The advent of Sharad Rutu (autumn season) marks the beginning of #Navaratris kicking of the long festive season in India. The #Navaratris commence post the Mahalaya Paksha( Shraadh ) a fortnight where people pay respects to their forefathers.
Navaratris - literally translating to 9 nights- are celebrated in many ways across the Country. In Northern parts of India people celebrate it as a mark of Lord Rama’s victory over Raavana and Ram Leela - story of lord Rama enacted as a play in open theatres – is a regular feature.
In other parts of the Country it is celebrated as Goddess Durga’s victory over Mahishasura (buffalo demon).
Numerous Durga puja pandals - Elaborately decorated stages- can be seen in West Bengal, Odisha and, in the recent past, Durga Puja is being celebrated in other parts of the country too. During the Navaratris. Artists work months ahead of the puja to create the clay idols of Durga Devi. Devi is worshipped in a different form on each of the 9 days viz. Shailaputri, Bramhacharini, ChandraGhanta, Kushmanda, Skanda Maata, Katyayini, Kaal Ratri, Durga and SiddhiDhatri with each day having a unique colour associated. The special aarti performed by Bengali women and the dancing on Maha Navami (ninth day) is a divine treat to watch. Dashami (tenth day) is the culmination of this majestic festival and on this day the Devi idol is immersed in a lake or river and is bid farewell on her journey to Kailash.
In the western parts of the Country, especially in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the Navaratri season is celebrated with people playing Garba and Dandiya Raas. People use decorated wooden sticks and dance in pairs and groups. Dandiya raas originated from traditional Garba dance where the fight between goddess Durga and Mahishasura the demon king is depicted through a mock fight with sticks.
Durga Devi is also worshipped as Devi Chamundeshwari and her victory over Mahishasura is celebrated, since 15tth century, on a grand scale in Mysore. In fact Mysore has got its name from this very event of the goddess slaying Mahishasura in this place. These celebrations have a royal patronage with the king of Mysore participating in the festivities. The Mysore palace has a resplendent look as it is lit by over a hundred thousand bulbs, for all the ten days. On. Vijaya Dashami (tenth day) Chamundeshwari Devi is taken out on a Jumboo Savari (a ride on an elephant). This procession ends at the Banni Mantapa where the king offers prayers to Shami tree as the tree is said to bring in prosperity and victory of good over evil. Even today, on Maha Navami day people across Andhra, Karnataka and Maharashtra exchange Shami leaves as it is regarded to bring in good luck.
The significance of the Shami tree dates back to the times of Mahabharata. It is believed that Pandavas, before beginning the final year of their exile where they had to be incognito, hid their weapons on a shami tree. A year later the Pandavas come back and see that their weapons are absolutely safe which is considered to be a good omen. After paying their respects to the tree they go on to wage the Kurukshetra war, which they eventually win. And this is the origin of Ayudha Puja where people worship tools of their trade. Further, Durga Devi is the warrior Goddess and hence every tool is worshipped to bring in prosperity.
In Andhra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Navaratri also brings in bommala koluvu or golu where people decorate a part of their home with art dolls called Gombe or Bombe, similar to Golu dolls of Tamil Nadu. A multi-level stage is set with variety of colourful clay or wooden dolls. Each year a new doll is added to the collection. These dolls are either mythological figures or simple play toys. There is significant effort that goes in setting up a bommala Koluvu and some of them are an absolute treat to the eye. Friends and relatives are invited to visit the bommala koluvu and women exchange tambulam (Beetle leaf, beetle nut along with Turmeric and vermillion which is considered to be auspicious for a married woman).
In the state of Telangana, Navratris are celebrated as Bathukamma (literally “ Mother come alive”) festival. Bathukamma starts on the New moon day before the Navratri and is celebrated upto the 8th day of Navaratri i.e. Durga Ashtami. The last day of Bathukamma is called Pedda Bathukamma where a beautiful stack of flowers is arranged in 7 concentric layers representing a temple shrine. Various unique seasonal and medicinal flowers are used in creating a Bathukamma. A socio-cultural festival, this is the time to visit various parts of Telangana to not only get a visual delight of Bathukamma but to listen to some beautiful folk songs. The festival has seen a revived fervour during the Telangana movement leading to Telangana state formation.
Parts of North Karnataka and Maharashtra also consider this period to mark the divine wedding of Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati with Padmavati amma. In Tirupati, during Navratri, Srivari Bramhotsavam - annual fete- is celebrated. It is believed that Lord Bramha the creator descends on the earth to celebrate the fete hence the name Bramhotsavam. A small empty wooden called Bramha Ratham leads the main chariot and signifies that Brahma himself is leading the event. Utsava murtis(Processional deities) of Lord Srinivasa and his consorts Sri Devi and Bhudevi are taken on a procession on different vahanams (vehicles) on all 9 days.
It is amazing that the Navratri festival has such a diverse set of beliefs and rituals across various regions in India. However, a single theme runs across each celebration and that is victory of good over evil which, rightly, is called Vijaya Dashami.