Festivals are for fun and food, friends and family, and of course- holidays!!
India has festivals to mark seasonal changes, seeding and harvesting, family occasions – just about everything!
What is Navratri?
Navratri – as the name indicates –is a nine day festival or a nine-night festival.
Navratri is celebrated twice a year in India.
When is Navratri celebrated?
The earlier one falls roughly in April, and ends in Ram Navami, where all Hindus celebrate the birth of Ram, the king of Ayodhya famed for his scrupulous justice. Typically, people fast for the nine days. They don’t stay hungry for the entire time- they eat a variety of grains and cereal, except for wheat and rice. The change of diet is a good practice to ensure the health of the digestive system.
In many parts of North India, there is a ‘jagran’ or ‘awakening’ for the entire period. People stay awake all night, singing ‘bhajans’ or devotional songs together. Pop stars are roped in to keep everyone awake! On Ram Navami the birth of Ram is celebrated with worship and feasting.
When Navratri is celebrated again in October, the nine-day fast is dedicated to King Ram. Ram had spent fourteen years in exile. Around the middle of that time a demon king Ravana kidnapped his wife, Sita and carried her off to his kingdom in Lanka.
After much searching he found her and attacked the 10-headed king with the help of his friend Hanuman. He had slayed Ravana, and restored the balance of good and evil in the world. Navratri celebrates this triumph of good over evil.
In all the northern states of India, Ram Leela – a nine-evening traditional drama eulogising the life of Lord Ram –also concludes on Dasshera, the tenth day. Huge effigies of Ravana are burnt down to much merriment and bursting of crackers and feasting.
Huge fairs emerge in cities and towns across the country where all kinds of food and curio stalls offer their fascinating wares. People enjoy themselves late into the night, gorging on traditional sweets and savouries. In Gujarat, people step out and dance the Dandiya all night long, symbolising goddess Durga’s fight with the demon Mahishasur.
Navratri In the North-East
Navratri in October is also important in West Bengal and the seven north-eastern states of India. Here it is called Durga Pooja. For ten days, everyone in West Bengal is on a holiday – no school, no office! The militant and fiery Goddess Durga is venerated during this time. Worshippers fast for nine days and pay obeisance to huge effigies of Durga slaying the wicked demon Mahishasur.
It is a time when the rich literary and artistic tradition of Bengal is brought out on stage. There’s dancing, drama, painting competitions and so on. Food and fun is high on the agenda of this colourful and culturally rich festival.
Why do we celebrate Navratri?
The purpose of this festival (and many others around the world) is to tell us all that good wins over evil and each of us is meant to chase away wicked thoughts and replace them with good ones.
The entire story of Ram, Sita and the triumph of good over evil is in the epic Ramayana. Find a family member and ask him or her to tell you about why Ram was exiled in the first place. There are also many other sources online and in books where you can find the information if someone in your family doesn’t know.