Festivals of India – Navaratri

Dedicated to the Mother Goddess and the feminine energy, one of Hinduism’s most revered festivals, the Navaratri is a biannual festival spanning over nine nights and ten days, first in the month of Chaitra which translates to March/April of the Gregorian calendar and again in the month of Sharada which translates to September/October in the Gregorian calendar. It is observed for different reasons and celebrated differently in various parts of the country.

The word Navaratri means nine nights in Sanskrit, with nava meaning nine and ratri meaning nights. Navaratri, which is dedicated to Goddess Durga is all about the victory of good over evil. Goddess Durga fought the demon king Mahishasura for nine days and killed him, marking the triumph of good over evil. In the eastern and northeastern states of India, Durga Puja is synonymous with Navaratri, where Goddess Durga battles and emerges victorious over the buffalo demon Mahishasur to help restore dharma. In the southern states, the victory of Durga or Kali is celebrated. In all cases, the common theme is the battle and victory of good over evil based on a regionally famous epic or legend such as the Devi Mahatmya.

Celebrations include worshipping nine goddesses during nine days, stage decorations, recital of the legend, enacting of the story, and chanting of the scriptures of Hinduism. The nine days are also a major crop season cultural event, such as competitive design and staging of pandals, a family visit to these pandals, and the public celebration of classical and folk dances of Hindu culture. Many devotees often celebrate Navaratri by fasting. On the final day, called Vijayadashami or Dusshera, the statues are either immersed in a water body such as a river or ocean, or the statue symbolising evil is burnt with fireworks, marking the destruction of evil. During this time preparations also take place for Deepavali or Diwali which is the festival of lights which is celebrated twenty days after Vijayadashami.

The nine forms of Goddess Durga, collectively known as Navdurga, are celebrated during Navratri. Every day of the festival is dedicated to a different incarnation of the Goddess. There is a colour for every day that can be worn throughout the festival. These colours have a lot of importance and are considered auspicious.

On the first day, Goddess Durga is worshipped as Shailputri, the daughter of the king of mountains, or Goddess Parvati who is worshipped as the wife of Lord Shiva. This avatar embodies the combined power of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh. The colour for the first day is red indicating strength. An individual who leads a frugal lifestyle, who is cheerful and bestows happiness, richness, tranquillity, and grace upon all of her devotees, Brahmcharini is worshipped on the second day. Brahmcharini is supposed to be the way to Moksha and royal blue is the colour for the day, associated with a calm yet powerful soul. On the third day, Goddess Durga is worshipped as Chandraghanta who is the epitome of grace and dignity. A symbol of peace and prosperity, she is a strong woman with a lot of power and so yellow is the colour for the day.

Kushmunda who is worshipped on the fourth day, is believed to be the founder of the cosmos and is said to have created the universe and enriched it with flora and fauna. This is why the colour of the day is green which symbolises the globe and greenery. Skand Mata, the commander-in-chief in their war against evil is worshipped on the fifth day. She is the representation of the vulnerability of a mother who can fight anyone when anyone troubles her children. The colour of the day is grey which represents a mother’s fear when her child is in danger and she is determined to do everything it takes to keep her child safe. On the sixth day, Katyayani is worshipped. She was born to the great sage Kata as an avatar of Goddess Durga. While clothed in orange, she emits immense courage and so orange is the colour of the day symbolising bravery.

Worshipped as Kalratri for her three eyes, dark skin, unkept hair and exuding a fearless attitude with her breath-producing flames, Kalratri resembles Goddess Kali, Goddess Durga’s most terrifying aspect. She wears white, the colour of peace and tranquilly and so the day’s colour is also white. On the eighth day, Goddess Durga is worshipped as Maha Gauri, representing intelligence, peace, prosperity and calm. Her hue was said to have changed from white to black after spending time in the deep Himalayan forests. After Shiva bathed her in the waters of the sacred River Ganga, her body regained its beauty, and she was given the name Maha Gauri, which means extremely white. Pink is the colour of the day, representing hope and a fresh start. On the last day, she is worshipped as Siddhidatri who has incredible healing abilities. She has four arms and looks to be in a cheerful mood. She blesses everyone as a manifestation of the Mother Goddess. The goddess is shown in a happy state as if she were a clear day’s sky. As a result, this day’s colour is sky blue, symbolising awe at nature’s splendour. In South India, on this day, Goddess Saraswati is worshipped who is the manifestation of learning, knowledge, music and the arts through the Ayudha Puja. On this day, everyone worships their tools of the trade so students pray to their books, musicians thank their instruments, office workers pray to their laptops etc. Students visit their teachers, express respect, and seek their blessings.

The festival ends with Dusshera on the tenth day when Goddess Durga was victorious over the demon Mahishasura. In some parts of India, Dussehra is associated with the victory of the God Rama over the demon-king Ravana. In northern India, the Ram Lila of the Play of Rama is the highlight of the festival with different episodes of the epic Ramayana dramatised on successive nights. On Dusshera, the actor playing Lord Rama fires a flaming arrow at an effigy of Ravana which is then burned. In many regions, Dussehra is considered an auspicious time to begin educational or artistic pursuits, especially for children.

Today, we are on the third day of Navaratri and my prayer is that may Goddess Durga and her various incarnations protect you from everything and remove all obstacles from your lives. May the divine feminine energy grant you all your wishes!

Poem: A Life Without Colours

Colours play a huge role in our lives as, without colours, our world and life will be bleak and dingy. It has been scientifically proven that specific colours improve our mood and alter our emotions. But what if, one day, all colour disappeared from our world? This poem tries to understand how our lives would be in that situation.

A Life Without Colours

What would life be without colour?
A life that is bleak and grim
A life that is gloomy and dull
One in which the lights seem to be dim

The world as we know will be dull and dingy
Instead of the green of the grass and the blue of the sky
Instead of the bright colours of flowers and the sparkling depths of the sea
We would live in a world devoid of any hue as much as we may cry or sigh

Our eyes would never know the beauty on this planet
That which mother nature has endowed our world
The landscapes that are filled with flowers that sashay and strut
We would not be known as the blue planet, green and blue together swirled

Our lives will also mirror the lack of colour, becoming dull and blue
Butterflies will not be the bright jewels, a flower will be equal to a weed
Life will be monotonous, and so will our health which will be sad and true
We will plod through our life, waiting for it to end, like a wound that continues to bleed

I can’t imagine a life like this, in shades of black and white
Where the best colour I can hope for is a shade in between
This better be a nightmare I quickly awaken from tonight
And see the beauty around me in technicolour, the landscape and the scene

Memories: Grandmother Tales 4 – The Travel Edition

I guess I get my love for travel from my paternal grandmother, my ammama. She used to take off as the urge struck her and has travelled the length and breadth of the country. There are three such stories which I remember even today, two in which I star in and one which I remember.

When my sister was born, I was about less than a year and a half and because my mother could not handle a newborn and a toddler, my grandparents took off to New Delhi with me. Her daughter lived there with her husband, who worked in the Indian Air Force and they must have lived in airforce quarters. This would a when India’s then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi imposed a state of emergency in the country. I was barely eighteen months at that time, so don’t have many memories of that period, but I remember the name Indira Gandhi used to be used to evoke fear, especially among children. So when I refused to do something, say eat my food, or drink my milk, I would be threatened by Mrs Gandhi. It’s a wonder that I didn’t develop any irrational fear of the government and especially Mrs Gandhi. But kudos to my grandmother, who at that age, (she must have been in her late forties or early fifties) took a toddler with her and looked after her for a few months. We returned to Bombay about three months or so later and by this time, my mum and sister were back home from my maternal grandmother’s house where she had gone for her delivery.

The next story is also from my childhood. I must have been around 7 or 8 and we were travelling by train to our ancestral village in the Tirunelveli district in the Tamil heartland. We were travelling with my father’s cousin for his wedding. My grandparents were also travelling with us but in a different compartment. After we reached Chennai, my parents, uncle and we children were supposed to take an overnight train to reach the district headquarters of Tirunelveli and my grandparents were to take the overnight train to the same destination. My sister and I threw a tantrum at the station and insisted we travel with my grandparents and not our parents. They had to give in, my grandparents giving in to us was a huge reason, and so we took the train. We were ticketless and had nothing with us, which was with our parents. I remember my grandfather talking to the ticket checker to buy tickets in the train and scrambling to find space for us to sleep in. They found space and we managed to get to Tirunelveli in one piece.

The last story does not have either my sister or me in a starring role. Around the time I was around 6, after my grandfather retired, my grandparents decided to go on an all-India pilgrimage. I don’t remember the specifics after all these years, but I do know it was led by a tour leader and was aimed at mostly senior citizens. They would take the train and maybe also travel by road and visit many of the important places of worship. The tour also included a trip to Kathmandu in Nepal to visit the Pashupatinath temple and other places of worship in that city. I do know they visited the temples of Badrinath and Kedarnath and from the north went all the way down south to Kanyakumari. I remember them making a stop in Mumbai during the trip and we went to the station to meet them. I have a memory of my uncle taking me with him to the station and then because I was so upset of meeting my ammama and then getting separated from her, he took me out and we came home quite late, after eating ice creams and chocolates. I remember this was during our summer holidays and because we reached home so late, I overslept the next day and was still asleep when my friends came to call me to play in the morning. From Kathmandu, my grandparents got me and my sister a beautiful chain with a butterfly pendant which I treasured for many years.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of my grandmother’s tales. If you want to read more about my memories of my ammama, here’s part 1, part 2, part 3 and one about my maternal grandmother.

Hindi Diwas

Every year Hindi Diwas or Hindi Day is celebrated in India to commemorate the date on which a compromise was reached, during the drafting of the Constitution of India, on the languages that were to have official status in the Republic of India on 14 September 1949. The compromise, usually called the Munshi-Ayyangar formula, after the drafting committee members, K. M. Munshi and N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, was voted by the Constituent Assembly of India after three years of debate between two opposing camps. The Hindi protagonists wanted Hindi, written in the devanagari script, to be the sole national language of India while the delegates from South India preferred English to have a place in the Constitution. The Munshi-Ayyangar formula declared Hindi to be the official language of India’s federal government and that English to be an associate official language for 15 years during which Hindi’s formal lexicon would be developed and the international form of the Hindu-Arabic numerals to be the official numerals. The compromise resolution became articles 343–351 of India’s constitution, which went into effect on 26 January 1950. In 1965, when the 15 years were up, the Government of India announced that English would continue to be the de facto formal language of India.

The first Prime Minister of the country, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, decided to celebrate Hindi Diwas on September 14. One of the reasons behind celebrating this day is to prevent the increasing trend of the English language in the nation and the neglect of Hindi. Mahatma Gandhi called Hindi the language of the masses and also spoke about making Hindi the national language of the nation and first floated the idea in 1918 during the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. The Constitution of India recognises Hindi as an official language under Article 343. Officially, the first Hindi Day was celebrated on September 14, 1953. The reason behind adopting Hindi as one of the official languages was to simplify administration in a nation with multiple languages.

To mark Hindi Diwas, the entire week starting from 14 September to 21 September is celebrated as Rajbhasha or State Language Week. Many literary and cultural events are organised on this day across the nation, wherein people celebrate the great works of Hindi literature. The Rajbhasha Kirti Puraskar and the Rajbhasha Gaurav Puraskar awards are also given to ministries, departments, public sector units, nationalised banks and citizens on Hindi Diwas for their contribution and promotion of Hindi. Many schools and colleges organise various literary and cultural programmes, as well as competitions to showcase the importance of the day and raise awareness about the language. The President of India honours people for their contributions to the language at a function held in Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan.

Hindi Diwas also marks the birth anniversary of Beohar Rajendra Simha, an acclaimed Indian scholar, historian, theologian, littérateur, polyglot, Hindi-stalwart, Sanskritist, Ramayana-authority, Sarvodaya-activist, Gandhian and, to a lesser extent, a journalist and a politician. On his 50th birthday, Hindi was adopted as the official language.

Today, in India alone, according to the 2011 census, 43.6% of speakers identify Hindi as their mother tongue. An Indo-Aryan language that is spoken chiefly in the Hindi Belt region encompassing parts of northern, central, eastern, and western India, Hindi has been described as a standardised and Sanskritised register of the Hindustani language, which itself is based primarily on the Khariboli dialect of Delhi and neighbouring areas of North India. Hindi, written in the Devanagari script, is one of the two official languages of the Government of India, along with English. It is an official language in 9 states and 3 union territories and an additional official language in 3 other states as well as one of the 22 scheduled languages of the country. Apart from the script and formal vocabulary, standard Hindi is mutually intelligible with Standard Urdu, another recognised register of Hindustani as both share a common colloquial base. Hindi is the fourth most-spoken first language in the world, after Mandarin, Spanish and English and Hindi alongside Urdu as Hindustani is the third most-spoken language in the world, after Mandarin and English. The term Hindi is a Persian word and the first poem in the language was written by the famous poet, Amir Khusro. The term Hindi in Persian roughly means the land of the Indus River or belonging to Hind as India is known as in the language.

I remember writing the Rastrabhasha exams while in school and while the first few stages aka Prarthamik and Prarambhik were relatively easy, the last stage or the Pravesh stage was tough. Though it is supposed to be an optional exam, in my school, all of us had to take the exam and get the certificate. I am not sure now, but previously if you worked in the government sector, especially the central government, you had to pass all stages to get promoted beyond a certain level. BB & GG also learnt Hindi as their Mother Tongue language and regular and old readers will know of their struggles and triumphs.

So today, read something in Hindi, watch a Bollywood movie or just speak to someone in the language to commemorate the day.

Angarak Ganesh Sankashta Chaturti

Lord Ganesh is my favourite God, my Ishtadev and I love going to his temples to seek his blessings. My favourite Ganesh temple is the Siddhi Vinayak temple in Mumbai. When I first started work, the temple was an eight to ten-minute walking distance from the office. So every Tuesday, before I went to work, I would leave home early, and go to the temple to pay my respects to the Lord before going to work. Since Tuesdays are considered to be very special to Lord Ganesh, especially in Maharashtra and so there would be a line to enter the temple. It would usually take about an hour to line up and take the darshan, so I was never too worried about going in to the office late.

But one year, my mother also wanted to go to the temple on the occasion of Angarak Ganesh Sankashti and so we decided to leave about two hours earlier. I reasoned that it usually took me an hour and since it was the Angarak Sankashti, it will take double that time and so we left home around 6 am. When we reached the temple, nay, even before we reached the temple, we saw the huge line snaking out and into the road behind the temple. We got into the line and stood and stood and stood. We stood in line for almost six hours before we finally managed to see the Lord. I was super late for work and my mum had to still go home and make lunch. But we managed it that day and it was the first and last time I stood in a line that long to see the Lord.

So what makes this day so special that people spend hours waiting in line just for a glimpse of the Lord’s visage? The Angarika Chaturthi is a Sankashti Chaturthi falling on Tuesday and is considered highly auspicious among all Sankashti Chaturthi days. Sankashti Chaturthi, also known as Sankatahara Chaturthi, is an auspicious day dedicated to Lord Ganesha. This day is celebrated in every lunar Hindu calendar month on the fourth day of the Krishna Paksha which is the dark lunar phase or the waning fortnight of the moon.

According to Hindu teachings, Angarak, the son of Mother Earth and Bharadwaj Rishi, was an accomplished rishi and a great devotee of Lord Ganesha. He worshipped Lord Ganesha and sought his blessings. On Magh Krishna Chaturthi which fell on a Tuesday, Lord Ganesha blessed him and asked him for a wish. Angarak expressed that his only wish was to be associated with Lord Ganesha’s name forever. The Lord granted his wish and proclaimed that whoever worships Lord Ganesha on Angarika Chaturthi will be granted all that he or she prays for. From that day onwards, Magh Krishna Chaturthi came to be known as Angarak Chaturthi. Angarak in Sanskrit means red like burning coal embers and is also so known because Tuesdays are governed by the planet Mars or Mangal in Hinduism. Tomorrow is also an Angarak Sankhasthi Chaturthi and is the second one this year, after the one on April 19.

Another story is that the planet Mars or Mangal performed intense austerities and pleased Lord Ganesha. A happy Ganpati gave the boon to the planet that whenever Chaturthi falls on Tuesday it will be known as Angaraki Chaturthi. He also promised Mangal that those performing pujas on the day will have their wishes fulfilled. Mars who had got a bad reputation for creating trouble in people’s horoscopes was happy with the blessings.

On the day of Angarika Sankashti Chaturthi, devotees observe a strict fast from morning till evening. They break the fast at night after having a darshan or the auspicious sighting of the moon, preceded by prayers and a pooja for Lord Ganesha. The Angarika Chaturthi devotees believe their wishes will be fulfilled if they pray on this auspicious day. The fast of Sankashti Chaturthi is generally started from the day of Angarika Sankashti Chaturthi. Also, Angarika Sankashti means deliverance during troubled times, hence observing this fast is believed to reduce a person’s problems, as Lord Ganesha is the remover of all obstacles and the supreme Lord of intelligence. Before moonlight, the Ganapati Atharvashesha is recited to summon the blessings of Lord Ganesha.

The Brahmavaivarat Purana states that Lord Ganesha is a manifestation of the supreme consciousness and was destined to manifest as the remover of obstacles for men and gods, and he became the God of intellect and wisdom. According to Sage Vyasa, those performing puja, prayers, japa or chanting, and charity performed on this day will be blessed with peace and prosperity. They will never face any problems as the strength of the puja performed on this day is 10 million times stronger than those performed on ordinary days. Thus the benefits too are manifold. It is widely believed by Lord Ganesha devotees that observing the vrat or fast will bring material progress, happiness, and the fulfilment of desires. There is a huge rush to temples dedicated to Lord Ganesh on Angarak Ganesh Chaturthi, especially in Maharashtra. It is believed that those suffering Mangal dosh or blight of Mars in their Kundli or horoscope will get relief after offering prayers and charity on the day. Those who have financial problems will also find solutions to their issues and find relief from debt.

I used to fast for many years on Ganesh Sankhastha Chaturthi and used to break my fast only after praying to the moon and Lord Ganesha after moonrise, but after getting diagnosed with diabetes, I stopped my fasts. After this post, I am very tempted to start fasting again and will explore if this is feasible now.

Painting of Lord Ganesh from Bali at home

Ganpati Bappa Morya, Mangal Murthy Morya!