Navratri, the festival of nine nights, from October 5 this year, is dedicated to the invincible Goddess Durga and her nine avatars. Invoking Goddess Durga is considered by Hindus to be purgatory, cleansing the worshipper of all impurities and vices such as anger, greed, hatred and violence.
Legend has it that there was a powerful demon Mahishasura, who was granted supreme powers and immortality by Lord Shiva – the destroyer in the Hindu trinity. Intoxicated by his invincibility, Mahishasura started killing innocent people, necessitating Goddess Durga to be created by the trinity to destroy him. Durga, the divine feminine form of power and strength, fought with Mahishasura for nine days, beheading him on the tenth day. There is also the legend in Ramayana of Lord Rama worshipping the Goddess for nine days to gain powers and overpowering Ravana on the tenth day, which was henceforth called Vijayadashami (Tenth Day of Victory) or Dusshera.
As per the Hindu calendar, Navratri begins on the first day of the Ashwin fortnight which usually coincides with the end of the monsoons. The nine days of worship and festivities during Navratri are celebrated all over India, with beautifully decorated pandals dedicated to the Goddess, garba and dandia dances and special food.
We have picked five of the best places in India where the traditional festivities during this season are worth experiencing –
Goddess Durga is worshipped as Mother Amba with great fanfare in the land of garba and dandia, with Baroda and Ahmedabad leading the way. Traditionally, village girls with decorated pots dance from door to door. Gujarat is an overwhelming riot of colors this season, with people in traditional festive attire dancing the night away on all nine days. The Maa Shakti Garba holds the Limca World Record for the biggest garba in the world. The United Way garba is another crowd-puller, with rehearsals beginning months earlier.
2. West Bengal
Durga Puja is perhaps the most important festival in Bengal celebrated as a 5-day affair, with vibrant pandals housing beautiful idols as the nuclei of festivities. The numerous pandals in Kolkata are grand and ornate, and locals often spend nights hopping from one pandal to the next, from Mahashashti (sixth day) to the Visarjan (immersion of the idol in water on the tenth day).
The 10 days till Dusshera are celebrated with gusto, with the 400 year old royal celebrations in Mysore attracting visitors from all over the country. The famous Mysore Palace is illuminated with about 100,000 light-bulbs, with cultural performances are presented before the king in the Durbar Hall of the Palace. The idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari, the deity of the royal family, is installed on a golden howdah on top of a decorated elephant and worshipped and paraded around. The festivities culminate with the ‘Panjina Kavayathu’ or torch light parade on the tenth evening, followed by a grand display of fireworks. The Dusshera exhibition on the Mysore Palace grounds is another attraction during this time.
In Delhi, Dusshera is celebrated to commemorate the defeat of Ravana at the hands of Lord Rama. Ram Leela – the enactment of scenes from the Ramayana,is the main cultural event, held on the festive evenings in the city. The burning of the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkarna and Meghnad on the last day of the festival, symbolizing the destruction of evil, is an event which sees massive participation from locals. The fireworks following the conflagration are worth witnessing. The oldest Ram Leela in Delhi is held at the Ramlila Maidan, but the celebrations at Subhash Maidan and Lal Quila are also spectacular.
Dusshera in Varanasi simply stands out for the vibrant yet spiritual atmosphere created during the 10 day period, when the entire city becomes a Ram Leela ground and chants of Ramacharitamanas can be heard in every gully. Colorfully costumed characters enacting scenes from the Ramayana can be found alongside the seers and devotees. UNESCO proclaimed the tradition of Ram Leela a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005, and the enactment at Ramnagar near the city is one of the most prominent performances. Lord Rama’s reunion with his brother Bharat on his return to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana is celebrated the day after Dusshera as Bharat Milaap.