Navratri, the festival of nights, lasts for 9 days with three days each devoted to worship of Ma Durga, the Goddess of Valor, Ma Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Ma Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge. During the nine days of Navratri, feasting and fasting take precedence over all normal daily activities amongst the Hindus. Evenings give rise to the religious dances in order to worhip Goddess Durga Maa.
1st - 3rd day of Navratri On the first day of the Navaratras, a small bed of mud is prepared in the puja room of the house and barley seeds are sown on it. On the tenth day, the shoots are about 3 - 5 inches in length. After the puja, these seedlings are pulled out and given to devotees as a blessing from god. These initial days are dedicated to Durga Maa, the Goddess of power and energy. Her various manifestations, Kumari, Parvati and Kali are all worshipped during these days. They represent the three different classes of womanhood that include the child, the young girl and the mature woman.
4th - 6th day of Navratri During these days, Lakshmi Maa, the Goddess of peace and prosperity is worshipped. On the fifth day which is known as Lalita Panchami, it is traditional, to gather and display all literature available in the house, light a lamp or 'diya' to invoke Saraswati Maa, the Goddess of knowledge and art.
7th - 8th day of Navratri These final days belong to Saraswati Maa who is worshipped to acquire the spiritual knowledge. This in turn will free us from all earthly bondage. But on the 8th day of this colourful festival, yagna (holy fire) is performed. Ghee (clarified butter), kheer (rice pudding) and sesame seeds form the holy offering to Goddess Durga Maa.
Mahanavami The festival of Navratri culminates in Mahanavami. On this day Kanya Puja is performed. Nine young girls representing the nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshiped. Their feet are washed as a mark of respect for the Goddess and then they are offered new clothes as gifts by the worshiper. This ritual is performed in most parts of the country.
The most characteristic dances of Gujarat during Navratri are the Rasa and Garba dances which are performed at all levels of society by men and women. The origin of the Rasa is traced back to the legends connected with the life of Lord Krishna. It is essentially associated with the agricultural rites. The Rasa is performed in Gujarat India on Navaratra; and other important festivals associated with harvest and crops. The Rasa dances of Saurashtra are closely related to agricultural functions and are for the best part grain-ritual dances.
They are performed only by men and are often complex circular formations to represent designs of lotus and other designs considered magical religious and auspicious.
The choreographical pattern of the dance, the floor designs made by the dancers, is similar of the paintings seen on the walls of huts. Through these designs whether on the floor or walls, through paint and colour or through dance, ritual is held and spirits are invoked. This is another aspect of the fertility cult. is mother aspect of Navratri. A cloth called Mata ni Pachepi, where the adventures of the seven mothers, is painted. The mother, one of the seven archetypes, is painted in the centre and she is surrounded by her devotees and Bua, the magician-priest. At the end of the month the Bua wraps the cloth around him and sings and dances with Virgin girls carrying pots of sprouted corn finally, the pot at immersed in the waters of a river. In all cases, the object is always either burnt or consigned to the waters. The Rasa follows.
The most impressive artistry of the Rasa dances of Gujarat and Saurashtra is displayed in the Dandiya Rasa by men. It is a counterpart of the Garba of the women. The dancers use sticks at the end of which tiny bells (ghungrus) are tied so that they give off a clear jingling sound when they strike one another. This dance has a very complicated rhythm pattern and even though the dancers begin in a slow tempo, the dance develops in such manner that each person in the circle not only performs a solo dance with his own sticks, but also has a complex multiple relationship with both his partners on either side as also partners opposite him in the circles. The circle keeps breaking sometimes into two concentric circles and sometimes into three or four circles within the orbit of a larger circle.
The dancers of each concentric circle then weave patterns with each other and with members of the other circle. There is a great deal of freedom in the movements and sticks are beaten in standing, sitting or lying position. Occasionally, the men weave patterns of an intertwined rope in a circle; they lie on the floor with the two sticks being beaten above their heads and chests; sometimes instead of hands, the feet hold and strike the sticks. The Dandiya Rasa is obviously of ancient origin and of ritual significance. From what one can gather from Sanskrit dramas, it became in course of time a popular, and is mentioned in Rajshekhar's Karpur Manjari.
Each community has its distinctive dance patterns.
The Garba of Gujarat is the most popular women's folk dance of Gujarat. During Navratri, a pot is ceremoniously placed attractive designs are made on the pot and a light is placed inside. Village girls bearing pots (garbis) on their heads go from door to door and dance around the respective house.
The leader of the group sings the first line of the song while the rest repeat it in chorus, the beat being produced clapping hands or striking sticks in unison. At every step they gracefully bend sideways, the arms coming together in beautiful sweeping gestures, up and down, lef