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Navratri – a time of celebration for entire nation, considered as one of the biggest festival in India. It's the time to welcome Maa Durga. The nine days festival preceding Dussehra or Vijaya Dashmi is considered auspicious and celebrated with a lot of revered devotion. 

Navratri is a period of fasting. Some people fast all the nine days and some only on the seventh (saptami) and eighth (ashtami) day and on the ninth (navami) day, the fast is broken with a special bhog offered to the Devi.

 

#Feasting during fasting:
During the fasting period, people make various dishes which follow the strictures laid down as to what kind of foods can be consumed and what not. The diet is strictly vegetarian and based on only fruits, milk, potato and other root vegetables. Specific ingredients are used for preparing the Navratri delicacies. Spices are limited to red chillies, turmeric and cumin seeds, and sendha namak (rock salt) is used instead of common salt. Onion and garlic are not allowed, however, one can eat milk, curd, fruits and nuts.

People who fast during these days might enjoy special foods like sabudana vada, arbi ki kadhi, kele ki subzi, rajgire ki puri, Coconut laddoos, Arbi Fried, Kacche Kele ki Chaat and fruits.

#Traditional Navratri delicacies:

Even though it is a period of fasting there is a fantastic array of sweets and other foods that one can enjoy. In fact, the feast after the fast is what makes every festival anywhere in India so special.

The food eaten during the nine days in states like Punjab generally comprises of paneer curry, kootoo ke aate ki poori, milk based pudding with a special type of rice, aloo tikki and Lauki ka halwa (bottlegourd sweet).

In Bengal, for Durga Puja the mouth-watering delicacies are prepared which include alur dum, luchi, rasgulla, chola dal, and mishti doi and so on. On Dussehra day, especially in Gujarat, traditionally, jalebi and fafda (made from gram flour) with chutney are offered to the Lord and devotees avail of this prasad. 

Navratri-a nine days festival

Celebrations start from the new moon day to the ninth day of the month of Ashwin, which coincide with the English months of September/October.

All through the nine days of Navratri, the devotees would chant mantras, sing songs and bhajans in the praise of the deity. Fasting on Navratri is considered auspicious. To celebrate the festival, a number of pujas are conducted all through the nine days.

This festival too, like most other Hindu festivals, symbolizes the victory of Good over Evil. As legends go, Navratri is dedicated to Goddess Durga, who symbolises two forms of female energy – one mild and protective and the other fierce and destructive. All the three principal Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshiped during this festival, each for three days of the Navratri.

In some other regions Goddess Durga is worshiped in her nine different aspects each of the nine days which are:

                            Durga -Goddess beyond Reach
                            Bhadrakali - The Auspicious Power of Time
                            Amba or Jagadamba - Mother of the World
                            Annapurna - Giver of Food and Plenty
                            Sarvamangala - Auspicious Goddess
                            Bhairavi - Terrible, Fearful, Power of Death
                            Chandika or Chandi - Violent, Wrathful, Furious
                            Lalita - Playful
                            Bhavani - Giver of Existence.

On Dussehra, people offer pujan to weapons and vehicles. They also perform 'Sharda pujan' - of books. The latter is symbolic of conquest over one's self. People embark on all forms of auspicious ventures on this day, without the need to consider the auspicious time in the 'panchaang.' Students offer pujan to Saraswati, the goddess of learning.

The celebrations take on many hues

As multi-varied as the culture of various Indian states is, the festival is celebrated throughout India, in different ways, with the feeling of devotion knitting the whole nation.

#Harvest Festival:
Farmers celebrate this festival as thanksgiving after their bountiful harvest. On the first day of Navratri, food grains are sown in the house on a small bed of mud and watered every day. On the tenth day the shoots are pulled out and given to the devotees as a blessing from the Goddess. This ritual is symbolic of good harvesting.

#Dandiya Raas in Gujrat
One of the best part about the Navratri festival is Dandiya and Garba dances performed on the evenings of Navratri, mainly in Gujarat and Maharashtra. It is performed in the honour of Goddess Durga. Usually in the evening people from all walks of life come together and dance their heart out. Many organizations and groups organize the dandiya events at various destinations in Mumbai and Gujarat. It is also popular throughout India and among Indian communities around the world including UK and USA.

All the nine days are devoted to Amba, Goddess of Shakti (Power) and people fast to please and pay the respect to her. Traditionally, Dandiya Raas is performed after aarti (ritual of worshipping the diety). Both men and women love to be seen dressed in their best traditional attire.

The colourful sticks, used as prop of Dandiya Raas, are usually made of bamboo. The dancers strike the sticks with their partners and dance in circular motion, to the rhythm of the music played in the background.

#Celebrations in West Bengal
In West Bengal, Navratri is a special celebration devoted to Goddess Durga. The inauguration of the Goddess idol starts on Mahashasthi. The Goddess is welcomed with much fanfare amidst the beats of special variety of the drum, known as dhak. The drum-beats are an integral part of the Durga Puja. Unveiling the face of the idol is the main ritual on this day. Kalaparambho, the ritual performed before the commencement of the puja precedes Bodhon, Amontron and Adibas. This is an ancient ritual of worshipping nine types of plants. They are together worshiped as a symbol of the goddess.

Saptami is the first day of Durga puja. Thousands of people flock in the puja pandals of their locality to offer ‘Pushpanjali’ in the mornings.

On eighth day (Mahashtami) , they perform Sandhi Puja, which marks the inter-linking of the Mahashtami and Mahanavami. Special food is offered to the Goddess which includes: khichuri, refined flour puris, mixed vegetable dish, fried eggplant roundels and payesh.

The main Navami puja begins after the end of Sandhi Puja. The Navami Bhog is offered to the goddess. This is later partaken as prasad by the devotees. 

On the tenth day (Dashami), a tearful farewell is offered to the Goddess. The married women apply sindur to Maa Durga’s pratima (image) and offer ‘Sandesh’ wearing a white sari with red border. The images are carried in processions around the locality and finally is immersed in a nearby river or lake. Vijaya Dashami is an event celebrated all over the country.

#Tradition of enacting Ramleela
According to legends, Lord Rama worshiped Godess Durga for nine days and on the tenth day he killed Ravana, which is known as Vijayadashmi or Dussehra. Hence in the North part of India, Ramleela is celebrated during these nine days when the entire epic of Ramayana is enacted by actors and actresses dressed in costumes related to mythology. The celebrations culminate on Vijayadashami (the victorious tenth day). It commemorates the death of evil demon king Ravana at the hands of Lord Rama. On Dussehra their effigies stuffed with fireworks are burnt to the accompaniment of drums being played with gusto.

#Celebrations in South India
Down South, in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, the devotees of Goddess Durga prepare dolls called bommai kolu and arrange them decoratively over nine or seven steps. Any sort of dolls could be used but wooden dolls (called marbachhi) are considered most auspicious. Married women and young girls are called for ‘haldi kumkum’ on all the nine days. Each day a different sprouted pulse is offered as 'naivedya' to the Goddess and then distributed to the ladies. Each day a different sweet, usually made from some pulse or puffed rice is also offered to the Goddess. On the ninth day or Mahanavami day, books wrapped in silk cloth are kept before the Goddess in the form of Saraswati and worshipped. On Dussehra day the books are removed and the children are made to read or write at least one page as a mark of respect to Goddess Saraswati. The sweet dishes offered to Goddess Saraswati are different variations of milk puddings called payasam.

#Dussehra celebrations in Mysore
The Mysoreans celebrate it as Durga’s triumph over the demon Mahishasura in the incarceration of Chamundeshwari on the Chamundi hills. And since Chamundi is the family deity of the King of Mysore, a regal procession of decorated elephants, courtiers and court symbols weaves its way through the city to the hill and culminates in a pooja being offered at the Chamundeshwari temple atop the hill.

#Dussehra celebrations in Kulu
A small quiet town in Himachal Pradesh called Kulu celebrates Dussehra three days after the rest of the country has finished celebrating the festival. Maharaja Ranjit Singh set the precedent to celebrate the festival with other kings who took three days to reach Kulu after completion of Dussehra celebrations in their respective kingdoms. The practice of celebrating Dussehra three days after the rest of the country was established and has continued ever since.

#The colour culture:
During the Nine-day festival of Navratri there is a custom of wearing different colours of clothes. Generally the nine colors symbolically represent the nine avatars or incarnations or manifestations of Goddess Durga. These are the colors which Maa Durga wears during these Navratri days.

Each of these colours has significance of its own. Traditionally the colors change from year to year. The colour red is of main importance since it represents Goddess Durga herself . Also the colours have a lot of significance due to their attributions to different energy chakras in the yogic form of meditation.

Offering Bhog to Goddess

During the nine days of Navratri, different Bhog are offered everyday to the nine Goddesses.

•On first day fast is observed and pure Ghee is offered on the foot of Maa Shailputri. This blesses the devotee with a disease free life.

•On second day, Sugar is offered as Bhog to Goddess Brahmacharini. This increases the longevity of the family members.

•On the third day, milk, sweets made of milk or Kheer is offered as a bhog to Mata Chandraghanta. This frees the person of all his pains and receives extreme joy and happiness.

•The fourth day of Navratra is the day of worshiping Mata Kushmanda. Offering Malpua as Bhog pleases the Goddess and improves the intellect and decision making ability of the devotee.

•Mata Skandmata is worshiped on the fifth date of Navratra. It is believed that offering the Bhog of Banana to the goddess keeps the physique healthy.

•On sixth day, honey is offered as Bhog to Maa Katyayani. This makes the devotee more attractive.

•On seventh day, fast is observed whole day and then Jaggery is offered as Bhog to the Mata Kaalratri. This Relieves the devotee from all his pains and also reduces the abrupt pains that may arise.

•On the day of Durga Ashtami, the eighth form of Mata, Mahagauri is worshipped. On this day Coconut is offered to the Goddess as Bhog.

•On ninth day, offering Til as a Bhog to Goddess Siddhidatri after observing fast, relieves the person from the fear of death and prevents from any unlikely incident. 

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