'Nav' means 'nine' and 'ratri' means 'night'. Thus, 'Navratri' means 'nine nights'. There are many legends attached to the conception of Navratri like all Indian festivals. All of them are related to Goddess Shakti (Hindu Mother Goddess) and her various forms. It is one of the most celebrated festivals of Hindu calendar, it holds special significance for Gujratis and Bengalis and one can see it in the zeal and fervor of the people with which they indulge in the festive activities of the season. Dandiya and Garba Rass are the highlights of the festival in Gujarat, while farmer sow seeds and thank the Goddess for her blessings and pray for better yield. In older times, Navratri was associated with the fertility of Mother Earth who feed us as her children.
The first three days of Navratri are dedicated to Goddess Durga (Warrior Goddess) dressed in red and mounted on a lion. Her various incarnations - Kumari, Parvati and Kali - are worshipped during these days. They represent the three different classes of womanhood that include the child, the young girl and the mature woman. Next three days are dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity), dressed in gold and mounted on an owl and finally, last three are dedicated to Goddess Saraswati (Goddess Of Knowledge), dressed in milky white and mounted on a pure white swan. Sweetmeats are prepared for the celebrations. Children and adults dress up in new bright-colored dresses for the night performances.
In some communities, people undergo rigorous fasts during this season that lasts for the nine days of Navratri. The festival culminates on 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. With commercialization, the festival has moved on to be a social festival rather than merely a religious one. However, nothing dampens the spirit of the devout followers of Goddess Durga, as they sing devotional songs and indulge in the celebrations of Navratri, year by year.
Navratri is a very important and popular festival of India. It comes twice on a year, once around March-April and the second time, around September-October. The nine days and nights of Navratri are entirely devoted to Mother Goddess. Throughout this period, fasts, strictly vegetarian diets, japa (chanting mantras in honor of the Goddess Shakti), religious hymns, prayer, meditation and recitation of sacred texts related to Devi Maa (Mother Goddess) form the order of the day. Apart from this, there are a number of other customs and rituals as well, which are associated with the festival. Let us know more about them.
Customs & Rituals of Navratri
The main ritual of Navratri, celebrated on September-October, consists of placing images of Goddess Durga, in homes and temples. The devotees offer fruits and flowers to the Goddess. They also sing bhajans in her honor.
The first three days of Navratri are devoted exclusively to the worship of Goddess Durga, when her energy and power are worshipped. Each day is dedicated to a different appearance of Durga, namely Kumari, Parvati and Kali.
There is also a custom of planting barley seeds in a small bed of mud on the first day of puja. The shoots, when grown, are given to the attendees, as a blessing from Goddess, after the puja ceremony.
These fourth, fifth and sixth days of Navratri are dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth & Prosperity. Goddess Saraswati is also prayed to, on the fifth day, which is known as Lalita Panchami.
The seventh day is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, while the Goddess of Art and Knowledge is worshipped on the eight day and a yagna is also performed.
The ninth day is the final day of Navratri celebrations, which is also known as 'Mahanavami'. On this day, Kanya puja is performed, where nine young, who have not yet reached the stage of puberty, are worshipped. Each of these nine girls symbolizes one of the nine forms of Goddess Durga. The feet of the girls are washed, to welcome the goddess and show respect to her. Thereafter, the girls are offered food and a set of new clothes, as a gift from the devotees.
The nine-day Navratra celebrations, which fall in September-October, come to an end with the immersion of the idols of Goddess Durga in water.
Dandiya and Garba are the featured dances performed on the evenings of Navratri, mainly in Gujarat. Garba is performed before the 'aarti', as devotional performance in the honor of the Goddess, while Dandiya is performed after it, as a part of the celebrations.
In case of September-October Navratri celebrations, the tenth day is celebrated as Dussehra. On this day, devotees perform 'Saraswati Puja', for blessings of knowledge and mental peace. On the day, the burning of the dummy of demon king Ravana also takes place.
The Hindu festival of Navratri, which extends for nine days, is celebrated with gusto in different regions of the country. In the eastern state of West Bengal, the festival takes the shape of Durga Puja, when the devotees of the deity celebrate the triumph of good over evil. There, Ma Durga is worshipped as Goddess Shakti. In north India, Maharashtra and Gujarat, people observe a seven day fast during Navratri and break their fast on Ashtami (the eighth day of the festival) by worshiping young girls. However, some people observe fast until the Ashtami and break their fast only on Navami (the ninth day). If you want to know more about Navratri fast, then explore the article.
Navratri Fasting Procedure
On the festive occasion of Navratri, fast is observed by people for seven or eight days, depending upon when they want to conduct the Kanchika Pujan (when young girls are worshipped). The devotees, who have observed fast, would get up early in the morning, take bath and offer prayers to the deity. People follow a specific diet for Navratri, if they haven't observed a nirahar (waterless) fast. Most people nowadays perform partial fasting. They would abstain from non-vegetarian food, alcohol and those dishes that are made of common salt or any kind of spice. Singhare ka atta (kuttu ka atta) is used to prepare rotis or puris, for the fast.
One may drink beverages like tea, coffee and milk, on Navratri. Dishes made of sago and potato is generally consumed by the people, when they observe fast on Navratri. Sendha namak (rock salt) is used instead of common salt, for cooking on the festival. All fruits and foodstuff made of fruits are eaten during the seven days. Nowadays, ready-to-eat snacks are available in the stores, especially prepared for Navratri. In addition to this, certain restaurants in the northern parts of India would offer special menu for the people, who have observed fast on Navratri.
After seven days of fasting, people would break their fast on the eighth day - Ashtami - by worshipping young girls. The ritual of offering prasad to the young girls is called Kanchika Pujan. As per the tradition, puris (deep fried Indian bread), halwa (sweet dish made of suji) and Bengal gram curry are served to the young girls, called upon by the people who have observed fast. After seeking the blessings of the young girls (kanchikayen), the devotees would break their fast by consuming the prasad (puri, halwa and sabzi) that they have prepared for them. While this is the tradition followed by majority of people, Navratri fast is also broken on ninth day (Navami), wherein the fast is observed until Ashtami. The same procedure is followed in that case as well.