Navaratri is a nine-night festival that honors the Mother Goddess Durga, in all her manifestations. Durga is the warrior form of Goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva (the powerful destroyer/transformer of the universe). Hindu mythology says she took on the form of Durga to destroy demon Mahishasura, and is thus considered to be the protective mother who battles evil forces. The festival culminates with Dussehra, a celebration of 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. This festival takes place in late September, or early October, each year. The dates of the festival are determined according to the Hindu lunar calendar.
In 2021, Sharad Navaratri will be celebrated from October 7-14. Do note that the festival is only eight nights this year, as opposed to the usual nine, due to an overlap of lunar days on the Hindu calendar.
Find out more about the importance of each day of Navaratri and when the festival will occur in future years.
The festival is celebrated all over India but in different ways. The most flamboyant and renowned Navaratri celebrations are in western India, throughout the state of Gujarat and in Mumbai. In West Bengal and Odisha, Navaratri is celebrated as Durga Puja.
How the Festival is Celebrated
In western India, Navaratri features 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. One of the best places to experience it is in Vadodara.
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 Ramleela 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, Lord Ram prayed to Goddess Durga to be granted the divine power to kill Ravan. He received this power on the eighth day, and finally, Ravan was vanquished on Dussehra.
In South India (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh), Navaratri is widely known as Golu and is celebrated by the display of dolls/ figurines. The figurines 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.
Rituals Performed During Navaratri
Over the course of the nine days, the Mother Goddess is worshiped in her own various forms -- Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kusumanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, Maha Gauri, and Siddhidatri. The rituals of worship take place in the mornings and are accompanied by fasting. 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.