The Nine Day Celebration of Navratri By Zeenat Kassam Mitha

By Zeenat Kassam Mitha –

Asha Dhume, Asha Reddi, Asumta Affonso, Valli Balasubramanyam, Shefali Jhaveri, Jasmine Patel, Luckmi Pawa and Gayathri Rao celebrating in Garba and Dandiya-Ras at Stafford Community Center for Navratri 2013.

Asha Dhume, Asha Reddi, Asumta Affonso, Valli Balasubramanyam, Shefali Jhaveri, Jasmine Patel, Luckmi Pawa and Gayathri Rao celebrating in Garba and Dandiya-Ras at Stafford Community Center for Navratri 2013.

There were thousands of people throughout Fort Bend County celebrating the nine auspicious days of Navratri. From festivities at Baps Shri Swaminarayan Mandir to Stafford Community Center and many Fort Bend homes, these merriments included dance, plays, food and rejoicing.

Around September or October, Navratri starts around the beginning of the new moon. The Hindu community dedicates nine days to the Goddess Shakti and spends time to seek blessings and commune with their divinity. “Women in the community find Navratri a time in which they deeply connect,” said Asha Dhume. “In some communities, women beautify a vessel, which represents the fertile womb and signifies the goddess Shakti.” It is a time-honored tradition to plant seeds in the vessel, the first day, which will flourish in the next nine days.

During this time, women also take special measures to look their best and visit other female relatives and friends. They put together a tray of offerings and add the betel leaf and nut, as that symbolizes friendship and loyalty, along with fresh turmeric root and coconut, since that embodies goodwill and fertility. Pujas, which are offerings to a God or Goddess, Spirit or Divine, are done throughout the nine days.

Each night, food offerings are presented along with special prayers. Guests share their talents and artistic skills through food, dance or other means, and all enjoy sweets and other treats. In the evening, devotees and friends meet to dance, usually in the form of Garba or Dandiya-Ras. The Garba, a popular folk dance of Gujarat, is an energetic dance performed in circles while twirling and using the arms and hands to clap rhythmically and stepping in harmony. With the Dandiya-Ras, dance sticks are part of the routine. Like most places in the world, dancing is an expression of joy and togetherness.

The ninth day, Maha Navami, is about seeking the Goddess’ gifts of talent, inspiration and ability. Musical instruments, books, tools and equipment are placed before Goddess Saraswati for blessings. This ritual, called Ayudha (tool/weapon) Puja, began when weapons were blessed for the kings of ancient India. In this day and age, blessings are offered to tools of one’s trade; anything from books, computers, offices, vehicles, craftsmen’s tools, including iphones are part of receiving the blessings. Devotees are said to reflect on their strengths, goals, skills and needs.

The historical traditions in India, particularly in the South, are as follows: the initial three days are committed to the Goddess Durga, the stern Mother who gets rid of negative forces. The next three days that follow, the Goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi, is honored. The final three days are devoted to the Goddess of learning and wisdom, Saraswati. These nine days are a tribute to women. Women are recognized as the protectors of the family, commended as the source of good fortune, praised for their abilities of fertility and endurance and admired as sources of culture and learning. Traditionally, families also create elaborate handmade clay dolls for display, called kolu. “Adding new dolls each year and handing the collection down to the next generation is a long-standing tradition in our family,” said Luckmi Pawa.

Being a third generation Indian, I have learned throughout my western upbringing that similar to Indian weddings, the cultural celebrations are endless and have heartfelt meaning. There is a victorious tenth day. Surprise! That day celebrates the Goddess Durga’s legendary victory over Mahishasura, a commanding being known for selfishness and ignorance. On the same day, many celebrate the Hindu Lord Rama’s victory over the evil Ravana. This celebration is a reminder to persevere in life’s challenges. Good versus evil is part of every good plot and every joyous celebration!