An exploration of the meaning behind the rituals

Sreenidhi Venkat, III Year B.A. English

Nine days of travel, nine nights of worship. This is Navaratri in India described in a nutshell. This year, I decided to not just accompany my mother on her various ‘golu’ visits but to find out what this festival is actually all about!

Navaratri – Nava meaning nine and ratri meaning nights in Sanskrit – is a worship of the goddess Shakti, also known as Adiparashakti or Adishakti. In Hinduism, Shakti is believed to be the cosmic force which created the entire universe and to this day continues to be the driving force behind it. Shakti is considered to be a form of the divine feminine power, her masculine counterpart being none other than Lord Shiva.

My research showed me that I was completely wrong in my assumption of Navaratri occurring just once in a year! This nine day festival occurs five times in a single year, but the one most commonly celebrated across India is the one which takes place in the month of September or October. It is called Sharad Navaratri – ‘Sharad’ meaning autumn – or more simply Maha Navaratri occurring in the Ashvin month or the seventh month of the Hindu calendar which corresponds to mid-September to mid-November of the Roman calendar. The festival begins on the first day of the lunar fortnight of the Ashvin month. This explains why this festival, like all other Hindu festivals, does not fall on a fixed date annually. Traditionally, Navaratri is celebrated with worship or a puja conducted for the deities on each day. The festival culminates in Dusshera or Vijayadashami.

In the South, Navaratri is celebrated by setting up a ‘Golu’. Bomma Golu, as it is known in Tamil, means divine presence. On the first day of the Navaratri, a Ganapathi puja is conducted which is then followed by a puja ceremony which invites the divine presence of the Goddesses Lakshmi, Parvati and Saraswati. After these rituals are completed, wooden planks are usually used to from an arrangement of an odd number of steps. On these steps, various dolls or figurines are put up on display. These dolls depict scenes from the Hindu epics or puranas, deities or just everyday life scenes. The most common arrangement in any golu is without fail the Three Goddesses (Lakshmi, Parvathi and Saraswati) and the Dasavatharam – the ten avatarams of Lord Vishnu. Other forms of Shakti are also prominent features of any Golu arrangement.

The fun part of Golu is in its arrangement and of course the numerous house visits! Women invite relatives and friends to their house to view their Golu arranegment. In turn, they visit their friends and relatives’ homes. These visits usually involve a puja ceremony, chanting of slokas, singing of devotional songs and of course, the eating of a lot of sundal! Sundal is the neivedhyam or the food which is offered to the Gods. Once the puja is completed, this neivedhyam is distributed among the guests to eat. Sundal is more often than not the neivedhyam that is made at all homes as it is the simplest recipe to follow and can serve a large number of people!

The ninth day of Golu is the worship of Saraswati. It is more commonly called Saraswati puja or Ayutha puja. On this day, books or musical instruments are placed in front of the Goddesss during the puja as Saraswati is hailed as the deity of knowledge and wisdom and prayers are made in order to invoke blessings for art and education specifically.

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A Golu displayed beautifully

The tenth day is Dusshera in the North or Vijayadashami in the south. It celebrates the victory of evil over good. Vijayadashami is considered an auspicious day for new beginnings so many students visit their teachers on this day to learn a new lesson. Dusshera, in most parts of North India, celebrates not only Goddess Durga’s victory but also Lord Ram’s victory over Raavan.

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