Nina & Nana: Welcome, Ambu mami!
Ambujam: Hey there. Happy Amavasya, the start of Navrathri.
Nina: Thanks Ambu mami. Even Nana was excited to welcome you today when I told him you are going to be talking Navrathri legends today. For starters, can you tell us why Navrathri is being celebrated? What is the origin?
Ambujam: Sure, Nina, if you stop frolicking and sit in one place. (….Nina sits down)… There, much better!
Navrathri has different legends associated with it depending on which part of India you are from.
For instance, in the northern part of the country in the years and centuries past, Navrathri was marked as an occasion by the warrior class (Kshatriyas in the caste hierarchy) to pray to Goddess Shakti before starting military activities. The four month period preceding Navrathri is usually a lull in activities owing to monsoons.
Nana: Wow, really? I never knew that. I always thought Navrathri had something to do with Ramayana though again, that’s is something I cannot understand. Where does the nine aspects of Goddess Shakti come in Ramayana? Wasn’t Ramayana a part of Vishnu purana and that of the God Ram?
Ambujam: Well, yes and no. According to another legend, Ram prayed to nine different forms of Devi Adiparashakti, namely, Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandrakanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalaratri, Mahagauri, Durga for nine days for victory over Ravana. These nine days of puja came to be known as Navrathri according to the legend before he achieved victory on Vijayadasami, the tenth day. In fact, the Kshatriya kings believed they could defeat the enemy, no matter how powerful, after Navrathri pujas, just as Ram triumphed over Ravana.
Nina: Wow, it’s super exciting to know all this. But you did mention about different customs in different parts of the country. Can you tell us some more?
Ambujam: Sure. There is of course, the custom of Golu in Tamil Nadu, the state where I hail from. The Golu is a display of predominantly items or articles depicting various Hindu mythology legends, court life, royal procession, ratha yatra, weddings, everyday scenes, miniature kitchen utensils and anything else a little girl would have played with. It has become trendy in the past two decades to display cricket stadiums, theme parks and what not in the Golu. Navrathri Golu is usually an extremely creative season of celebration not just in Tamil Nadu but also in Karnataka, Andhra, Telangana and other southern states.
The origins of Golu can be traced to tamil brahminism and it’s customs. For instance, till date, it’s a traditional practice to have wooden figurines of the bride and groom together, called ‘Marapacchi Bommai‘ usually made of sandalwood, teak or rosewood as a part of the wedding gifts to the bride to initiate the yearly tradition of ‘Navaratri Golu’ in her new home with her husband. These wooden figurines are then decorated with new clothes each year before being displayed on the Golu. Many of the display figurines can be heirlooms, some of them can date back to centuries in the same family!
In the evenings, women within the neighborhood invite each other to visit their homes to view the Golu displays; they also exchange gifts and sweets. A Kuthuvilakku lamp is lit, in the middle of a decorated kolam, while devotional hymns are chanted. After performing the puja, the food offerings such as sundal and others that have been prepared are offered to the Goddess and then to the visitors. It’s customary for visitors to sing carnatic music during these visits and children are kept entertained by dressing them up as various mythological figures.
Nana: I don’t usually agree with Nina, but this is just wow! I didn’t know there were so many legends associated with one festival. Are there any more?
Ambujam: You would have of course heard of Durga Puja in the eastern part of the country but more on that in the next meeting…..
Nina, can you bring me that sundal now?
Sources: Hindu puranas, Ramayana and of course, the all knowing wikipedia.