Written by Nandini Sethi
October is here and so are the festivities, lights, colours and inexhaustible spreads of food. We know India is a melting pot of cultures, and we know that this is where diversity thrives. But have you thought about one thing that’s most unique to our country? It’s the fact that a single festival is celebrated so differently in every region; and even within one state there’s always so much happening.
Sometimes, we don’t even realize when our customs and traditions mingle with the practices of other communities, and over time, we get a beautiful blend of cultures: taking the best from all worlds.
Navratri is one such festival where you truly see the idiosyncrasy of all the Indian states. But before we get into that- do we really know what this festival encapsulates?
What Is the Significance of Navratri?
Navratri is celebrated over the course of 9 nights and 10 days, and each day is dedicated to worship one of the nine avatars of Maa Durga. It is believed that Goddess Durga defeated the demon Mahishasura and each one of the 9 days is attached to one of the forms of the Mother Divine. Also, did you know that every day has a designated colour associated with it, and most devotees dress according to the colour that signifies that respective day?
What Are The 9 Days of Navratri and What Do They Signify?
Day 1- Goddess Shailaputri is worshipped on the first day, as she signifies the highest state of consciousness. The devotees also install the Kalash, which is a metal pot usually consisting of coconut and mango leaves, that is believed to contain amrita- or the elixir of life. This day is associated with the colour yellow which represents cheerfulness and joy. Thus begin the celebrations.
Day 2: This is the day that is considered to be sacred and peaceful, and all devotees are encouraged to explore their inner divinity through meditation. In the spirit of calmness, the colour green is most significant. On this day, Devi Brahmacharini is worshipped; legend has it, she undertook intense penance to find a consort in Lord Shiva.
Day 3: On the third day, Goddess Chandraghanta is propitiated. This is the avatar of Maa Durga during the time of her marriage with Lord Shiva. This is the day she is served milk-based sweets in prayers amongst different communities as a way to venerate her. The colour grey is worn since it represents the destruction of all evil.
Day 4: Devi Kushmanda is the avatar that is sought on the fourth day of Navratri. It is said that the entire world was created from the cosmic egg manifested by the divine energy of Devi. Since it is a time of knowledge, creation and power, this day is marked by wearing a bright colour such as orange.
Day 5: On this day we worship the motherly form of the Devi, Skandamata. She represents affection and love, and brings abundance of wealth, prosperity, wisdom, and power. For this reason, the colour white is worn to represent purity.
Day 6: Katyayani is an uplifting force. She represents power: born from the anger of the Gods, she slayed the demon Mahishasura. Nature is all about balance, and it is Goddess Katyayani who is behind all natural calamities to restore equilibrium on Earth. She is invoked on the 6th day to put an end to all our inner foes that come in the way of our spiritual evolution. A bold shade of red is worn on this day as a way to honour this power and passion.
Day 7: The seventh day illustrates the dark night through Devi Kalaratri. While Mother Nature can be powerful and destructive, she is also tranquil and serene, and it is only in the darkest of nights that we are able to bring solace and calmness to our souls. It symbolizes that darkness can be beautiful too, and a deep blue colour is worn by devotees to portray this stillness.
Day 8: Devi Mahagauri showers us with blessings on this auspicious day. She represents liberty and serenity, portrayed by the colour pink since it epitomizes hope and upliftment.
Day 9: On the final day, we look for guidance towards Devi Siddhidatri because she can make the impossible possible. She resembles perfection and takes us away what we see and know, to show us the world that lies beyond time and space. To manifest power and aspiration, devotees wear violet on this day.
How is Navratri Celebrated in Different Parts of India?
Now that we know why Navratri is celebrated for 9 days, it’s also important for us to know how different regions observe and celebrate this auspicious festival. We’re a large country where diverse opinions and lifestyles are welcomed, and appreciated, so you can imagine just how special the festivities in every individual house are! Here are the different ways India celebrates Navratri:
In North India, these 9 days are filled with pujas, dances, family gatherings, fasts, but somehow truckloads of sweets at the same time. This period has a historical significance which is extremely auspicious for devotees of Lord Rama; this festival is considered to be the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana. The celebrations begin with setting up of Ramlila which is a re-enactment of the Hindu mythological tale of Ramayana. As the actors light up the stage, there are tents and stalls full of food, clothes, and other little decorative items put up in every neighbourhood for people to come and enjoy these 9 days.
In Western India, there is vibrancy and a high-spirited energy throughout, as men and women wear an ethnic attire and come together in large groups to take part in the garba and dandiya-raas dance. The dance is in a rhythmic and slow tempo, and symbolically honours the female divine energy: traditionally, women form a circle around lantern, and the light within represents life within a womb. People from not only all parts of the country, but all over the world travel to Gujarat and other northwestern states to experience the magic of garba season.
The last 5 days are celebrated in Eastern India as Durga Puja. The cities are energetic and buoyant as women walk the streets in beautiful red sarees, dancing to ‘dhaak’ beats as they come together and pray to their Goddess in a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. The 8th day of Navratri here is observed as Durgashtami, where clay idols of the Goddess slaying the demon Mahishasura are set up in temples and homes, five days after which they are immersed in the river.
Known as Dasara in Karnataka, Yakshagana is a night-long dance that re-enacts dramas from puranas and is celebrated with great enthusiasm and excitement. Ayudh Puja is held on the 9th day, and people belonging to the southern areas of India worship Goddess Saraswati on this day; since she symbolizes knowledge and music, people also worship books and instruments along with their prayers. In Mysore, on the 10th day, there are grand processions on the streets of the city, where people carry replicas of Goddess Chumundi on their shoulders.
Navratri is a big part of Indian culture and it’s important to explore all the diverse rituals and find meaning behind them because that’s what will bring us closer to our roots. These 9 days are not only about celebrations and cheer, but also about practicing a meditative state that initiates a habit of self-awareness. These 9 days are about reconnecting with family to spread the joy, love, and happiness that we so eagerly look forward to for the rest of the year.