Navaratri

Festivals in India are occasions to show one’s gratitude and allegiance to one’s family.  They are symbols of the religious, cultural and social aspirations of the people.  Most Hindu festivals are a soul-purifying experience for the believer.  Festivals are instrumental in diluting the humdrum of everyday life by adding their special touch to it.

Navaratri Celebrations

Navaratri Festival is celebrated sometime in October.  By this time the rainy season is over.  This season is considered to be an auspicious one as it is generally associated with the sowing of seeds.  The sprouting of new seeds is considered a sign of prosperity and abundance.  Most people consider it the best time to the year to undertake or start new ventures.

Durga The Holy Deity

This festival is dedicated to the Mother Goddess, known as Durga or Devi.  She occupies a special place in the Hindu pantheon.  She represents Shakti, the cosmic energy that animates all beings.  She is also considered to be prakriti (nature), the counterpart of purusha.  Together, they are responsible for the creation of the world according to the Puranas and Vedas (ancient Hindu Scriptures).

Worshipping of Goddess

This is a unique festival for Hindus in India.  A different form of the Mother Goddess is worshiped on each different day. On the first three days, the Goddess Durga (Goddess of Valour) is venerated.  The next three days are spent in the worship of the Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Learning and Arts).  Together, the three goddesses are worshipped as the feminine equivalent of the Hindu Holy Trinity.

The Rituals

Navaratri festival symbolises health and prosperity.  It is celebrated in a very traditional way.  People perform Yagya (sacrifice offered in order to procure purification through fire) or Havana (symbolic ceremony involving the purifying aspects of fire).  During both the ceremonies, ghee (clarified butter), paayas or kheer (rice cooked in condensed milk) and sesame seeds are poured into the holy flames to the chanting of mantras (holy verses).  Each cycle of oblation culminates with the priest summoning Swaha, the consort of Agni, or fire. Some believers fast (vrat) throughout the nine days; others settle for a daylong fast.  Fasting is considered to be one of the most popular means of self-discipline and spiritual development.  On the fifth day, known as Lalita Panchami, it is customary to gather the books in the house and place them before a sacred lamp in order to seek Goddess Saraswati’s blessings.  Artisans clean their tools and worship them, invoking Goddess Saraswati’s blessings.

Navaratri Celebrations in Different parts of India

In different regions of the country, Navaratri is celebrated in different ways.  In West Bengal, it takes the form of Durga Puja.  It is an occasion to celebrate the Triumph of Good over Evil.  According to legend, a various buffalo-demon, Mahishasur, had raised hell at the gates of heaven.  That caused widespread terror.  The Goddess Durga was actualised by the combined efforts of all the deities to slay him.  With an assortment of weapons in her 10 hands, sitting on a lion, Durga slayed Mahishasura.  Durga is also worshiped as Shakti.  Beautiful idols of the Mother Goddess adorn elaborate pandals (marquees) for five days (starting from the fifth day of Navaratri).  Believers and non-believers flock to these pandals in festival mood.  On the tenth day of the celebrations, he idols are carried out in colourful processions to be immersed (Visarjan) in a river or a pond.
In the state of Punjab, people usually fast for seven days during this period.  On Ashtami, the eight day, devotees break their fast by worshipping young grils who are supposed to be representatives of the Goddess herself.   They offer them the traditional puris (deep-fried Indian bread), halwa (a dessert primarily made of flour and sugar and ghee), chanas (Bengal gram) and red chunnis (long scarves).  In this regison, the festival is predominantly linked with harvest.  This is the time of the khetri, (wheat grown in pots in the urban context), which is worshipped in homes.  Its seedlings are given to devotees as blessings from God.

Dussehra or (Vijaya Dashmi)

The next day after Navaratri is the festival of Dussehra or Vijaya Dashmi. Vijaya Dashmi (literally meaning ‘The Day marking the Triumph of Good over Evil’) falls on the day after Navaratri.  It is associated with another legend where Lord Rama killed the demon king Ravana.  In the northern parts of India, Ram Lilas draw from the epic, the Ramayana.  They bring the life and times of Lord Rama back to the common folk through dramatic representations.

Celebrations in South India

In the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, to celebrate Navaratri different ways are adopted.  Women adorn their houses with dolls (Bommai Kolu), draw traditional designs or rangolis (patterns made on the floor by using various clolu8red powders and flowers), and light lamps.  During this festival (also known as Kolu in the state of Tamil Nadu), families proudly display traditional wooden dolls and gather to sing songs and depict scenes from the various epics, for a period of ten days. Another runway hit is the sundal, a special sweet made from lentil and brown sugar.  Families and friends exchange the traditional gifts on this occasion.

Garba and Dandiya Rasa

In Gujarat and the region adjoining Gujarat in Rajasthan, the festival of Navaratri acquires quite a fascinating and colourful dimension the highlights of the festival are the extremely colourful dances of Garba and Dandiya-Rasa during which, both men and women, dressed in the traditional attires of dhoti-kurta (traditional Indian attire worn by menfolk, comprising a long shirt and a long flowing garment worn over the lower part of the body), and chania-choli (mirror-work skirts and blouses), put up stunning performances to the vibrant rhythm of music.  These dances are performed around the traditionally decorated terracotta pot called the garbi that has a small diya (lamp) burning inside signifying knowledge, or light meant to dissipate ignorance, or darkness, within.  Dholak players (drummers) accompany the dancers, and groups of singers sing songs.  These songs have been sung for centuries.
Today the commercialisation of these dances seems evident.  It is not garba or any traditional dance form.  There are film songs, which rule the festival, thereby robbing the festival of its traditional nature.  As a dance form, mainly the women perform Garba.  The leader starts with the first line of the song.  Other dancers sway greacefully, with their arms describing movements in perfect sync to the rhythmic clapping, or beating of sticks.
Yet another variation of the Garba is the Goph Guntan, or the string dance.  As the dancers execute the movements, they hold on to one end of a rope in strands. The other end of the rope is tied either to the ceiling or a wooden pole.  Gradually, as the dancers weave in and around each other, a braid is formed.  It is quite an interesting sight.  It takes a certain degree of skill and accuracy to intertwine and untangle the braid without losing rhythm.
Dandiya-Rasa is equally popular during Navaratri.  It is performed mostly by menfolk.  While dancing, they form complex circular patterns to represent the lotus and other floral designs.  These dancers hold the dandiyas (small wooden sticks with tiny bells attached at the ends) and dance in complex concentric circles.  The dancers rhythmically beat the sticks.  They do not pause even during a series of complicated moves that they must execute while sitting, standing or lying down.
Different communities have different variations of these dances.  The heady mix of jubilation and enthusiasm is all pervasive.
Te tenth day is known as Vijaya Dasami (day of Victory over evils).  This day is significant to launch new activities or beginning of learning.  It signifies the Good winning over the Evil,  It is believed that on this day, Lord Rama had killed the demon Ravana.  So, on Dussehra, effigies of Ravana are burnt all over India.  Nvaratri is a festival of pure happiness and one of the most auspicious occasions.
In Gujarat, Navaratri is very important.  Besdes Ahmedabad, tourists can witness the Navaratri celebrations at:

Vadodra

110 kms from Ahmedabed, the city of Vadodra is famous for the celebrations of Navaratri.  The Lakshmi Vilas palace of Vadodra is rated among the 5 grandest palaces of India.  It is the site for folk dances organised by the royal family of this princely city.  Often there are many good hotels in Vadodra.

Balaram

Balaram is situated at about 167km from Ahmadabad.  It is a place of pilgrimage in the Arravalli hills.  Between Balaram and ambaji, tribal women dance on the days of Navaratri.  There is a palace resort at Balaram.

Kutch

An overnight journey from Ahmadabad, Kutch witnesses colourful tribal and rural fairs during Navaratri specially on the 7th– 8th days. 
The festivities are now organised in a systematic way by Gujarat Government.  The professionalism brought in by experts in performing arts has given a new dimension to these festivals, making them more popular.

Ambaji

180 km from Ahmadabad, Ambaji is one of the most revered temples in Gujarat.  During the 9 days of Navaratri, payers are performed and dances can be witnessed in the fore-court.

Pawagarh

Around 70km from Ahmadabad, the fortified hill top temple town Pawagarh has Kali temples.  Thousands of pilgrims throng the Kali temple on everyday of Navaratri.
Poshina
180 kms from Ahmedabad, in the tribal lands of Sabarkanta, Poshina, one can see the harvest celebrations of the Garasia and Bhil tribal’s, besides villagers of the Hindu and Jain faith.  There is a heritage hotel at Poshina.