Navaratri is the autumn festival celebrating divine energey or Devi. It is observed in the lunar month of Ashwin (post monsoons), which falls close to the autumn equinox September/ October each year. It is the season of harvest or post-harvest in most regions of India.
This festival is called Navaratri, which literally means “nine nights”. Different regions of India celebrate this festival that lasts nine nights in a their own special way. Navaratri has a historic tradition of celebrating the various Hindu Goddesses, namely, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga.
In West Bengal, Nepal and other parts of eastern India, the celebration of Goddess Durga is the foucs. The festival is celebrated with neighborhoods bringing in a larger than life effigy of Goddess Durga slaying the the buffalo demon while on her ride the Lion. After nine nights on the 10th day of Vijayadashami, the Goddess is bid farewell by immersing her in a local water body. Similar to the immersion of Ganesha at the end of the festival Ganesh Chaturthi.
In Gujarat, Maharashta and many parts of Western India, Goddesses Laxmi and Saraswati are prayed to. There are neighborhood gatherings where the women and menu dance the traditional dance of garba raas (a circular dance formation with music and clapping of hands) and before the Aarti for the Goddess. After that the Dandiya raas is played ( circular dance form with each person dancing with two sticks). This goes on until the late hours of the night. With many Bollywood variations of this, many other communities and states also celebrate with Garba and Dandiya.
In Tamil Nadu and other parts of Southern India, Navaratri is celebrated with cultural programs and dance and music programs. Families keep a gollu which is a set of wooden steps decorated with Gods, Goddesses, scenes from daily life and harvest. They visit each other’s homes and share food and sweets.
Northern India celebrates Navaratri with performances of the “Ram Lila” stories from the mythological tales of Ramayana. There are community performances of the Ram Lila. The finale is the Ravana Dahan which celebrates the victory of good over evil.
The Navaratri festival ends with Dusshera where effigies of Ravana, the demon God is burned as a symbol of the winning of good over bad. In our home, we burn Ravana representations in a glass bottle and talk about what we want to change about ourselves. Here are the representations of Ravana made by our children as part of the Emory Michael Carlos Museum Spring Break Art Camp which I taught in the Spring this year.