Navarathri – The name itself conjures to me years and years of tradition locked safely in trunks and cardboard boxes and handed down from generations. My earliest memory of Navarathri was in Madurai in my grandmother`s home near the Perumal Temple. They had this lovely red oxide floor that I oh so love. Madurai amma used to store her lovely dolls in a heavy trunk in the loft.
Every year Madurai amma and appa would lovingly bring down all the dolls, wrapped up completely in clean cotton clothes, wipe them down and then set them up on the floor ready to adorn the steps of the “Golu”. We would then “construct” the shelves of the Golu with various things in the home – Singer Merit Sewing machine table would be the central table. Ovaltine Tins preserved from the earlier years on which a plank would support on, would form the highest shelf. The third one would be constructed from two aluminum biscuit tins one on each side, on which would run a heavy wodden plank.The fourth would be from smaller Tang Tins and of course the lowest would be constructed with a brick and some books. Madurai amma would have a clean bleached and starched white bedspread from Co-optex ready and we would drape it around the 5 shelves and I would , help her secure the sides with little pins. Madurai amma would place the Lakshmi and Saraswathy dolls on the top shelf and then slowly arrange the other dolls in a specific order.The red oxide floors would be resplendant with “maakolams” all the way from the foyer to the altar.
When we moved to Madras, to an apartment, the tradition continued unflinchingly. Only this time. Madurai amma and me alone would do everything that needed to be done. My sisters S and D would stand a few feet away, helping us with cleaning the dolls and the like. as I grew older I would go out and buy some craft paper to make little paper decorations on the sides. When I started earning, I bought little lights for Madurai amma`s Golu. Of course, dolls were slowly added over the years, bought from Mylapore , Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan etc. Although the new dolls were bright and lovely, we still loved the old clay dolls treasured over the years and stood them side by side. We also re-painted some of the old dolls in the local market.
There were the traditional Lakshmi, Saraswathy and Durga. Then there was the Dashavatharam set consisting of the ten dolls of the avatarams of Lord Vishnu. Lord Rama, Sita , Lakshmana and Lord Hanuman were of course a favourite. The other dolls were Lord Shiva and Godess Parvathi, Sage Agasthya, Lord Buddha, Lord Krishna, Lord Muruga, and of course the traditional “Marapachi Dolls”. They were always in a pair. These dolls are decked up in silk and adorn the golu shelves.
What is the significance of this wonderful festival???
Navarathri means nine nights. Darkness is associated with night. What is this darkness? It is the darkness of ignorance. The purpose of the Navarathri celebration is to enable man to get rid of the nine types of darkness which have taken hold of him. When a reference is made to Devi, it signifies the unified form of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. The three together represent Shakthi. Shakthi is the energy that accounts for all the phenomena of Prakruthi (Nature). Nature
is energy and the controller of that energy is the Lord.
The Navarathri has been divided into three parts the first three days being dedicated to the worship of Durga, the next three days to the worship of Lakshmi and the last three days to the worship of Saraswathi.
Outwardly Navarathri signifies truimph of good over evil.Dussera can also be interpreted as “Dasa-Hara”, which means the cutting of the ten heads of Ravana. So,it`s a resolve to cut the ten heads–passion, pride, anger, greed, infatuation, lust, hatred, jealousy, selfishness and crookedness–of the demon, Ego, and thus justify the celebration of Dussera.
Various Neivedyams are prepared every day of the nine days and offered to Devi. Devotees chant the following:
Colourful Rangolis / Maakolams are drawn in the homes and in front of the Golu Dolls. Little girls dress up in all their festive clothes, and sing songs in praise of Devi. It is very auspicious to offer Tamboolam in the form of Betel Leaves, supari, Kumkum, turmeric, flowers, coconuts, bangles, mirrors etc to little kanya girls and to women. Many homes perform Kanya Poojas.Temples have special poojas for Devi and chant shlokas for general welfare. The final day is the Saraswathi Pooja, devoted to the worship of Godess Saraswathy – to enrich us with knowledge as the greatest wealth.
When I got married, I started my own little tradition. My mother added to my collection of dolls and my daughter enjoyed the festivities of the season. Now, here in the U.S, I miss many of the dolls, but it`s a tradition I do not want to miss at all. I do have a little of my own dolls, but the rest are from the stores here and its hardly as grand as the one that we have had in India. Nevertheless, the spirit is there, to spread goodness, cheer and righteousness in all our actions.