Navaratra - Nine Nights of Festivities

Jul 27, 2015, 11:04 AM
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Devoted to the worship of ‘Shakti’ (energy or power) or the Mother Goddess, ‘Navaratra’ is celebrated in almost all parts of India but with greater fervour and zeal in western states like Maharashtra and Gujarat apart from West Bengal.

The word ‘Navaratra' literally means nine nights. In Sanskrit, nava means nine and andratra means nights. Actually there are five Navaratras observed in India - Vasant Navaratra in the lunar month of Chaitra, Gupt Navaratra in the month of Ashadh, Sharad Navaratra in the month of Ashwin and Paush and Magh Navaratras in the Paush and Magh months respectively. Of these, Sharad or Shaaradiya Navaratra is an occasion for the most vibrant celebration in Maharashtra. It commences on the first and ends on the tenth day of the bright half of the month of Ashwin (September/October).

During these nine nights and ten days, various forms of the goddess are worshipped. According to a legend in the Puranas, the mighty demon Mahishasura vanquished the gods and their king Indra. The desperate gods then approached Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, who promised the gods to destroy the megalomaniac demon. The three combined their energy and gave rise to Shakti. All the gods prayed to the divine Mother Goddess - Durga - to save them from the evil one. Equipped with lethal weapons and riding a ferocious lion, Durga, in all her awesome majesty, subjugated the evil one in a fearful battle which lasted for nine days and nine nights. The tenth day on which the goddess killed Mahishasura is celebrated as Vijayadashmi or Dassera, celebrating the victory good over evil and bringing the festival to a close. It is also believed that the tenth day symbolizes the great victory of Lord Rama over Lanka after killing the demon Ravana - again a triumph of noble over malevolent.

Navaratra is divided into sets of three days to adore three different aspects of the supreme goddess. For the first three days the goddess is worshipped as a spiritual force called Durga, also known as Kali, in order to destroy all impurities and ill-effects. For the next three days it is the worship of Laxmi, the goddess of wealth who is considered to have the power of bestowing on her devotees inexhaustible wealth. The final set of three days is spent in the adoration of the goddess of wisdom, Saraswati. In order to have all-round success in life, believers seek the blessings of all three aspects of the divine femininity.

A singularly traditional feature of the Navaratra festival in Maharashtra is Bhondla, a group dance of girls. It resembles the Garba and Dandiya folk dances of Gujarat. Bhondlas are organised for all the nine days during the evenings. Girls move in a circle around the figure of an elephant, usually drawn on a wooden board or the ground through the intricate patterns of rangoli. They sing a variety of traditional songs at the end of which delicious snacks are served to all the participants.

Young girls are found busy attending Bhondlas from house to house. An elephant is a symbol of a cloud. Bhondla is basically a ritual to invoke the rain god so as to yield a bountiful harvest. Even the ritual of ghatasthapana, keeping a pot filled with earth and seeds, indicates that it is related to the fertility of the land and thus has its origin in an agrarian society. This highlights the link of this festival with soil fertility. It is a kind of thanksgiving ceremony of farmers who wish to express their deep gratitude towards Mother Earth.

Navaratra is probably the only Indian festival which celebrates women in all her roles. The supreme importance of women and their significant contribution in maintaining peace and order in the cosmos are facts acknowledged through this festival.

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