Navratri is a nine-day long Hindu festival celebrated in almost all parts of the country, in worship of Goddess Durga. In all its forms, the festival signifies the battle between good and evil and the victory of the former over the latter. In Sanskrit, navratri means ‘nine nights.’
Though navratri is celebrated twice a year, it actually comes four times-once in each season. The four Navratris are Chaitra navratri, Ashadha navratri, Sharada navratri, and Magha navratri. Of these, Chaitra and Sharada are the most popularly celebrated. The former comes in the months of March or April and the latter falls during the months of September or October. Chaitra also denotes the onset of spring while Sharada the onset of autumn. They also mark important times in the cycle of crop harvesting.
The story behind navratri can be traced back to when Goddess Durga was created by the Hindu Trinity: Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva to defeat the undefeatable demon, Mahishasura. On each of the nine days, a different form of Goddess Durga is worshipped. Special prayers to the Goddess such as the Durga Chalisa, Devi Kavacham, and Lalita Sahasranamam, among others, are chanted during navratri.
The most powerful Durga mantra is:
Sarva Mangala Mangalye Sive Sarvartha Sadhike
Saranye Trayambike Gauri Narayani Namostute II
(The one who bestows auspiciousness on the whole universe and protects those who resort to her feet in worship. Mother of three worlds and Gauri, daughter of the mountain. We bow to her repeatedly)
Navratri is celebrated in different forms across India; some involve fasting and self-reflection while others involve feasting and dancing. In east India, navratri is celebrated as Durga Puja, which is the most important festival for that part of the country. In north and west India, navratri signifies the defeat of Ravan at the hands of Lord Ram, culminating in the festival of Dussehra, where effigies of Ravan are burnt.
Each day of the navratri is symbolised by a particular colour. It is believed that wearing clothes of that particular colour each day calms the mind and harbours a feeling of well-being. Different parts of the country follow a different colour each day but the colours remain the same.
- Orange: A vibrant colour denoting energy and joy
- White: Signifying peace and purity
- Red: A colour of fearlessness
- Royal Blue: Signifying prosperity and good health
- Yellow: A colour of joy and brightness
- Green: Denoting new beginnings and growth
- Grey: Signifying knowledge
- Purple: A colour of intellect and loftiness
- Peacock Green: Denoting blessings
Navratri is considered to be a period of medication and contemplation. It is believed that fasting aids this process and hence several people observe fasts during these nine days. People also buy ornaments to decorate idols of Goddess Durga and light an Akhand-Jyot (a light that burns continuously for all nine days). The diya signifies expelling darkness and ushering in knowledge, purity and good luck.
The festival of Navratri culminates with the Kanjak or Kanya puja which takes place on the 8 (Ashtami) or 9 (Navami) day. Nine young girls (pre-puberty) are invited to the house and worshipped by cleaning their feet and feeding them prasad. They are also given a token amount of money or gifts. It is believed that children are the purest forms of human beings and worshipping them is equivalent to worshipping the nine forms of Goddess Durga.