As the sweltering, humid heat of monsoon season draws to a close, India comes alive with an atmosphere and celebration. The birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism, this richly cultured and historic country, still maintains ancient traditions and celebrations, that tribute the deities, the Indian nation believes, protects them.
One such celebration, is considered the highlight of the festival calendar, begins this week September 25th. Based on the lunar calendar, this nine-night ten-day festival occurs every fall, in honour of the Hindu goddess Durga, the female embodiment of the Divine Mother. While these celebrations happen all over India, each region adds their own style and influence to the festivities, for many towns and cities; processions, dancing, temple offerings, music and worship aim to be on the agenda.
The Durga honoured festival Navratri, is celebrated five times throughout the year, however it is in the fall, that Maha Navratri, meaning the Great Navratri, when the energy and celebration is at its highest peak. Navratri is commemorated for each of the 9 nights, with a different manifestation of Durga honoured on each night.
Shailaputri, Bhamracharini, Chandra Ghanta, Kushmanda, Skanda Mata, Katyayani, Kaal Ratri, Maha Gauti and Siddhidatri are the nine manifestations of the goddess Durga. Each night honours a different effigy, with their own back story, image and theme, all correlating back to Durga; who is considered the remover of life’s discontent.
Although the 9 nights of manifestations remain the same, throughout the vast land of India, variety in celebration is everywhere. In Gujarat and Maharashtra, famous folk dances are performed by men and women to celebrate Navratri. Garbha involves dancers wearing deep and vibrant colours who swirl around a clay pot topped with a coconut. In the Danduja Raas, long sticks are struck together to maintain a swelling rhythm that the dancing crowd may follow.
In Andhra Pradesh, women build Batukamma, a stacked seven layered construction of colourful flowers. At the end of the celebration to honour the mother goddess, the women gather to sing and dance and the Batukamma is pushed to float along the river. Women are also honoured in Tamil Nadu, where married women are invited into homes to be presented with gifts and presents. Most homes display Galus, stair like alters that display the many deity statues.
Bangalore in Karnataka is a prime location for Navratri atmosphere. Following a 400 year old tradition, elephant processions are a main attraction for the city that holds Durga’s victory over spirits as a major event. The Mysore Palace shines in the night by thousands of lights, that attracts thousands to witness and join this gala. The west Bengalese also build large complex pandels, temporary religious temples, that house the handmade idols of Durga, Ganesha and Shiva. All of this energy and celebration culminates on the 10th day, known as Dussehra, when effigies of the demon Ravan are lit in the streets. This demonstrates the end of the goddess Durga’s cycle, where she would receive her powers to conquer spirits, after a period of sacrifice and remove all strife from the world.
This energetic and colourful festival is full of variety in both religious worship and celebration. Based upon a Hindu deity who inspires her followers through her victory over conflict and misfortune. Durga is shown in many cases; wielding weapons, holding lotus flowers, wearing necklaces of lightning, riding lioness’ and facing down spirits in a symbolic show of celestial power.
Navratri shows the love and honour India holds for a symbol of protection and divine power. Durga is seen as a protector, role model and inspiration on the values in life. This festival does her justice, with the various nights and days honoured in spectacular fashion in all manner of ways.
What alternative ways are there to celebrate a spiritual festival?