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Navratri: The Story of the Nine Nights!

The air is fragrant with signs of festivity and fervor as India is witnessing one of its longest and grandest festival observed by Hindus- The Sharad (autumn) Navratri that usually falls in the months of September or October, also called the Ashwin month according to the Hindu calendar. This festival which spans nine nights and ten days assumes diverse colours and shape as it’s celebrated differently in different regions of India. There are four seasonal Navratris out of which two have greater celebratory significance-The Chaitra Navratri celebrated in March/ April and the Sharad Navratri. This year the latter began on 21st September and completes on 30th September.

There are two beliefs around Navratri. One says that a fast was advocated by the sage Narada to Lord Rama, so that he could eventually kill Ravana, the demon god. After the completion of the fast, Lord Rama attacked Ravana and killed him in Lanka. This is observed mostly in northern and western India. The second story says that Goddess Durga fought with the demon god Mahishasura for nine days from Pratipada till Navami and on Navami night killed him. She is thus, revered as the destroyer of evil. This is observed as Durga Puja in North eastern, Eastern and Southern states of India. In both the festivities there is a celebration of victory of Dharma (virtue) over Adharma (evil and vice).

Ravan Dahan- Triumph of good over evil image from Shutterstock.

In North India, the story of Rama’s victory over Ravana is enacted by performers in rural and urban centres, inside temples or temporary stages, over many episodes for nine days. This is called the Ramlila .On the final day, when Rama vanquishes Ravana with his bow, the festival is completed by burning effigies of Ravana and his brothers Meghnad and Kumbhakaran. People dress up in traditional attire, observe fasts, offer prayers to the lord and go around distributing sweets to relatives and friends. In Gujarat, people celebrate it through the colourful dance form of Garba.

Durga Puja synonymous with Navratri festival is the most important annual festival to many Hindus, and a major social and public event in other eastern and northeastern states of India, where it dominates the religious life and is like a carnival. The first day is Mahalaya which is spent honouring Durga and paying respect to all departed souls. It marks the end of the period called Shradh or Pitru Paksha. The occasion of Durga Puja is celebrated with thousands of temporary stages usually made of bamboo called pandals; built in community squares or parks, roadside shrines and large Durga temples in West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, eastern Nepal, Assam, Tripura and nearby regions. It is also celebrated by some Shakta Hindus as a private home-based autumn ritual.

Background Durga Puja Festival in Bengal in India image from Shutterstock.

However, it is on the sixth day that the goddess is welcomed into homes and pandals and the celebrations are formally inaugurated. On the seventh, eighth and ninth, the puja takes place. After the nine nights, on the tenth day called Vijayadashami, a grand procession is held with pomp and fanfare where the clay idols are ceremoniously walked to a river or ocean side for a joyous and emotional farewell to Durga. Many mark their faces with vermilion or dress in the colour red. It is an emotional day for some devotees, often characterized by emotional goodbye songs. After the immersion, Hindus distribute sweets and gifts, visit their friends and family members and pay respects.

Devotees fast and worship nine forms of the Goddess Durga also called Shakti. On day one (Pratipada), Shailaputri is worshipped.On Dwitiya goddess Brahmacharini is worshipped. Goddess Chandraghanta is worshipped on Tritiya. On Chaturthi, Devi Kushmanda is worshipped. Goddess Skandamata is worshipped on Panchami. Devi Katyayini is honoured on Shasti. On Saptami, Devi Kalaratri is worshipped. On Ashtami, Mahagauri is worshipped. The last day of the festival also known as Navami, devotees pray to Devi Siddhidaatri.

Indian Fasting Recipes, Navratri Food image from Shutterstock.

Some people observe fast strictly for all nine days, most people fast only on the first and the last days, while a few do not take alcohol, garlic, onions and non vegetarian items. During this festival only a few food items are considered appropriate while a few are to be avoided. Much importance is given to the consumption of dairy products, juices, whole fruits and light vegetables. The concept of fasting has many reasoning. Religion states that it brings us closer to the divine. Other cultures believe that abstinence arouses spiritual purification leading to a stronger willpower. It is also seen as a path to emulate and inculcate in oneself, virtues like self-discipline and self belief.

The significance of worshipping Shakti for nine days follows the belief that there resides an asura or demon in us who only loves and enjoys the materialistic things in life. Often, this asura overtakes the divinity in human beings. So, it becomes necessary to perform prayers to Shakti to liberate ourselves from the trappings of the qualities of asura. Thus, one has to do this for nine days to purify one self. Two other religions observe also worship the goddess in Navaratri-Sikhs revere Shakti worshipping as attributed by Guru Govind Singh. The second guru, Guru Angad, too was a Durga devotee. The Jain religion too observes this festival through social and cultural celebrations of Hindus. Wishing all a happy and peaceful Durga Puja and Navratri.

Featured Image: Durga Puja Kolkata, image from Shutterstock.

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The Significance of Ganesha Chaturthi

He sits on a quiet corner in a brightly lit alcove in a hospice. He also is a display among others of his ilk in a drawing room adding to the décor or is the little metallic locket adorning a woman’s neck. At times, he finds himself in print in the front side of a traditional Hindu marriage card or makes headlines in news papers being the object of devotion and adoration my millions of devotees worldwide, a certain time of the year.

He is Ganesha; The elephant headed god revered by millions not just in Maharashtra where Ganesh Chaturthi is the main festival but also in numerous Hindu homes across the length and breadth of India and elsewhere. Everyone loves to love this adorable god-the son of Parvati and Lord Shiva. Yes, this festival is much about Bombay and often finds top preference among many a celebrity home of Bombay’s tinsel town. But who is Ganesha and what’s the story of Ganesh Chaturthi. Let’s find out …

Lord Ganesha image from Shutterstock.

Lord Ganesha, is the harbinger of luck and new beginnings. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in his honor signifying his birthday. Most Hindu ceremonies are preceded by praying to Ganesha who is considered the Lord of arts, science and wisdom. Worshipped by 108 different names, Vinayak, Ekadanta, Ganapati, Devavrata are some of the popular ones. Many legends surround his creation. These are recorded in the Ganesha Khanda of the ‘Brahma Vivartha Purana.’ There are two versions of which the first says that when the Devas requested Lord Shiva and Parvati to create a Vighnakartaa (obstacle creator) in the path of demons (Rakshasas) and a Vighnahartaa (Obstacle averter) for the Devas, Lord Shiva and Parvati created Ganesha.

The other legend states that Goddess Parvati created her son Ganesha out of dirt off her body while bathing and set him to guard her door while she was completing her bath. Shiva who was out, on returning was stopped by Ganesha from entering. In a fit of anger and tussle Lord Shiva severed Ganesha’s head. Parvati was enraged and vowed to cause destruction unless her son’s life was brought back. Shiva promised to revive him back to life and sent the creator Brahma to search for a head for him. Brahma went in search of a head facing north of a dead person and could manage only the head of an elephant. Shiva fixed the elephant’s head on the child and brought him back to life.

In the Ganapathi Upanishad, Ganesha is identified with the Supreme Self. Here too there are two stories associated with the lord- The Curse of the Moon and who is Elder?
Legend says that on the night of Ganesh Chaturthi the one who glances at the moon, will be falsely accused. The story goes that Ganesha was a devout lover of sweets. Once, a devotee offered him sweets and he happily collected it during the day. At day end while returning home, he tripped and fell, scattering all the sweets on the ground. As he picked the sweets in embarrassment and looked up, he noticed Chandra Dev, the Moon God laughing at him. This angered Ganesha and he cursed the Moon for laughing at him. The Moon then apologized to Ganesha. The latter forgave seeing the sincerity of the moon, but he said that from that day forward the moon would no longer be full all the time and would disappear and reappear over 15 days. He then stated that since the moon had laughed at him on Chaturthi, thereafter anyone who would glance at the moon would be under an ill omen. To rid oneself of this curse, one had to listen or recite the story of the syamantka jewel, found in the Puranas-the ancient Hindu texts.

Another story is that once Ganesha and his older brother Lord Kartikeya had an argument over who was the elder. It was then decided that their father Lord Shiva would proclaim the elder of the two. Shiva stated that whoever came back first from a tour of the world from the starting point would have the right to be called “elder”. Kartikeya embarked on a world tour on his vehicle, the peacock while the little wise Ganesha circled in worship around his parents and asked to be bestowed with the title of elder. Lord Shiva then asked him that since he hadn’t gone around the world how could he demand to be called victorious. But the little one had an immediate answer that, by going around his parents, he had conquered the universe as they represent the entire universe. So there ended the argument and a beaming Lord Shiva proclaimed Ganesha the elder of the two brothers. Parvati gifted him a fruit as prize.

Indian Festival – Indian sweet food called Modak offered as prasad or prashad or chadhava over green leaf to Lord Ganesha on Ganesh Chaturthi with puja or pooja thali and decorated with flowers image from Shutterstock.

In Maharashtra, huge pandals are erected and the deity is worshipped for ten days starting from Shukla Chaturthi and ends on Anant Chaturdashi. Ganesha is also worshipped in Thailand, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nepal and China. No festival is complete without some typical sweets associated with it. Modaks (a rice flour dumpling with coconut, jaggery, dry fruit stuffing), laddoos, gujiyas are popular fares in most temples and private offerings.

Beneath the food, fun and story, there is a larger picture that conveys its true meaning. It can be said that Ganesha is the lord of Ganas, which implies all elements of life from insects, animals, humans as well as celestial beings. All contribute to the natural process of creation ranging from weather, natural phenomena among the five elements of air, water, wind, fire and earth including each unique body processes in the animal world. So, to maintain balance one must honor the Ganas. Since Ganesha is the lord of Ganas, by bowing to him, we receive his grace that keeps our life peaceful and out of obstacles. He is the magician that vanishes our woes.

Cover Image Courtesy: Lord Ganesha image from Shutterstock.