Navratri is a Hindu festival that is held throughout India. The festival has its own regional names in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra, Karnataka, Assam, Orissa, and even in the Kashmir valley. However it’s probably most popular in Gujarat. In Navratri, devotees pray to the Hindu deity Goddess Amba, who is a form of Devi Durga. So it can be said that this festival is a celebration of power and the victory of good over evil. One other unique aspect of Navratri is that, it’s celebrated over nine days (Nav, meaning “nine”, and ratri, meaning “nights”). So this is probably the longest festival in India, and it could very well be among the longest religious events anywhere in the world as well.
The tenth day, or the day after the celebration, is often referred to as “Dussehra”. In Bengal, this day is called “Vijayadashami”and is celebrated as the last day of grand Durga Puja. Dussehra marks the destruction of evil King Ravana by Lord Rama and Vijayadashami is the celebration of Devi Durga’s destruction of Mahishasura, the evil force. For whole nine days, the nine forms of ‘Shakti’ or Power are worshiped.
Nine Days of Navratri
Navratri is held over nine days for a reason. During these nine days, nine forms of shakti (power) is worshipped by the devotees. They are Durga, Bhadrakali, Jagadamba or Amba, Devi Annapoorna, Sarvamangala, Bhairavi, Chandi or Chandika, Lalita, and Bhavani. One form of Shakti is prayed on each of these nine days. Sometimes of course it’s much simpler. The first three nights of Navaratri are for Durga, the next three nights are for Goddess Lakshmi, and the last three nights are for Sarasvati. Interestingly, all these Goddesses are incarnations of Shakti.
Shakti here is not just about the power to protect the weak from the strong. Its significance is much larger. Shakti here stands form the ultimate, sublime and absolute creative energy of divine forces. We see this in the form of Goddess Durga and her various manifestations. The festival of Navaratri goes back a long time, though in different forms. It was celebrated even before the Vedic age.
Navratri – Five Times in a Year
However it has to be mentioned here that Navratri is actually celebrated five times each year. And there are specific names for each one of them. Of course all of them are over the same nine days.
- Vasanta or Chaitra Navaratri is celebrated in Chaitra (March-April).
- Ashad Navratri is celebrated in June-July. This is often called Shakambhari Navaratri or Gayatri.
- Sharad Navratri, the one this article is about, in September-October
- Paush Navaratri is celebrated in December-January.
- Magha Navaratri is in January-February. This is also called Gupta Navaratri.
But of course the most popular of them all is Sharad Navaratri or Maha Navaratri that is held in September-October. When people speak of Navaratri, this is what they talk about usually.
That’s another unique thing about Navaratri. There is probably no other festival in the Hindu calendar that is celebrated so many times, apart from Laxmi puja of course, which can be held every Thursday.
The Navratri Festival in Gujarat
Navratri is among the most widely celebrated festivals in the western Indian state of Gujarat. People from almost all sections of the society and from all communities visit temples to offer their pujas. Ceremonies are held in both cities and villages. Across the state, in many places, you will find decorated pandals and samarohas. The statue of Goddess Durga is wonderfully decorated.
Many people will have strictly vegetarian food during these nine days. Some will even hold fasts and have vrats. According to legend, Goddess Durga herself narrated how the Navratri vrat must be observed to an ardent devotee. So all her disciples try to follow this to the best of their abilities. Both men and women can fast and observe the Navratri vrat.
They will recite from religious hymns, meditate and chant mantras as well. Sacred texts in honor of Goddess Durga are read. In Gujarat, people observe Jaagran, which means that they will stay awake throughout the night in the hope that the Goddess will be pleased with their show of devotion. And many of them will visit the Amba Mata Temple at Junagarh during the day.
The days are relatively quiet. But all hell breaks loose in the evening. It’s the time of the year for all those dhols and dandiya sticks. Wherever you go, almost throughout the state, you’ll hear the sound of feet tapping music, and some of the most delectable numbers from Bollywood playing loudly. There’s a lot of pomp and show. People get decked up in colorful desi attires. And not just dance and music, there is much more during the evenings, including puppetry, fashion shows, jewelry exhibitions, food festivals and more. All this make the Navratri evenings the most happening ones of the year.
Over the years, a certain commercial feel has come into the celebrations. However you’ll still see the traditional side of the festivities if you go to the countryside, into the villages.
Rasa and Garba Dances
There are a lot of customs and traditions surrounding this festival. There is a clay pot symbolizing the womb or Garbha. The name Garbha has originated from the Sanskrit word “Garbhdeep”, which stands for an earthen pot with holes in circular shapes.
The pot is the source of all life on earth. This is a prominent feature of the festival every year. Women, dressed in their best colorful outfit are seen dancing with sticks in their hand around the pot, which is always full of water. There is a silver coin and betel nut too inside the pot. A coconut is kept on the top of the pot. In traditional garba’s you will also find a statue or picture of the Goddess Shakti. It is believed that the Goddess resides within the pot during Navratri.
There is sometimes a centrally lit lamp too. Interestingly, this dance form is quite similar to some other spiritual dances as well, particularly those in the Sufi culture.
Most women are seen dancing in their traditional ghargra cholis that come adorned with small mirrors and bright sequins. Men who participate in the dance are seen wearing the traditional “kedia”, which is a high-waist top. However these days, you’ll often see the men wearing kurta-pajamas as well.
Garba Dance of Gujarat- A Nationwide Trend in Navratri
Garbha is a folk dance that is unique to the state. However these days, you’ll see this elsewhere in India as well among other communities. Its popularity has spread throughout the country and even abroad, to wherever there are people of Indian origin. Garbha gets its name from the clay pot around which women are seen dancing. Often there are men too who participate, dressed in traditional clothing.
Dandiya Raas- Another Popular Gujarati Dance of Navratri
Another popular celebration during the Navratri in Gujarat is Dandiya Raas. While Garba is basically for young girls and women, Dandiya Raas on the other hand is generally meant for men. That is, traditionally, men have been performing this dance. However sometimes, you’ll find women too taking part in this enthusiastically. Sticks of the same length are used in this dance. Actually, there are many similarities between these two dance forms.
The only difference between Dandiya Raas and Garbha is that, in Raas, the clapping is done with sticks and not hands. There is another critical difference between the two. It is believed that Rasa originated from the life of Lord Krishna, and that it is associated with agricultural rites. Garba on the other hand is related to agricultural fertility.
However in modern times, the differences between these two dances are going away. Modern day Garba has been influenced heavily by Dandiya Raas.
Both these dance forms have become very popular in the western world too. For instance, in the US, there are more than 20 universities that hold Raas/Garba competitions every year during Navratri. Dance compositions are often planned and executed by professional choreographers there. You’ll find both these dances wherever there is a strong Gujarati community in the world.
One unique thing about Raas, Garba or other Navratri celebrations in Gujarat is that, nobody is drunk on these nine days, because Gujarat is a dry state. So it’s among the cleanest festivals you’ll ever find.
Government Navratri Celebrations
The government of Gujarat has also been organizing the famous Garbha or Garba dance over these nine days for the last few years. These events are held in the major cities, and have become huge crowd pullers. In fact, people from the villages, and even from outside the country has been attending these celebrations. These festivals are often extravagant events.
The largest ones are of course held at Ahmedabad. The city is full of lights these nine days. Almost everybody is seen heading to one of the Garbha grounds. Special bus service is provided by the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC). The largest Navratri celebrations are held at Manek Chowk, Teen Darwaja, Bhadra Fort, and at the Gujarat Municipal Development Corporation (GMDC) grounds in New Ahmedabad.
Sowing the Barley Seed on Navratri
This is another important ritual during Navratri in Gujarat. In traditional homes, sowing of barley seeds is done on the first day of Navratri. Every day, water is sprinkled on it. These seeds will rise into shoots on the 10th day, or the day after Navratri. After the Navratri Puja, barley shoots are submerged in water. Sometimes, families would distribute these seeds among relatives and friends. The sowing of barley during Navratri signifies growth and prosperity. This tradition may be a remembrance of our roots related to agrarian economy.
Summing up, Navratri in Gujarat is a religious festival, but it offers loads of fun for everybody. This is one festival that brings together everybody in the state, irrespective of caste, class and community.