In a country with a myriad of religions, customs and beliefs, blended expertly in colours of democracy, there is one festival that stands out for other, perhaps in part due to the vibrancy of its celebrations, or perhaps due to the diversity of it. The Navratri is in many ways a celebration of celebrations. Spread over a period of nine days, this festival of celebration is dedicated to the Goddess Durga. The festival is a riot of fasts, japas and vegetarianism, with the air in and around the hoisted mandals filled with chanting of texts, all epitomizing the power of the goddess. Celebrated twice a year; once in the month of Chaitra (April-May) and the other in the month of Ashwin (September-October), each of the nine days of the festival witness the worship of nine different forms of Goddess Durga. During the Ashwin month’s celebration, the onus is on placing the Goddess’s idol in homes and temples. Biding adieu to the goddess, the tenth day is marked by immersing her in water.
Navratri in Gujarat is a nine-day cultural extravaganza celebrated by the entire populace, punctuated with devotional songs and dances, made popular as 'Dandiya Raas' and 'Garba Raas'. Also, jaagran is observed by many, with devotees waking through the night to appease the Goddess. Of distinguished significance is the Amba Mata Temple at Junagadh, Gujarat which witnesses a congregation of devotees during this time.
Colourful earthen pots (garbo) filled with water and with attractive designs, symbolise the Goddess, and women perform the traditional Garba dance around them. The dancers whirl around the earthen pot, accompanied with music. The dance usually starts off slowly though, it gets faster as the music too gets speedier. Another characteristic dance of navratri is the Dandia – Raas, in which men and women join the dance circle, holding small graceful sticks (dandias) together, adding to the merriment. The dances usually begin late in the evening and continue until early morning.
People of West Bengal commence their navratri celebrations by worshiping huge idols of the Goddess, replete with devotional songs and dances, until, till the tenth day when they take out a finally take out an opulent procession, that concludes with the immersion of the idols in water. Of prime importance in Bengal are the first four days of the puja, the distinction being the worship of pre-pubescent young girls, known as 'kanyas', which are believed to be the living embodiments of the Goddess Durga. The ninth day is the day of the 'Ayudha Puja', the items of worship being tools, placed at the altar of the goddess for her benedictions. Dashmi or Dussehra, the 'Saraswati Puja' is consummated, the purpose being the desire for knowledge and inner peace. Also worth mention is the Dakshineswar Kali Temple in Kolkata, thronged by devotees during the navratras.
Maharashtra, true to the indomitable spirit of its people, celebrates Navratri with great fervour, Goddess Durga being worshipped for nine days at a stretch. The tenth day sees the worship of Goddess Saraswati, with the tantric symbol of the goddess revered by school children for her blessings for their studies in Maharashtra. This day is also considered auspicious to embark on any new task or for the purchase of jewellery.