Navratri is a Hindu festival extending over nine nights and ten days during which nine forms of goddess Durga are worshipped. Explore all about its customs, traditions, celebration and dates.
Navratri is a popular Hindu festival dedicated to Goddess Durga. The festival is celebrated twice a year, dates of which are determined according to the lunar calendar. Generally, Navratri celebrations coincide with the beginning of spring and autumn season. The word Navratri has been derived from Sanskrit and literally stands for 'nine nights'. During these nine nights and ten days, nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped. Goddess Durga symbolizes purity, power and divinity. During the nine days, the divine incarnation is invoked as people worship God in the form of universal mother in Goddess Durga. The festival symbolizes the victory of positivity over negativity. It urges people to get rid of the negativity inside them in the form of hatred, jealousy, anger, greed and violence and become better human beings. Navratri is celebrated all over India with much pomp and gaiety. There are various legendary stories as to why Navratri is celebrated, each having their own significance. As per a legend, one of the fiercest demons, Mahisasura was killed by Goddess Durga in a battle that lasted for nine days, coinciding with Navratri celebration. As per another legend, Lord Rama invoked Goddess Durga's blessing before taking on Ravana. He fasted and prayed for nine days and on the tenth day killed the ten-headed Ravana, a day which coincides with Dusshera. Yet another tale says that Navratri celebrates the homecoming of Goddess Durga, when Shiva allowed Durga to visit her mother. Whatever the reason may be, Navratri celebration re-confirms our faith in Shakti or energy and invokes the awakening of divinity within us.
Nine Goddesses of Navratri
Navratri celebrations last for nine days. During these nine days, nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped.
Day 1 is called Pratipada on which Shailaputri Maa is revered. She is daughter (putri) of the mountains or Himalayas (Shaila) and is the primal energy of the trident - Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh.
Day 2 is called Dwitiya on which Brahmacharini form is prayed to. She is symbolic of penance and severity and shows way to moksh and complete blissfulness.
Day 3 is called Tritiya on which Chandraghanta is worshipped. Durga takes the form of a 10-armed mother riding a lion. She slays all the evil forces and negative energy.
Day 4 is called Chaturthi on which Kushmanda form is called upon. She is referred to as the creator of universe.
Day 5 is called Panchami on which Skandamata is worshipped. On this day, Goddess Durga is worshipped as the mother of Skanda or Karthikeya, the chief warrior of Gods.
Day 6 is called Shashthi on which Katyayani is prayed to. On this day, Goddess Durga takes a fierce form. She is worshipped as the daughter of sage Katyayan.
Day 7 is called Saptami on which Kaalratri form is worshipped. On this day, Durga takes up the most terrible and ruthless form. She showcases the other side of life, i.e. death.
Day 8 is called Ashtami on which Maha Gauri form is called upon. She is symbolic of calmness and wisdom. She grants peace and knowledge to her devotees.
Day 9 is called Navami on which Siddhidatri is prayed to. Goddess Durga fulfills all the wishes of her devotees and blesses them with boons in the form of good health, happiness, prosperity and wisdom.
Traditions of Navratri
Did you know that Navratri is celebrated five times a year? Yes, as surprising as this may seems to be, Navratri comes five times in a year, of which Vasanta/Chaitra Navratri and Sharad Navratri are of prime importance. The other three are observed by a select group.
Vasanta Navratri comes during the month of March and April and is celebrated with much gaiety and fervor. It is observed during the Shukla Paksha of Chaitra. It marks the start of the New Year as per the Hindu mythological lunar calendar.
Ashad Navratri or Gupt Navratri falls during the month of Ashad or June and July It is observed during the Ashadha Shukla Paksha. This Navratri is generally observed by shaktas only.
Sharad Navaratri or Maha Navratri is the most important of the Navaratris' and is celebrated during the month of September and October or the Sharad Paksha. This Navratri is celebrated widely with great enthusiasm, as devotees bask in the festive tide and invoke the glorious, mighty and powerful form of Shakti, Goddess Durga.
Pausha Navaratri falls during the month of December and January. It is observed during the Pausha Shukla Paksha.
Magha Navaratri is also known as Gupta Navaratri. This Navratri is celebrated during the month of January and February.
Chaitra Navratri or Vasant Navratri as it is known as is celebrated during the spring season of the year and it falls in the month of March or April. The significance of Chaitra Navratri revolves around the crowning of Prince Sudarsana, as the King of Kosala. However, a battle for the kingship led Sudarsana to seek refuge under Rishi Bharadwaja. In what occurred as a chain of events, Prince Sudarsana began to worship the Divine Mother who blessed him with divine weapons and inexhaustible quiver. He then wedded Sashikala, daughter of the King of Benaras. Devi exterminated the then King of Kosala and Prince Sudarsana became the new King. On Chaitra Navratri, havan and pooja is done to please Goddess Durga. Many devotees keep fast or vrat to sanctify their mind, body and souls and invoke the blessings of Durga. The Chaitra Navratri culminates in Ram Navami which marks the start of the New Year as per the Hindu mythological lunar calendar.
Sharad Navratri is the most popular among all the Navratris. Also known as Maha Navratri, it occurs on the lunar moth of Ashwin during Sharad Ritu and falls in the month of September or October. The nine days of the festivity are celebrated with immense zeal and enthusiasm. It symbolizes the victory of positivity over negativity. Goddess Durga is symbolic of power or 'Shakti' and divinity. There are a lot of legends associated with Sharad Navratri. While some believe Goddess Durga battled against the bull-headed demon Mahisasur for nine days and slayed him on the tenth day, some say that Lord Rama intensely prayed to Goddess Durga to give him the courage to fight against the ten-headed Ravana. Some even say that Navratri celebrates the homecoming of Goddess Durga, when Shiva allowed Durga to visit her mother for nine days. Sharad Navratri celebrations are conducted on a grand scale. People indulge in cleaning the house and adorning it. Devotees keep fasts, perform religious rites both in the morning and evening invoking the blessing of Goddess Durga, make delicious sweets and do kanya pujan wherein young girls are treated as devi and pampered with gifts and food.
Customs & Rituals
Navratri is the longest Hindu festival of the year, spanning over nine nights and ten days. Though the customs and rituals vary state wise in the country, the spirit and enthusiasm remains the same. Nine forms of Shakti are worshipped during the festival. Generally, Navratri celebrations begin with the Ghata Sthapana. A pot is installed at a sanctified place at home. Akhand diya or uninterrupted lit lamp is lit in the pot that remains ignited for nine days and nine nights. While the pot symbolizes the universe, the akhand diya is the medium through which we worship Durga, the Adishakti. Devotes pray to Durga and perform religious rites both in the morning and evening. Another prevalent custom of Navratri is sowing of barley/jowar seeds on the first day of the festival. The seeds are sowed and watered for nine days continuously. The custom coincides with fertility worship. On the ninth day, Khetri or the sprouting of the seeds is indicative of the 'first fruit' of worship.
Kanya pujan is yet another famous custom of Navratri. Fasts are kept on the first seven days of the festival. On the eighth day, delicacies like halwa, puri and chana are prepared. Young girls are called in. They are treated as Goddess Devi or Kanjak Devi. Kanya pujan is done by washing their feet, applying tilak on their forehead, giving them food to eat and gifting them bangles, chunni and other goodies. During Navratri, devotees avoid meat, alcoholic drinks, grains, wheat and onion. People fast so as to purify themselves of all the negative energy and start afresh. It is also a period of introspection. Negative traits like hatred, jealousy, anger, greed and violence are got rid of. People pray to Goddess Durga for health, happiness and wisdom.
Navratri celebrations take place with lot of fervor and excitement in all parts of India. Different region celebrate the festival in different ways.
In North India, Navratri celebrations are held with great pomp and show. States like Delhi, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana celebrate the festival by keeping fast or vrat. Those who do not keep fast avoid alcohol, meat, garlic and onion for nine days. Akhand diya is lit, barley seeds are sown and religious rites are performed both in the morning and evening. The festival concludes on the eighth day when traditional halwa, puri and chana are made. Young girls or Kanjak Devis are invited and worshipped as Goddess Durga.
In West India, states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Mumbai immerse themselves in Navratri merrymaking through Dandiya Rass and Garba. Governments of the states organize huge dance festivals wherein people flock together and dance for the entire nine nights. The states come alive with the buoyant spirit of the dance. In Garba, men and women wear colorful costume and dance euphorically. In Dandiya Rass, men and women dance with each other by clicking wooden sticks or dandiya.
In East India, Navratri celebrations are known as Durga Puja in states of West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Assam. People celebrate the festival with great devotion and reverence. Exquisitely crafted and life-size clay idols of Goddess Durga depicting her slaying the demon Mahishasura are set up. These idols are worshipped for 5 days, starting from Panchami. Unlike the custom of fasting in North India, in east India, people indulge themselves to delicious sweets and savories. Every day, people devour upon a luxurious treat of food.
In South Indian states of Karnataka and Telangana, Navratri is celebrated with magnificent splendor and grandeur. In Mysore the festival became official during King Raja Wodeyar I's reign in 1610. It coincides with Dasara festival. On the ninth day of the festival, a procession of embellished elephants, camels and horses carrying a royal sword is worshipped. In Karnataka, Ayudh puja is central to this celebration. Anything that helps one earn livelihood and living is worshipped. Books, pen, computers, plough, agricultural tools, machinery, cars/buses/trucks are all decorated and worshipped. In Telangana, Navratri is celebrated as Bathukamma festival. Three Goddesses are worshipped in nine days, Goddess Kali, Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Saraswati.