Durga Pooja - Navratra - Fairs and Festivals in
Nav means nine and ratri
means night, thus, Navratri means nine nights. There are many
legends attached to the conception of Navratri like all Indian
festivals but all of them are related to Goddess Shakti (Hindu Mother
Goddess) and her various forms. Though it is one of the most
celebrated festivals of Hindu calendar, it holds special significance
for Gujratis and Bengalis and one can see it in the zeal and fervor of
the people with which they indulge in the festive activities of the
season. The first three days of Navratri are dedicated to Goddess
Durga (Warrior Goddess) dressed in red and mounted on a lion, next
three to Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity) dressed in
gold and mounted on an owl and finally, last three to Goddess Saraswati (Goddess Of Knowledge) dressed in milky white and mounted on
a pure white swan.
Dandiya and Garba Rass are the highlights of the festival in Gujarat
while farmer sow seeds and thank the Goddess for her blessings and
pray for better yield. In olden times, this festival was associated
with the fertility of Mother Earth who feed us as her children.
Sweetmeats are prepared for the celebrations and children and adults
dress up in new bright-colored dresses for the night performances.
With commercialization, the festival has moved on to be a social
festival rather than a religious or agrarian festival. In some
communities people undergo rigorous fasts during this season that
lasts for the nine days of the festival, only to be opened on the
tenth day of Dussehra. However, nothing dampens the spirit of the
devout followers of Mother Goddess as they sing devotional songs and
indulge in the gaieties of the season.
Navratri Celebrations in Different Parts of India
In West Bengal, it takes the form of Durga Puja, an occasion to
celebrate the Triumph of Good over Evil. According to legend, a
vicious buffalo-demon, Mahishasura, had raised hell at the gates of
heaven, causing widespread terror. The Goddess Durga was actualised by
the combined efforts of all the deities to slay him. Thus, Durga
astride a lion, with an assortment of weapons in her 10 hands, slayed
Mahishasura. Durga is also worshipped as Shakti, and beautiful idols
of the Mother Goddess adorn elaborate pandals (marquees) for five days
(starting from the fifth day of Navratri). Believers (and
non-believers) flock to these pandals with gay abandon. On the tenth
day of the celebrations, the idols are carried out in colourful
processions to be immersed (visarjan) in a river or a pond.
In the state of Punjab, people usually fast during this period, for
seven days, and on Ashtami, the eighth day, devotees break their fast
by worshipping young girls who are supposed to be representatives of
the Goddess herself by offering them the traditional puris (sort of
deep-fried Indian bread), halwa (a dessert primarily made of flour and
sugar), chanas (Bengal gram) and red chunnis (long scarves). In this
region, the festival is predominantly linked with harvest. This is the
time of the khetri, (wheat grown in pots in the urban context) that is
worshipped in homes, and whose seedlings are given to devotees as
blessings from God.
Garbha and Dandiya Rasa - The Highlights of Navratri
The festival of Navratri acquires quite a fascinating and colourful
dimension in the region of Gujarat, and in some parts of Rajasthan and
. The highlights of the festival are the extremely colourful dances of
Garbha and Dandiya-Rasa during which, both men and women dressed in
the traditional attires of dhoti-kurta (traditional Indian attire worn
by menfolk, comprising a long shirt and a long flowing garment worn
over the lower part of the body), and chania-choli (mirror-work skirts
and blouses), put up stunning performances to the vibrant rhythm of
music. These dances are performed around the traditionally decorated
terracotta pot called the garbi that has a small diya (lamp) burning
inside signifying knowledge, or light meant to dissipate the
ignorance, or darkness, within. Dholak players (drummers) accompany
the dancers, and groups of singers sing songs handed down generations.
Today the commercialisation of these dances seems evident, with the
traditional and delicate rhythms being replaced by alternate forms
that are quite far-removed from the original versions.
As a dance form, the Garbha is mainly performed by women. The leader
starts with the first line of the song. Other dancers who sway
gracefully, with their arms describing movements in perfect synchrony
to the rhythmic clapping, or beating of sticks then pick this up.
Yet another variation of the Garbha is the Goph Guntan, or the string
dance. As the dancers execute the movements, they hold on to one end
of a rope in strands, while the other end of the rope is tied either
to the ceiling or a wooden pole. Gradually, as the dancers weave in
and around each other, a braid is formed. It is quite an interesting
sight as it takes a certain degree of skill and accuracy to intertwine
and untangle the braid without falling out of pace.