And my favourite time of the year is here! Well yes. Navratri started five days back but my favourite part commences tomorrow. And like every year, I am back with my customary Durga Puja/Navratri post. I always write only about Durga Puja cause of my Oriya/Bengali descent, but Navratri is so much more than just Durga Puja. I have been through a lot of foreign blogger accounts who consider Holi and Diwali to be the largest festivals of India. And not just the foreign bloggers, a lot of Indians also have the same thoughts. But if you ask me, I would say Diwali and Navratri are the biggest festivals of India!
India has been coloured uniformly in shades of certain colours in the past 4 days and will continue to be so for five more days. Yes India, and not just Gujrat or Maharashtra (don’t believe me, check Wikipedia – the colours are listed there as well). The Navratri festivities or, to be more precise, the Sharad Navratri festivities are not restricted to the west or east of this diverse nation, but is celebrated throughout the country in different ways but equal fervor and charm. A couple of my Gujarati friends and Bengali friends in Bangalore were missing their hometowns till yesterday. But yesterday they happened to visit Mysore and it all changed. In case you are wondering why, here is a list of places you should visit during Navratri and Dushera (the 10th day that marks the end of Navratri) and why.
1. Kolkata or Cuttack for Durga Puja – Top of the list has to be Durga Puja. The idols of Durga with Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartikeya and Ganesha in vibrant, colourful and creative pandals, at every chowk, bazaar and ambience created with the haze of frankincense and sound of dhol – that is the picture of the East-Indian towns from the 6th day to the 10th Day of Navratri. Durga Puja is celebrated across India, and also abroad, but nothing beats the essence of the festival that grips people in West Bengal, Orissa and parts of Assam. Till early 17th century, Durga Puja used to be a house affair, where the celebrations were held at ancestral houses of the family, but after the first Sarvajanik Puja, which was held by the King of Bengal the festival kept growing, became more public and now has become a signature of the East.
2. Ahmedabad or Vadodara for Garba and Dandiya – Colours, folk songs, heavy traditional attires and nonstop dancing all night. That is Navratri of the west! In Gujrat, parts of Rajasthan and Parts of Maharashtra the Navratri festivities bring the whole community together with very contagious high voltage energy level. (I know that was a very weird way of describing the energy level, but I seriously had no better words to match). The nine nights of Navratri used to be celebrated by people - with Garba dance by women and Dandiya Raas by men in concentric circles around the idol set up. The Idol set up have a statue or portrait of Amba, a lamp that is kept burning the whole night and a Kalash or Garba with soil. And guess what, the whole formation has a meaning too! The idol set up, being in the centre, represents the belief – God is constant and the world, human life, the universe goes around it. The circles represent the cycles of existence. I bet a lot of Gujratis didn’t know this either. Anyways, now a days Garba and Dandiya are played by all and this festival has gained a lot of global limelight, but thanks to Gujrat Tourism the Garba and Dandiya Raas of Ahmedabad and Vadodara are class apart.
4. Mysore for Nadahabba – Also called the Mysore Dushara, this 400 year old tradition, sees the maximum number of tourists in Mysore and that is where friends went yesterday. This tradition was started by the Wodeyar/Wadieyer family of the Vijaynagar Kingdom and despite the fall of Monarchy, the tradition has been going on till day. Dushera or Vijayadashami denotes the victory of truth over evil and was the day when the Hindu Goddess Chamundeshwari (Durga) killed Mahishasura and Mahishasura is the demon from whose name the name Mysore has been derived. So basically it is Durga Puja of Karnataka. During the nine nights of Navtratri the Mysore Palace is lit up by almost 1 lakh light bulbs and Mysore city is decorated in Royal colours. On the day of Dushera, a procession of the goddess is held in the town in which the idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari is placed on a golden mandapa on the top of a decorated elephant after being worshipped by the royal couple. Colourful montages, dancers, music bands, decorated elephants, horses and camels form a part of the procession which starts from the Mysore Palace and closes at a place called Bannimantap where a very old Bannitree is worshipped. It is said that this tradition did not stop even when Raja Wodeyar’s only son had died just a day before Navratri. So imagine how important this festival would be in Mysore!
5. Tamil Nadu for Kolu – Navratri is the festivals of dolls in the south. Known as Bommai Kolu in Tamil Nadu, Bombe Habba in Karnataka and Golu in Kerala, this festival is mostly a home affair or limited to temples in the south and is observed mostly in rural areas. Women of the house set up wooden racks of odd number of shelves and display dolls from themes of everyday life to historical or mythological events along with statues of Gods and Goddesses. The set-ups are dedicated to the three Goddesses – Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, three days dedicated to each. In traditional practice all setups have wooden figurines of the bride and groom together, called 'Marapacchi Bommai'. In south India bride is given the 'Marapacchi Bommai' during the wedding by her parents as part of wedding trousseau to initiate the yearly tradition of 'Navaratri Kolu' in her new home. On the last day of Kolu i.e. on Dushera, one of the dolls is symbolically put to sleep and the other dolls are packed away, to be used during the next Kolu.
Apart from these, Dushera Celebrations are also very famous in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh and Bastar, Chhattisgarh, but I did not include them in the list as I have absolutely no idea about the traditions there. If you know of any other Navratri Traditions do let me know in the comments.