India is a land of diversity! And this festival is an ample showcase. Though the underlying element of prayer, worship, silence and introspection, removing evil from the mind/body is the message, the way of communicating it differs in every region of India.
This year however, the festival is lack lustre, low key due to the pandemic. Shopping for sarees and artefacts have been mostly online, the call of the mall has plummeted, leaving products on the shelves! Fewer people are going out to eat and meet, thus impacting the food sector too. Being conservative about spending due to job losses, they are turning to home treats and maybe real introspection.
Moving from materialistic consumerism, to finding meaning in life in what we have, understanding the meaning behind rituals and stories, is re- learning, ancient traditions.
Navratri – in Sanskrit/ Hindi means nine (nav) and nights(ratri), including the tenth day as VijayaDashami ( tenth day of a win). Different forms of the goddess are worshiped, it’s a time to reflect and look inwards to see our moods, behaviour, emotions, preferences, cleansing our mind, purifiying and rejuvenating from within. The first 3 days Goddess Durga is worshipped (a powerful form killing the demon Mahishasura), next 3 days Goddess Lakshmi, ( goddess of Wealth) reminding wealth is to be shared by donating food, sarees to women, Kanya puja /young girls are gifted food and clothing. Last 3 days Goddess Saraswati, is meditated upon. She is associated with learning Art, Music, Literature, or beginning of a new study.
In my story telling journey, this was one story I researched from mythology adding elements of Veena music, chants and paper craft while telling children via Zoom. ‘Learning the story and how to craft a lotus flower, is Goddess Saraswati too!” quipped a young girl. That was a prized response!
Mythology has enough stories for each Goddess and her attributes for each of the 9 days, 9 forms, an easy Google search.
Let’s travel to different parts of India for a glimpse. Festivals are not for timid hearted! India means colour, taste, noise of bells and drums, chants from devotees, crowds who throng streets and temples.
In south Indian homes elaborate muggulu /rangoli patterns are drawn with rice flour each day, an Art to study, forget the Mandala and Zen workshops! Puja altars are cleaned, decorated and assembled with Bomma Koluvu / Golu dolls. Nine steps arranged with dolls from scenes of human life from farming, house chores, to music, Art, education, prayers and finally spiritual learning is the theme, ascending towards the ONE Truth.
In some states elaborate floral arrangements made with medicinal plants and colourful flowers are placed for Bathukamma festival, where women and girls dress elaborately in festive sarees and jewellery and sing songs and dance with sticks each evening. Here is a story of how the tradition of singing and celebrating began.
See here for older post.
In Gujrat, western India Garba dancing takes a feverish high! A pot filled with water, leaves, flowers, depicting Mother Earth is placed at centre of garba on most streets each night. Men, women, children dance night long in their swirling chaniya -cholis and ghagra. The elaborate costume making itself is employment and empowerment to many workforce and designers.
In Maharashtra and adjoining states the Nandi Bayl , Gangi Reddu or decorated bull/ox is brought to markets and doorsteps of homes, by nomadic tribes called Jangam. They collect food, clothing and alms while the ox is made to bow and bless the donors. This man visits our street twice a year – once during Sankranti, in January and again during Navratri festival. After receiving food and alms, he offered to pose for numerous photos happily. I’m enjoying cultural life in India!
The decorated Gangi Reddu ox visits homes for alms.
Photo Essay: Flowers – A Way of Life, Art and Business. is where you will find another photo of the ox, in a market in Bangalore.
Move over to North India, where the epic Ramayan is enacted in street shows, drama classes, dance dramas and story narration. The demon Ravana‘s effigy is burnt on the 10th day – VijayaDashmi ,celebrating goodness over evil. Young and elders all take part in singing, drama and wearing colourful costumes depicting characters.
In contrast, Durga Pooja festivities, pomp, music, sangeet and food donations take a lion’s share of activity in Kolkatta, Bengal. Women and children dress up in white and red, symbolizing blood of demons, as well as fertility. From elaborate idols, rituals of painting the eyes of the goddess to flowers and mud lamps, there is even traditional music competitions and graceful dance performances around the open air pandals. To the ever hungry gastronomic, and pious fasting there is themed menu and community kitchens that offer bhog prasad. It is said that Goddess Durga after killing the demon/ asura on the tenth day, restored balance and peace on the Earth, and manifesting to her original Shakti departs for her own home.
This year is different! Restrictions on travel, crowding, tightening of the purse, ban on community food kitchens, has made not only an economical impact, but a mental shift in acceptance, conformity to celebrations at home and hopeful of a deeper meaning and understanding of culture.
Jai Maata ki, Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu , Jai Durga Mata are some of the various chants meditated upon. Hope your days are filled with harmony and peace and goodness.
If you celebrate this festival, do leave your comments for other readers