What is it?
This festival period is dedicated to the goddess Durga and observed all over India. It is called Durga Puja in West Bengal. The goddess Durga is the goddess of motherhood and of victory of good over evil. Durga means a fort or ‘invincible one’ and is considered the ‘mother of the universe’.
When is it?
The nine holy days in the month of Ashram (September or October). The day of Durga’s victory is celebrated as Dusserha (Hindi) meaning ‘the victory on the tenth day’ (see separate blog post on Dusserha).
In north India on either the eighth or ninth day of the festival the ladies of the house prepare delicious food for offering as Prasad. For nine consecutive days the ladies keep fast; on the festival day they give food to seven or nine young girls. It is a symbolic act of worshiping the goddess in the form of a virgin girl.
In south India a specially decorated deck is constructed in homes, on which idols, toys and other useful things are arranged. This edifice is known as ‘Bomma Kolu’. During this time women visit each other’s houses. Little gifts such as betel leaves, coconut, kumkum and turmeric are offered to the goddess. The ninth day is celebrated as Saraswati Puja when all the objects are worshipped as objects of learning and knowledge.
Worship of Mother Nature is done through nine types of plant (called Kala Bou) including plantain (banana) which represent the nine divine forms of the goddess Durga. In south India, especially Andra Pradesh, Dusserha Navaratri is also celebrated and the goddess is dressed each day as a different devi for the nine days.
In Mysore, Karnataka Durga is worshipped as the patron goddess of the city as it is believed she saved all the people from Mahishasura, the buffalo demon, who terrorised them. The city’s name originated from Mysoru after goddess Mardhini who slew the demon. The Dasara or Dusserha festival in Mysore attracts thousands of visitors annually on Vijayadashami (the tenth day) as it has a long tradition of celebrating in a grand and elaborate style. The parade of elephants, camels and horses is a notable part of this celebration as is the lighting of Mysore Palace.
The festival of Navaratri in the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh it is customary to display dolls and figurines called Bommai Kolu (‘divine presence’) or Bomma Golu, Bommala Koluvu (‘court of toys’). The doll festival is where young girls and women display dolls and figurines of court life and everyday life along with the divine presence of of the goddess Saraswati, Parvati and Laxmi for the nine nights.