Navratri – the nine nights of fervent worship, music that echoes in the soul, and a spectacle of colours that illuminates the darkest of nights. Navratri, which translates to “nine nights” in Sanskrit, is not merely a festival; it’s a grand carnival of spirituality and cultural splendour.
Join me on a fascinating journey through the enchanting realms of Navratri to learn about the significance, rituals, do’s and don’ts, celebrations, and more.
In 2023, Shardiya Navratri starts on Sunday, October 15, 2023, and will continue till the Dussehra celebration on Tuesday, October 24, 2023. Besides, this year, Goddess Durga arrives on an elephant.
The Visarjan (immersion) of the idol of Maa Durga will be on Vijayadashami i.e. on 24 October 2023.
Nine Nights – Three Dimensions
The nine days of Navratri are a symbolic journey. In the first three days, the focus is on overcoming laziness and inertia (Tamas). The next three days are about controlling and overcoming our desires and passions (Rajas). Finally, the last three days are for keeping our minds focused on purity and wisdom (Sattva). Thus the nine days are an opportunity to recharge our energies.
For the first three days, we worship Maa Durga, seeking her strength. Then, we turn our attention to Maa Lakshmi, symbolizing wealth and prosperity, for the next three days. Finally, we invoke Maa Saraswati, representing knowledge and wisdom, during the last three days of Navratri. The tenth day of the festival marks Vijayadashami also popularly known as Dussehra.
The three goddesses are the incarnations of Shakti, the mother goddess. Each goddess signifies different aspects of life, guiding us toward a balanced and harmonious existence.
Colours of Navratri
Each day of Navratri is associated with a specific colour, and devotees wear clothes of that colour to celebrate the festival. The colours may vary based on different traditions and regions, but generally, the colours for the nine days of Navratri are:
Day 1 (Pratipada): Grey
Day 2 (Dwitiya): Orange
Day 3 (Tritiya): White
Day 4 (Chaturthi): Red
Day 5 (Panchami): Royal Blue
Day 6 (Sashti): Yellow
Day 7 (Saptami): Green
Day 8 (Ashtami): Peacock Green
Day 9 (Navami): Purple
Ghatasthapana marks the beginning of Navratri. Wheat or Jowar or Barley or Sapta Dhanya (seeds of seven different grains) is sowed in a clay flat pot on the first day of Navratri. Then water is sprinkled and it is covered with Mango leaves. The first shoots will appear on the third day. It then grows quickly symbolically representing fertility, hope, and progress. It is also a sign of good health and wealth.
Kanya Puja, also known as Kanjak puja, is a ritual on the eighth (Ashtami) and ninth (Navami) days of Navratri. It is a way of honouring the divine feminine energy and acknowledging the power of Maa Durga. The rituals include washing their feet, tying a red sacred thread (mauli) to their wrists and tilak to their foreheads. Then touch their feet and seek the Goddess’ blessings through them. During the ritual, devotees welcome nine girls into their homes and offer presents and tasty bhog prasad to them. Special bhog dishes (kanjak) include poori, chana, sheera/halwa, sweets and kheer while gifts include new dresses, bangles and money.
Fasting during Navratri is considered a way to purify the body and soul, enhance spirituality, and build self-discipline.
Types of Fasting: There are different ways people observe fasts during Navratri. Some people abstain from all kinds of food and consume only water or fruits for the entire duration. While, others opt for a diet that excludes certain foods like grains, non-vegetarian items, onion, and garlic. Use rock salt instead of common salt for cooking.
Foods Allowed: One can have fruits, milk, yoghurt, and specific flours like buckwheat flour (kuttu ka atta) or water chestnut flour (singhara atta), nuts, seeds, dry fruits and coconut.
Moreover, you can prepare simple dishes like Sabudana Vada, Sabudana khichadi, Singhare ka Halwa, Kuttu Ki Poori, Singhare Ke Pakore, sweet potato, arbi/colocasia, yam/suran etc.
Foods to Avoid: Grains like wheat, rice, and oats, and lentils like dals and pulses, Non-vegetarian foods, onion, garlic, ginger, and certain spices like turmeric, cumin, and mustard.
Breaking the Fast: The fast is normally broken in the evening with a special meal called “prasad” that is offered to the Goddess first and then consumed.
What to do during Navratri?
- Worshipping Goddess Durga daily, light lamps, offer flowers and perform aarti to seek blessings of the Goddess. Blow conch daily after prayers. Smoke Guggul or Sambrani on dried cow dung and circulate it all around the house.
- Decorate Your Entrance Door with Mango Leaves. Draw a Swastika at the main entrance. Plant a Tulsi plant in the northeastern corner of your house
- Light an Akhand Deep. Fire is a form of energy (Shakti). If possible, light a Ghee Lamp.
- Install a Kalash filled with water and vibrant flowers during Navratri.
- Offer some homemade bhog or prasad to Goddess every day; if not possible then milk, fruits, and dry fruits will suffice.
- Fast to detoxify the body. You can fast with just fruits and water or small quantities of foods allowed during fasting.
- Staying barefoot and wearing clean clothes.
- Water plants and trees. If possible, offer green grass to cows.
- Do prayers and mantra chanting. Read or listen to Durga Saptashati or Durga Chalisa. The order of reciting Durga Saptashati daily is: Trayanga Mantra, then Devi Mahatmya text followed by Devi Suktam.
- Meditate to awaken the Nine Chakras. Chakras are the energy centres in our bodies. Observe silence as much as possible.
- Do charity. Donate food, clothes, grains, money, etc. to the needy.
In North India, Navratri celebrates the triumph of lord Rama over Ravana and Rama’s homecoming to Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile along with wife Sita and brother Lakshmana. People in UP and Bihar celebrate Navaratri with the Ramleela– a dramatic enactment of the life of Lord Ram from the Hindu epic Ramayana.
In West Bengal and the North-East, Navratri is known as Durga Puja. People celebrate goddess Durga’s triumph over Mahishasura. Durga Puja marks the homecoming of goddess Durga from Kailash Parvat to her maternal house. Devotees offer prayers in the evening and perform a dhunuchi naach, a special dance with earthen lamps. Dancing to upbeat dhak (a large drum) beats, hopping from one pandal to the next, munching on lip-smacking bhog prasad and adorning yourself with beautiful, traditional attire is a must-do during Durga puja in West Bengal.
In West India, especially in Gujarat, people celebrate Navratri with a lot of enthusiasm and verve. The women who are fasting dedicate their prayers to an earthen pot called garbo lit with diyas (lamps). These colourful pots represent the source of life and the light represents shakti (power). People dress in colourful traditional attire and participate in energetic traditional Garba and Dandiya Raas dances.
The South Indian way of celebrating Navratri is more spiritual and artistic. In Tamil Nadu, one of the significant aspects of Navratri is the Golu display. Golu is an exhibition of various dolls and figurines depicting gods, goddesses, and other themes. Devotees also perform Ayudha Puja wherein they worship Agricultural implements, tools, books, musical instruments, machinery and automobiles. In Telangana, women arrange colourful flowers in the form of a cone and offer prayers to Goddess Bathukamma, seeking her blessings for health and prosperity.
In Karnataka. Yakshagana, a night-long dance in the form of epic dramas from Puranas are enacted during the nine nights of Navratri. The people of Kerala give prominence to Goddess Saraswati – the Goddess of Arts and Learning. The main ritual performed is the worship of one’s books and tools. On the evening of the 8th day (Ashtami), books and tools are placed for puja in front of the image of Goddess Saraswati. Another ritual performed on Vijayadashami is Vidyarambam where young children aged between 2 and 6 are initiated into the world of education.
These celebrations showcase the cultural diversity and richness of India, with each region adding its unique flavour to the Navratri festival.
May the spirit of Navratri continue to illuminate our paths, fostering love, harmony, and unwavering devotion in our hearts.