It’s time yet again for one more major festival- the Navratri. If the month of Shrawan (according to Hindu calendar) is reserved for the worship of Lord Shiva, which may be considered as the ‘masculine power’ that governs the world, the Navratris is the time when Parvati, Shiva’s wife and the ‘feminine power’ or ‘Shakti’ is celebrated and worshiped as the various forms of Goddess Durga. Goddess Durga is worshiped all over the country during these days but it is celebrated as a major festival in Bengal (as Durga Puja) and in Gujarat (as the Navratri).
According to the Hindu mythology, the demons prayed to Lord Bramha or Lord Shiva and performed severe penance in order to get boons from them that made them almost immortals. Thus empowered, they started harassing the people, creating a chaos in the universe and harming the religion. Since the Gods were powerless against them, they asked Godess Parvati for help and she took the forms of Goddess Durga, and others like goddess Kali, Chamunda, Amba, etc. and destroyed the demons, finding loopholes in their boons. The demons actually represent the human fallacies like pride,ego, greed, anger, lust, etc. This festival is celebrated as the victory of good over evil.
In Gujarat, Goddess Durga is represented in the form of a perforated earthen or metal pot (silver, brass,steel) with an earthen lamp inside( which is kept lighted for nine days), called the ‘Garba’. The women worship the goddess in this form for nine days. At night they form a circle around the Garba or carry it on their heads, sing devotional songs for the goddess and dance(Garba) to the beats of the drums while clapping their hands to the rhythm.
That was then. The festival grew out of the homes and small neighborhoods to bigger and better places. It took the form of the ‘world’s longest dance festival’. It has become more and more commercial with every passing year with traditional songs replaced by the more popular Bollywood songs, moved to bigger venues like clubs, farm houses, etc., more money being poured in to woo people to earn even more money from them, the dress code going from simple chaniya-cholis (long skirt, blouse and stoles) to more complex and costly chaniya-cholis and getting more fashionable. Emphasis has shifted, not totally but remarkably, from simple devotion to a parade. But since festivals are means of joyful expressions I won’t go too much into the criticism. It also happens to be one of my favorite festivals and I go Garba dancing almost all nine nights, aching legs not withstanding.
A Garba venue
Garba dancers at the venue
My friends and me(centre) doing the garba
First day- Shailputri (Shail-mountain, putri-daughter) Parvati is the daughter of Himvana or the Himalayas and is worshiped as such on the first day.
Second day- Brahmcharini (goddess of purity and celibacy)
Third day- Chandraghanta( Chandra-moon, ghanta-bell) The goddess here is adorned with a bell shaped moon.
Fourth day- Kushmanda. With eight hands and provider of glory, strength, and healthy long life.
Fifth day- Skandmata. Mother of Skand or Lord Kartikeya.
Sixth day- Katyayani. With four hands and riding a lion.
Seventh day- Kaalratri- Dark skinned,fearsome and the destroyer of evil, riding an ass.
Eighth day- Mahagauri- with four arms, white clothes, riding a bull. The Mahagauri, brings peace and prosperity to all.
Ninth day- Siddhidatri. She is the ‘Ardhnarishwar’ or half Shakti and half Shiva in form.
As I listed the above names I realized that the goddess is worshiped as a daughter, mother and a provider, all qualities of a woman. But sadly in my country this worship is restricted to these idols only. The living daughters, mothers are treated worse than animals. Everyday we read about female feticide, female infanticide, physical and mental abuse to girls and women, crimes like molestation and rape, brides burnt to death for dowries, and worse, women forced to end their lives for not producing a male heir for the family.
In news yesterday- One young woman burnt herself and her four daughters to death as she was harassed by her in-laws for not producing a male child.
Last month, my house help had to take sudden leave and rush to where her daughter was married, because she got the news that her daughter’s mother and sisters-in-law tried to kill her. Thankfully she was saved by her neighbors who also informed the mother. The in-laws are now behind the bars.
In news, again- female fetuses found dumped in a garbage can behind a dubious hospital. The doctors (or butchers?) are now behind bars, their licenses revoked.
Some more- In the last 10 years, 20 million girls have been lost to inhuman practices of feticide and infanticide.
And then people donate huge sums of money to the temples of the Goddess, build elaborate ones at their homes, go for pilgrims, and splurge on pujas. I wonder if the goddess is really happy with such a show of devotion while her daughters suffer. True Navratri will be celebrated only when the women get their rightful place in the society. And for that women will have to awaken the Durga within them.