Navratri – Celebration of the divine mother

The word Navaratri is composed of two words- Nava and Ratri. Literally, Nava means nine and Ratri means night. It is also called Durga Pooja as the devotees of Mother Durga worship her and observe fasting for nine days. This festival is celebrated twice a year, once in Chaitra (March/April) and again in Ashwina (September/October). Some Hindu scholars offer two reasons for celebrating it twice.

Firstly, another name for the Supreme Energy is Shakti which literally means energy or power. Shakti symbolizes the Divine Energy that moves all the planets in order to maintain them in the universe in the correct balance. Navaratri offers Hindus an opportunity to thank the Divine Energy for this important task. Secondly, Hindus believe that the potent energy released by the movements of planets influences the development of the human mind and body. During the Navaratri days, Hindus pray to God to endow them with this energy to maintain their physical and mental balance.

Navaratri is observed for nine days and nine nights. The nine days and nights are divided into three sets of three days and nights, and each set is devoted to worshipping three different aspects of God, the Supreme Energy: the first set to Mother Durga, the second to Lakshmi, and the third to Saraswati. The mode of celebrating may be different in various parts of India.

In the State of Bengal, the Festival of Durga Pooja is celebrated with more gaiety and passion than anywhere else in India. The large majority of Hindus in Bengal worship Mother Durga’s ‘fierce’ aspect called Kali. According to Hindu mythology, Mother Durga had to temporarily take this ‘terrifying’ form in order to destroy a demon called Mahishasura. Spiritually speaking, Kali represents God’s power to destroy wicked forces in order to sustain this world. The festival starts with the ritualistic sculpturing of an idol of Mother Kali using clay. The specially trained sculptor would make an addition to the statue each day, and it is totally ready by the 7th day when the festivities attain great intensity. Cities and villages are dotted with colourful and glittering pavilions adorned with Kali’s idol that is set up for public Pooja every day. On the final day, the clay idol of Mother Kali is carried in the streets on beautifully decorated floats, surrounded by singing and dancing devotees. The procession ends at the banks of the river where the idol is immersed in the water. Durga Pooja also generates feverish artistic and literary activities as the celebrations are marked with dance, drama, music and poetry.

In Canada, the Bengali community celebrates Durga Pooja in a somewhat modified way. There is no procession or the immersion ceremony. The idol is stored for the next year. Cultural and religious societies set up a Pooja pavilion in a community hall where people can worship daily. The festivities reach a climax on the final day when the pavilion becomes packed with joyous devotees. People come with their families to worship and exchange greetings and gifts. The evening is concluded with cultural shows and a public feast. To give a modern touch to the festival, some organizations have started adding North American dances for their Canadian born youths. Some organizations appeal to the devotees to bring groceries for food banks.