prayers and lots and lots of varieties of sweets which are prepared. Different parts of India celebrate Navratri in different styles and unique styles.In Gujarat, people do dandiya and garba, a beautiful folk dance, wearing colorful dresses. In Gujarat all people get assembled at pre-decided spots and then celebrate the festival with complete excitement and vigor.
In West Bengal,people celebrate Navratri as Durga Puja and large-scale prayers are organized in the praise of Durga.
In Tamilnadu, Navratri is called Golu. They buy 100s of idols and try to create various idols that portray our culture and heritage. These idols & dolls are arranged on a wood/steel stair specially built for this purpose. It is like a mini-museum at home. Some of these portrayals will talk about mythology and others about life during ancient times.
The North celebrates Navratri as the victory of King Rama over the demon Ravana.Huge Festivals and fairs are setup.At the end of the 10-day battle, huge effigies of demon Ravana are burned in every neighborhood.In every fair there is a Ramlila. It is basically a skit/ play depicting the entire scene of Ramayana.At the end of such a play,the character playing king Rama aims an arrow at a huge ravana. The huge ravan bursts into flame spreading happiness and hope throughout.Rama is known for truth & honesty and his is life is believed to be worthy of emulation of commoners.The huge effigies are burnt to depict the victory of rama over ravana, the victory of Good Over Bad.
Nepali Hindus also celebrate navratri in a big way. On this festival, they lay a lot of emphasis on family ties and put the red colored kumkum on each other’s forehead.
Navaratri is one of the oldest and most diverse festivals of India. It celebrates arts and culture like no other Indian festival. It is the most colorful Indian festival and is super excitement. Sadly, the festival is losing some of its ground in India as our generation doesn’t fully grasp the history behind this awesome festival.