Navaratri means “nine nights” in Sanskrit and is the name for five Hindu festivals celebrated at different times of the year. But the one celebrated at the start of the autumn, the start of the bright fortnight (waxing moon) of the lunar month Ashwin (October 13 this year), is the most important and is frequently called the Great Navaratri.
During these nine nights, nine aspects of a goddess are honored, but which goddess depends on the traditions in the region. For instance, in some places, various aspects of Durga (or Kali) are honored during the first three days; then three aspects of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth; followed by three days devoted to Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom.
Rituals also differ depending on the region. In some parts of India, people fast during the nine days. One common custom involves sowing barley seeds in a clay pot and watering them so they sprout during the nine days. Another custom suggests wearing different colors on each of the nine days: red or maroon, white or cream, orange, green, yellow, silver and blue or peacock color, perhaps related to the aspects of the goddess.
In homes and temples, special prayer rituals (puja) are performed in honor of the goddess. Women create beautiful plates decorated with flowers to be used for blessings during the puja.
The tenth day, called Dussera, falls around the full moon. People dress up and feast, meet with relatives and friends, go to theaters and concerts, and watch traditional dances. Children get presents. The sprouted barley is placed on shrines or worn tucked into a cap or a book.
In Bengal, an image of the goddess is taken down to the nearest river or body of water and thrown in. In northern India, the focus of Dussera is on the victory of Rama over the demon Ravana, and bad luck and evil are chased away with fireworks.
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”
2016 calendars now shipping!