Monday, September 29, 2008

Celebrating Navaratri – Nine Nights of Celebration and Joy

On the way to work today there were hoardings all over the city of Bangalore inviting people for the Mysore Dasara. The hoarding had a picture of an elephant and it said ‘’ Be Blessed’’. Felt really nice after reading it. We all are blessed and we just need to start counting our blessings. They are just infinite. Navaratri is the time when we can go inward and start experiencing our own Self. The self which is so ‘divine’ and ‘complete’ within.

Navaratri is the celebration of nine nights of joy, festivity, divinity and worshipping the form of the goddess Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati . My childhood memories just come flashing today as I travel to work.

In childhood I used to be excited one month in advance for decorating my ‘ Bommai golu’ which we used to keep home. The Bommai golu is an arrangement of all the dolls of various, gods and goddesses, children’s toys in the olden times which is kept in homes for nine days during the fest. This festival would often clash with my half early exams in school so I used to start planning the festival preparations well in advance like the decoration on the golu, gifts to be given to all etc . The enjoyment of golu is in its decoration mainly for the family of wooden dolls also called as ‘’marapachi’’, making the designer wear for this wooden dolls with craft paper and golden chamkis. My grandma was her best at decorating these wooden dolls and even if we kids wanted to do it, she never gave us the chance . One of the funniest dolls was the ''chettiar'' a grocery, fruits, vegetable vendor who used to be seated in the first step in all homes, the ''dasavatharam'' (ten forms of Vishnu) which used to dominate the first steps from the top and a few homes would also have the Ashtalakshmi (8 goddesses of wealth). Not to forget Durga and Saraswati and our very own Lord Ganesha. Some of the households used to keep 9 steps, some 5 steps of dolls. But yes the children in all the neighborhood homes were very enthusiastic about the different prasadams on all the 9 days during the fest. Amma, used to make all different sweet dishes on all the days because she used to call lot of mami’s from the neighborhood and all the relatives for haldi kumkum (Vettlai pakku). It’s a traditional practice to offer women and children with betel leaves, coconut, new piece of cloth and prasadams as a sign of abundance. Every evening all of us in the family would gather together to chant sahasranamas praising the divine, pray together, sing, present our offerings to the divine. Grandma would generally say stories of the gods and the goddess with great interest and spirit. One would never want to stop listening at times, that interesting story telling would be. So engaging, full of creativity, thrill and yet the message of divinity crisp and clear.

After school hours, Amma asked me to go to homes and invite all the mami’s and the kanyas for haldi kumkum. In this process, I used to collect lot of coconuts and also used to get loads of prasadams to eat and some real good gifts. Hahaha!! May be that was the start of my socialization process. Today, people have social networking on the internet because they want to interact only through technology. Human touch is missing. But many of our mom’s taught us this interpersonal skill very early in life, but we didn’t realize.

If any dolls were to be added to the collection, there were some shops in the Matunga and Chembur area in Mumbai who would get a new collection of dolls for display from the South every year. At times, there are people who also get their dolls painted before the festival season begins. Appa (my dad) was also very enthusiastic about the entire festival. All the flower vendors would have been given clear instructions by him to deliver only fresh and colorful flowers for the puja at home both morning and evening. Not to forget the ‘’Toran’’ at the main door. All of us at home would have a new dress also for the occasion too.

On the 6th day of the festival, Amma used to ask me to keep all my books and musical instruments near the puja and she would then cover it with a cloth near the picture of the goddess of knowledge (Saraswati) . During these days I didn’t have to study anything as a practice at many homes, books were covered and to my advantage I would give all the subjects which I didn’t like to study (Algebra, geometry, history, geography being some of them – in college it used to be accounts) and pray that I could study them better after I get the books back after the puja on the Vijay Dashmi day (last day of the puja). When I was 9 years old, my parents also took me to a nearby music school on the Vijay Dashmi day to enroll me into vocal music. That day is also called as the ''Vidya Arrambh'' . This day was considered very auspicious for enrolling to learn or start something new. Many other parents would enroll their children in various art forms like dance, percussion, drama etc. For Ayudha puja even vehicles, objects, musical instruments etc would be offered puja.

In college days, the navaratri fascination was the Dandiya or garba which took place in the grounds in a nearby temple. They would get orchestra and a lead singer to perform. Now it’s more commercialized with passes being sold in advance for the disco Dandiya during the Ganesha festival itself. Now I just watch them in the television as Breaking news Hahaha!!!

Wish you all a Happy Navaratri. A navaratri for your journey inwards, abundance, joy, health, wealth, enthusiasm and divine spirit all through this lifetime. Always honour your traditions, never question them. Traditions are to be honoured so that we can pass it on to our next generation.

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