India is the land for festivities and celebration. We all love to dress up, sing, dance, have fun, eat feasts, et al. Life here, even in the huge Metros, seem to be one long festival, especially during the second half of the calendar year. Today is the beginning of one more such celebration – Navratri, meaning nine nights.
Navratri lore according to South India:
Mahishashura was a demon with a buffalo head. He was invincible and creating havoc amongst all the people on earth. Parvathi, Lakshmi and Saraswathi – consorts of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma – came together as one and took the form of Goddess Durga. Durga stood in penance on the tip of a needle during the period of the nine days and nights of Navratri. On Vijayadasami – meaning victorious tenth day – Goddess Durga slew the demon with her Trishul and to this day, the people from South India celebrate these days as one long grand festival. The use of a needle is avoided in most homes during these days. There is a Golu that is kept in many homes. This is a display of dolls. The habit is from the olden days when there were not too many play things especially for the girl child who was not allowed to even play outside the home after a certain age. The practice of Golu happens especially in homes where there are girl children. Temporary steps of wood or steel are constructed and dolls of many shapes and sizes displayed on them during these days. The dolls used to be traditional ones of the many Hindu deities along with other dolls that portray the different customs. There is the wedding set where one can see the bride, groom, the fire, the purohit, the musicians and more. A traditional Chettiar and Chettichi is a must. They represent the provisions seller and his wife with heaps of grains in front of him for sale. People are invited – mostly women and children – for receiving ‘vethilai paakku’. It is generally a gala celebration where people visit each others’ homes and socialise. The Prasad usually consists of a sweet in the form of Payasam and the Sundal is a must. Whole grains such as Kadalai (Peanuts), Kothu Kadalai (Chickpea) and others are boiled and mixed with coconut and served as Sundal – one variety per day.
Navratri in the North:
These days mark the war between Lord Rama and the evil Ravana of Lanka. The Dassera is the tenth day on which Ravana was slain by Lord Rama. This occasion is celebrated with huge effigies of the evil Emperor of Lanka being burnt along with smaller effigies of his brother Kumba Karna and his son Indrajit. The North Indians celebrate these nights by playing the Garba and the Dandiya to music at their homes, their building compounds and also at rented halls and grounds. The whole festivity is one of colour, fun and frolic.