2018 Navaratri Festival Essential Guide

A Nine Night Festival Honoring the Mother Goddess

Navaratri festival in India. Couple holding dandiya sticks.
ImagesBazaar/Getty Images

Navaratri is a nine night festival that honors the Mother Goddess in all her manifestations, including Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. It's a festival full of worship and dance. The festival culminates with Dussehra, the victory of good over evil, on the tenth day.

When is Navaratri?

There are actually four different Navaratri festivals throughout the year in India. However, Sharad Navaratri is the most popular one and the focus of this article.

This festival takes place in late September or early October each year. In 2018, it starts on October 10 and ends on October 18. The dates of the festival are determined according to the lunar calendar.

Find out Navaratri festival dates in future years.

Where is it Celebrated?

The festival is celebrated all over India but in different ways. The most flamboyant and renowned Navaratri celebrations can be seen in western India, throughout the state of Gujarat and in Mumbai. In West Bengal, Navaratri and Dussehra are celebrated as Durga Puja.

How is it Celebrated?

In western India, Navaratri is celebrated with nine nights of dancing. The traditional dances of Gujarat, known as garba and dandiya raas, are performed in circles with dancers dressed up in colorful clothes. Small, decorated sticks called dandiyas are used in the dandiya raas.

In Mumbai, dancing takes over stadiums and clubs throughout the city.

While some of it has retained a traditional flavor, the introduction of disco dandiya has given Mumbai's Navaratri celebrations a glamorous and modern twist. Nowadays, people unleash their dancing to a fusion of remixed beats and loud Hindi pop music.

In Delhi, the feature of Navaratri celebrations are the Ramlila plays that take place all over the city.

Towering effigies of the demon Ravan are burned as part these performances on Dussehra. According to Hindu mythology in the Ramayana, at the beginning of Navaratri, Rama prayed to Goddess Durga to be granted the divine power to kill Ravan. He received this power on the eight day, and finally Ravan was vanquished on Dussehra.

In south India (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh), Navaratri is known as Golu and is celebrated by the display of dolls. The dolls are symbolic of feminine power. They're placed on uneven numbered steps (usually three, five, seven, nine or 11) that are set up with wooden planks and decorated. During the festival, women visit each other's homes to view the displays and exchange sweets.

In Telangana in south India, Navaratri is celebrated as Bathukamma. This flower festival is devoted to Goddess Maha Gauri, an incarnation of Goddess Durga that's considered to be the life-giver and Goddess of womanhood.

What Rituals are Performed During Navaratri?

Over the course of the nine days, the Mother Goddess (Goddess Durga, who is an aspect of Goddess Pavarti) is worshiped in her various forms. The worship, accompanied by fasting, takes place in the mornings. Evenings are for feasting and dancing.

Each day has a different ritual associated with it. In addition, predominantly in the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, there's a custom of wearing different colors of dress on each day. 

In Gujarat, a clay pot (garba or womb) is brought home and decorated on the first day. It's regarded as the source of life on earth and a small diya (candle) is kept in it. Women dance around the pot.

In Telangana, the Goddess is worshiped in the form of Bathukamma, a floral arrangement stacked to resemble a temple tower. Women sing old folk devotional songs and take the Bathukammas out in procession to be immersed in water on the last day.