Shakti, or the feminine, is the energy that creates and sustains life as we know it. Without Her, even the Gods fall short of power. Hindu tradition is rife with customs and rituals that celebrate Maa Shakti. The most popular is the one commemorating the vanquishing of the demon Mahishasur by Goddess Durga. Durga came into being as the combined force of the energies of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma to annihilate Mahishasur.
As we wrap up the nine nights of Navaratri with Vijayadashami or Dusshera, we cannot help but ponder the rich tapestry of traditions and customs. While several states in India celebrate Navaratri, the manner varies from region to region.
The nine nights in northern India, especially Gujarat, and Rajasthan, are dedicated to worshipping Mata Rani by keeping a lamp lit within an earthen pot and playing the traditional folk dance or Garba around it. Many devotees observe a fast during these days. The earthen pot, also called Garbi, symbolizes the universe or the womb - the presence of life. The Raas Garba is a popular dance form, played to folk tunes, that combines graceful, twirling movements of the body and claps. The vibrant colors of the ghagras, the rhythmic beats, and the energizing vibes have spread far across, even down south, where garba-dandiya is equally popular.
Kolkata comes alive as the Bengali community welcomes Maa Durga in their midst. The life-sized Durga devi idols adorn community pandals - with theme-based decor and lip-smacking Bengali cuisine as part of the bhog or prasad - across the length and breadth of the city. The finale, on Vijayadashami, is the Sindoor Khela, in which married women apply Sindoor to each other (as a mark of praying for the longevity of their husbands). It also signifies bidding adieu to Maa Durga, akin to the bidai of young brides from their fathers' homes.
The grand sets of modern-day cinema have played a significant role in introducing the colors and flavours of Garba-dandiya and Durga puja to other communities who have heartily welcomed it into their folds. It is a norm to see a potpourri of celebration styles in apartment complexes of metropolitan cities as a tribute to our diversity.
Navratri in the South celebrates the three forms of Shakti - Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. Several households keep a Golu during the nine nights. Golu is a form of exhibition of dolls and figurines arranged creatively on an odd-numbered stepped platform, representing different aspects of Indian mythology, tradition, and culture. The dolls and figurines, usually a heirloom collection, depict mythological stories and characters. Some popular themes include scenes from epics like Ramayana, the Mahabharata, or the life history of great saints. The Golu padi also includes miniature scenes of Indian villages and towns, depicting daily life and culture. These days, the themes take on imaginative forms. Coupled with creativity and ingenuity, they could represent current affairs, such as the Chandrayan or create awareness about sustainability.
While the Golu, rooted in the ancient Indian practice of worshipping the divine feminine power, is a popular tradition in different parts of South India, the practices vary slightly from region to region. In Tamil Nadu, people invite friends and family to view the Golu display and offer them tamboolam ( a set of betel leaves, betel nuts, kumkum, coconut, bangles, etc.).
Navaratri is a time to celebrate the power of the divine within us and participate in the spirit of togetherness. Golu is also synonymous with singing devotional songs as an offering to the Gods and Goddesses. Although Golu is a practice passed down through generations, you can also be the first in the family to adopt this rich tradition. On the tenth night, or as Vijayadashami ends, these dolls are packed away - there is an elaborate ritual that ceremoniously bids farewell until they grace your home next year.
The legend of Goddess Shakti and the traditions to uphold them are many; they speak one eternal truth - the negative is within us, the power to choose is also within, and the tool to conquer it by invoking the divine is also within. The customs are a guideline for us to reach a higher consciousness.
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