Origin of Navaratri celebrations


Devi Durga killing demon. mapsofindia.com

No other religion has  has so many festivals  and ritualistic celebrations, as Hinduism has and it is very difficult to remember every one of them, but each one has some kind moral to impart and acts as a guide for the people to lead a dharmic lfe. As for the  Hindu festivals, many are celebrated across India in conjunction with the local culture.

Navaratri, a popular nine (Nava means nine, Ratri means night) night festival that honors the  Goddess in all her manifestations (avatar), including Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati is celebrated in many parts of India with devotion. The festival culminates with Dussehra, the victory of good over evil, on the tenth day. Normally, this festival falls in the month of late September / early October each year. In 2017, Navaratri starts on September 21 and ends on September 29. The dates of the festival are determined according to the lunar calendar. In each region, it is celebrated differently marked by traditional dances, music and cultural programs,

Have you ever thought about how Navaratri celebrations came into being and the story behind it? Though  there  are different versions about the origin of Navaratri, the mythological stories and folklore have one common piece of message - the victory of the good over the evil

 Almost every Hindu festival has a  legend behind it and makes the festival more interesting to know about it. Once upon a time there lived two powerful demons by the name of Kamban and Nekamban. Armed with mystic powers and boons of immortality granted by  gods after their prolonged and difficult  penance, the Asuras became so powerful and conceited that they had scant respect for the people around them. They were full of pride, arrogance and presumption and  they began troubling the Sadhus, Saints and the learned ones. Unmindful of consequences,they troubled the sages and rishis when they were busy conducting homams and other religious rituals for the welfare of the universe. They terrorized the people so much, they suffered untold misery and pain. At one point of time, they came to the end of exasperation, so Devas and Rishis prayed to gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to put an end to the cruelty caused by two atrocious demons, Kamban and Nekamban.

As for the boon of immortality obtained by the demons, the gods granted that their death would never be caused by males. Taking advantage of the flaw in the boons, Devas and others, at last, prayed intensely to Goddess Adi Parasakthi and she, responding to their prayer, came to earth as a beautiful woman armed with extraordinary powers bestowed on her by the lords of the universe - Trinity gods - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The lords became statues after giving their powers to Adiparaskthi.

Navaratri Gollu, Tamil Nadu. Padhuskitchen

 So were Indira and Dikbalas after transferring their powers to the goddess. As the gods and others became statues, the tradition of displaying dolls in Gollu became a regular feature as part of Navaratri celebration, particularly, in southern India.

Parasakthi with ten Pujams (arms) carrying dreaded weapons fiercely fought the merciless Asuras and finally annihilated Kamban and and Nekamban and his associates Madhu, Kidapan and Rakthabejan across the face of the earth, thus establishing the good by removing the evil. Navaratri is a nine day festival marking nine days of continuous battle between Devi and demons. 

A question might arise why the festival is called Navaratri as the war took place only during the day. In those days, tradition had been that there won't be any war after sunset and the troops would retire to their respective camps for rest and sleep. When Devi was fighting the Asuras, during the night, the people were engaged in dance, singing, etc to invigorate the troops and to propitiate Devi. Hence nine nights of prayer, singing etc., later became what is known as Navaratri. The 10th day being Vijayadasami day or Dussehra, the day Ambika established Dharma by felling the evil forces in the form of demons is celebrated with devotion. Mysuru Dussehra, an annual event in  Mysore in which the Mysore royal members actively participate, is a famous one. On Vijayadasami day, countless couples take their children to temples or schools for Vidhyarambam - initiation in reading and writing alphabet.

Durga Devi fighting  demon MashishanYouTube

The second version of legend is a simple one and it is  about goddess Durga. It is widely followed in Eastern and Northeastern states of India. It is believed that goddess Durga had a war with the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura  and killed him to restore peace and Dharma. Her victory is commemorated every year through the Durga Pooja. The story is written in the epic 'Devi Mahatmyam'. In West Bengal, Navaratri and Dussehra are celebrated as Durga Puja.

Above image: Ramlila - lighting the effigies of demon Ravana by shooting arrows with light. It marks the victory of good over the evil. Rama is embodiment of good and Ravana represents evil.

In the Northern (UP, etc) and Western parts of the country (Gujarat and Maharashtra), Navaratri is celebrated to mark the victory of lord Rama over the cruel demon king  Ravana of Lanka who  abducted Rama's wife, Sita. The nine days of the Navaratri see the recital or enactment of the epic 'Ramayana' and the tenth day is the final fight between lord Rama and Ravana. Rama kills the ten-headed Ravana, a personification of evil  by shooting an arrow in his navel, the source of his power and Ravana dies. The same is also presented in Ramlila which concludes on the tenth day, that is Dussehra. The celebration concludes by the burning of the effigies of Ravana and his brothers Meghnad and Kumbhkaran. 

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

This year Navaratri begins on 21 September, and during the next nine days, if family members get up in the early morning  and after bath, engage in joint prayer before the portraits of goddess Lakshmi, Sarasvathi and Durga, it is well and good for the welfare of the family as well as for the society. The elders of the family also perform chanting of the scriptures during these nine days, to seek peace of mind and salvation.