Navratri, literally interpreted as 'nine nights', is the most celebrated Hindu festival devoted to the Goddess Durga, the symbol of purity and power or 'shakti'. Navratri combines ritualistic puja and fasting accompanied by resplendent celebrations in honor of the goddess. The festival brings out myriad expressions of devotion to the goddess around the country, all of them retaining the common underlying theme of good over evil.
Navratri follows the Indian lunar calendar and is celebrated in the September – October period. Navratri, which began this year on 25 September, will culminate on 3 October, with the four-day long Durga Puja celebrations, most renowned in West Bengal, beginning on 29 September. The tenth day of Navaratri is commonly referred to as Vijayadashmi or Dussehra, sees nation-wide celebrations.
Defining both religious and cultural themes, Navratri celebrations are steeped in traditional music and dance. Garba, a devotional dance form, is a highlight during Navratri celebrations. This form of dance, which derives from the folklore of Lord Krishna singing and dancing with young maidens or ‘gopis’ using 'dandiya' or slim wooden sticks, has become very popular and has evolved to include well-choreographed dance performances, high-end acoustics and people dressed in bright, made-to-order costumes.
Navratri is celebrated with great pomp in different parts of India. Gujarat is the focus of Navratri celebrations with all night-long dance and festivities. Tourists flock to Vadodara in Gujarat to enjoy a mix of high-energy band music performances, singing and dancing. In Jammu, the Vaishno Devi shrine sees a huge rise in the number of devotees making their way to the pilgrimage during Navratri. In Himachal Pradesh, the Navratri Mela marks the auspicious occasion of Navratri. 'Ramlila', wherein people enact scenes from Ramayana is performed in large open grounds.
During the nine nights and ten days of Navratri, nine forms of the Goddess Devi are celebrated in various ways depending on the tradition of the region. Three-day sets for Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are celebrated throughout the nine days in the essence of her nine forms. Prior to the festival, skilled artisans prepare clay models of the goddess in her various manifestations.
Durga meaning ‘the invincible’, is the most popular incarnation of Devi and one of the main forms of the Goddess Shakti in the Hindu pantheon. She combines the power of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, rides a bull and carries a trident and a lotus in her two hands. The four-day-long (Saptami to Dashami) Durga Puja is the biggest annual festival in Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Nepal, where it is known as Dashain. In West Bengal, men and women celebrate 'Durga Puja' with great devotion and reverence and worship Goddess Durga destroying the demon 'Mahishasura'. It is celebrated likewise with much fervor in various parts of India, especially the Himalayan region, but is celebrated in various forms throughout the Hindu universe.
Bhadrakali literally ‘Good Kali’, popular in South India is one of the fierce forms of the Great Goddess (Devi) who, with three eyes, and four, twelve or eighteen hands, carries a number of weapons, with flames flowing from her head, and a small tusk protruding from her mouth. She epitomizes celibacy and penance. In South India, during Navratri, people arrange idols in a step pattern and invoke the name of God. In Mysore, the nine-day Navratri festival coincides with 'Dasara' Festival involving folk music renditions and dance performances, wrestling tournaments and tableau participation. The procession of tableaux along with embellished elephants, camels and horses starting from the brightly-lit Mysore Palace is a famous one. 'Vijayadashami' is also an auspicious day in South India for performing puja for one's vehicle.
Amba or Mother of the Universe is depicted as bearing a 'chandra' or moon on her head and epitomizes bravery and instills strength to her devotees. She has a golden bright complexion and rides a lion. She has ten hands, three eyes and brandishes weapons in her hands.
Annapoorna Devi, the one who bestows grains (anna) in plenty, is an avatar (form) of Parvati, the wife of Shiva. Annapurna is the Goddess of the city of Kashi (now known as Varanasi).
Bhairavi is a fierce and terrifying aspect of the Devi virtually indistinguishable from Kali, except for her particular identification as the consort of the Bhairava (the fierce manifestation of Shiva). She is the good mother to good people and terrible to bad ones and is seen holding book, rosary, and making fear-dispelling and boon-conferring gestures. She is also shown holding weapons such as a trishula (trident), parashu (axe), and vajra (thunderbolt). When furious, she is found sitting on a faithful donkey, with her mouth full of demons' blood, her body covered with a tiger skin and skeleton.
Chandi also known as Chamunda is ‘the violent and impetuous one’ who had killed Mahishasura. The three-eyed goddess Chandi is adorned with the crescent moon. Her multiple arms hold auspicious weapons and emblems, jewels and ornaments, garments and utensils, garlands and prayer beads, all offered by the gods. With her golden body blazing with the splendor of a thousand suns, seated on her lion vehicle, Chandi is one of the most spectacular of all personifications of cosmic energy.
LalitÄ (‘She Who Plays’) or TripurasundarÄ« – ‘Beautiful Goddess in the Three Worlds" also called á¹¢hoá¸aÅ›hi (Sixteen) is represented as a sixteen-year-old girl, and is believed to embody sixteen types of desire. There are three forms of her deity: physical (sthÅ«la), subtle (sÅ«ká¹£ma) and supreme (parÄ) are described as being of dusky, red, or golden in color, depending on the meditational form. She holds five arrows of flowers, a noose, a goad and sugarcane as a bow. The noose represents attachment, the goad represents repulsion, the sugarcane bow represents the mind and the arrows are the five sense objects. Tripurasundari sits on a lotus seat laid on a golden throne.
Bhavani is a ferocious aspect of the Hindu goddess Parvati. Bhavani means ‘giver of life’, the power of nature or the source of creative energy. In addition to her ferocious aspect, she is also known as Karunaswaroopini, ‘filled with mercy’. The face of this goddess is beautiful and smiling. She has an arrow holder on her back. Her lion stands near her.
Siddhidatri is the ninth form of Goddess worshipped on the ninth day of Navratri. Siddhidatri has supernatural healing powers. She has four arms and she is always in a blissful happy enchanting pose. She rides on the lion as her vehicle.