Being one of the most diverse nations of the world, India is a meeting place for a large number of cultures, languages, religions, traditions of art and ideologies. The fluid boundaries of regional traditions provides many perspectives of celebrating Indian festivals.
One such function is Navaratri, the festival of “nine nights”, where the three forms of the Goddess — Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi — are invoked and worshipped.
During this time, across India, material images become alive and sacred. For example, in West Bengal, the neighbourhoods and homes create large images of Goddess Durga and she is infused with life during these nine days.
The traditional Dasara procession, held on the tenth day, on the streets of Mysuru. The golden idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari is placed atop a decorated elephant.
In Karnataka, Navaratri is celebrated as a state festival. Called as Mysuru Dasara, Goddess Durga in the form of Chamundeswari is worshipped. Her victory over Mahishasura is celebrated as a victory of good over evil. Following the tradition of Vijayanagara Empire, the ceremonies and procession were presided by the King of Mysuru.
Historical narratives, especially the accounts of Western travellers to Vijayanagara Empire, during 15th- 16thcenturies give us glimpse of the details of the celebration in the royal courts. The foreign visitors have documented that the king, in his capital city of Hampi, watched a royal procession from the Navaratri pavilion or mandapam. The festival culminated in a grand celebration, with the king holding a royal court, called darbar or koluvu. His act may be what is re-created today in the domestic celebration of Navaratri Kolu, with the tiered tableau of dolls representing the king and his courtiers.
The people of Tamil Nadu celebrate this festival by worshipping the Devi in three forms. During the first three days, she is worshipped in the form of Durga, as the Goddess who slayed the demon Mahisha, and depicted as riding a lion or tiger. The second set of three days, she is worshipped as the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi. The final three days are dedicated to the form of Saraswathi, the goddess of knowledge.
It’s a joyous time for festivity, music, food and dressing up all nine days. Each of the family members has a role to play, right from young children to grandparents. Every evening, women and children dress up in bright silks, visit friends, admire the display of dolls, play musical instruments, and sing songs from the repertoire of classical music, in praise of the goddess.
Nine different snacks are made each day and offered to the Goddess as Prasadam. Called as Sundal, the snacks made from chickpeas and beans, are symbolic of fertility and prosperity. These are distributed to the guests who visit the “kolu”
Bommai kolu is the artistic display of dolls on tiers or steps. A traditional kalasam, the ceremonial jar filled with water, covered with a coconut and mango leaves is the most important item in a kolu. Papier-Mache and mud dolls depicting Gods, saints, and heroes are displayed in the Kolu in a traditional way. Some of the traditional dolls in a Kolu include the Chettiar dolls, Thanjavur Bommai and Marapachi (wooden dolls). Womenfolk visit friends and family to exchange “thamboolam” consisting of betel leaves and nuts, coconuts, fruits, flowers, bangles, turmeric, and kumkum.
On the ninth day of Navarathri, people celebrate the Ayudhapuja, venerating the machines and weapons used. The end of the festival is on the tenth day (dasami), is celebrated as Vijayadasami, marking the goddess Durga's victory over the buffalo demon Mahishasura. The Navarathri festival also starts the preparation for one of the most important and widely celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights, which is celebrated twenty days after the Vijayadasami.